So a lot of the discussion here is around PbtA type games (though there are of course lots of others), which in my opinion sit at a fairly high level of abstraction. This is not a bad thing – abstracting things lets the game focus on the drama of the plot vs the specifics of tracking particular details. That said, sometimes having a bit more detail can be a lot of fun! For example, I was in a dungeon world game for a bit…it was a lot of fun (largely due to a DM who really got the sort of games that worked in the system), but I felt that the level of abstraction took a lot of feeling out of the game. Roll 2d6, check your results against a set band…over and over and over again. Add some special abilities. It got to feel a bit same-y. Of course, a good DM can introduce other fun elements, but often those exist outside of the game system – I’m interested in game systems which have a bit more meat to them.
On the flip side, meaty systems can often be a lot harder to run in my experience. A great example is Burning Wheel. I love the Burning Wheel rule book, but trying to run it, I found it a bit overwhelming…especially the specificity in skills and whatnot. I know this game can be excellent with an experienced DM, but still, I think that this is the downside of less abstraction…the rules matter a lot more, and if you hit a gap you don’t quite understand, it can be harder to deal with.
Another system that I have a love/hate relationship with Ars Magica. I think it just has such an awesome take on magic! But you read the rules and there is a ton of stuff about spell piercing and +10 modifiers and +20 modifiers and min(this modifier, that modifier) type stuff…it just felt a bit finicky. But I still love the take on magic.
I guess my holy grail would be a game which sort of takes the soul of burning wheel and ars magica, adds a touch more abstraction, and goes from there. But I digress!
I guess I’m curious to see what other people’s experience with heavier games have been. Do you agree with what I said above? Have you had different experiences? Are there any systems that you think are particularly good – or bad? (Shadowrun is notorious for just absolutely falling apart in play)
And I guess to push it one level further, what do you think are the tools games designers can use to give a system the sort of…investment and reward of a complex system, but while keeping it manageable in play?