The Critical Mass of Bits

Last night I got to be a shotgun-wielding U.S. Marshall fighting bemusedly alongside several samurai and their collective minions against ninjas, ancient ghosts and… tentacles?

Much fun was had by all.

I finally got a chance to play Shadows Of Brimstone, the excellent dungeon-crawler by Flying Frog Productions. I’d been a fan of theirs for some time, as I really got sucked into non-standard boardgaming by Last Night On Earth. However, with my original game group in Colorado, Last Night On Earth suffered severely due to the massive number of tokens, trackers and item cards my friends were expected to keep track of, and Shadows Of Brimstone doubles down on that formula hard.

However, I had the advantage of a slightly more experienced- and significantly more Type A- set of gamers this time around, and the experience was smooth, fun and admittedly quite easy to learn.  But admittedly, I am most fascinated by the sheer number of bits sitting in that box.

Just looking through the contents while playing with my friends and their copy, it appears to contain a multitude of tokens, several miniatures of decent quality, loads of cards, loads of map tiles, loads of printed material and all of it packed quite neatly into the box.  I kept asking myself how they possibly could have been confident that the game would have taken off (though it clearly has, given the number of expansions) with the sheer overwhelming complexity of materials being dumped on new players.

I had the advantage of playing this game with three other experienced players, but at some point, this game had to have been played by three or four actual humans with no prior knowledge of the game.  Generally in design, I try to focus on a digestible experience, but this has definitely made me question that philosophy.  Is complexity- and the lengthy learning curve therein- part of the commercial charm? Can a game of decent quality (SoB is quite fun, by the by) live despite the intimidation factor of its box, or is that shock value of opening part of the draw? I think… I think there might not be such a thing as Too Many Bits, as long as they’re the right bits.

What do you think? Is Bits Critical Mass a thing? Or is it a The More The Merrier situation? Let me know what your opinion is on this!

Published by ashermhart

I work at an amazing miniatures company during the day, and try to unravel the mysteries of game design for the rest of us plebians at night.

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