My third and (for now) final follow-up to the game ratings scheme I published a few weeks ago deals with the aesthetics of abstract games. Alex touched on the topic when he discussed approachability, citing the relative simplicity of the rules of chess as part of its beauty. My friend and fellow gamer Josh agrees and puts it more strongly: "abstract aesthetics [like those in] chess should not necessarily be a detractor; I think chess can, in its own way, be very beautiful."
I defined "aesthetics" as a (mostly arbitrary) combination of a game's sensory elements--typically visual and tactile--and its theme. It's tempting to sub-divide the aesthetics score into "sensory" and "thematic" sub-scores, awarding perhaps up to one point for each, to better describe the contribution of each to the game's overall aesthetics.
But I deliberately avoided that level of granularity. It's useful to take a more holistic approach to evaluating aesthetic quality because there's also an implication of integration between the two: the visual
design should reflect the theme (the mechanics should too, but that's a
more complicated consideration). And sensory and thematic design are in that statistical murky ground of being neither perfectly correlated nor truly independent.
Since this blog is focused on important considerations for game design, what are the takeaways from trying to evaluate the aesthetics of abstract games? First, it's a much tougher task than it appears at first, and in many respects, appropriately evaluating aesthetics becomes tougher as a game becomes more abstract. In a strongly themed game, it's relatively easy to determine how well the visuals fit the theme. In abstracts, particularly the "classic" abstracts, that determination becomes a trickier--and more subjective--proposition.
discussed before, a theme is an essential component of developing and marketing a game successfully.
since the 1200s, while its rules weren't finalized until the 19th century; Go took more than a thousand years to become the game played today. What does that mean for contemporary game design? Avoid drawing comparisons to classic games, because they've had centuries of playtesting that you haven't.
So was I incorrect in using "completely abstract" as reasoning for giving a "0.0" aesthetics score? I don't think so, but I think I erred in picking chess as the "complete abstract" to illustrate the point. The real lesson here is how difficult it is to use such a well-known and immensely popular game as a basis of comparison. In his rating scale, Alex stipulates that he doesn't rate games played with an ordinary deck of cards because a from-scratch game is necessarily a better design achievement than one used with standard cards. I still believe that, all else being equal, a themed game is necessarily a better design achievement than a pure abstract, but in the future, there's wisdom in avoiding the traditional abstracts as bases for comparison.