Are too many gimmicks a bad thing?

edited August 2012 in Story Games
So I was reading through this thread...

And it got me thinking about the game I am working on.
The basic concept is that the game has a core set of stats and skills that carry across several "Mini-Games." Some involve dexterity based mechanics like Jenga, or flicking tokens, or rolling dice into other dice, and in general lots of fiddly bits like tokens beads and other uses for Jenga blocks.

The game is a blast to play. You set up your "Episode Maneuver" and choose one of the procedures to start your scene off with, pass out roles (everyone plays at least 2 characters), and play through the scene. Sometimes there is a heavy amount of role play, sometimes you just play the game, which is fun in its own right. As I usually describe the game it is like playing a role playing game through a series of short board games. All of games come with their own little index card which contains the rules, and are super easy to understand. Everyone enjoys it, the games are super simple, but a lot of people complain about it feeling gimmicky, which I totally get. I am just not certain if that is really a bad thing.

Bad Example, but it may help to understand:
(premise)You are mobsters waging a turf war.
You play a couple of rounds of monopoly to see how much money you extort out of shop owners and various enterprises
You use the money to buy troops for a game of risk played over a map of the city
After a few rounds of risk the feds raid because you were double crossed by someone earlier on
You then play a game of connect four to piece your investigation together to find out who betrayed you


  • On the other thread I was going like:
    for example that's one of the best things about AW and it's hacks: as a player you don't need to know each procedure, you can read and use it right from your character playbook; it's almost the same procedure for everything in the game and it makes things more interesting even when you fail.

    So yes, you can have a ton of procedures but you would probably prefer to give those procedures only to the players that will use them, in a separate booklet for each player to have the procedures at hand, instead of listing them mixed in the corebook.

    But with the example you post here (it's probably too bad as an example, I agree) I'd say it's a bit too complicate: You'd need to have all the games already set up to have a better flow for the story... and now that I think again about your example, what a mix of a good RPG and a good GM does is give the players the means to turn into gameplay a wide array of situations, but relying on a few similar or more connected procedures. Your solution is actually creative, but yes, I'd say it could be a bit too much, at least for players who aren't accustomed to playing a lot of different games in a single session.
  • The systems are super simple. They fit on the front side on an index card currently. And there is a basic system that exists throughout all of them. But, like in AW when you generate hold or +1 forward, you instead can gain things like "Influence" and "Wealth" tokens which can be traded in to get the Mayor on your payroll.

    Another example would be to compare it to Burning Empires.
    In BE you will break out the full conflict mechanics (Duel of Wits or Fire Fight) only 1-2 times per manuever, and play many other scenes in between. It is similar to that, but instead of a Duel of Wits, we play a round of a game similar to Kingsburg.

    I would share, but I am not at a point where I feel ready for that.
  • First off, I'd be interested in playing an RPG using mini-board games as a resolution mechanic. I've often thought how strange it is for games to have one resolution mechanic for brawling and another resolution mechanic for everything else; I rather like the idea of a game offering a variety of different resolution mechanics for different situations, so long as they all feel familiar and easy to pick up. My gut tells me that "a variety of subsystems" doesn't necessarily mean "too many gimmicks," but obviously, we haven't played it here, so it's tough to extrapolate from that. If your players say "it's too gimmicky" as a criticism, there may be ways to keep the core of it but tighten it up to feel less gimmicky. (Giving more time for roleplaying between board games so switching games doesn't feel immersion-breaking? Sticking to more literal games like Monopoly, Risk, and Clue, instead of more abstract games like Connect 4? Just throwing out ideas.)

    I do appreciate it when GMs introduce little gimmicks here and there to keep things interesting, and I've seen favorable reactions from my friends as well – having players solve a real puzzle to represent characters solving a puzzle, sidebars to the resolution mechanics of card-based games that look more like classic card games, etc. In those cases, I think what made the gimmicks work was that there wasn't too much of a learning curve, the connection between the mechanics of the gimmick and the imagined fiction was pretty clear, and we weren't shifting from gimmick to gimmick so often that it felt more like a game ABOUT games than a game that USED multiple games.
  • edited August 2012
    I think the big question here is raised by JasonT's phrase "immersion-breaking". Switching from one boardgame to another with a bit of roleplay in the middle... and boardgames which are very abstract compared to what they are supposed to be resolving... when people complain of it being "gimmicky" is what they are really getting at that the chopping and changing is too much distraction from immersion in character?

    I'm not claiming to know the answer, but I think games need flow. If you want to have different aspects handled differently, fine - but work out a way to smooth the transition between two different subsystems. Or something like that.
  • Taking the criticism of something being "gimmicky" is hard when it comes from certain people, those people that would not play Dread because they said Jenga was a goofy gimmick. They may not have been the best audience, but they are who I had.

    I still want to make sure I understand all points that are made. I feel it works well, and adds to the feel. There are tons of little tweaks I need to make to make things as cohesive as possible, but most have enjoyed it once they started playing it.

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