With no viable choices, the player will be quickly frustrated. With only one choice, the player will feel as though the game is playing him. On the other end, too many choices can lead to AnalysisParalysis?.

'Choices' are easy - the player simply has to decide something. 'Meaningful' means that the choices aren't trivial. If there is only one good option, there isn't really a choice, just an execution. If some of the choices are always bad, they might as well not be there. Jonathan_Degann? goes so far as to Agonizing Decisions.

The other aspect of meaningful is that the choice affects the game, for at least a little while. You can see most of the implications of your choice, so you have something to base your decision on, but not all of the implications, because then the best choice would be obvious.

Choices are the heart and soul of many games. There are exceptions, such as pure Dexterity? Games, that focus on a different ApplicationOfAbility?. There are also games like Candy_Land? that remain popular despite having no choices at all. It seems likely that ChildrensGame?s play by a different set of rules.

With the above noted exceptions, meaningful choices are are what separate games from stories, puzzles, or toys (to borrow Greg_Costikyan?'s list) Without choices, you have something else; might be good but it's not a game. As such, this principle appears repeatedly in articles on game design:

Greg_Costikyan? calls it Decision Making in I_Have_No_Words_&_I_Must_Design?. Noah_Falstein? names it in "Interactive 'Show, don't tell'" (see Noah_Falstein?).

"A game is a collection of interesting choices" - Sid_Meier?

Alan_Moon? has some memorable advice on this topic, in an interview: Provide two or three choices, all of which should appear equally good at the time. The choice taken may not end up being the best choice, of course, but the results should be quickly visible (PerceivableConsequences) so the player can learn and respond. Having meaningful choices helps to create TensionCurve?s.

MeaningfulChoices primarily support the IntellectualProblemSolving? kind of fun. Which, most of the BoardGames we think of use as their primary form of fun, so it is pretty relevant, but not exclusively so. The intellectual side is only one of FourteenFormsOfFun. Others that may come into meaningful choices are ThrillOfDanger? (making a risky choice) and ApplicationOfAbility? (knowledge of the game, or a subject relevant to the game.)

Richard_Vickery? makes a number of excellent points about decision making:




Kids & Meaningful Choices

I suspect that games are interesting because they are appropriately challenging.

For adults, for a game to be challenging, it must have Meaningful``Choices.

But for little kids, the concept of "rules" is foreign, and perhaps even challenging.

Perhaps kids play CandyLand?, because it is an introduction to a challenging concept: Willfully playing by made-up rules?

Meaningful``Choices in Candy``Land, for kids, may be:

-- LionKimbro

Also keep in mind that kids often play games against adults. Removing all strategy gives the kids a decent chance of winning.


(Discussion from DoorKeyLevelPattern; The first voice begins by asking: Why is it more interesting to have keys and doors, rather than not having them?)

Why is it more interesting? You have not provided any MeaningfulChoices here. All this rule does is extend playtime artificially. Exception is the mention of the Deus Ex solution up there - actual nonlinearity. But that's not the DoorKeyLevelPattern any more, is it?

I don't have the reference anymore, but someone said that games can be about uninteresting choices as well as interesting ones. Even a meaningless choice is more interesting than no choice at all; usually because the player doesn't discover until later that the choice was in fact meaningless, so there is a moment of engagement there. I'm not endorsing this pattern, btw.

Yes, but a meaningless choice is only interesting until you discover that it was meaningless - at this point it impacts your SuspensionOfDisbelief. You suddenly start thinking why this was even there, and that you've seen countless other games that do and bored you to death. Of course, the latter data has been obtained by the time-proven SampleOfOne technique. I'm still strongly objecting to this being in CategoryGoodIdea - I've yet to see a single game where this actually added to the fun.