Tension in Games

I’ll be mentioning tension a lot in these posts. Tension isn’t the be-all end-all of board games, but it is a big part of board gaming, and of games and entertainment in general. Tension is what makes turning a corner in an FPS exciting, what makes it shocking when there’s a big reveal on TV, and what makes choosing between multiple options so rewarding in  board games.

Tension can be created in multiple ways, but it usually comes down to a lack of information – not knowing how a decision will turn out, whether it is due to the addition of random chance, of decisions your opponent(s) have yet to make, or to an overwhelming amount of options too high to analyze. A decision where you know the outcome before you make the play may be satisfying, but it won’t be exciting in the same way .

Every aspect of a board game impacts the creation and maintenance of tension during play. From the art on the box,  to the fiddly rules edge cases, to the implementation of mechanics, it all comes together to create tension.

The knife’s edge where your opponent has the potential to bring your carefully constructed house of cards, your painstakingly planned ambush, collapsing around you, if they could only figure out the right move. Or the tension where you have just had that same opportunity – did you make the right choice to diffuse their threat? Was it a bluff? Was your counter-stroke just not strong enough?

That excitement, and the design decisions behind it’s creation, is what I want to talk about here.



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