Game Design Games Geek / Technical

Game Rules Are In Fluxx

I’m always trying to learn about new game mechanics, so when I discovered the game Fluxx by Wunderland, it was more than just fun. It got me thinking.

Fluxx is a card game in which the rules change as you play. Some people might be familiar with the game of Mao: the rules are secret, and part of the fun is figuring out what those rules are. Unfortunately it requires one or two people in the game to already know the rules, and there are apparently many variations on the game depending on the college campus you went to when you learned about it. Fluxx, on the other hand, is very specific. Everything is out for everyone to see, and so rule changes are always disclosed. Naturally, it is much easier to pick up the game after only a few hands.

Even though the rules change as you play, it isn’t difficult or confusing. In the beginning, you have three cards, and you must draw one card from the pile and then play one card from your hand. That card you play can change the rules immediately. For example, you can play a “Draw 5” card, and now each player must draw five cards and play one. The card “X = X + 1” means that you add 1 to any number. In this example game, playing this card will now require everyone to draw six and play two. Even the winning conditions can change as Goals are played or removed.

I thought this game would appeal mostly to technically inclined people, since it seemed like a programming game based on if statements. Apparently everyone, including children, gets into this game easily.

I think that there are a few things going for this game. The interface is simple. It’s a card game, and everyone knows how to play card games. The rules are simple. Just follow what it says on the table at any given moment. It is easy to handle the complexity. Some rules supersede others. Others simply change existing rules. And each card tells you exactly what you need to do. No need to go to the instruction booklet just to find out what it means to draw the “X = X + 1” or “Let’s Simplify” cards.

What can I apply to making video games? Well, for one, an easy to use interface isn’t just a suggestion. It’s necessary! As Xemu has said, the interface IS the game. If Fluxx made it difficult to follow or make the changes, it would feel more like work than like play. There are definitely elements of video games that feel like work, such as jumping puzzles. Video games should be as easy to pick up and play, or if that is not possible for some reason, they should at least make it easy for the player to figure out what they have to do. Fluxx has the equivalent of context-sensitive help screens, and games such as Super Mario RPG or The Sims are perfect examples that used them nicely.

Another thing to take away from Fluxx is the idea of modifiers and rule changes during the course of play. Imagine playing a sidescroller and then hitting a spot where the gravity is reversed or a different force is in effect. It will likely change the way you play that game or at least move about. Maybe an enemy will only be revealed when the wind tunnel is on, or perhaps you can only find an item when X-Ray vision is available. While it is normal for an item to have a simple effect, such as a bullet killing an enemy, perhaps rules that have a wide effect make for interesting gameplay? If all players on a server now have attacks with 50x the force due to some muscle-enhancing gas in the level, it will definitely change the way the game is played. Even if only one player is affected, it can be interesting and fun.

Sure there are power-ups, and none of what I am talking about is really all that new in video games. Games make use of these techniques more or less all the time. For example, speeding up, slowing down, and/or stopping time for all entities in the game are used in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Viewtiful Joe, and Max Payne. Quad damage in Quake 3 is another example. In Super Smash Bros. Melee, one of the pokemon will make the screen go dark for a few seconds, naturally affecting all players.

I simply want to be consciously aware of such generalized mechanics. Changing the rules and goals sounds like something that could make an otherwise bland game into something interesting and, as seen in Fluxx, can actually BE the entire game.