What is Fun? Part II

Earlier this week, I started listing the many types of fun board games can provide. Turns out I had more to say about it than I anticipated, so I’m wrapping up the post today.

I’m going to continue tying in Corporate America so you can see how different types of fun have influenced my own game design. Before ending today, I’ll also briefly discuss why all of this is useful, and explain why I wanted to incorporate many types of fun into a single game.

Let’s get right to it!

Showing Off

Trivial Pursuit allows people to show off their knowledge of pop culture, a skill that is otherwise completely useless (other than quiz night).

People like the chance to show off their skills, and games can give them a socially acceptable opportunity to do so. Games with strategic and creative expression both provide this opportunity, but there are many other ways to show off, as well. For example, in his book The Game Inventor’s Guidebook, Brian Tinsman partially attributes Trivial Pursuit‘s great success to allowing educated baby boomers to show off their accumulated knowledge of pop culture.

One of the goals of Corporate America is to inform people about how our current political system works, but a side effect of this is that players who are already informed about politics will have lots of opportunities to explain what a legislation name refers to, or why it works the way it does. It has no impact on gameplay, but it can still be fun for those players to show off their knowledge to the other players.


Taboo can inspire impromptu conversations with its random words and clues.

Sometimes, games are just an excuse for friends to get together and chat about whatever. However, designers that are aware of this can create games that encourage social bonding. Games that specialize in this area are often pretty light on strategy and feature simple rules, instead focusing on content that a particular target audience (that might not even consider themselves gamers) would enjoy talking about. Trivial Pursuit and its many variants encourage players to talk about their subject matter, or to bring up stories related to it. Many party games, like Taboo, also provide random prompts to inspire old stories to be shared with new friends.

But socializing isn’t limited to party games. Pandemic is a great example of a game that encourages a lot of conversation about the game itself, since all players are invested in working together to win. A game like Magic: the Gathering is constantly releasing new content, which changes the value of old cards, encouraging players to discuss the metagame around the individual games players play. And many games, like Settlers of Catan, feature free form sections that allow players to negotiate with each other, demanding communication between players.

Socializing games definitely aren’t my focus, so I’m extra proud that Corporate America is so successful in that department. While much of the gameplay itself involves negotiation and cooperation, such as bribing people in the Main Street Phase and running for president in the Campaign Trail Phase, the game is ripe with references to the real world to encourage players to discuss politics and other issues. The atmosphere the game creates is light hearted and humorous, setting up many jokes for players to make. And many of the business cards are funny enough that a player will start laughing when he or she first reads it, getting prompts from other players to share, which makes the player feel in on the joke. Overall, Corporate America excels in this type of fun more than I could have expected.

Aesthetic Appreciation

This one goes out to Jon Gill, a fellow designer who commented on my last post, noting that I missed an important part of fun: the tactile experience of enjoying a high quality material thing. I think Jon puts it best when he says “even Go, one of the most strategic games of all time, is intensely satisfying to play in its physical incarnation; the way that the stones gently clack as they’re placed on a quality wooden board is intoxicating”.

Each card in Dixit is a unique, gorgeous illustration, making the game a joy to play.

The quality of art in many board games has become amazing, especially when compared to classics like Monopoly and The Game of Life. Just look at a game like To Court the King, which certainly doesn’t need beautiful illustrations, but very much benefits from them. Another great example is Dixit, a simple game in the same vein of Apples to Apples that really shines because of its gorgeous art. Seeing these masterpieces is enjoyable in the same way viewing a great painting or sculpture can be, and definitely draws many people.

I will admit that this is not my strong point (which is probably why I didn’t even think of it when I was first listing types of fun), and I have documented my struggles with getting Corporate America up to snuff in this department. My hope is that others will help me improve the quality of art in the game, but one way in which Corporate America does employ this type of fun successfully is in the presidential hats. While I hope the customization of the presidential hats will get people creative and form a bit of a community around the game, I also think it does a good job of making winning the presidency meaningful. It’s much more satisfying when a physical symbol of power you can proudly wear is transferred to you after winning an election, making the whole experience much more tangible and significant.

Being Naughty

Let’s face it: society puts a lot of constraints on us. You need to be nice to your friends, or you won’t be friends much longer. You shouldn’t drink too much. You can’t lie or steal. The list goes on.

Drunkfish and other drinking games demand players act in socially unacceptable ways, which is kind of fun.

One of the nice things about games is that they create a safe space where we temporarily suspend the rules of society and adopt new rules to follow. In the case of strategy games, we can be mean to our friends. In cutthroat games like Illuminati and Diplomacy, it’s expected that we’ll make promises we don’t intend to keep–it’s part of the fun! And drinking games like Drunkfish and sexual exploration games like Spin the Bottle not only give us a safe space to commit social taboos, they demand it!

Corporate America doesn’t explore this space very much, but it does offer some light backstabbing like traditional cutthroat games. It also allows players to take on personas they may not normally want to adopt, such as a polluting industrialist or a sleazy politician. And if you’re really getting into the game and find a silly hat for the president to wear, the game gives you a good reason to dress up a little, something many of us rarely do.

I thought this might be a good opportunity to quietly announce another project I have been working on, called Strange Rituals. It is a simple game without a whole lot of strategy, instead focusing on giving players an excuse to do silly things, like patting your head while pumping your fist, jumping up and down, and looking terrified. I haven’t exactly figured out how to sell the game so it sounds the least bit interesting to your average adult, but if you’re able to abstain from caring too much about what other people think for a while, the game is surprisingly hilarious.


There are many types of fun I didn’t cover above. I’m sure some just slipped my mind, and many I haven’t identified, but many other types are just not well represented in the board game space. For example, board games have a difficult time harnessing the physical fun associated with many sports, or the satisfaction of deep contemplation. Do you think board games will ever capture the fun of a sexual encounter? Maybe, but I don’t know of any that have. Can you think of any other types of fun I missed?

Before I wrap up this post, I thought I’d address a question you might have. If you should be designing your game for specific players, why bother with multiple types of fun? Very good question, astute reader!

I have three responses. First, even if you’re targeting a single person, that doesn’t mean that person can only enjoy one type of fun. In fact, believe it or not, most of us can enjoy most of these types of fun, at least to some degree. By including opportunities for different types of fun, you’re allowing your players to enjoy their experience in whichever way suits their mood.

Second, within any population, there will be some variety. Some players will prefer one type of fun over another, while others will prefer the opposite. This will always be true, no matter how uniform the demographic is. For Corporate America, the target demographic is not even homogenous, so I think it’s a good idea to offer lots of types of fun.

Finally, it’s ok to put things in games for people other than your target demographic! Obviously, you don’t want to dilute your game with stuff for other people, but including some material for others to enjoy even if they don’t fit your target audience is probably a good thing. In the case of Corporate America, the target audience is Daily Show fans. However, many Daily Show fans might not have a lot of friends who are into board games, so it’s important to include things that these friends can enjoy, like material for discussion and opportunities to act.

There are so many different types of fun out there, but so many games focus on strategy at the expense of everything else. Try exploring a new area! I’ve certainly had a lot of fun exploring what different people find fun, and it has even inspired me to experiment with completely different types of games!


Note: All images taken from the vast archives of the Board Game Geek.

Previous Post
Leave a comment


  1. » What is fun? Part I Nothing Sacred Games
  2. » Analysis of Fun: Collecting Nothing Sacred Games

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *