One of the first pieces of jargon you’ll encounter in board gaming is “weight”. When hobbyists refer to a game as light, medium or heavy they are referring to the game’s weight.
A light game is simple, a heavy game is complicated and a medium game lies somewhere in the middle. Weight is a term that refers to more than just complexity. Heavy games require more thinking and tend to feature elaborate systems that tickle the fancy of more serious board gamers. Because of that, people who have become more ingrained in the hobby have a bias towards heavier games.
That doesn’t mean that there is anything inherently wrong with light games or that they’re only for beginners. They are a simple execution of an idea that comes together in a very clean and elegant way. Light games are neat. Hanabi is a light game where players work together to create a fireworks display using a hand of cards they cannot look at. On a player’s turn; they can play a card, discard a card or use a limited amount of clues to tell another player something about the cards they’re holding. By having players not look at their own cards, a simple game of multiplayer solitaire is turned into a clever communication game.
It’s common for light games to have a low skill ceiling. This low skill ceiling allows new players to quickly master the game, stopping a wide skill gap from forming and hampering their enjoyment. Scrabble suffers greatly from this skill gap, where the player who knows the legal two letter words will obliterate any newcomer that struggles to find a use for their J tile. Qwirkle takes the core tile laying mechanic of Scrabble but replaces the letter with coloured shapes. Instead of playing words, players make rows of stars or purple tiles. By stripping the game down, Qwirkle offers a more enjoyable experience to a broader range of players.
The tension of trying to win can build up over the course of a game. Being able to quickly start again helps release that tension, or let players ignore it completely. Codenames brilliantly plays on this dynamic as one player, the spymaster, tries to navigate their team through a minefield of words before the other team can do the same. The spymaster must give their team a single word clue to find a number of their words from a grid of 25 words in front of them. The challenge of giving clues for your team is stressful. Tension builds with every incorrect guess, every word the other team reveals, every word you can’t think of a good clue for. Then the game ends and you immediately reach for another set of words.
Sometimes a game won’t offer that relief valve. Sometimes you need a light game to wind down after playing something heavier. Something where there is a satisfying payoff for players without having to expend any more mental energy. Burger Up - currently on Kickstarter - is a game that can give players that payoff. Players fill customer orders by stacking ingredient cards and simple system of symbols dictates what goes where, while still giving the player enough choices to avoid the game playing itself. There is something very satisfying about building a giant, sloppy tower of meat, cheese, sauce and salad. Even when you don’t win, Burger Up delivers a regular payoff to everyone at the table.
There’s brilliance in simplicity. A good light game will have it in spades.