Clockwork Criteria: 6 Guidelines for Ideal Strategy Game Design

What are the criteria that make something a good “Clockwork Game”?

The Clockwork Game Design model is something I have been working on for the last five years or so. It is specifically an effort to figure out how to make the most elegant and effective strategy games possible. There are certainly practical reasons why you might not want a specific game to be a Clockwork game. But to the extent that you want your strategy game to be elegant, you should adopt as many of these principles as possible.

Above: my book

Below is a list of criteria that strategy games should strive for. I am sorting them by how controversial they are. In other words, I am putting the stuff people pretty much agree upon towards the bottom.

These are not ordered by priority. I am making no statements about which of these is more or less important; just that they are all something to strive for. Continue reading “Clockwork Criteria: 6 Guidelines for Ideal Strategy Game Design”

The Virtuosity Scale


One thing to think about when designing a game is trying to figure out what “degree of virtuosity” you want to allow. I mean this in a bit of a prescriptive way, which I’ll explain.

Some games offer you a huge number of possible choices per “turn” or per “moment”. Having a high degree of range of motion means more potential for creative actions. You can literally do something that ten onlookers watching hadn’t even considered. I’d say abstract games with a big grid like Go are good examples, but also complex real time games like StarCraft or Team Fortress 2 certainly qualify here, too. We’ll say that these games have “high virtuosity”. Continue reading “The Virtuosity Scale”

Why You Need the Clockwork Game

Let’s start from scratch. You’re a game designer. How can my work help you?

If you’re the kind of designer who wants to tell a good story, create a lush immersive atmosphere, express a social value, or just embrace the latest in graphics technology… this article – and most of my game design-specific work – isn’t for you.

But there’s a ton of designers out there who want to make a little “fun machine” – an interactive system where the player is doing stuff, gaining mastery, and being otherwise entertained for reasons other than atmosphere, story, social values or those sorts of things. Continue reading “Why You Need the Clockwork Game”

Contests Explained

I have described the four essential “forms” of interactive entertainment, based on four distinct values that these four types of play produce. You can get a more in-depth introduction on these forms by reading this, but I’ll quickly break it down here.

First, you start off with a “bare interactive system” – this is an interactive system that has no goal. I call this the toy. Add a goal, and you have a puzzle. Allow for measurement, and you have a contest. Obfuscate the gamestate (allowing for decision-making) and you have a game.

I would say that the vast majority of people roughly agree with me on the first two forms, toy and puzzle. This makes sense – it makes sense that we would understand these forms first, because they are the simplest. Continue reading “Contests Explained”

The Clockwork Game Design Podcast: Episode 6 – Discussing the Discussion with Richard Terrell

NwE5D37lIn Episode 6 of the Clockwork Game Design Podcast, I had a discussion with Richard Terrell (@KirbyKid) that was largely about the game design discussion itself.

People may not know, that we had a discussion about three years ago, and back then, I think we both thought that we could just dive right into the conversation. What we’ve both learned since then is that if you don’t have a solid understanding of each others’ language, the conversation will go nowhere – which is precisely what tends to happen in most conversations that take place outside your “inner circle”.

Either way, we’re both formalist thinkers who are primarily interested in competitive/strategy game design, so I thought it’d be interesting to have a discussion about why it’s so hard to have a discussion. I think it went well! Here’s a few links:

Apologies about the audio in this episode, which is slightly worse than previous (or future!) episodes.

The Clockwork Game Design Podcast: Episode 4 – Violence in Media


In this episode, I discuss violence in videogames. This is a less “game-design-theory” episode, and more of a culture/media episode, but I do discuss a lot of user comments from these recent articles.

Cited in the article:

“Dehumanization” on Polygon

Beyond the Pentakill on Gamasutra

In addition to those, I also wrote these relevant articles:

Violence, Pt. 1: Glorification

Violence, Pt. 2: Game Design Ramifications

Thanks for listening! As always, you can support this show here.