Characteristics of Games

Characteristics of Games

By George Skaff Elias, Richard Garfield and K. Robert Gutschera

Foreword by Eric Zimmerman

Understanding games—whether computer games, card games, board games, or sports—by analyzing certain common traits.
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Understanding games—whether computer games, card games, board games, or sports—by analyzing certain common traits.

Characteristics of Games offers a new way to understand games: by focusing on certain traits—including number of players, rules, degrees of luck and skill needed, and reward/effort ratio—and using these characteristics as basic points of comparison and analysis. These issues are often discussed by game players and designers but seldom written about in any formal way. This book fills that gap. By emphasizing these player-centric basic concepts, the book provides a framework for game analysis from the viewpoint of a game designer. The book shows what all genres of games—board games, card games, computer games, and sports—have to teach each other. Today's game designers may find solutions to design problems when they look at classic games that have evolved over years of playing.

Characteristics of Games—written by three of the most prominent game designers working today—will serve as an essential reference for game designers and game players curious about the inner workings of games. It includes exercises (which can also serve as the basis for discussions) and examples chosen from a wide variety of games. There are occasional mathematical digressions, but these can be skipped with no loss of continuity. Appendixes offer supplementary material, including a brief survey of the two main branches of mathematical game theory and a descriptive listing of each game referred to in the text.


$50.00 X | £40.00 ISBN: 9780262017138 336 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 88 figures, 10 tables


Eric Zimmerman.


  • Many books have been written on the subject of game design over the years, but Characteristics of Games is one of the few that forgoes breadth for depth and takes readers to the next logical step in game design thinking and study.



  • This book is a key step forward in the effort to develop game design from art to craft and thence to science.

    Raphael “Raph” Koster

    Vice President of Creative Design, Playdom/Disney Interactive

  • Characteristics of Games is great fun to read, but thorough and rigorous enough to use as a classroom textbook. If you want to understand the social and mathematical dynamics of multiplayer games, this book is a must have.

    Walker M. White

    Director, Game Design Initiative at Cornell, Cornell University

  • Characteristics of Games is a meaningful contribution to the literature of games. It presents a system and dozens of examples of how to break out and analyze game mechanics. This book is an excellent step towards a fuller understanding of how and why games work.

    Jesse Schell

    Carnegie Mellon University; CEO, Schell Games