I am an unabashed sucker for Kitchen Sink games. I don’t know where I first heard this idiom applied to game design, but I definitely can’t claim it for myself. I’m using the term to describe the following kinds of games:
- They have lots of complex, interconnecting rules
- They have multiple game mechanics to learn, often that affect one another in weird ways
- They allow players to use different play styles
- They are usually pretty thematic (which is probably the only way to hold all these pieces together)
Some examples of Kitchen Sink games I like:
- Dead of Winter – This collaborative ‘survive in a village after the zombie apocalypse starts’ game has several different awesome mechanics in play: there’s a saboteur in your midst, maybe, which means you can vote people out of the colony; the group has to manage resources for each crisis and for the overall health of the community; each player has their own secret goal which will allow them to win; you can play defensively against the zombies or offensively; dice play both a mild role (determining what kinds of actions you can take) and a major role (the exposure dice can be brutally punishing). Then there’s the cards that ask the group to make moral decisions as well. So there’s some role-playing. Awesome.
- A Study in Emerald – This anarchist 19th-century Cthulhu-bombing mystery area-control deck builder is just as complicated as it sounds. There are hidden roles, three or four ways to end the game, all sorts of secret information, cubes, cards, permanent effects, a few cards that radically change the game. Then, when the game ends, you really don’t know who won until you reveal roles and tally points. It’s amazing. Also, Sherlock Holmes!
- Vampire: The Eternal Struggle -is the first kitchen sink tabletop game I really learned (and loved). Players can win by subterfuge, by politics, by brawling, through minor chipping-away actions or major bloodletting. There are many factions, each of which plays differently, and even more skills to choose from. It’s too rich, by half. And awesome.
Of course, as board games get closer to RPGs, they get closer to the all-encompassing kitchen sink that is a good pen-and-paper RPG. But I still find the contained aspect of these games very satisfying.
As a designer, one has to think carefully about what all these interconnected mechanics can mean. Do the overly-complex rules turn off players (some, certainly). Do they add to the overall experience and theme? (Study in Emerald works particularly well this way, because it’s supposed to be about the madness of the Elder Gods. And Dead of Winter tries to provoke the tension of living in this embattled colony, so having tons and tons of rules that you have to keep track of stimulates some of the same anxiety the characters are dealing with.)
One question I’m wrestling with is whether to cut a rule because it doesn’t get used very often — but a player who makes use of it well can radically alter the game, perhaps.
Which Kitchen Sink games do you like?