What criteria must a game have?

There are criteria which apply to all games and those that apply to the “games with rules”. First, I will describe the criteria that apply to “games with rules”.

Game rules
The course of the game is never the same – chance

Game rules

As already discussed, the rules and the components define the game. Everything that is in the rules is part of the game. Everything that is not in the rules does not belong in the game. The rules are the borders and the heart of the game. They only refer to the game and never exist outside of the game. Although the game has rules which are like laws, playing a game is voluntary and cannot be forced on the players. Whoever plays a game, voluntarily binds himself to the rules. Where force is involved, there is no game. All games without rules are not “games with rules”.


Every game has a goal. Thus, there are two definitions:

The victory condition or requirement.
The strategy needed to win the game.

I would like to make clear the difference between the two definitions with an example. In the game Go, the victory condition is to earn the most points. In order to achieve this, a player must win space. Thus, the strategy, which players use during the game, is to win space. Therefore, I define the game goal as the strategy, which the players work on to win.

There are thousands of games, but only a small number of game goals. That means that most games have the same game goal. At first this seems surprising. But when we look at it closely and see that every has a winner and a loser, the goal of the game must be something measurable, relatively simple to measure, and depicted in a game.

The course of the game is never the same – chance

This attribute, of all entertainment media, is only found in a game. Someone who reads a book, watches a movie, or listens to music, can repeat the experience at any time, but the course and the content is always the same. You can play a game any number of times, however, and the course will always be different. Also, with each game, the course is unknown and it is uncertain who will win the game. Uncertainty and unknown, that is what make games so exciting and delightful. The reason for this is in the game rules and the chance, which play a larger or smaller role in each game.

Playing is experimenting with chance (Novalis). Chance will be experienced in a game by luck (or bad luck). Games, which are mostly based on chance, offer little development possibilities for a player and are usually boring.

On the other hand, chance makes games unpredictable and interesting, and causes the game’s course to develop differently each time. How does chance get into a game:

  • with a random generator (e.g. dice)
  • with different start-up situations (e.g. dealing cards)
  • with incomplete information (e.g. moving at the same time, unknown strategy of your fellow players)
  • with a very high number of move options

Pure strategy games have some chance elements. If that were not so, the game’s course would be too deterministic, and we wouldn’t like a game whose result was known at the beginning. In strategy games, chance is shown in the large number of possible moves. Because of the many moves, no player knows the winning strategy, which leads to victory.

All games which have the same course, by definition, do not belong to “games with rules”. For example, this would be puzzles, quizlets, and brain teasers, which lose their attraction when they have been solved. Solitaire games which follow a different course each time belongs, for me, to “games with rules”.


Each game demonstrates competition. Players compete in a game. There are winners and losers. Even in cooperative games or when players work as a team, competition exists. In this case, the players compete against one of the predetermined situations, that means the players play cooperatively against the game system. The same applies to solitaire games (e.g. Patience, Solitaire). A competition needs a system, in which the game results can be compared. The competition and the measurement of the game results are criteria which limit the game and the cause that certain feelings won’t be fulfilled throughout the game as in books, movies, and music. For example, love, freedom, harmony, pain, sorrow, etc. The criteria “competition” is also the reason why it is so difficult to develop games which are not aggressive.