The creators of Magic: The Gathering (MTG), Wizards of the Coast, write articles on MTG, game play, game design and story background, and release them every weekday. I do my best to read these articles everyday too, and I came across an article on game design that introduced the Hash Brown theory to me.
The original article is here, but I want to summarize and rewrite how I understood the Hash Brown theory.
One of the fun things about a game is discovery. Learning about the new things in a game, what makes the game tick, combos and strategies to use. There might be mundane parts of the game that a new player is required to learn in order to enjoy the rest of the game, but he or she learns it anyway.
The discovery is like the crispy part of the hash brown that almost everyone likes and the mundane portions are the the rest of the potato inside the hash brown. Not as nice as the crispy shell, but people eat it anyway just because it’s part of the hash brown.
So the theory for good game design, like MTG, is that the game re-grows it’s shell.
Think about that.
The core things that make the game work don’t change. In MTG’s case (at least for the most part), these are the rules, basic attacking and blocking, the various card types and the turns of the game. This is good, because players need some familiarity. Too many new things to learn would just turn players off. So this core part is the inside of the hash brown.
The reason why MTG is so popular is because it creates new things. Every three months, a new set is released, with new stories, mechanics and characters. Players love to discover the new cards and combos. They get “AHA!” moments, which feels really good. In essence, Magic re-grows it’s tasty, crispy shell.
Of course, the Hash Brown theory doesn’t apply to every game. Take Chess for example. It’s a great game in it’s own right and doesn’t constantly have anything new. Yet it’s still extremely popular.
The Hash Brown theory is a pretty awesome design tool and it’s the primary reason why I love MTG so much.