During our latest Gamasutra Twitch stream the developers of the X-Wing Miniatures tabletop game explained how then turn abstract concepts -- like that of dogfighting in a three-dimensional space -- into effective two-dimensional mechanics.
There's no easy answer, but the one clear takeaway was to avoid getting carried away and creating something overly complex. Simplicity reigns supreme, so it's important to distil and refine your mechanic until you've got something that's akin to a tiny cog in a well-oiled machine.
"Sometimes it's best to take an idea and say 'well if we perfectly simulated it, how would we do it?' Then you might be like 'well there are four variables and they all interact with each other,' but that's obviously too much work, because you don't want to add that clumsy system onto another streamlined system," explained Frank Brooks.
"You've got to work your way back, and sometimes it's good to even start from the most abstract version and ask 'what is the least we could do to make you feel like you're doing the thing we want you to feel?'
Using the cloaking mechanic as an example of that process, fellow developer Alex Davy revealed the team went through nine iterations of that particular mechanic before landing on a long-term solution.
Even when they'd settled on a something that seemingly worked, the launch of the TIE Phantom expansion pack (which includes ships equipped with a clocking device) made it apparent they'd actually created a way for smart, high-level players to tear through opponents by exploiting the cloaking system.
"Cloak was super-complicated at times, and sometimes it was too simple. And what we kept coming back to is my belief that the heart and soul of X-Wing is manoeuvring your ships, spinning those dials, and trying to guess where your opponents are going to be," adds Davy.
"We didn't get it right the first time, I'll admit that. When the Phantom expansion first came out, you were able to de-cloak when your ship activated. So the higher your pilot skill was, the more of the board state you got to see before you de-cloaked. And it was just brutal, because a good Phantom player could slice and dice through an enemy squad.
"So we had to issue an erratum and dial it back, and put cloaking at the start of the combat phase instead. Basically, it took a lot of work to try and convey a complex concept in pretty simple terms, but we're really happy with the final result."
To hear more from the X-Wing team, be sure to check out the full stream right here. After that, why not follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel for even more developer insights and gameplay commentary.