Nice blog post here by Bruno Faidutti about the trend of ‘Japanese minimalism’ in game design. (It’s in French first, English underneath.) He says straight away that of course minimal games have existed for a while, and they don’t all come from Japan. But there definitely is a strong current tradition there of games involving very small numbers of cards and no or very few other components. Faidutti suggests this is clear enough to be considered a ‘minimalist school’ of game design now, alongside the German and American schools (which he likens to ‘classical’ and ‘baroque’).
Of these Japanese games, I’ve only played Love Letter (which I don’t think works very well with 2 players, but I like it a lot with 3 or more), but there are loads of other really interesting-sounding ones around. It would be nice to see more of them get European publishing before too long: or an easy way for non-Japanese readers to order them from the original publisher.
(A non-Japanese example that I’ve recently got hold of a proper copy (after print-and-playing it a while back) is Daniel Solis’s ingenious Suspense. And Good Little Games has a load of such games free to print and play, including my own Shape Up!, which demonstrate the variety of clever and fun ideas possible.)
I picked up on what I’d seen called ‘microgames’ a year or so back, as first discussed here re what became Shape Up! And have bounced another couple of ideas around too, although they haven’t turned into decent games (yet!) The economics of production of such games are very favourable, of course, as mentioned in this post.
As Faidutti says in the post, “Like painters, writers or chefs, most game authors dream of a pure and uncluttered design, an epitome of simplicity capturing the true essence of gaming.” That partly catches the appeal, for me: but it does sound possibly a bit austere. I’d also emphasize the importance of the feeling of satisfaction gained from squeezing a fun playing experience into such a small diameter.