A colleague recently sent me this link to the computer-based variation of the Pandemic board game:
This is a good example of the kind of game that evolves from examining and mapping a process, in this case, the spread of disease. This entails identifying the critical attributes of the system and understanding their input-process-output relationships. The designer decides which inputs he wants the player to make decisions about, which go into a 'black box' where some process takes place which converts the player inputs (decisions) into an output, in this case, death rates. While those inputs under the player's control are visible (resistance, symptoms, etc), the process is hidden (how and to what extent do all the attributes interact to affect the victory condition). Players via their choices try to influence the output to their favor in order to win the game. They have some metrics (lethality, infectious, visibility) which are like gauges attached to the black box, which give some clue as to how well we are manipulating some aspects of the machine. Through reasoned trial and error, the player tries to get the black box to produce the right output by making choices analogous to pulling on different levers attached to the box. Decisions are not free; the different levers cost differing amounts to pull, and the player has a budget. In this game, the budget is in the form of Evolution Points.
If you play long enough, you should be able deduce what some of the algorithms are in the process and which levers are more important to pull than others to maximize your chances of winning. That's the game's challenge.
But if the black box part of the game is so complicated that you can't even begin to understand (or in a reasonable amount of time begin to learn) the linkage between your actions and the outcomes, you quit playing in frustration. In good game design, there is a balance between the players' skill and the game's difficulty. This is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of game "flow." Too hard (complexity>skill) you quit in frustration. Too easy (complexity<skill) you quit out of boredom. A flawed game adds features which are really nothing more than eye-candy; they are levers which are not connected to the machine. You may initially believe that the features are good because they make the game look more 'realistic' or give the players more things to manipulate. Players soon view the game as 'dishonest' - you can manipulate the controls of the game, make decisions, but quite frankly it won't help you win the game.
That's all purely from an entertainment perspective - hiding the process within the black box is part of the game. When it comes to professional war games, we are either trying to give players decision making experience (education) or develop decision making information (research and analysis). Therefore we should insist on looking "under the hood" of any black box or simulation that is a part of a game in order to understand how inputs are converted to outputs, lest game participants take away the wrong lesson or analysts draw the wrong conclusions. And not every simulation programmer is willing to lift that hood.