Author : Eric Pietrocupo
In most games, players need to manage resources. They could be defined as anything that can be spent or acquired during the course of a game. These resources will flow in a certain manner through your game since there are ways to acquire them and there are ways to use them. A good thing to do is to draw a graph that keep track of the resource flow of your game. That could help you solve solve some problems, like loops, especially if your resource flow is complex.
Personally, I like game where you can clearly see after a few plays what is the resource flow of the game. One of the game that does that well is Puerto Rico where it works like an assembly chain. You need colonist, plantations and production buildings, to make commodity and those commodity can be converted into cash or victory points. So it's like a machine, you put stuff in the input and something get out at the exit. It's like a coffee machine, you put beans and water and you get coffee.
Here is a flow chart I made for Puerto Rico.
But there are other designer who seem to make things complicated. The other example I am going to use is Terra Mystica. This game's resource flow is very complex and it's very hard to know where your resources are going. It's like having a machine with multiple holes, with some hidden, where have no idea which of them are input or output.
Here is the flow chart for Terra Mystica
So it makes a game where you don't know where you are going. You are doing various things that moves resources around and you try get the resources you need when they are needed, but there is no global resource flow that you can clearly see in your head. The main reason is because there are like 25 ways to convert resources.
So if you as yourself a simple question like: "How do I get gold?", here are the answers for both games
(note: There are so many ways, that I cannot remember how to do it by myself. So in order to write the list above, I needed to look at the flowchart to know I am not missing anything.)
One of the reason why this game had that kind of resource of management is because everything can give everything. For example, commodity in Puerto Rico are only used for 2 things Gold or Victory points. When a resource has limited options, it will create a resource flow similar to a river. Sometimes it can branch or fusion back together, but at least the river is going into a general direction. While in Terra Mystica, you end up with a spider web where everything is going in all directions because any resource can be converted as any resource or any game element will give all possible resources instead of 1 or 2.
This makes the player struggle while playing because the resource flow is not clear enough to know how he can get the resource he needs. You also get in the situation where you discover ways to get the resource you need while you play (because you forgot it). Of course playing experience can make it easier to understand the game, personally I played the game twice so far and made the graph above and I am still confused with the resource flow. So it just increases the learning curve of the game for no good reason.
I even consider a game like Starcraft much easier because even it's a brain burner, at least I know where my resources are going.