In my last post on the subject, I wrote about how important it is for game mechanics to replicate the reality of whatever the game is about. And then I left on a cliffhanger by saying that isn't actually true.
It's not true because games depend on the players.
A game is not a novel or a film. Those are finite created works which can be evaluated on their own terms (or on any terms the critic wishes to apply). You don't need to poll other readers to judge a novel or a film. The creator probably wants a lot of people to like his work, especially if he's doing it for money, but each reader or viewer ultimately interacts with the work alone. Even when we're in a crowded movie theater, we are responding to that film as individuals.
A game is more like a stage play or an improvisational comedy show. In fact it's possibly significant that we use the word "play" to refer to both a theater performance and the act of experiencing a game. All of those things depend on the players involved, and there is no "final edit" to change things.
If you're writing a novel you can edit your manuscript over and over again. If you're making a movie, you can edit the film, re-shoot scenes, and tinker endlessly. But a live performance doesn't have that luxury, which makes each one a unique event. Avid playgoer know that on some nights the performance is simply better than on others, even with the same cast, the same theater, and the same director. Sometimes everyone is just "on" and everything "clicks" — and sometimes everything doesn't.
The same is true with a game: the fun of a game session comes from the players, not the game. In the past I've ranted about Monopoly, the game literally designed to be no fun, with almost no connection between subject and mechanics. (Seriously: if you own a hotel on Mediterranean Avenue, why do you have to pay rent on Park Place? Why not stay in your own hotel for free? It doesn't make sense!) And yet Monopoly is one of the best-selling games in history. Obviously millions of people have enjoyed the hell out of playing Monopoly, because it's fun to sit around the table with friends or siblings and demand fistfuls of orange play money from them.
And with roleplaying games the fun is even more linked to the players and the gamemaster. A good GM can use just about any rules to create a fun session. A bad GM, or a lack of chemistry in the group, can scuttle even the most well-crafted scenario with the most elegant rule set. Heck, even a skilled group who get along well together can have an "off night" where things just don't work well.
So the secret to an entertaining game is this: find good players, and be a good player. Ultimately you only get what you bring to the table.