I came across a rather interesting blog entry about enjoying games. The author cites three aspects on which he finds games stimulating: intelligence, imagination and social.
It’s easy to come up with games that provide intellectual stimulation, but not much else. I think most two-player abstract strategy games fall into this category. It’s a weakness in them, I think, as it causes the games to require somewhat specific circumstances to get played. Thus, I play Go but not Zèrtz.
Purely imagination-stimulating games — well, I think the best example of that is live-action or tabletop roleplaying. I have done both, but in the end found them unsatisfying. Party games are, of course, socially stimulating. However, I find it rather difficult to see myself playing a game just for social reasons. I tend to get frustrated if I’m stuck with games that just don’t provide enough intellectual stimulation.
Thus, I’d say the intellectual aspect is quite obviously the catch for me. Social stimulation and imagination are secondary aspects of gaming, but still rather important. A good game has strong intellectual component, but should have some social and imagination-stimulating aspects, just so it would actually get played. I think social aspect and theme are a case where it’s very good if both are present, but one is often enough. For example, Puerto Rico is mentally very satisfying and offers enough theme and social interaction to make it fun to play. It could certainly have more captivating theme and more social interaction, but still, there’s enough already.
When developing a game collection, one should probably think of all three aspects. Different occasions certainly ask for different games: there are times I would like to play something mentally taxing (playing games with my gamer mates), but there are also times when more hilarious and mentally easier games are required (parties, games with less game-enthusiastic people).