Hello reader. In this series I will be talking about gameplay mechanics. In each article I will discuss one mechanic, explain what it is and why I like it. I will also shine a light on five games I particularly enjoy that utilise the mechanic in an interesting way. I've elected to start with Tile Placement, a mechanic is typically associated with 'entry level' games. However, it is used to great effect in some modem, mid-weight strategy games.
What is Tile Placement?
During a turn the player will place a game piece (like a tile). Doing so will score points, trigger an ability or provide the player with some other form of benefit. Points and/or benefits are typically greater if the tile is placed alongside others sharing a trait with it.
Why do I like it in a game?
Games utilising Tile Placement tend to feature a board or play area that changes throughout the game. A good example of this is Carcassonne, arguably one of the most well known modern board games. I like the visual aspect of a game board that changes as I play, it keeps me engaged. It is interesting to watch the results of player’s actions physically shape the course of the remaining game.
In my opening I mentioned how the mechanic is often associated with less complex games. I now specifically choose lighter games, like Carcassonne, to break up my usual routine. I tend to lean towards games commonly classed as mid to heavy weight, or competitive card games like Magic the Gathering. Mixing in a few lighter games is a nice way to wind up (or down) a gaming session. Or to just have a more chilled out gaming experience.
Games that utilise Tile Placement
I've mentioned Carcassonne; like many, it was my entry point into the world of modern board games. It is widely considered to be the epitome of a Tile Placement game. However, I've selected five other games of varying complexities and themes so show how Tile Placement can be utilised. I should note that my aim here is only to provide a summary of each game. Full reviews can be found on our Review section of the blog.
Player Count: 2 - 6 | Complexity: Low | Released: 2003
In Alhambra players will be drafting from a shared pool of cards which represent four different types of currency. These cards will be used to purchase tiles from a shared market. One tile will always be available for each of the four currency types, until the end game is triggered. The tiles depict six different types of building and may also include a section of wall. Players will purchase tiles and add them to their personal Alhambra, which will grow as the game progresses.
The aim is to gather enough buildings of each type to be able to score during a scoring phase. There are three scoring phases in the game. During each scoring phase, points are awarded to the player(s) with the largest collection of each building type at that time. Points of a lower value are also awarded to the player(s) with the second largest collection of each type. In addition, each player scores points based on the longest continuous wall they have built.
With Alhambra, I enjoy the combination of Tile Placement and Card Drafting. Players have one action on a turn: draft currency, buy a tile, or rearrange their Alhambra. When rearranging or placing a tile, players must always keep it aligned correctly; a building should always be placed right side up. Whilst not a complex game, players do need to balance the need for money and buildings. Knowing when to buy and how to optimise your tile placement will go a long way toward taking the win.
Player Count: 2 - 4 | Complexity: Low | Released: 2015
Karuba is a network building/race game. The aim is to find a path through the jungles of Karuba and collect more treasure than your opponent(s).
Each player has a personal game board, four explorers, four temples and a set of 36 jungle tiles. The tiles depict paths through the jungle and each player has an identical set. Explorers and temples will be placed along the edges of the game board. Explorers are always placed on a beach side and temples on a jungle side. Players collectively decide where to place each explorer and temple, and do so on identical positions on their own boards. Players will also elect a player to be expedition leader, who will shuffle their tiles into a face down pile. All other players can look at their tiles and arrange them face up beside their board as they wish.
On a turn, the expedition leader will randomly select one of their tiles and announce the number. Each other player locates their tile of the same number and then all players place the tile onto their board. Players have the freedom to place the tile as they choose, so long as it is placed legally. Instead of placing the tile, it can be discarded to allow one explorer to move. Some tiles will depict a gem; if a player places one of these tiles, they also place the corresponding gem on it. Explorers can pick up gems when they stop on these tiles, scoring additional points.
Players have the same set of tiles and starting setup, but the freedom to form their own path. This is the mechanic I particularly like in Karuba. It's always interesting to see where strategies diverge and who is able to form the most efficient routes.
Player Count: 1 - 4 | Complexity: Low | Released: 2017
Tile Placement is central to gameplay in Seikatsu. The game accommodates two to four players, but it is at its best with three. I like it partly for that reason, as I often have three player gaming sessions, and partly because it looks fantastic. The quality and look of the components are quite something. But gameplay is the main reason I bring this back to the table, as it should be.
The board is made up of circular spaces laid out in a hexagonal pattern. The central hex itself is aligned to three coloured areas of the game board. From each area, six lines of circular spaces can be traced. Players begin with two randomly chosen tiles, pulled from a shared bag. On a turn the active player will place a tile, immediately score points and then draw a new tile. There are two types of tile: Garden and Koi Pond. Each Garden tile depicts a bird in the centre of a floral wreath. When placed, the tile scores based on the number of matching birds that connect to it. Koi Pond tiles serve as Jokers, counting as any one bird type when placed. At game end, players will score the largest number of matching wreaths in each line moving away from their colour section.
Seikatsu is incredibly easy to setup and teach, and it plays quickly. It is exactly the type of game I'll bring to the table for a more relaxed, or shorter gaming session. Coffee, snacks and a little Seikatsu equals a nice Sunday afternoon.
Player Count: 1 - 5 | Complexity: Medium | Released: 2017
Terraforming Mars is a great example of the Tile Placement mechanic being a visually engaging element of overall gameplay. You start with a game board depicting the red planet as we know it, barren and lifeless (or is it...?). By the end of the game, the board has been transformed into a planet with cities, forests, and oceans. You can all but hear the Martian populace calling for independence from Earth based governments!
The game’s objective is given away in the name. Players will take one or two actions in a turn. The most common actions are playing or activating cards. The cards represent technologies or events that will generate resources or alter the face of Mars. When such an action is taken, the player will place a tile and gain a benefit. They may also be required to increase the Oxygen level or Temperature, which will ultimately lead to game end. Game end is triggered when the Oxygen and Temperature reach certain levels, and when all ocean tiles have been placed. When the end game is triggered, City and Greenery tiles will score again, along with any played cards with point values.
I always find myself highly engaged with Terraforming Mars. There are multiple paths to victory. Identifying the best one for the current board state is a constant challenge. The card drafting often poses a dilemma. Players will need to do a little engine building to generate enough resources to play cards and trigger changes to Mars, which will ultimately score points. It's a fun game with high replayability and a spaceship full of expansions.
Player Count: 2 - 4 | Complexity: Medium | Released: 2011
Gameplay in Castles of Burgundy revolves around dice rolling and Tile Placement. All player will have a game board depicting a princedom, formed of 37 hexagons. Each hexagon will show a die face (1-6) and be one of six colours. The colours represent different building types. The aim is to develop your princedom and score victory points. That sounds straightforward, but it is a challenge.
At the start of a round, all players roll two dice. On a player’s turn they may 'spend' the diee to perform actions. Actions include drafting and placing building tiles. Tiles are drafted from a shared market. The market has seven areas from which a player may draft a tile. A 'bonus' area and six areas corresponding to the six die faces.
To draft from one of the six main areas, the player must 'spend' a die showing the matching number of pips. E.g. to draft a tile from market area four, the player must spend a die showing four pips. Placing tiles works in the same way. The player must spend a die showing the same number of pips as displayed in the target hexagon. Buildings can only be placed in a hexagon of a matching colour.
Players can spend dice to perform other actions, like recruiting workers. Each worker tile can be discarded to add or remove a pip from a rolled die. There are other actions available for you to discover when you play!
Players will score when completing a connected group of buildings. Bonuses are applied depending on the game phase (the bonus decreases as the game progresses). Players may also score for completing all spaces of a specific building type. Bonus scoring tiles are available to the first and second players for completing each building type.
Castles of Burgundy is a great mid-weight euro game. Whilst I've focused on the tile elements of play, there are other factors that will influence the game. It's a well designed strategy game that gets a lot of attention in my gaming groups.