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Introduction To Board Game Mechanisms Part 3

board game mechanisms

Howdy friends! If you’ve read the two previous articles in this series, you might be thinking “there are more mechanisms?” And the reality is the ten we’ve already described and the five below are just scratching the surface of what goes into making a board game. Board Game Geek lists at least 100 different mechanisms which make the DNA of a board game, all of which can be combined into unique different ways. As we mention later, some games combine multiple mechanisms into one to make a truly stunning game. But for now, let us introduce you to the next five board game mechanisms.

Take That – Max Davie

A Take That mechanic allows a player to choose an action which impedes an opponent's position and/or opportunities. You could say that this is fundamental to any competitive game. But the key with Take That is that the action is chosen over others which would not impede opponents directly. For example you might choose not to re-roll a die result in King of Tokyo which will hurt an opponent. You may choose to take a route in Ticket to Ride which you discern as vital to your opponent's plans. Even the practice of 'hate-drafting', in which you take a card that would help an opponent, could be said to fall within Take That.

It may be more helpful to think of Take That as a dynamic within games, rather than a specific mechanic. As such, once you start looking for it, you will find a pinch of Take That in most competitive games which veer from the 'multiplayer solitaire' model. It does have a history of use in some games to create superficial and random 'interaction,’ meaning its presence is often a demerit for 'serious gamers'. But at its best it creates the very best kind of gaming chaos.

If you're a new-ish gamer, and this sounds like fun, I would recommend Smash Up to you. It's a deck-combining game where you use two unique factions in a game of area control with a strong Take That flavour, a big and silly sense of humour, and a huge range of IP tie-ins.
You can go two ways from Smash Up. You can try Survive Escape from Atlantis, undoubtedly the nastiest 'family game' on the market. Or you can step into the mad heart of Take That gaming, Cosmic Encounter. Cosmic defies description. It demands that the players balance it themselves, and it is utterly unpredictable. But the interactions it creates are like nothing else, and Take That is at its pulsating, confounding heart.

Engine-Building Games – Stefano Paravisi

In case you are wondering, nope, this section will not be about Thomas or about a great “can do” attitude. In this section we will discuss how an engine can be an interesting type of core mechanics in a boardgame and we start by clarifying what we intend with the term “engine”. In standard board-games, every action a player takes can bring them closer to the final victory either by scoring more points or by damaging the opponents. In “engine building” boardgames, players can take actions that will slowly improve their ability to generate resources or victory points (the “engine”). Building an effective engine first and then making it more efficient always requires a very strategic planning.

I am a big fan of engine-building games and it all started from a little card game called “Oh My Goods!”. In this game, players are artisans in the medieval Europe that construct buildings to produce goods to sell. The engine of this game is focused in chaining the production from different buildings together so that a basic good can be improved progressively into a more valuable product. For example, you can turn wheat to flour in the mill and then flour to bread using the bakery.

Oh My Goods! can be a very good entry level game if you have never played an engine building game. Your journey into the genre can then continue with Wingspan, a game focused on cataloguing and breeding various species of birds. The game is still not too complex, and it has a nice visual. Your final challenge would then be to play Terraforming Mars, a game where you try to make money while making the Red Planet habitable. This last game is one of the best (and more complex) engine building games available and it can provide great challenges and hours of fun.

Deck Building – Rob Wright

It’s hard to believe that such a staple one of the mechanisms of the gaming world is barely a teenager. Introduced to the world in 2007 via Donald X Vaccarino’s Dominion (the ‘X’ stands for ‘Xciting new game mechanic’… probably), it took the gaming world by storm with its seeming simplicity that built to elegant complexity and satisfying synergy. It was also, in my opinion, the mechanic that introduced the video game concept of the killer combo to the gaming table.

The premise is simple; each player starts with a small, low powered deck of cards and on their turn buys cards to make their deck work better. Most deck builders have other stuff involved, but the core mechanic remains the same: play cards; buy cards; make your deck better; repeat.

My first encounter with deck builders was demoing Dominion at the UK Games Expo, and at the time I thought it was… okay. Then I got a copy of Ascension on a recommendation. At first, I couldn’t see how such a simple concept of playing cards with attack power and/or spending power could make an interesting game. Then I played it. And played it. And played it…

I have now lost count of how many deck builders I own, but I love each one because, though the core mechanic remains the same, the games are so different: Design Town is a small box push your luck game; Clank! is a dungeon crawler/looter; Dune: Imperium blends deck building, worker placement and intrigue to make a unique playing experience (unless you prefer Lost Ruins of Arnak, which is… very similar). And this is one reason why I keep coming back for more. But the other thing that keeps me coming back is delayed gratification. You buy that card, put it in your discard pile and wait patiently for it to come out again. When it does, that deferred dopamine comes rushing back, and there’s not much in this “DO IT NOW” society that does that anymore. It’s not just a mechanic; it’s practicing self-care.

Tile-Placement Games – Tom Harrod

If we’re talking old-school, then you can think of Dominoes as a Tile-Placement game mechanisms. Everyone knows Dominoes, right? (No, not the pizza place, silly!) A key trait of a Tile-Placement game is placing a game piece – often cardboard, with flat faces – to score points or trigger actions. Often, you need to place it adjacent to another tile, and in a legal fashion. Carcassonne is the classic, popular example.

On your turn in Carcassonne, you place a small, square tile into or alongside a growing span of other tiles. There's one golden rule. All sides of the tile you place must match, terrain-wise, any neighboring tiles. Roads have to connect to roads, cities have to touch cities, and farmland has to sit next to farmland. You can’t have, say, a road butting against a non-road tile. Think of it like a jigsaw: a communal, yet competitive map that evolves with every turn! Upon placing a tile, you can invest a meeple onto a feature on that tile. If you can complete the feature before the end of the game, you get to remove the meeple and score points.

Not all Tile-Placement games involve meeple-placement like Carcassonne. Many, however, include gaining a tile (sometimes at random, sometimes from a public display). Then it’s a case of strategic placement. Often, you’ll look to match a cluster of features, or complete a goal or pattern.

If you like Carcassonne, or want to try out some other Tile-Placement games, then your luck is in! There are hundreds, if not thousands of options to try, many of which took inspiration from Klaus-Jurgen Wrede’s smash-hit. Kingdomino sees you drafting tiles from a market to build your own kingdom of dominoes. (They’re not numeric dominoes, though – they have terrains on them, instead!) Azul is a blend between abstract strategy and tile placement. Your aim is to draft azuleijo tiles to decorate the King of Portugal’s palace in a Suduko-style. Isle of Skye, meanwhile, is a superb step up in complexity. Here, you get to price and sell your tiles to other players!

Tableau Building - Dan Street-Phillips

I am a very visual kind of person and so I have always been drawn to board games that grow and develop visually in front of me. I guess that’s why one of my favourite mechanisms is ‘tableau building’. This is probably a term you have heard batted around at board game clubs or in magazines but what exactly is it? Before we define it in board game terms, it’s probably worth defining what a tableau is. A tableau is a visual scene or picture which contains people or object’. So unsurprisingly ‘Tableau Building’ is essentially building a tableau of game components that enable you to enhance the actions available to you throughout the course of a game. Usually mixed in with ‘Engine Building’ the feeling of watching your tableau/engine grow in front of you gives you a real sense of achievement that you might not get with other mechanisms. Whether you win or lose there is a sense of accomplishment.

One of my favourite games that use this mechanisms is Fantastic Factories. During this game you are building a variety of factories in front of you, all represented by cards. You do this by placing dice in different ‘slots’ in order to get resources. Each factory you build offers additional slots and resources therefore powering up your available options. As this tableau builds, it becomes so satisfying to combo cards and gain a whole load of resources ready for your next turn. As a step up in complexity is Everdell. The point of the game is to collect cute little critters and build buildings in your woodland city. All represented by cards, you can place up to 15 in your personal play space, adding in extra powers as well as extra spaces for the worker placement element of the game. And if you really want to go to the heavier side of the spectrum then is there is perhaps no better game than Terraforming Mars, but delving into how that one works is maybe best kept for another day.