We’re coming to the end of the Board Game Mechanisms introduction series (for now.) By the end of this post, we’ll have covered 30 different board game mechanisms and you should have a pretty good idea of how they make up the DNA of a game. I’d love to know if any of the games we’ve suggested have drawn you in, or even any of the mechanisms have had you scrolling Board Game Geek for the games under that mechanism. So here we go, a last hurrah. Let’s go.
Track Movement – Luke Pickles
The last mechanism (for now) is one we’re probably going to be familiar with – Track Movement. This is not specific to racing games, but it does mean moving our pieces along a linear track. Roll and move games do this very well, but the one I’m thinking of as an intro game is the game which introduced me to the hobby. That game is Tokaido, where players are moving along the Tokaido trail from Kyoto to Edo (or the other way), attempting to have the best journey. Along the way, they’ll stop at onsen (hot springs), temples and markets, whilst painting some beautiful pictures. I love how this game looks and plays. On each players turn, they choose how far they want to go along the path and take the action. However, moving too far ahead means the players behind them have an advantage. You see, the player at the back of the queue takes the next turn.
I find this game wonderful because it introduces set collection in the market and paintings, competition for spaces familiar with worker placement games, different player powers, and above all else, it looks beautiful, giving players an excellent introduction to the board gaming hobby. Look at how well it did it for me!
If you fancy trying another game with Track Movement, I can recommend Great Western Trails.
Variable Set-Up - Max Davie
If you think of variable set up as simply ‘a different beginning’, then a lot of games have it, if not most. Sometimes each player's starting situation is randomised, for instance by players receiving different combinations of cards. In other games, the scoring conditions are randomised. But ‘variable set up’ as a mechanic is a deliberate attempt to make the starting position of players vary from play to play.
To explain this more clearly, it is worth thinking about cooperative games. In some sense the goal of a cooperative game is always the same, for the players collectively to win. If every game played the same, players would quickly tire of the challenge. Variable set up can vary the challenge, in order to make each play feel different.
A good introductory example of this is the game Horrified. In Horrified, players are working together to defeat monsters from the Universal canon. The variability is chosen by the players both in the number of monsters and which particular monsters they are going to fight this time. This leads to a greater degree of replayability than if the challenge was always the same.
Another variable that can be exploited is the board itself. One famous example of this is Castles of Burgundy, where the choice of board makes a subtle but definite difference to the optimal strategy.
Finally (at least for the purposes of this short introduction) the abilities and actions available to players can be varied. At its simplest this may allow for one rule to be bent or removed for each player, for instance for the role cards in Pandemic. At the more complex end, each game of Root is made unique by its combination of board, faction, landmarks and even card decks.
For some, the complex experience of setting up a fully expanded game of Root shows the downside of variable setup, and so if you want to explore this area of gaming, perhaps it would be better to start at the simpler end. Wherever you begin, variable setup adds greatly to the replayability and interest of any game that you enter and so is a valuable tool for maintaining player engagement.
Catch The Leader – Luke Pickles
Catch the Leader is something I’ve grown to appreciate in games. Especially as I get more experienced and play certain games more than others, but still want to introduce them to newer players. For the most part, Catch the Leader can be best described as “Catch Up,” giving an advantage to players behind the player in the lead. By its very nature, it will never be the core mechanism, always something that is supplemental but it’s always nice to see. For me, the game that does this the best is the Quacks of Quedlinburg. This is a bag-building, push-your-luck game where players are quack doctors, trying to sell their weird and wonderful potions as medicinal cure-alls. You’ll be drawing chips out of a bag and trying to avoid blowing up your cauldron with your white chips. The further round you go, the more points and spending power you’ll have. Depending on your luck, you might find yourself quite a way behind the leader in a few rounds.
The Catch Up mechanism is simply Rat Tails. These are printed on the scoreboard and relate to all players other than the leader. For every Rat Tail behind the leader you are, you get to put a Rat Tail into your potion, by moving your Rate Tail marker along the track. This means your starting position between rounds is (potentially) a lot further forward than the leader, meaning potentially more points for you.
I love this mechanism and how it feels in the game. Everyone feels like they can have a big turn which can swing the game in their favour. I really recommend giving it a go if you can.
For other Catch Up mechanisms, have a look at Heat: Pedal to the Metal.
Chaining – Craig Smith
Ok I’m going to start with a little bit of a confession. When I volunteered to do the section about “chaining,” I thought it meant chaining combos like you do in some roll and writes. When I realised that chaining actually meant playing pieces appearing in a chain, I knew exactly which game to do.
The copy of Fjords I have is a reprint of a 2005 classic, which is very much a game of two halves. First is the exploration phase, where players take it in turns “exploring” the landscape by adding tiles from a pool of four. During this phase, players may also add one of their four longhouses to the board. The location of these become important in the second half of the game.
In the settlement phase, players add their Vikings to the board, but they have to be either adjacent to one of their longhouses, or one of their previously placed Vikings. This is where the game gets deliciously cutthroat, as players start to chain their Vikings across the map to fence their opponents off. There are certain runestones (in the advanced variants of the game) which allow players to cross mountains, water, even gaps in the board!
Fjords feels like Hey, That’s My Fish but in reverse, and the artwork on the reprint has been wonderfully illustrated by the incredibly talented Beth Sobel. It’s a very approachable game, and the runestones can add extra complexity for more seasoned gamers. If you’re a fan of Cascadia (also illustrated by Sobel) and its expanding board, then Fjords may also be worth a try.
If you like Fjords for the chaining, maybe you should check out Blue Lagoon!
Bidding Mechanism -Rachael Duchovny
Camel Up is the perfect game to explain the bidding mechanism because essentially that’s all this game is! If you’ve ever been to the races think… Aintree with camels! And no matter which version of Camel Up you have, bidding is done in a similar way, the only real difference being if you have, and add, expansions to the original or play with those crazy camels in the second edition.
I was first introduced to Camel Up by another Zatu blogger when they recommended it to help get my mother playing board games with my husband and I. Previous successes with her had only really been trivia games or Roll For It. I loved it immediately! And more importantly, so did she. It’s simplistic, yet challenging, and most importantly sheer fun.
In bidding games, you need to bid for an advantage of some sort, whether that be resources or abilities or in the case of Camel Up, money. Each move you make is a gamble. If you bid on a particular camel to win the whole game first, you’ll get the most money at the end but what if the fates step in and cause that camel to have 3 straight legs of a 1 roll on the die. In Camel Up you also bid in legs of the race as well as the race as a whole. And there’s lovely leg tokens to be claimed for those early enough to dare bid on the leg winning camel. But whilst going early can win bigger rewards, losing costs also.
Camel Up uses the bidding mechanism throughout by giving you a selection of actions you can take each move, almost all of which involve betting on something happening. Will the camel step on your applause, will it win the leg or even who should I strike up a handshake with to share in their good betting fortune?
If you’re curious about bidding games, then I urge you to look no further and give Camel Up a go. You’re in for a good time with these stacking camels!