Advice for the next generation of designers
When I first became interested in board game design back in the late 80’s there was not much of an internet to search. My local library did not have any books on board game design and few people around me thought much about such things. This is not the case today, now a google search for board game design returns “About 40,000,000 results in (0.56 seconds)”.
Let me start out with a rant about how this is not a mechanic… no that won’t do, as I want you to actually listen to what I have to say on this point…. Humm, what if I said that I am a traitor to all game designers by thinking this is not a mechanic… no, that won’t do either… THIS IS NOT A BOARD GAME MECHANIC!!! (I am joking)
The traitor “mechanic” is actually just a simple variant of the variable player powers or player roles mechanic(s) designed to create an asymmetric player role whose purpose is to instigate conflict and add intrigue to the game. There I said it…
Action Points Allowance Systems
For many years games would only let players take the same action over and over each turn, in chess that action is to move one piece. Then games started letting players pick from a short list of actions but they still could only do one of those actions each turn. While things keep changing, many games still use the pick one from a list of actions mechanic, and for those games, it can (and often does) work well. Over the years designers have begun to introduce the idea that players could take several actions in the same turn, this has given players the ability to do more combinations and feel that they have more control over what was going on in the game.
Deciding how many actions the players get each turn and how other players should be able to react to this string of actions has also evolved over time. Some games let players do one action for each of their game pieces on the board, while others limit the player’s total actions per turn to a set amount. Many worker placement games have players taking turns up to the limit of workers (actions) they have left each round. All of these are the foundation pieces for what has now become known as the Action Point Allowance System or just the Action Point (AP) mechanic for short.
This workhorse of a mechanic has historically filled many roles in games. This has been everything from the core mechanic of a game all the way down to a small sub-mechanic that you might not have realized was even set collection. Games like Gin Rummy, and Go Fish, are examples of games where the core mechanic is set collection. Monopoly, Ticket to Ride, and 7 Wonders are all games that have a heavy use of set collection, but they also have other mechanics that play a large role in shaping the gameplay. Then there are games like Forbidden Desert that have many other mechanics all working toward the singular goal of making a set. Did I lose anyone?
Understand, Forbidden Desert is not a set collection game (in the traditional sense), but it does have one set to collect. The players need to find all of the parts to fix their ship… collecting this one set of components is the goal of the game. As a workhorse mechanic, no matter what role set collection has in building gameplay, it is capable of filling that role. This means deciding how much of a role set collection will have in your game is the first step.
On the surface, this mechanic might seem like a large abstract concept used in games more than just a simple mechanic. If you feel that way then you are not alone. Some game designers (and most people) use “terms for ideas” interchangeably or use the same term for several different ideas. This can muddy the waters when those terms are discussed. Mechanic is one such word.
Therefore, Area control is a mechanic made up of other sub-mechanics working together. While the term mechanic does describe things that are simple ideas like Roll & Move, as discussed in my article on Dice Rolling. It also gets used for bigger ideas like Area Control, and in some games, area control might mean several seemingly independent mechanics all working together to form a system of area control. So, is area control a system or a mechanic?
The short answer is they are both correct ways to describe what area control is. In the world of game design mechanic is just a big word. This means sometimes you just have to try your best to decipher how the word is being used in context.
There are many uses for dice in games that extend far beyond the need for one random element. One of the main uses of dice rolling is to have an impartial third party mechanic determine the outcome of an action or event. Dice rolling can also be used to choose or select things for us like providing a random pick. They are the cornerstone of many complicated formulas in numerous game mechanics.
Dice might be one of the most versatile single components in game design. However, this article will not go deeply into the many ways dice can be rolled in combinations to achieve statistical probabilities or how to use dice to select a narrow range of predictable results. Instead, I would like this to focus more on how they are used to build interesting game mechanics…