What mechanisms do the International Ludigang members appreciate the most?
A mechanism is a term referring to a functional aspect that drives the game. And this month the gang explore these boardgame building blocks to assess what mechanisms or combination of mechanisms they find most intriguing.
If they disagree? Yes, even this time the members seem to have quite different opinions in the matter.
Click on the person of your choice to read what they have to say on the subject.
Among all the mechanisms that we usually think off when describing how board games work, Set Collection must be one of the oldest. Classic card games have for example used it to great advantage for ages so to say that this mechanism is tried-and-true is almost an understatement. But the reason why I find Set Collection so enticing and why I’ve picked it as my favourite mechanism has to do with its almost inexplicable quality that always seem to create tension around the table. Because no matter the game, nor if I even have a fighting chance to win, every set that gets collected still feels like a small victory in and of itself.
Due to Set Collection being such a classic mechanism though, there are of course some great titles utilising it magnificently, games such as Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders, and Splendor springs to mind. But I would like to highlight a rather new game, namely Nidavellir (published in 2020 by GRRRE Games), that takes the Set Collection mechanism, combines it with a rather novel auction system, and succeeds in squeezing every ounce of excitement out of this intriguing combination of techniques. I can therefore highly recommend Nidavellir, as an awesome game, for sure, but also as a great example of how fun Set Collection really can be.
My favourite game mechanism is worker placement. Why? I just love the way that worker placement games force you to prioritise your decisions and plan your strategy early. Then inevitably someone will block the action space you wanted and you’ll have to react by adjusting and replanning. Worker placement keeps your reassessing the state of play constantly and means that your fellow players actions are always relevant.
It’s a well used mechanism that can be found in some classic games like Stone Age and Agricola. There has also been some excellent twists on the mechanic too. Like Raiders of the North Sea’s ‘place one, take one’ version, or Architects of the West Kingdom where your poor workers can be imprisoned! The pinnacle of worker placement for me though is Anachrony by Mindclash Games.
In Anachrony not only do you have four different classes of worker each with their own restrictions or bonuses depending on where they’re placed. But you also have two distinct types of placement locations. One of which, main board locations, which will require your workers to pilot an Exosuit in order to use them!
It’s a gloriously tight and complex game and an excellent example of the potential of worker placement games. If you get the opportunity I can’t recommend Anachrony highly enough!
Well, drafting is awesome. The thrill involved and the randomness about it makes any game go from plain to awesome! And if you are like me, I love games that keep me bringing them to the table and also make other people gain more and more interest in this wonderful hobby. Drafting is easy enough to understand once you try it once or twice!
Some people think that this mechanic is strictly related to cards, and it’s also overlooked for being just « luck related ». But you’ll be surprised that many popular games use this mechanic with dice, meeples, tokens or anything you can « pass and play ». In many drafting games, each player is dealt a hand or a certain number of things. Players then choose from it and pass the rest to another player in an orderly fashion. Sometimes, these are drawn from a « pool » and in both cases, players will continue to choose and pass until the cards, tokens, dice or whatever are gone. This process involves being concentrated enough to plan ahead any move and also to improvise plays based on what you got and the games objective.
One of the first games I played that involved some kind of drafting was Splendor. In its core, people have to choose the correct « mines » from a « pool » available to all players but have to be quick about it because someone else can SNATCH that victory from the very tips of your fingers. Century Spice Road (all versions) follow the same Splendor mechanic and also involve that kind of pseudo drafting gameplay. But the very FIRST TRUE DRAFTING GAME that I played was Sushi Go! In this game you can experience a simple, fun and quick way to learn and experiment with drafting. It’s the best place to start. Also, another great game that implements beautifully this mechanic (and it’s on my Top 3 favorite games that I own) is Blood Rage. Why? Because the drafting decisions you make have serious consequences through all of the game! Plus it makes you feel super powerful and smart when you draft correctly (you can add to this that miniatures makes everything better and 100x times more epic in my humble opinion XD ).
So… if I have to resume my thoughts on this game mechanic i’ll say is engaging, fun, simple and exciting. Try it if you haven´t and I can assure you that it will serve you as a gateway to include a variety of games made for everyone, even for those people that want to enter this wonderful board gaming hobby.
A quick look at my boardgame collection reveals my favored game mechanic: dice placement. That’s basically worker placement with dice substituting the regular workers. The beauty of it is that the dice offer a new layer of depth as their pip value influence play. A good dice placement game offers several ways to manipulate (at a cost) the dice values rolled. I don’t want a game to be random, but I love it to be unpredictable. The unpredictability of the dice roll ensures that experienced and inexperienced players have more equal chances for victory. There’s no “cracking the winning strategy” and beating newbies with it on repeat.
Furthermore I just love the tangibility of chucking clunky, preferably custom made, dice and the excitement (despair and joy) each roll provokes.
The game that made me fall head over heels for this mechanic was Alien Frontiers by Game Salute. It’s quite a cut-throat dice placement game, set in space with beautiful colorful dice and components. In Alien Frontiers players use their dice (= space ships) to dock at orbital facilities and use alien technology. The goal is to quickly build colony domes to populate a newly discovered planet. It’s a thrilling race for resources and vicious battle for dominance.
Other top notch dice placement games in my collection are The Magnificent by Aporta Games, Champions of Midgard by Grey Fox Games and Rajas of the Ganges by HUCH! .
I feel I can’t finish this piece without mentioning Castles of Burgundy. A supersolid dice placement classic by designer Stefan Feld. This masterpiece in game design from 2011 recently got a Anniversary Edition. The impossible happened: it’s even uglier than the original. I’ll try my luck again with the 20th anniversary edition, because any dice placement boardgame collection isn’t complete without this title!
Bots and Whatnots: The Solo AI Mechanic
When considering the question of ‘favourite game mechanic’, I have no real favourite but as a solo gamer, I do look for interesting solutions designers adopt to offer soloists the same game experience gamers have when playing multiplayer games. There are numerous solutions but I do find several that really appeal to me.
GMT games have in-depth AI action logic flow charts for their COIN games. They can be quite complicated to use, but they really do provide a Bot opponent that makes ‘intelligent’ action decisions very close to those made by real players. Liberty or Death and Pendragon are but two such examples where 3 AI players really challenge us as the live player.
Another, and very popular mechanic, is that which originated in the Automa Factory for Stonemier games’ Wingspan, Tuscany and Scythe. The AI Bot in these examples use a deck of action cards, and although the AI does not play exactly as a live player would, their action decisions hinder a real player just as real opponents would do. This method has also been adopted for a (new to me) game called Era of Tribes which is more along the lines of a 4X style game.
One final method I particularly like is definitely the most simple. Again a deck of cards is used but this time each card dictates random, variable win conditions/objectives. This deck is usually accompanied by a simple action blocking mechanism to increase the challenge for us. Rise to Nobility is one such game and, although we only play our own game, with no opponent, we do have to achieve specific goals to win, thus making each game a different experience. It also forces us to use parts of the board we may otherwise shy away from, as we have to adapt and modify our winning strategies from game to game. It is great when designers actually take the time to ensure a Euro style game can offer solo players that all-important multiplayer experience.
My favorite mechanism: tile laying – by Stephanie from @stephs_spielerei
Maybe I am so fond of tile laying games because my first experience with modern boardgames (and by that term I mean basically everything that isn’t Monopoly or Risk) was when a good friend of mine invited me to play Carcassonne with her. It was on a cold winters day, around 2001. It didn’t make much sense for me at the time. A game with funny little wooden people and no dice?!? But I remember the satisfaction I felt when we finished the game (which I probably lost) and I contemplated the city and meadows we had built in the course of about an hour. It took me another decade, in which I mostly played Magic: the Gathering, before I really got into modern boardgames, and Carcassonne was among the very first games I purchased to start my little collection.
I like tile laying games because you literally start from a clean slate, aka an empty table, and you build as you go. It gives you a sense of accomplishment at the end of the game. And luckily, a lot of other tile laying games hit the shelves since good ol’ Carcassonne. Taluva is my favorite tile laying game, and one of my favorite boardgames altogether. What I love about Taluva is that you can build both outwards and upwards, stacking tile upon tile. This building upwards feature is something I also enjoy a lot in Cooper Island. Sometimes, these games have a puzzly nature, when you have to make sure certain edges meet, and elements like roads connect, for instance in Carcassonne and Keyflower. And it can get extra puzzly when there are polyominoes involved, like Patchwork, Isle of Cats, etc. There are also games where instead of building a communal central map or board, you get to use the tiles to build your own little board, for instance Suburbia and Castles of Mad King Ludwig.
The tiles don’t always have to be cardboard, a card game can have a tile placement mechanism, for instance Arboretum or Limes, where the cards you draft have to be placed in your play area and where it’s all about location, location, location. Or in games like Azul, where the tiles are chunky plastic pieces you need to arrange on your player board. The diversity in the group of tile laying games makes this all the more interesting.
Is there a more rewarding feeling than having control over luck? That’s exactly what I like the most about Dice Management games. A juicy mix between elements taken from classic worker placement games but with the addition of many interesting twists given by the power of the actions based on the number of the pips you get from those dice. My favourite game for this game mechanism is The Voyages of Marco Polo, designed by two favorites of mine Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini and published in 2015 by Hans im Gluck. Dice rolling, point to point movement, set collection, variable setup, player powers and so on.. what can you ask more from a board game??
At the beginning of each round throw your dice and see which options they give you. High value dice will give you better rewards for sure but keeping these high dice later in the round will force you to use them over an already occupied spot: that means paying extra money to perform the same action. At first sight lower dice seem quite bad but they could become more useful throughout the round because they are less powerful but cheaper! And every single coin does really count in “The Voyages of Marco Polo” because they are SO tight! In addition to this you can also manipulate dice results spending resources to reroll, adding +/- 1 to the value or you can buy some special dice to increase the number of your actions for the current turn.
The Voyages of Marco Polo offers several paths to victory but the one who will read better the overall setting and mitigate luck in the most efficient way will emerge as the winner! I really love the balance between the luck factor and the management part, in most games you just can’t control the dice, but in Marco Polo you can feel as they are at your service, almost! Another Honorable Mention: Bora Bora by Stephan Feld.
In recent years, mechanisms have been increasingly hard to classify, due to the constant transmutation as well as the elaborate fusion of these basic building blocks that both theme and gameplay rests upon. But there is still possible to differentiate quite a few top tier mechanisms that are universally recognizable, albeit not as clear-cut as they were maybe 10 or 15 years ago.
My own personal favourite among these mechanisms is Tableau Building, where you place cards in front of you, in a tableau, which then define what actions you have at your disposal and what resources you may need to trigger them. I find it both exciting and highly enjoyable to be able to continuously develop and refine your own idiosyncratic abilities while simultaneously having to keep tabs on the opponents and their individual tableaus in order to be able to stave off, or at least prepare for, their nasty, unwelcome surprises that unequivocally will come.
I have one quibble, though, with this mechanism, and that is a rather important one, namely that a lot of games of this ilk have way too little interaction between players, subjectively speaking. That is why the tableau building game I cherish the most is Pax Porfiriana. This Eklund design is a pure tableau builder, i.e. you can’t do anything other than what actions your card tableau grants you, but it is also one of the most interactive, antagonistic, and aggressive game that I’ve ever played. And yes, it is also one of the best games I’ve ever played…