A Primer on Tabletop Gamespeak - Part 2: Mechanisms
When I first got into board gaming, I was overwhelmed with the terms and the jargon that gamers and reviewers were using. It was a deep rabbit hole for me, so at the time I looked for a basic all-in-one glossary on what all this stuff means. I really couldn’t find much, other than pieces here and there and info gleaned from podcasts.
Today, hobby tabletop gaming has become way more popular, and there are more accessible blog sites; more video channels and media, It’s a bit easier the days educate yourself, but in planning for this blog out, I wanted to compile as much as I could, in my own perspective, for those curious about gaming, and not just for those already deep in the hobby.
In part one, I discussed some of the basic terms used by tabletop gamers when describing the genre. For the second part of this primer, I’ll take a look at some common mechanisms used in games.
As a side note, I’ve seen debates about the word choice of mechanism vs. mechanic, specifically, a disagreement over which word is most appropriate or descriptive to use in the context of board game design. “Mechanic,” some say, is a person who fixes your car engine, not something that is a part of a game. Others accuse the former of pedantry. I find that the argument is about the fluidity of language more than anything. The bottom line is that people know what is being said, no matter which term is used. Let’s dive in!
Programming involves setting up a series of actions or a program that is activated on your turn. These actions could be in the form of cards that determine movement or direction of your piece on a board. These actions are set in a pile and drawn, or may be placed in a particular order in a line and then executed accordingly. Results can be unintentionally hilarious (or frustrating) as well-thought-out plans can be foiled by someone else’s programmed moves.
Some games that use programming: RoboRally, Colt Express, Mechs Vs. Minions
Role selection is typically a eurostyle mechanism where the player turns involve choosing an action or a role - may be indicated by a card or a tile, then play proceeds with everyone taking turns based on those selections, also known as variable phase order. For example, you could choose a card that says on your turn you receive X amount of a certain resource, but it also says that other players can pay you a $1 to also get a resource. Or maybe everyone gets to do the action, but you get a bonus for picking that action. A nice benefit is that it incentivizes players to stay engaged during others’ turns.
Some games that use role selection/variable phase order: Puerto Rico, Race for the Galaxy, Glory To Rome, Twilight Imperium 4
One of our favorite types of games around here at OGA is drafting games. Over a series of rounds, players are given a hand of cards from which they choose one to add to their play area. The hand is then passed to another player, and the process is repeated. The idea is that players are trying to collect certain combos of cards to earn points (also another named mechanism called set collection.) These games are naturally quick moving as everyone is playing at the same time. The challenge is making sure you keep track of what your opponents are doing so you don’t feed them useful cards.
Some games that use drafting: 7 Wonders, Fairy Tale, Sushi Go!, Among The Stars
With worker placement, players are given a certain amount of tokens or “workers” which they use to claim a card or space on the board. Thet player gets to take action or get whatever resource is on the claimed space. One aspect of worker placement is about thinking ahead and trying to get what you need before your opponents block you out.
Games that use worker placement: Stone Age, Lords of Waterdeep, Caverna, Alien Frontiers
Another favorite type in our house is deck-building card games. Players start with a small deck of cards which are used to purchase or obtain other cards that are in a market or trade row of sorts. These purchasable cards, for example, might grant additional actions or points and are added to the player’s deck. As the game progresses, the deck becomes an engine of sorts, and a key strategy is fine-tuning that engine; adding cards that work efficiently together to trigger combos or additional actions on your turn.
Games that use deck building: Dominion, Star Realms, Clank!
Often derided by some gaming enthusiasts, roll-and-move is exactly what it says on the tin. You roll a pair of dice (or spin a spinner) and advance that number of spaces on a game board. Then you might take action or follow instructions on the space you land on. There is not much strategy; roll and move offer little in regards to strategic choice and relies on luck. However, there are some modern games, like Xia: Legends of a Drift System, that have incorporated or subverted the luck factor of roll and move to add more interesting decisions.
Games that use roll-and-move: Monopoly, Cluedo (Clue in North America), The Game of Life, Talisman, Dungeon!
With apologies to The Clash, press-your-luck is about whether you should stay or if you should go. Do you take the money and run, or remain in the game to risk it all for a bigger payout? Your choice.
Examples of games that use press-your-luck: Can’t Stop!, Incan Gold, Farkle, Cloud Nine
There are still many more mechanisms, we’ll pick it up in part three. I hope this series continues to help you discover what you may be interested in. Game on!