Archive for the ‘boardgames’ Category

The Trouble with Trias: a Malfunction at the Intersection of Craft and Reward Mechanics

In boardgames, game design, mechanics on June 23rd, 2011 at 2:30 pm

In the comments to my last post, Ben Draper asked me if I knew of any board games with (by my definition) bad reward mechanics to match the RPG example of the old World of Darkness games. I knew there was one floating around the back of my mind, but it took me a couple of hours to remember what it was. I’d even committed to writing about it once already, as a negative example of craft in game design.

Trias is a game about dinosaurs and continental drift. Played on a modular hexagonal board with three types of terrain: mountains, forest and plains (the board’s origin is probably a couple of cannibalized Settlers of Catan sets) which the players seed with herds of their respective dino species. During the game, the players breed and move their herds around the board and break the board up into sub-continents by drifting hexes outward into new positions.

It’s a straightforward area majority game in the mold of El Grande or San Marco with the continents the players create acting as scoring areas. Whenever a continent is broken in two by drift, one of the new landmasses is scored. The player that has the most herds on the new landmass receives two points and the second-place player scores one. At the end of the game (after the asteroid strikes, destroying all dinosaur life) there is a final scoring of all the continents where the winning species receives one point for each hex making up the continent and the second-place species earning half that many points. Read the rest of this entry »

Good Reward Mechanics

In boardgames, game design, mechanics, role-playing games on June 13th, 2011 at 12:28 pm


Over the last couple months I’ve developed a new view of what makes a reward mechanic good. It’s arisen from viewing, in close proximity, and thinking about this excellent Extra Credits video about achievements in video games and an old blog post by Dogs in the Vineyard & Apocalypse World designer Vincent Baker including an interesting discussion in the comments).

I believe that a good reward mechanic acts as a giant landmark or sign post, drawing players through the fun ways to play the game offers while helping them avoid viable but boring (or downright painful) options. If you, as a player, pursue well-designed rewards you will use the other mechanics in ways that are fun. Ideally, the more aggressively you pursue those rewards, the more fun you have, although roleplaying games have complicating factors which keep this a theoretical ideal. Boardgames or video games which violate this principle are missing the point and are much more likely to be outright broken. Often, designers of these games argue that the people that break them aren’t playing the game in the right spirit, but I would argue that the designer doesn’t understand what a game is.

Other factors – rewards that also serve as currency, largely – can be added to reward mechanics, complicating the picture. Good game design is more complicated than getting this aspect of the reward mechanics right, too. Nevertheless, I think any game that falls down on this front fails, or is at least horribly weakened, as a game design, and bells and whistles will not cover it up. Read the rest of this entry »

Linnaeus’s Four Principles of Dice Game Design

In boardgames, game design, mechanics on October 18th, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Like most people in my generation of gamers, I love rolling dice; big handfuls of them when possible. Unfortunately, this clashes with a lot of other elements of my taste in games, and there are very few dice games that I love as much as I love rolling dice. While I don’t think I have all the answers for what makes a brilliant dice game, I do have some thoughts; principles, if you will.

I choose the word principles advisedly. Principles should be followed but, unlike laws or rules, they are provided with the expectation that they will be broken *when there is sufficient justification*. I’m not sure how much the designers of the recent spate of dice games (To Court the King, Kingsburg, Pickomino, Roll Through the Ages, &c.) considered these problems, but all of them, as far as I know, break one or more of these principles, and I don’t think they have sufficient compensation for it. Read the rest of this entry »

Strategic Bricolage

In boardgames, game design, mechanics, race for the galaxy, techniques on October 5th, 2010 at 10:32 am

One reason why I love Race for the Galaxy so much is the strong exploration element. You find new combinations of cards and powers regularly – even after hundreds of plays – which keeps it a fresh, fun experience. The reason Race for the Galaxy maintains this for so many plays when other games are exhausted after a handful of times is that it demands strategic bricolage. Read the rest of this entry »

Bohnanza: the RPG

In boardgames, game design, mechanics, role-playing games on May 28th, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Okay, not literally. But I ran an idea up the flagpole on Twitter and got a reaction from a few people, including a request to expand a bit and, well, here we are 🙂

My original tweet said:

The hand management in Bohnanaza is crying out to be used as a conflict resolution system in an RPG. Read the rest of this entry »

Race for the Galaxy Strategy – Rebel versus Imperium Updates, part 2: Game Changers

In boardgames, race for the galaxy, strategy advice on May 18th, 2010 at 10:00 am

Although Rebel vs. Imperium adds a couple of game changers to the play environment, it specializes in second tier cards – cards which are strong and interesting, but don’t define a strategy. There is nothing in Rebel vs Imperium that shakes up the environment in the same way Improved Logistics, Terraforming Guild and Alien Toy Shop did when first playing with The Gathering Storm.

To get everyone up to speed, here is an overview of the new Game Changers, presented in the same format I used in the original article. The third Rebel vs. Imperium update will cover new Second Tier cards, which are considerably more numerous than Game Changers, and the fourth will talk about new combos for the Game Changers and Second Tier cards in earlier sets. Read the rest of this entry »

Race for the Galaxy Strategy – Rebel versus Imperium Updates, part 1

In race for the galaxy, strategy advice on April 20th, 2010 at 8:00 am

As you might expect, the Rebel vs. Imperium expansion has shaken up Race for the Galaxy, opening up new strategies and rearranging the strength of others. While I don’t think anything that I’ve written about the strategy of Race for the Galaxy so far has been invalidated, several topics do need updating before I move forward, and this is the first of a short series of articles that I hope will provide those updates.

This first piece offers small updates to strategic ideas that were previously discussed, namely Card Flow and Discounts, Power Consume strategies and Novelty Consume strategies. Read the rest of this entry »

My Review of Race for the Galaxy: Rebel vs. Imperium

In appraisals, boardgames, race for the galaxy, reviews on February 16th, 2010 at 3:14 pm

My review of Race for the Galaxy: Rebel vs. Imperium was posted to Game Cryer a couple of days ago, and I naturally assume some of my readership would be curious 🙂

Feel free to comment, but if you’re getting into nitty gritty stuff like specific cards and strategies, it’s probably best to do it here where you won’t scare the norms 😉

Race for the Galaxy Strategy – Novelty Consume Strategies

In race for the galaxy, strategy advice on December 16th, 2009 at 10:00 am

[Authour’s note:  As will quickly become apparant, I am not taking Rebel Vs. Imperium into acocunt yet in this article. Hopefully I will have an opinion post about it in the new year, and then I will update the posts that I have written so far, before continuing on]

Key cards: Free Trade Association, Consumer Markets

Novelty consume is one of two types of Consume strategy that new players tend to grasp quickly. The key cards are relatively plentiful and they are obvious when you see them, plus novelty production worlds are cheap and numerous. Several novelty worlds also feature Consume powers, including a couple that Consume for cards, which can help get the engine running in a hurry even without the key cards right away. Read the rest of this entry »

Race for the Galaxy Strategy – Power Consume Strategies

In boardgames, race for the galaxy, strategy advice on September 9th, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Originally, my plan was to write a single longish article with a few pointers each for specific types of Consume strategy. As these things are wont to do however, it grew. Before long, I realized it would be better to do a separate, easily digestible article for each type of Consume strategy. I’m starting this series-within-a-series here with power Consume strategies.

Note that I am not writing with Rebel vs. Imperium in mind yet. I am rapidly racking up experience, but I’m not ready to write with any authority about it yet.

Key cards: Tourist World, Alien Toy Shop, Galactic Trendsetters, commodity worlds

A power Consume strategy tries to outpace other players by playing efficient Consume powers that score more than one VP per good. The point is to save tempi, building a powerful Consume engine more quickly than normal. When it works right, you finish the game by exhausting the VP pool before your opponents can hit their stride.

Read the rest of this entry »