What are Game Mechanics? Part One

Hey everyone!  Welcome to the first in a multi-blog series about popular game mechanics presented here in an effort to help guide and inform new and experienced players alike.  If you’re new to board gaming, you’ve probably heard a lot of gaming-specific terminology being thrown around by those who are a little more versed in the hobby, words like deck building and tile placement, both of which could be easily confused for home renovation terms if you’re into that kind of thing. In the gaming hobby, though, these terms and scores of others like them refer specifically to what are known as game mechanics.  

A game mechanic describes the types of rules and play experience (collectively mechanisms) you can expect from any given game. If you’ve ever played Monopoly, I’m sorry to hear that, also you’re already familiar with a mechanic called roll & move, where you roll a dice for movement, it’s simple and people immediately know what kind of experience to expect when you mention it.  For example, if someone were to ask me what kind of game Wingspan was I’d begin by describing some of the core mechanics used in that game, in this case, card drafting, hand management and engine building. I would then go on to talk about birds and stuff, because that’s probably what the person actually meant when they asked about the game.  Let’s dive in!

 

Area Control

Any game where an area of the game board holds value for the player or players that have a presence there, whether that value be strategic, financial or abstract, such as point value. This control could be gained by placing a meeple, a token or some other form of indicator in a space on the board.  Depending on the game, that control may be contested by other players, so strategies can sometimes hinge on not expanding too far or too quickly at the risk of another player overwhelming the area with a superior force. Some games don’t allow players to conquer player controlled areas relying instead on a first come first served approach. 

Popular games that include area control include: CarcassonneRiskScythe, Small WorldSpirit IslandTwilight Imperium

 

Betting/Bidding/Bluffing

This applies to any game in which players are using limited knowledge of the game state to try to improve their position by taking some kind of risk. This could be in the form of betting in game currency to advance their position, bluffing other players by attempting to deceive or stall them, or bidding currency in an attempt to gain an upper hand.  There’s usually a degree of hidden information involved and players will have different levels of information which affects the value of that knowledge. 

Games that use these mechanisms include: Downforce, Nidavellir, Sheriff of Nottingham

 

Deck Building/Card Crafting/Hand Management

Any game using cards will likely utilise some form of these mechanisms. Deck building is when players normally begin with a few relatively weak cards in their deck, then purchase more powerful cards during gameplay to improve their deck. There is usually some way for players to discard or “trash” weaker cards allowing a greater chance for their more powerful cards to make an appearance. Card crafting is a relatively new concept where players use sleeves cards and transparent overlays to physically make new card combinations by adding to, covering or replacing existing card abilities. Hand management is when decisions are made around which cards to keep in play and which to discard, ya gotta know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.

 

Games that use these mechanics include, Adventure Tactics: Domiannes Tower, Exploding Kittens, Gloom, Gloomhaven, Marvel Champions, Mystic ValeThunderstone Quest, Wingspan

 

Look out for part 2 of this series in the future.  In the meantime, have fun and play lots!

Beginner