Tableau-Builders: My favorite unrecognized mechanic, and the games that make it great
Cilantro V
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As a relative newcomer to serious boardgaming, I've quickly found myself drawn to a mechanic that I've discovered is un-named at the Geek:
Tableau Building.

I love building things. I like watching the empire grow, and reaping the bounties of continuing expansion. I love putting down developments and carefully sculpting how my game unfolds. Basically, I like games with cards that:

a- must be played to a tableau (a designated space on the table or a board) to be activated

b- have a lasting effect as long as they are in the tableau
updated to reflect discussion below:
b- have a lasting effect on game mechanics as long as they are in the tableau.

Not all games with a player board are tableau builders.
What makes a tableau a tableau? Well, the most important is that it is at least semi-permanent. A tableau will do more than just score you points, though; it allows you access to new gameplay options or tech-tree advancements you would otherwise be unable to use. When you play something to a tableau, it modifies how you play. Some examples:

Build a Smithy to get a discount on future Production buildings. thumbsup
Launch a Shrimp boat to enable you to collect fish cubes. thumbsup
Build a monument to get VP thumbsdown - Simply scoring points doesn't change any future gameplay after you build, so this is not an example of Tableau Building.

That's a pretty loose definition, so check out the list for some better examples.

meeple

This geeklist will hopefully help explain what I mean by Tableau-building, and provide a place to suggest games myself or other fans of this sort of thing might enjoy. (That includes games that "have a tableau-building elements" rather than being all about it, as well as games that might be Tableau-builders- everything is up for debate.) Feel free to contribute!
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1. Board Game: San Juan [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:253]
Cilantro V
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San Juan is probably one of the best basic examples of Tableau-building; also one of the older games to demonstrate the mechanic, and probably a source of inspiration for many others.

You develop the city of San Juan by constructing buildings, and those buildings (once built) help you to boost your future efforts.

San Juan shows what is probably the purest form of Tableau-Building: Play a card by placing it in the Tableau (on the table), gain a lasting function (game-long, in this and most games) for player(s).

Most tableau builders also include some form of economic development; in San Juan that is the Trader and Producer roles. You must have the proper cards in your Tableau (production buildings) to use these.

I like to think that without the production aspects, San Juan would play almost like an inverse Dominion: the only points that score are the ones you manage to get OUT of your deck, not IN. The cards that you take out by building improve the usefulness of the rest of your engine, rather than buying cards to add them to it.
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2. Board Game: Treasure Chest [Average Rating:7.26 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.26 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.26 Unranked]
Cilantro V
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More San Juan goodness!

The expansions (1- added buildings and 2- event cards) do many things that add new angles to SJ. Here's some of the list-relevant ones:

Cathedral: Adds a 7 Wonders-like ability to score points based on what your opponent(s) do or do not have, as well as an interesting drafting mechanic- the Cathedral is always available as a 1-card communal pool, and once taken is gone for good.

The event cards also constitute a pool of sorts; the "free build" and "earthquake"are the only ones to affect in-play tableaus.

Caritas: A neat catch-up mechanic that is apt to become a full-blown strategy.

Park: This just might be a 3-stage gameplay example: You must build the crane to use the park, and must also build the park to use it. Build A to unlock B, Build B to unlock C- C being whatever you care to build over your Park.

Residence: Along with City Hall, Triumphal Arch, and Guild Hall, turns SJ into a set-collection game.
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3. Board Game: 7 Wonders [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:48]
Cilantro V
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7 wonders is exactly the kind of empire-advancin'tableau-builder I love. You play resources to get more turn-by-turn production, or military to trip up your tablemates, or you go for VP by constructing lots of fun, shiny buildings. It all depends on what you're able to put down on the table.

7 Wonders trades the role-selection mechanic of SJ for a heap of others; card-passing, set-collection, more interaction, variable player powers. Still, the similarity in city-building and resource-production aspects makes these two a great intro to the ideas of Tableau Building.
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4. Board Game: 51st State [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:1133] [Average Rating:6.85 Unranked]
Cilantro V
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51st State is a Tableau-builder with incredibly open-ended possibilities. Each Location can be utilized three ways, and can often be further used once in play as one of those types. Even the one-time benefits of a Spoils play can also be converted to VP by other cards- assuming you have those other cards in your tableau.


What's more- unlike the basic one play, one lasting effect, one player outline of San Juan, select locations in 51st state can also be used by other players. Imagine if your SJ opponent could use your silver smelter by giving you a card from his hand! All those options make this truly a monster of a game, both to play and learn.
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5. Board Game: The New Era [Average Rating:7.54 Overall Rank:1025] [Average Rating:7.54 Unranked]
Cilantro V
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See 51st state- As best I'm aware, this is a stand-alone game that can be played as an expansion.

Think of Dominion vs. Dominion: Intrigue, if Intrigue had a few basic rule tweaks.

Currently 51st is cheaper, so I went with that for my collection.
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6. Board Game: Monopoly Deal Card Game [Average Rating:6.27 Overall Rank:1991]
Cilantro V
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Set-Collection and Tableau-Building are not mutually exclusive; the biggest difference being that rather than just scoring you points, a Tableau also provides some other function. In Monopoly Deal, properties also serve as money, should you run out of cash (also played to the tableau) to pay with. A major strategy is to hit your opponents with a big rent so they have to give up a property or two, increasing your odds and decreasing theirs.

I play a house-ruled variant where you can win with a pre-determined value in either money OR properties, meaning that playing action cards for their cash value is more important and sometimes you'll even want to pay with property rather than money.
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7. Board Game: Fleet [Average Rating:6.94 Overall Rank:825]
Cilantro V
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I'm excited to try out this Kickstarted game. In a nice change of pace, you aren't building cities but fishing fleets.

Fleet also introduces an auction mechanic for card drafting, meaning that player interaction happens before the tableau-building rather than during as in 51st. 7 Wonders features "closed"interaction; I can pick what card I want to optionally exclude you from having access to. Fleet features "open" interaction in that you can clearly see what I might be trying to prevent you getting. It is interesting to note that they both limit access to tableau cards instead of affecting what is already on the table.

Fleet also uses what I would describe as a 2-stage system: You must play a certain category of card to the Tableau to allow a second category to be used. In this case, you can't launch a Shrimp boat until you've played a Shrimp license.

An example of a one-stage process would be the Fishermans'Pub, also from Fleet- you build it, you get whatever the card says, and that's the end of it. No secondary processes are activated... Aside from inevitable pub-related jokes. I think this might need a "Owner buys a round" house-rule.


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8. Board Game: Glory to Rome [Average Rating:7.49 Overall Rank:175]
Cilantro V
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GtR employs the usual building-construction, although in a slight twist it takes multiple plays to fully construct them. In all previous examples 1 card played = 1 building built, even though you might not get the full scoring potential without others. GtR requires one play to start the foundation, plus additional construction materials to be added later before the building is added to your tableau and affects your game decisions.
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9. Board Game: London [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:322]
The root of all evil ...but you can call me cookie.
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Have you tried this one yet? It's got a board but it's really a card game at heart. The truly unique thing about this Tableau builder is you build it up, run your city (activate the benefits of the cards in your tableau) then you turn all the cards you ran upside down meaning you tear down your tableau and have to start all over again from almost scratch. Very cool game you should check it out. I know this sort of makes it feel like it's breaking rule "B" but I don't think it does. There are some cards that can stick around and ways to keep cards in play longer. Plus the stacks you make stick around and cause you to take poverty if you don't build over them. Also the cards you play into your tableau are worth VPs at the end of the game.
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10. Board Game: Innovation [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:304]
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This is another game that was birthed in the San Juan, GtR, RftG linage so obviously shares with it's brethren the idea of building up the tableau. I do love me some Innovation. I only like it 2 or 3 players though as it's get just way too chaotic with any more...even three can feel like a chore sometimes when loads of cards get splayed. The splaying BTW is a super cool mechanic worked into this one. How very clever to allow older cards to suddenly come back into effect and impact your current situation. Neat.
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11. Board Game: Saint Petersburg [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:260]
Ben Pinchback
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Leonard
Michigan
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This one is a really cool tableau building card game disguised as a board game. We found it last summer on vacation and played it every night. It's got a great money vs VP decision thing going on that you have to manage, and your Tableau totally snowballs. I love St Pete's.
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12. Board Game: Vikings [Average Rating:7.26 Overall Rank:371]
Yours Truly,
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Well if Glen More qualifies, then Vikings qualifies.
You've got your own personal little tableau of islands that you're building as the game progresses. It does capture a lot of the feel that you describe in the header. Like Glen More, the only difference is, instead of cards it's tiles.

Oh and the most interesting part of the game is the "pricing rondel" that pairs meeples with tiles and prices.

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Tim Moore
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Don't most CCG's fit the definition of tableau up above...?

I know that the following all fit the two-tiered definition state in OP:

Magic: The Gathering
Legend of the Five Rings
Dune: Eye of the Storm
Vampire: The Eternal Struggle/Jyhad
Netrunner

Just my thought on it...
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14. Board Game: GOSU [Average Rating:6.57 Overall Rank:1716]
Paige Watson
United States
Snohomish
Washington
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This immediately came to mind as fitting into the list.

Each player places golins (drawn from a common deck) onto their tableau, affecting scoring and, often, their opponents tableau.

Not hard to learn and good replay-ability.


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15. Board Game: Rivals for Catan [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:748]
Samo Oleami
Slovenia
Ljubljana
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And the Settlers of Catan card game.

You build your duchy or whatever it is by collecting resources and you're also playing cards with instant effects.
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16. Board Game: Catan Card Game [Average Rating:6.73 Overall Rank:857]
Cilantro V
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See above.
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17. Board Game: Macao [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:277]
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An interesting Stefan Feld game.

You pick a card at the beginning of each round, and place that card, appropriately enough, on your "tableau" (a small player board). Then you activate cards off your tableau, by taking them off and putting them next to it. These cards give you special abilities, etc, that you can use during your turn (thematically they are offices or people). Your tableau is space-limited and you get penalized if you run out of room or have unactivated cards at the end of the game.



Above I only described the tableau part of the game. Arguably the most interesting part of the game is the "wind-rose" rondel, that you have to manipulate to get cubes in future turns that will in turn allow you to activate cards off your tableau.
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18. Board Game: Castle [Average Rating:6.10 Overall Rank:3298]
Tim Moore
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Elmhurst
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Along the same lines as my earlier "Magic" discussion.

Does this game create a joint tableau?
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19. Board Game: Carcassonne [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:161] [Average Rating:7.42 Unranked]
Tim Moore
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Elmhurst
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And then Carcassonne comes to mind. Depending on if earned points reflect mechanics. Any tile can significantly change the potential point value of a placed meeple.

I get the feeling the OP was targeting the abstracted/textualized mechanical interactions provided by card games (i.e., Race for the Galaxy, San Juan, CCG's) but I post this just for clarification.

As I mentioned in a comment, this topic is engaging me for some reason. Probably because I exhibit the same fascination...

And don't get me going on Narrative in games...
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20. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy [Average Rating:7.76 Overall Rank:50]
Gordon Watson
United Kingdom
Banstead
Surrey - United Kingdom
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ASL - other tactical wargames call it Sir.
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I would have thought this was the poster-child for this mechanic.
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21. Board Game: Eminent Domain [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:494]
Steve Evans
Wales
Rhondda
Mid Glamorgan
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Picked this up because I'd been playing a lot of San Juan and I really enjoy it.

It's not the best game of its type but it's a little mixture of San Juan and Dominion which does its job.

Plays well with two or three, not so great with four IMHO.
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22. Board Game: Hawaii [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:634]
Nathan Rhodes
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Gainesville
Florida
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Your island acts as a type of tableau, as tiles you get have the potential to alter income or scoring opportunities as the game is played.

Your final tableau (island) is also scored at the end, which is a common scheme amongst classic tableau-builders.
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23. Board Game: Illuminati [Average Rating:6.19 Overall Rank:2771]
david mackay
United Kingdom
WARWICK
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I think that this is an early example of what you mean.



(Edited to remove the reference to Hacker.)

A bit of basic research ( I too own both, but have played neither for years) convinces me that Hacker, with its common network, is not a tableau game within what I think are the parameters of this list blush, whereas I still maintain Illuminati most certainly is.
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24. Board Game: Wettstreit der Baumeister [Average Rating:6.10 Overall Rank:5866]
Daniel Rocchi
Canada
Toronto
Ontario
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I've always enjoyed this one, though some of the optional rules make it a little more enjoyable.

Players construct their own city walls, trying to optimize the various buildings through placement, and defend against attacks.

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25. Board Game: Jambo [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:588] [Average Rating:7.03 Unranked]
The root of all evil ...but you can call me cookie.
United States
Gainesville
FL
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You get to tweak your utility cards as you go even using, discarding and replacing a utility within the same turn. Granted most cards get played our of your hand and directly take effect but those utilities are paramount in playing the game.
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