The Most Unusual Mechanics In Your Game Collection
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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"Tell us your name, where you're from, and something unusual about yourself." So goes the standard game-show welcome.

Each game has something about it that makes it distinct from all the rest. I would argue that the more distinct it is, the more likely it is to win the player's interest and loyalty. It's less fun to play another version of what you've played before. I also get a kick out of seeing someone with a new idea see it through to fruition.

I originally intended to make this a list about "unique game mechanics," but then I realized that my knowledge of games is still so limited that I really don't know what is unique and what isn't. So I took a step back and instead am offering a list where people can identify the games in their collections that have a feature that they regard as somewhat unusual. Please feel free to add your own nominees.
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1. Board Game: Mamma Mia! [Average Rating:6.48 Overall Rank:1277] [Average Rating:6.48 Unranked]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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I know no other game that resembles Mamma Mia even a little bit. Everyone takes turns playing cards into a discard stack, then the stack is flipped over and the scoring is determined by the order in which they appear. In most games, you create the stack and then people draw from it. There's drawing in this game, but the essence is really the construction of a stack from the sequenced discards from players' hands.
 
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2. Board Game: Landlord! [Average Rating:5.91 Overall Rank:4223]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Wish I found this a more balanced play, because this is also a pretty rare design. Each card has a front and a back, and you can play it either way; either as a part of a building, or as the character/action on the other side. You build buildings by laying cards on the table in front of you, place tenants into them, and can also mess with opponents' buildings. A game with an unusually distinct feel.
 
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3. Board Game: I'm the Boss! [Average Rating:6.82 Overall Rank:930]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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There are plenty of negotiation games out there. This is the only one I'm aware of where everyone is holding a hand of cards, plays from which can be used to completely disrupt negotiations right at the point of their completion.
 
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4. Board Game: San Marco [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:512]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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San Marco's divide-and-choose mechanism is unusual enough that it draws frequent notice for being so.
 
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5. Board Game: En Garde [Average Rating:6.49 Overall Rank:1870]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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It's not unusual to have a game where the play of a card enables you to move along a track. But the combination of elements makes this quite distinct. It's effectively a one-dimensional space you're moving along, and the other player's counter is a barrier that forces you to move back and forth like the fencers being depicted.
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6. Board Game: Samarkand [Average Rating:6.48 Overall Rank:2553]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Many elements of this game aren't at all unusual; the clockwise movement around the board, the ability to purchase groups of cards. But I'm not sure if I've seen a game design element function quite like the nomad camps. One trades at the nomad camps, but always at a disadvantage, so goods build up there. When their number hits a certain quantity, then the next visitor can buy the group at a cheap price. In effect, people are building up a series of discard decks that others can later collect.
 
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7. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.06 Overall Rank:15]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Puerto Rico's role-selection mechanism has been written about here, so I understand it not to be completely unique. In my experience, however, it is unique. I don't have another game where one's turn consists of selecting the role or the phase that everyone must join in.
 
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8. Board Game: Who Stole Ed's Pants? [Average Rating:5.71 Overall Rank:8685]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Not one of my favorite games, and certainly not the only game where you play cards onto an opponent's hand. But it's the only one I know of where playing cards onto one's opponents is pretty much the whole game, except for the plays that effectively change the rules or the winning conditions. Definitely an unusual game.
 
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9. Board Game: El Grande [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:53]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Is the Castillo a unique feature? It seems so to me. A closed place into which people play certain of their pieces, which every so often breaks open and spills into other parts of the gameplay.
 
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10. Board Game: Venture [Average Rating:6.50 Overall Rank:2703]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Set collection mechanisms aren't unusual, but Venture's feels extremely so to me. You're collecting groups that must have certain elements in common, other elements that must be different, there's some vexing math that determines the scoring, and you must pay if you want to rearrange your holdings into a higher-scoring combination. I've wondered why this fascinating way of doing set-collection isn't more imitated.
 
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11. Board Game: Pacal [Average Rating:6.22 Overall Rank:7925]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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Pacal is somewhere between a standard card game in which you discard a card that the other player can then pick up, and San Marco's divide-and-choose mechanism. On your turns in Pacal, you play two cards from your hand -- one of which your opponent takes and plays, one of which you keep and play. At game's end, half of the cards on your pyramid will have come from your opponent. It seems pretty distinctive to me.
 
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12. Board Game: Dream Factory [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:575]
Chuck Uherske
United States
Rockville
Maryland
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I see from the game reviews that Traumfabrik's auction mechanism isn't unprecedented, and is known as a zero-sum auction. But it's the only one I've played of its kind, so I'm putting it here. In Traumfabrik, one player's winning bid is distributed equally among the other players. It makes for some fun algebraic ruminations in the course of a game.
 
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13. Board Game: Nyet! [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:1210]
Scott Russell
United States
Clarkston
Michigan
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Njet is a fairly normal trick taking game after establishing trump, supertrump, number of discards, value of each trick and who gets to lead. But the mechanism to determine each of those is interesting. Players take turns eliminating possibilities until only one in each category is left.

 
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14. Board Game: Scoozie [Average Rating:7.29 Unranked]
Steffan O'Sullivan
United States
Plymouth
NH
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In Scoozi, the guards and tackles live in one network of spaces and the ball carrier/receivers live in another intersecting network. They can't use each other's spaces. The only time a receiver can even be in a guard/tackle's space is when a defensive piece tackles him, pulling him into the other network, freezing both pieces for the remainder of the action.

Tackling blocks the space for other guards and tackles and also prevents the ball carrier/receiver from travelling through that space.
 
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15. Board Game: Wallenstein (first edition) [Average Rating:7.51 Overall Rank:341]
Ben .
United Kingdom
Unspecified
Surrey
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Can't let this go by without adding the infamous Dice Tower!
The dice tower combat mechanism seems to be one of Wallenstein actual selling points, which can even detract from the fact that it is also a great game!
 
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16. Board Game: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde [Average Rating:6.78 Overall Rank:2894]
Will M. Baker
United States
Silverton
Oregon
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I just played Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde for the first time this weekend (aka Twilight), and it was a bit difficult to strategize around the fact that my team's cards were held by all four players, and at times I needed to call on my opponents to play cards on my behalf. A different twist on trick-taking.

Halloween perhaps has a similar mechanism, but I haven't played that yet.
 
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17. Board Game: Ponte Vecchio [Average Rating:5.85 Overall Rank:11043]
Morgan Dontanville
United States
Charlottesville
VA
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Players use a blind bidding mechanism to gain control of the Rich Gentleman, each player is given identical cards for the blind bidding (ala El Grande)and the lowest value wins the control. Now a player may move the Rich Gentleman to any space they want (including their own shop) to reap the value of the card they bid, but it won't be worth much. They could in turn sell the control to another player who can then move the Gentleman to their spot that is worth more, or in turn sell it again. Everyone wants to get their cut. Very simple mechanic that I haven't seen anywhere else. This is a must have for negotiation fans (and the gorgeous components and money will add to the experience).
 
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18. Board Game: Bucket Brigade [Average Rating:6.04 Overall Rank:4355]
Steffan O'Sullivan
United States
Plymouth
NH
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Except for the rainbow cards, you have to spend VPs to advance a bear. Every space you advance a bear is potentially more VPs for your opponents, as they will have cards of that bear. Decisions are excruciating.

It may not be unique to Honeybears, but it sure is in an extremely pure form in this game.
 
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19. Board Game: Reiner Knizia's Amazing Flea Circus [Average Rating:5.79 Overall Rank:6210]
♪ Isaäc Bickërstaff ♫
United States
Greer
South Carolina
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There may be other games out there with the same mechanic, but I've always liked the "one stack per person" mechanic, with the top-most card being the only one that counts at any given time. My relative newness to the hobby and my distinct lack of opportunities to play all the games limits my experience, but this is the only one like this that I'VE seen.
 
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20. Board Game: Filthy Rich [Average Rating:6.38 Overall Rank:2884]
Christopher Plummer
United States
Allston
Massachusetts
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Filthy Rich: the 3D game of capitalism

This one is really unique. It uses a card binder with 4 pages to emulate a 3D street environment. Sign cards are played in the sheets and the layerring of the sheets in the binder determines which signs are seen and which are covered up. The signs on top get business when dice show the number of the slot the are in. It's a neat system that I haven't seen anywhere else.
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21. Board Game: The Bottle Imp [Average Rating:6.75 Overall Rank:1087]
♪ Isaäc Bickërstaff ♫
United States
Greer
South Carolina
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Flaschenteufel has a unique mechanism, in that the trump card in this trick-taking game changes with almost every hand. Like most trick-taking games, the highest card wins the hand, but here, you can take the trick if it's the highest number beneath a certain number. And that certain number changes each time someone takes a trick beneath that certain number.

Sound confusing? It takes a little getting used to, but once you have it, the game moves quickly.
 
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22. Board Game: 4th Dimension [Average Rating:5.27 Overall Rank:13562]
Peter Schell
United States
Milwaukee
Wisconsin
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A chess-like game where you "beam up" a piece and keep it in limbo for up to 3 turns before returning it to the board up to two spaces away. Were there any other games that used this mechanic so extensively as this old TSR oddity?
 
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23. Board Game: Bohnanza [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:366]
Gary Webster
United States
Littleton
CO
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I'm surprised to not see this one here. Of course, there may be other games where you cannot change the order of the play of the cards, always playing (planting) from the front of your hand and always adding to the back. The victim line in Guillotine is similar, but not in the same way. In fact, that whole game is about rearranging the line, so forget that. Now, you CAN trade cards from anywhere in your Bohn hand, and there's the flexibility that makes this game make you think!
 
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24. Board Game: Darkover [Average Rating:5.25 Overall Rank:13594]
Rick Granger
United States
Unspecified
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In a game that is filled with weird machanics, probably the weirdest is the "Fire Peril". Players chant in unison: "One, please don't burn; two, please don't burn..." up to "thirty, please don't burn." Each player watches the player to the left for any break in concentration (smile, laugh, etc.). Players that "break" pay a penalty.
 
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25. Board Game: Trias [Average Rating:6.47 Overall Rank:1674]
Michael Van Biesbrouck
Canada
St Catharines
Ontario
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Continental drift. Pick a tile adjacent to the ocean and move it further from the South Pole (dumping dinosaurs in the ocean if necessary). If you end up with more continents than you started with, score the continent with the moved tile.
 
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