The Geeklist of Game Mechanics
Steven Backues
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I have two purposes in creating this Geeklist. One is to call attention to the database of boardgame mechanics, which is a really neat resource, but is in pretty sorry shape. Many of the mechanics have no description written for them, while others are clear but inconsistently applied. So I hope to encourage some community effort in making this BGG feature more useful and complete.

Secondly, I would like to see the mechanics categorized. At the moment they are just listed alphabetically, which is good if you are looking for a specific mechanic, but isn't as good a way to present them if you would like to browse and explore and think about what different mechanics do. This is clearly a long-term goal, less pressing than getting some good descriptions written, but it is something that I would like to work towards. So this Geeklist is also a first pass at how mechanics might be categorized.

I have tried to sort the mechanics primarily by what their function is in the game - i.e., what gaming "question" they try to answer - "who" gets something, "what" you can do on your turn, "how" and "when" you can do it, and "why" you are you doing what you are doing.

So, without further ado, here is the "Who, what, when, how and why" of boardgames.

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1. Board Game: Pandemic [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:63]
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Cooperative Play answers one of the most basic questions you can ask about a game.

"Who am I playing against?"

The game, not the other players.
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2. Board Game: Battlestar Galactica [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:54]
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Partnerships falls somewhere in between full cooperative play and normal free-for-all competition.

I can't tell you anything much more detailed than that because unfortunately this is one of the many mechanics whose description is completely blank.
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3. Board Game: Power Grid [Average Rating:7.93 Overall Rank:23]
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Many other mechanics tell you "Who" in a different sense - who wins a given contest, or who gets what they want.

For example, Auction/Bidding

"Who gets the power plant?"

The one who bids the most
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4. Board Game: Winner's Circle [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:645]
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Betting/Wagering answers "Who benefits?"

"Who benefits when a given horse wins?"

The one who bet the most on him.

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5. Board Game: Imperial [Average Rating:7.63 Overall Rank:120]
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Commodity Speculation is probably similar to Betting/Wagering - essentially you are betting that a given resource (or company, or nation) will become more valuable over time.

"Who benefits if France is the strongest nation?"

The one who owns the most French bonds.


(I have to say this with a bit of uncertainty, though, since there is actually no description given for "Commodity Speculation" in the database - I can only speculate based on the name and the games listed, and bet that it belongs here).
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6. Board Game: Acquire [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:187]
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Stock Holding is probably a subcategory of Commodity Speculation.

"Who benefits if Worldwide takes over the board?"

The majority shareholder.
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7. Board Game: The Republic of Rome [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:310]
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Some important "who" questions are answered by Voting. For example:

"Who gets to be Consul?"

(Or, in other circumstances, "who gets thrown to the zombies?")


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8. Board Game: Bridge [Average Rating:7.47 Overall Rank:451]
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Trick-taking also answers "Who".

"Who wins the trick?"

The highest card wins.
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9. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:251] [Average Rating:7.25 Unranked]
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Trading

"Who gets the resources they want?"

Both of us, hopefully - let's make a deal
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10. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:8.04 Overall Rank:15]
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Worker Placement

"Who gets to have a baby?"

The player who puts their disk there first.


This mechanic starts to transition us into answering the question "What" - as in, "What can I do this turn?" In this case the "what" question is answered by the available action spaces - except that you are limited by the number of workers you have, and the possibility that someone else might go there first.
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11. Board Game: Tikal [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:194]
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More firmly in the "What" category is the Action Point Allowance System mechanic. Since any number of players can take the same action there is not really any "who" involved anymore.

"What can I do this turn?"

Lots of different things! - but only ten action points worth.
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12. Board Game: Cosmic Encounter [Average Rating:6.40 Overall Rank:2151]
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Variable Player Powers

"What can I do this turn?"

Depends on who you are.
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13. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.69 Overall Rank:58] [Average Rating:7.69 Unranked]
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Hand Management

"What can I do this turn?"

Depends on what cards are in your hand


It seems to me that there should also be a "Resource Management" mechanic in the database, as in many games that is one of the main factors that determines what you can do in a given turn. But I don't know how to submit new mechanics, and so far I haven't found anyone who can tell me.
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14. Board Game: Twilight Struggle [Average Rating:8.36 Overall Rank:3]
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As far as I can tell, Campaign/Battle Card Driven is a subcategory of Hand Management.
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15. Board Game: Monopoly [Average Rating:4.41 Overall Rank:14255] [Average Rating:4.41 Unranked]
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A somewhat more limiting answer to the "What" question is provided by the Roll and Move mechanic.

"What property can I buy this turn?"

Whichever one you land on.
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16. Board Game: War of the Ring (first edition) [Average Rating:7.81 Overall Rank:69]
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Dice Rolling can be used to answer a couple of different sorts of "What" questions in a randomized fashion. It can answer either "What can I do this turn" or "What is the outcome of this action?"

War of the Ring uses dice to help answer both of these questions, and has a different set of dice for each one.

"What can I do this turn?"

Depends on what you roll on your action dice.

"What happens when I attack Minas Tirith?"

Depends on what you and your opponent roll on your combat dice.
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17. Board Game: Thebes [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:351]
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The Chit-Pull System is another way to randomly answer the "What happens?" question.

"What treasures do I get when I dig in Egypt?"

Depends on what you pull out of the bag.

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18. Board Game: Hoity Toity [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:1122]
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Rock-Paper-Scissors is a somewhat poorly defined mechanic that probably also fits into the "What happens" category.
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19. Board Game: Diamant [Average Rating:6.74 Overall Rank:797]
 
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Some mechanics tell you "When" you can do something. For example, Simultaneous Action Selection

"When can I decide whether to push on or head back?"

At the same time everyone else does, so you won't know the results of their decisions.
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20. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.08 Overall Rank:12]
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Variable Phase Order also tells you something about "When" - when different phases of the game take place. Namely, it tells you that the players have some control over when this happens.

"When do we get more colonists?"

As soon as someone chooses Mayor.
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21. Board Game: Risk [Average Rating:5.58 Overall Rank:13206]
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Some game mechanics tell you "How" to do something. For example, there are a number of mechanics that relate to how pieces can be moved on a board. One of these is Area Movement.

Quoting from it's description: "Area movement means that the game board is divided into areas of varying size which can be moved out of or into in any direction as long as the areas are adjacent or connected."

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22. Board Game: Arkham Horror [Average Rating:7.34 Overall Rank:206] [Average Rating:7.34 Unranked]
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Point-to-Point Movement is related to Area Movement, but more limited:

It consists of points "...connected by lines, and movement can only happen along these lines. It is not enough that two points are next to or close to each other; if there is no connecting line between them, a player cannot move his or her piece from one to the other."


As an aside, the description for Point-to-Point movement is probably the best in the entire database, describing clearly both what it is and is not - this is a good model for what I would like to see in all of the mechanics' description box.
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23. Board Game: Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) [Average Rating:7.92 Overall Rank:41]
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Area-Impulse seems related to (perhaps even a subcategory of) either Area Movement or Point-to-Point Movement. Unfortunately I'm not familiar with the games that list it as a mechanic, and it's description says only

"Map represented by discrete areas of various shapes, connected in specific ways.
Play in alternating short impulses."

So I can't tell you any more than that.
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24. Board Game: Chess [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:400] [Average Rating:7.09 Unranked]
 
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Grid Movement actually isn't in the database, even though it is referred to for contrast in both the Area Movement and the Point-to-Point Movement descriptions.

In Grid Movement, the board is divided into an even grid (typically squares or hexes), allowing "unrestricted or nearly unrestricted movement in any direction and to any square or hex."


So does anyone know how to add a mechanic to the database?
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25. Board Game: Advanced Squad Leader [Average Rating:7.95 Overall Rank:171]
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Hex and Counter is a specific subcategory of Grid Movement, where the grid consists of hexes and the pieces are cardboard counters. It is commonly used in wargames.
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