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Subject: Definition of "Engine Building" rss

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David Pontier
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As always I enjoyed the last episode, but I found out that we have different definitions of what an engine building game is.

To me an engine does something automatically with little or no input. You design it to perform a task so you don’t have to do it anymore. As I listened to Eric and Tom explain why each game is on their list, they talked about things getting more and more powerful as the game progressed. Their workers could accomplish more each turn and the abilities/buildings became more powerful. The term “Snowball” was used frequently. Yes, these games are snowball games, but that doesn’t make them engines.

Unfortunately, I have not played all of the games on their lists, but of those I have, I would classify Agricola, Dominion, and maybe RftG as good engine building games.

Power Grid and Le Havre are not good examples in my opinion.

Dominion is maybe the best example on the list I can think of. You work in the early game buying cards and setting up combos so that later in the game your deck “gives” you things. If you’ve set up your deck right in the beginning, getting lots of money and actions and buys later in the game happens automatically. I’ve played games where my strategy was till fill my deck with gold cards and late in the game it takes no effort at all to have the 8 money required to buy a province card.

In Le Havre, outside of getting free food when you have boats (which I never understood) nothing happens automatically for you. You still have to coordinate getting goods manually, upgrading them manually, getting fuel manually, and then shipping them manually. Nothing, except the free food, happens without a lot of effort. That is not an engine, in my opinion. At least not an efficient one. Mind you, I do love the game. If an engine building game is just things becoming more powerful as you play, then an RPG where you level up could be considered an engine building game.

Agricola is an engine building game, but only barely. You can set it up to get you free food (reproducing animals), which if you don’t eat them can become free animals. And there are a few occupations or minor improvement that can give you free resources. But for the most part you still need to manually take a lot of the actions (Bake bread, build fences, renovate) and I don’t think that just because the actions become more efficient toward the end, that that constitutes as an engine being built.

I don’t know what Power Grid is doing on the list. Yes, you get more powerful power plants each turn, and yes, you should be getting more money each turn also, but until they come out with an expansion that allows you to build a coal mine or an oil well so you can supply your own resources, I won’t consider this a good example of an engine building game. The engine in Power Grid is like a car engine that runs out of gas every 5 miles.

The best example not on this list is Puerto Rico. Buildings like the Factory, University, and the Harbor give you free things and allow you to ignore actions that other people have to take in order to get money or colonists. It can get so good for you that you are scoring points, getting goods and tons of money on OTHER people’s turns because your engine doesn’t need any input from you. I remember a game with someone who had never played before and he kept complaining that he could never get any money and he ended up taking prospector almost every turn. Meanwhile the rest of us never took prospector and we had lots of money because our set up generated it for us automatically. That is an engine in my opinion.
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Bryan Thunkd
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You build an engine to do something easier than you otherwise could do it. Just as an engine allows you to travel farther with ease, a game engine is set up to make some task easier. Typically this is an engine to gather resources or to convert things into points.

Sometimes that means that it takes no particular player action to perform the task, i.e. the automatic nature you view as the primary feature of engine building. But sometimes it's simply a way to do a difficult thing much easier... for example in Le Havre getting Card A that lets you get X's, Card B which converts X's into Y's and Card C that lets you convert Y's into points (money in Le Havre). It's not automatic... but it is an engine. As long as you run all the stuff through, it'll keep pumping out points faster than you could possibly do it otherwise (at least with a good engine).

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Brandon Brockway

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I agree that Dominion is a great example, some more recent examples include Splendor and Machi Koro. I also think Magic the Gathering is great at this... I spent many the hour constructing decks with various engines for producing mana, doing direct damage, etc.
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Gianluca Casu
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To me an engine is something that works alone without further imput when a task is given. It is possible for the engine to execute differente subroutines given different imputs.

Those two factor given, it is difficult to me to accept Agricola and Fields of Arles in this category, because you do not have control over your engine. Your engine will react following the decisions of your opponents which will block you in certain actions.

So an engine is to me something strategic. Something you plan and then works given precise factors. Ag and FOA are too tactical to me in this vision "Oh, I cannot get stone this turn. cannot expand house. Bummer, let's go for more fields"

The danger of my analysis is that basically for me an engine can exist only in a single player or a solo multiplayer game ( like Dominion) because as soon someone else controls the imput the game is not strategic anymore and becomes tactic.
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Bobby F.
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I was curious about the actual definition of engine. Google reveals:
Quote:
en·gine (noun)
1. a machine with moving parts that converts power into motion.
synonyms: motor, machine, mechanism

2. a thing that is the agent or instrument of a particular process.
ex. "exports used to be the engine of growth"
synonyms: cause, agent, instrument, originator, initiator, generator
I think the two sides of this argument are looking at the two different definitions as the focal point.

Those saying that an engine is something that works alone are using the idea that an engine is a machine.

The other side is looking as engine as an agent of a process.

So, being truly neutral. You're both right!
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V Dickson
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I agree. They are both right from their own perspectives.

All engines require some input (an ignition, some kind of fuel, etc.), but some function much more autonomously than others.

That said, I tend to agree that any game that allows you to build parts that work together to make a task easier is a game in which you build an engine.

Whether you think of it as converting something into something else (def. 1) or as simply the means to enact a process, neither necessarily implies autonomy.

I love games where that engine is nearly autonomous, but I don't think we have to limit ourselves to only thinking about game engines that function with little or no direct/immediate input.
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Ben Vaterlaus
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I agree with both and if you use them as two different definitions, what would fall under each? Are there even 10 "machine" engine building games (Like Splendor) that work without additional input?

If it only requires a system to be put in place are there a lot more games that would qualify as "input" engine games (like le havre, MTG, all deckbuilders, etc.)?
 
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Mike Amos
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My favorite Engine Builder hit both of Tom and Eric's lists, Race for the Galaxy. I'm pretty sure that wouldn't match the definition of Engine Building listed above. In the context of Race for the Galaxy you engine isn't an auto-pilot, it requires care and feeding to work correctly, but it is an engine in that it gives you direction and takes your inputs and amplifies them into an output greater than you could have hoped for. My primary gaming partner and I tend to talk about "turning your engine on" meaning you've spent time building this amplifying system and now you must stop building and just begin giving your system inputs and dealing with the outputs.

So, I would separate your definitions into Auto-Pilot versus Engine. It's a semantic argument at best. I'll take an autopilot to winning when I can get it regardless of the name.
 
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David Pontier
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I don't think my definition of engine in the first post requires "Auto Pilot." A car definitely has an engine, and every car I've been in still requires a driver. But I think a car is more than just Walking 2.0. You push a pedal, and it does something completely different.

Many of the engines described require you to still take an action, and then they just enhance the action. And in some of the games, you get these enhanced actions without even doing anything. For example, in Agricola, building up your farm is an engine, but flipping over action spaces that give you more powerful actions is not.

That's my biggest problem with Lehavre. I love the game, but when you build a building, anyone can use it. Plus, to achieve any type of success in that game, you need access to half a dozen different key buildings, and you will never be the one building all of them, so in order to pull off the combos, you have to use other people's buildings, so how can it be considered to be "your" engine? Or is it considered to be a collective engine?

As far as if there are even 10 games with "Auto" engines, I think there are.

People have already listed Splendor and Agricola and Dominion. If Race for the Galaxy qualifies, then so does San Juan. I've mentioned Puerto Rico. There are probably half a dozen other deck builders that work. If you build a well defended kingdom in Tigris and Euphrates that has a couple monuments, that will churn out victory points for you each turn. In a few games of Alien Frontier that I've played, I've gotten a couple of the dice manipulation techs and each turn no matter what I rolled, I could change them to exactly what I needed. Glen More has a few combos that work automatically to give you points.
 
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Bryan Thunkd
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Piqsid wrote:
That's my biggest problem with Lehavre. I love the game, but when you build a building, anyone can use it. Plus, to achieve any type of success in that game, you need access to half a dozen different key buildings, and you will never be the one building all of them, so in order to pull off the combos, you have to use other people's buildings, so how can it be considered to be "your" engine? Or is it considered to be a collective engine?
Why does engine need to have any connotation of ownership? In Le Havre, converting iron to steel and shipping it would be a points engine. You may be blocked from being able to run that engine, but it doesn't invalidate that it will be a points engine if you can do it.

It sounds like your problem isn't about whether Le Havre has an engine capability, but rather that the game is by its nature more interactive than the typical Eurogame that lets you build your own engine and nobody else can touch it. As such the game becomes a lot more about timing and doing things at the appropriate moment than a game where it's solely about building a more efficient engine. In Le Havre, you can let someone else build most of the engine as long as you're better at booking time on it.
 
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Bryan McNeely
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An engine will run automatically, regardless of your decisions each turn. Saint Petersburg is a perfect example. Buy a worker, he will give you money at the end of the appropriate phase as long as he is out there [you never lose him unless you upgrade him] The money will allow you to employ others, thus getting you more money; snowballing your income even if you pass every turn for the rest of the game.

The engine is something you build and turn on AND taking your hands off of it would not necessarily stop it from working.
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