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Subject: Game Mechanics: intro, definitions, and categories rss

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Donald Wells

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A little while back I was curious about the list of mechanics used by the 'Geek to sort games. I discovered, to my surprise, that there was relatively little online documentation or explanation of these mechanics.

I would like to: 1) rectify the situation by offering some explanation of the various mechanics, and 2) enhance understanding of the listed mechanics by categorizing and re-defining existing mechanics and suggesting a few possible additions.

As it is is now, the best (and almost the only) way to get any idea about how the existing mechanics are defined is to read the on-mouse-over text when reading a game description. If you try this you will find that many definitions are not exactly up to snuff. The Memory mechanic, for instance, says only that it denotes games where memorizing hidden game states is "useful in playing well." But Memory is "useful in playing well" in many games - but we don't necessarily think of those games as "memory" games. Also, one could easily say that intelligence is also "useful in playing well" in games, but that doesn't make it a mechanic.

My approach is this: I've grouped 40 of the 41 existing mechanics into 7 categories based on the main sphere of action. The categories are: 1)limited or gimmicky, 2) turn related, 3) player interaction, 4) movement, 5) decision types, 6) outcome determiners, 7) setup variations. I have excluded one mechanic, "Simulation," because I'm not sure that it's a mechanic (though I'd be interested in debating this issue).

1) Limited or Gimmicky: these are mecanics which have fairly limited application in board games because they tend to fall into another sphere (i.e., Trick-Taking is common in card games, much less so in board-games). I've also included mechanics which seem like gimmicks (like Singing).

Acting: players must represent someone else or otherwise perform theatrically. [This is pretty much the existing definition.]

Line Drawing: players produce a likeness by making lines on a surface. [I'm not sure why this mechanic can't be subsumed under "Pattern Building." A line is also a pattern.]

Memory: the player must memorize hidden game states in order to accomplish game tasks. [My revision, I think, gets a little closer to wht we usually think of as "memory" games - memory is a requirement when this mechanic is operational, not "useful."]

Paper-and-Pencil: play primarily and essentially involves the use of paper and pencil (or their equivalents). [This is what the original definition meant when it noted that Boggle was not an example of this mechanic because the use of paper and pencil was merely an aid in keeping score. Pictionary, on the other hand, IS a paper-and-pencil game.]

Pattern Building: the construction of a specific pattern or patterns is essential to gameplay. [This mechanic is not yet defined by the mouse-over, probably because someone assumed it spoke for itself. But the problem is that patterns of some sort or another can be understood as building "built" in many games. The old Risk strategy of holding Australia plus Siam as a base point from which to expand is certainly a pattern - but it is not essential to gameplay.]

Pattern Recognition: the discovery or recognition of a pattern or patterns in game elements is essential to gameplay. [Similar to the previous mechanic, and my definition is likewise similar. Boggle is a good example of Pattern Recognition, because noticing words in arrangements of letters is how you play. Go, however, is NOT an example, because while the ability to recognize patterns certainly will help one win games, it is not necessary in order to play the game.]

Role Playing: players assume, in the manner of an RPG, another character or role for the duration of the game. [Also not currently defined on the 'Geek, which is strange since it needs to be distnguished from "Acting" if it is to be useful as a descriptive mechanic. I think it's also useful to distinguish this mechanic from the playing of factions (like in Dune or Game of Thrones), which doesn't really or necessarily involve "role playing."]

Sing: players must sing (or attempt to sing). [Further caveats may also be necessary. Games like Mystery of the Abbey create situations where characters have to sing or chant for awhile, but I find it difficult to accept "Singing" as a descriptive mechanic for such games.]

Storytelling: players must construct or present a narrative to another player or players. [This mechanic can also be slippery to handle. If I tell a fellow Diplomacy player that his estwhile ally is planning to stab him in the back is that "storytelling?" I think not. That's why I've introduced the idea of making up or telling a "narrative" so that we keep this mechanic to games where one must do that. There aren't many.]

Trick-Taking: players serially play a card or cards and one playr wins the set of cards played, receiving a reward or penalty for doing so. [A "trick" in this sense is a set of cards, usually ordinary playing cards. One player winning implies an absolute hierarchical relation among the cards (to avoid "ties"). It is not necessary that a trick-taking game involve "trumps" (cards which override the ordinary hierarchies), though it is of course possible and common.]

2) Turn Related: these are mechanics which focus essentially on the game turn itelf or the order of play. As it stands now, only a few mechanics fit into this category.

Action Point Allowance: players choose which actions to take on their turns by selecting a set number of times from a list of possible actions. [This includes Descent (JitD), where players ordinarily have 2 actions from a list of 3 (move, attack, special action - which is in turn subdivided into 4 possible actions). Twilight Imperium (3e) is also an example of this mechanic, with player role (Initiative) and counters (strategy and command counters) determining the "set number of times" players can take certain actions.]

Variable Phase Order: the order of phases changes from turn to turn (some phases may not be present on any given turn). [Puerto Rico is an example of this since the phases are dependent on being selected by a player but the order in which the phases are carried out depends on table order. Citadels and Twilight Imperium (3e) are interesting counter examples - they do not use this mechanic because the actual order of the phases is the same every turn.]

3) Player Interaction: these mechanics focus essentially on how players can (or should) interact with each other. Obviously, players interact in most games (games are social activities, after all), but in some games there are mechanics to enforce or regulate or add a certain structure to ordinary interactions.

Cooperative Play: all players (or all but one) play as a team and win or lose together. [The caveat allows games like Descent or Lord of the Rings (with Sauron expansion) to still fit - which seems reasonable.]

Partnerships: each player cooperates with at least one other player, winning or losing as a team.

Trading: players exchange game elements to better suit their own needs. [I try to use "game elements" to refer to the wide variety of things which can be traded (which at times includes non-material things, like the combat advantages the Atreides grant their allies in Dune).]

4) Movement: these mechanics involve the movement of game elements on the board. They may focus on the how, what, and/or where of such movement.

Area-Impulse: players "activate" map areas in order to move elements (or otherwise perform actions). [The idea is that the player must activate the area in order to "do something" in that area - which may includes building new units, which involves movement as it were from off the board onto the board.]

Area Movement: game elements move on, in, and through irregularly-shaped map areas rather than on a regular grid. [An irregularly shaped map allows for different tactical and strategic considerations - as anyone familiar with the Risk board could tell you.]

Hex-and-Counter: players move counters (traditionally cardboard) over a hexagonal grid map. [I don't like the existing definition, since the composition of the counters is not essential to the mechanic.]

Point to Point Movement: game "locations" are essentially one-dimensional, and movement of game elements takes place on lines between locations. [This mechanic is also currently undefined and I'm not sure what the 'Geek originally had in mind for it. As far as I can tell, though, it's meant to indicate games like Fury of Dracula or the old Merchants of Venus, where instead of irregular territories or regular hexes, units were considered to be "in" a location whose connection to other locations was determined by lines on the board. For movement purposes, locations are geometric points.]

Roll and Move: players roll dice and move game elements according to the results. [This definition tried to encompass both the old "roll d6 and move that many spaces" as well as Runebound's system where one moves spaces equal to number of dice rolled but according to the terrain types on the dice faces.]

5) Decision Types: the plurality of existing mechanics concern the kinds of decisions players make in the game.

Area Enclosure: players fence off or otherwise surround an area or areas on the game board. [I'm not sure I like this definition, but I'm not sure how to improve it.]

Auction/Bidding: players evaluate and bid on game elements. [Some games use this mechanic primarily (i.e., Modern Art), while others use it secondarily or in addition to other mechanics (i.e., Princes of Florence). It is probably best to leave it up to individual game reviewers to tell us what role and how much of a role this mechanic plays in a given game.]

Betting/Wagering: players risk money on certain possible outcomes in the hope of making back more than they risked. [The problem with the existing situation is how this mechanic is to be distinguished from Auction/Bidding. In Modern Art, a quintessential Auction game, one is still wagering money in the hope that one's purchases will end up being worth more later. Heck, even in Princes of Florence you bid on items in the hope of winning back more in victory points than one loses in ducats. I don't know exactly how to improve this...]

Card Drafting: players select from open card choices. [Seems okay as is.]

Commodity Speculation: players acquire game commodities in the hope that their value will rise. [This needs to be kept distinct from Set Collection.]

Crayon Rail System: players build tracks/connections between locations (usually railroad lines between cities). [Can somebody think of a game using this mechanic that ISN'T essentially a train game?]

Hand Management: players have a set of cards with which to accomplish game tasks, usually with the caveat that players must be frugal with their cards. [It is difficult to be precise here.]

Pick-up and Deliver: players physically move game elements around on the board (or from the board - but usually from one board location to another). [Serenissima comes to mind as an excellent example here; Merchants of Venus works, too.]

Set Collection: players seek to acquire sets of game elements (usually the more of one kind the better). [Avalon Hill's Civilization and Advanced Civilization are obvious examples of this mechanic. Trading seems a common mechanic paired with this one, though it need not be (Risk is an example of set collection without trading).]

Simultaneous Action Selection: players choose their actions for a turn at the same time. [This is not so much a type of decision to be made but a mechanic governing the way or order in which decisions will be made. I include it in this category, though, because the nature of the mechanic is such that it quite seriously and clearly affects the decisions players make.]

Stock Holding: players acquire interest by puchasing stock (usually with the implication that no one player has exclusive control over or benefit from an element). [This definition probably needs futher investigation.]

Tile Placement: players place tiles onto the tile surface.

Voting: players make gamed decisions together by voting. [I include this as a decision type and not player interaction because voting as such does not essentially require one to interact with other players (you can vote in splendid isolation from other people and their opinions quite easily) - but it does require you to make a decision.]

6) Outcome Determiners: these mechanics are concerned with determining game possibilities or outcomes - often the results of player decisions.

Dice Rolling: players roll dice and check the results to determine outcomes. [There is a whole host of possibilities here--roll high, roll low, add dice together, take lowest roll, average the rolls, certain numbers equal certain results, and so on.]

Chit-Pull: players receive chits (often, but not necessarily by removing them from the game board) which grant them special or extraordinary abilities. [The existing definition is far too limited and ill-defined. Chit-pull certain applies to non-wargames: consider clue tokens in Arkham Horror, territory chits in Eagle Games' Civilization, and even the Distant Suns chits in Twilight Imperium.]

Rock-Paper-Scissors: to resolve game conflicts players choose "attacks" from a limited set of options with the understanding that certain attacks are inherently better than others (often, but not necessarily, in a circular pattern as in the "Rock-Paper-Scissors" game). [One can points to games like Dune including something of this mechanic: in combat in Dune, certain attacks are automatically countered by certain defenses. I think the essential element to this form of conflict is that it is not essentially resolved by mathematics.]

Campaign/Battle card: battles and/or general game events are determined by cards. [I'm not exactly sure about this mechanic - I'd love to hear other people's takes on what it is.]

7) Variations on Normal Setup: these mechanics involve some alteration in the normal setup of the game, including variations in player abilities. [I assume a set, unchanging board and essentially identical players as a standard.]

Modular Board: the playing surface is composed of changeable elements which may alter either during the course of a game or from one game to the next.

Secret Unit Deployment: players' on-board resources are not implicitly known by other players. ['Implicitly' is there to account for the possibility that in many games which use this mechanic ostensibly hidden resources might be known to other players due either to their deductions or their memories.]

Variable Player Powers: two or more players in the game have different abilities during the course of game play.

Special Case: Simulation. How is this a mechanic?




 
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Donald Wells

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I've also thought up a couple of possible additions:

1) Rotating First Player: the starting player changes from one game round or turn to the next according to a fixed rule.

This mechanic would account for games like Puerto Rico where the "governor" token, denoting starting player, passes to the left between rounds.

2) Movement Point Allowance: a player's units or pieces move according to a set number, often expressed in terms of movement points.

This mechanic includes games like Risk where units simply have a movement point of "1," as well as a host of wargames where units have set movement points according to type. It also encompasses games like Descent where each character has a set number of movement points.
 
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James Lowry
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Very nice! Some comments:

Point to Point Movement: The difference between this and Area Movement seems ultimately to be largely one of graphics (look at Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign, 1815). However - point to point games usually have something relating to the route itself. A House Divided for instance, uses point to point because whether you're moving along a road, a railroad, or a river is important to the mechanics of the game. This would be hard to show on a board with 'areas' instead of 'boxes'.

Roll and Move: I feel your definition is lacking. In A House Divided you roll one die to see how many moves you get that turn. I don't think anyone would group that in "Roll and Move" as it is commonly understood, but it would fit your definition (I'm moving my peices/elements in accordance with the results).

Crayon Rail System: If you leave out the word 'crayon' and talk about building a path, you could be talking about 18xx as well as Mayfair Rails. At that point, there may be other games you can include if you leave out the word 'rail'. (I can't think of any off-hand, but I've got a suspicion that there's one I know of, but am forgetting.) Note that Settlers of Catan would not count - you build something called a road, but it perfoms no game function for moving pieces (not a 'path'). Hmm... 18xx could still be iffy, but the track determines the routes... requires meditation.

"Tile Placement: players place tiles onto the tile surface."
Ow. Something a little less circular?

Campaign/Battle card: Can you provide some example games listed with this? I'm not sure what is meant.

Your proposed
Movement Point Allowance: Would a game with fixed movement possibilities, but with different ones per piece count? (i.e., most hex-and-counter wargames, Chess...)
 
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Clay Blankenship
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I can think of a few additions.
Bluffing (not just in betting games, e.g. Hoax or that Mexican smuggling game)
Blind Bidding (common enough to be listed on its own)
Clue giving (trying to get a player (usually teammates) to guess an answer, including things like Charades, Time's Up, Pictionary)

The movement category could include
1) all of a players pieces can move (e.g. Axis and Allies, Risk, are there any non-wargame examples?)
2) limited activation (e.g. card-driven war games; do some games use dice for this?)

What about a category for the ways victory is assigned?
1) Collection of VP (Settlers, Carcassonne, many many German games)
1a) Collection of money
2) First to achieve a specific goal (Kremlin)
3) Multiple ways to win (Liberte)
4) Elimination (Monopoly)

Ways the game ends (related to the previous category)
1) After a certain number of rounds
2) After a certain goal is attained
 
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Richard Irving
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I'kll just comment on parts where I see the need ad snip the rest.


Wellsian wrote:

1) Limited or Gimmicky: these are mecanics which have fairly limited application in board games because they tend to fall into another sphere (i.e., Trick-Taking is common in card games, much less so in board-games). I've also included mechanics which seem like gimmicks (like Singing).


A lot of the gimmicky mechanice are going to fall into the "party game" category: Acting, singing, etc.
Quote:

Line Drawing: players produce a likeness by making lines on a surface. [I'm not sure why this mechanic can't be subsumed under "Pattern Building." A line is also a pattern.]


I think this indicates games like Pictionary where you make line drawings.

Paper-and-Pencil: play primarily and essentially involves the use of paper and pencil (or their equivalents). [This is what the original definition meant when it noted that Boggle was not an example of this mechanic because the use of paper and pencil was merely an aid in keeping score. Pictionary, on the other hand, IS a paper-and-pencil game.]
Actually, Boggle the players are required to write the words they find, so the pencil & paper is required.

Quote:

Pattern Building: the construction of a specific pattern or patterns is essential to gameplay. [This mechanic is not yet defined by the mouse-over, probably because someone assumed it spoke for itself. But the problem is that patterns of some sort or another can be understood as building "built" in many games. The old Risk strategy of holding Australia plus Siam as a base point from which to expand is certainly a pattern - but it is not essential to gameplay.]


This represent games where you attempt to form specific patterns on the board--five in a row, color sequences, grouping matching colors together. etc.

Quote:

Pattern Recognition: the discovery or recognition of a pattern or patterns in game elements is essential to gameplay. [Similar to the previous mechanic, and my definition is likewise similar. Boggle is a good example of Pattern Recognition, because noticing words in arrangements of letters is how you play. Go, however, is NOT an example, because while the ability to recognize patterns certainly will help one win games, it is not necessary in order to play the game.]


Set would be the prototypical game here--given a random sleection of card find 3 that match in some way.

Quote:
Role Playing: players assume, in the manner of an RPG, another character or role for the duration of the game. [Also not currently defined on the 'Geek, which is strange since it needs to be distnguished from "Acting" if it is to be useful as a descriptive mechanic. I think it's also useful to distinguish this mechanic from the playing of factions (like in Dune or Game of Thrones), which doesn't really or necessarily involve "role playing."]


To differentiate between role playing and acting, I would suggest character generation and statistics are the key element. Charades is an acting game where no role playing is present. A dungeon crawl game will often have role playing stats, but you generally aren't required to play in character.

Quote:

Trick-Taking: players serially play a card or cards and one playr wins the set of cards played, receiving a reward or penalty for doing so. [A "trick" in this sense is a set of cards, usually ordinary playing cards. One player winning implies an absolute hierarchical relation among the cards (to avoid "ties"). It is not necessary that a trick-taking game involve "trumps" (cards which override the ordinary hierarchies), though it is of course possible and common.]


Trick taking has a specific definition:
- Each player plays one card, face up, in turn sequence.
- The highest ranked card in the game wins and captures the cards played to the trick.


Trick taking almost requires the use of gaming implements who identity can be hidden from the other players. This usually implies card, but it could also include dominoes, tiles, etc.


Quote:
Action Point Allowance: players choose which actions to take on their turns by selecting a set number of times from a list of possible actions. [This includes Descent (JitD), where players ordinarily have 2 actions from a list of 3 (move, attack, special action - which is in turn subdivided into 4 possible actions). Twilight Imperium (3e) is also an example of this mechanic, with player role (Initiative) and counters (strategy and command counters) determining the "set number of times" players can take certain actions.]


Action pts. allowance habe these elements:
- Each different type of action has an AP cost. Usually these costs are variable (move 1 pt. space, add new guy 3 pts., dig temple 2 pts. etc.) Most of the examples you have given have the same cost.
- Each player gets a bank of points to spend.

I would argue a game like Magic the Gathering--the mana point are a specilized version of action points: In order to play a card and do the effect, you have to spend the required number of of mana (and it must include the right types.)


Variable Phase Order: the order of phases changes from turn to turn (some phases may not be present on any given turn). [Puerto Rico is an example of this since the phases are dependent on being selected by a player but the order in which the phases are carried out depends on table order. Citadels and Twilight Imperium (3e) are interesting counter examples - they do not use this mechanic because the actual order of the phases is the same every turn.]

Quote:
3) Player Interaction: these mechanics focus essentially on how players can (or should) interact with each other. Obviously, players interact in most games (games are social activities, after all), but in some games there are mechanics to enforce or regulate or add a certain structure to ordinary interactions.

Cooperative Play: all players (or all but one) play as a team and win or lose together. [The caveat allows games like Descent or Lord of the Rings (with Sauron expansion) to still fit - which seems reasonable.]

Partnerships: each player cooperates with at least one other player, winning or losing as a team.


Partnerships should also include temporary partnerships that come about in some card games: many three player games the winning plays against a team of theother two players, Mu (Chief picks another player to partner with), Some tarot games/Schaschkopf (Bidder picks a card--the player who holds it becomes his partner and he can't reveal until he plays the card.)

Quote:

Trading: players exchange game elements to better suit their own needs. [I try to use "game elements" to refer to the wide variety of things which can be traded (which at times includes non-material things, like the combat advantages the Atreides grant their allies in Dune).]

Trading really doesn't fit in this group--it fits better in group 5.


Quote:
4) Movement: these mechanics involve the movement of game elements on the board. They may focus on the how, what, and/or where of such movement.

Area Movement: game elements move on, in, and through irregularly-shaped map areas rather than on a regular grid. [An irregularly shaped map allows for different tactical and strategic considerations - as anyone familiar with the Risk board could tell you.]


Point to Point Movement: game "locations" are essentially one-dimensional, and movement of game elements takes place on lines between locations. [This mechanic is also currently undefined and I'm not sure what the 'Geek originally had in mind for it. As far as I can tell, though, it's meant to indicate games like Fury of Dracula or the old Merchants of Venus, where instead of irregular territories or regular hexes, units were considered to be "in" a location whose connection to other locations was determined by lines on the board. For movement purposes, locations are geometric points.]


Actually Area movement and point to point are almost identical--you can always convert a 2 dimensional PtP map into and area map and back:
- Area to ptp: Take any area map, put a dot in the center of each area, draw a line from each dot to the dot in each adjacent area, erase original map.
- ptp to Area: Take ptp map, between each pair of points make a hash mark, connect hash marks around each point to form the area (In some cases you may have to leave some empty, impassible areas)

The main difference is mostly in terms of presentation: If the game uses a lot of pieces in a particular space. area maps are usually better. If the game uses different movement costs between spaces (road vs. river vs. rough terrain), ptp maps can be better


Quote:
5) Decision Types: the plurality of existing mechanics concern the kinds of decisions players make in the game.

Auction/Bidding: players evaluate and bid on game elements. [Some games use this mechanic primarily (i.e., Modern Art), while others use it secondarily or in addition to other mechanics (i.e., Princes of Florence). It is probably best to leave it up to individual game reviewers to tell us what role and how much of a role this mechanic plays in a given game.]

Betting/Wagering: players risk money on certain possible outcomes in the hope of making back more than they risked. [The problem with the existing situation is how this mechanic is to be distinguished from Auction/Bidding. In Modern Art, a quintessential Auction game, one is still wagering money in the hope that one's purchases will end up being worth more later. Heck, even in Princes of Florence you bid on items in the hope of winning back more in victory points than one loses in ducats. I don't know exactly how to improve this...]


An auction is when multiple people estimate the value of a certain item or action (such as a turn order auction or card game auction for the right to name a trump suit). The highest or lowest estimate wins the auction.

In betting or wagering game, the players are risking that certain events beyond their control will happen (and will be rewarded if they do and will have to play if they don't): That horse will win the race, my blackjack hand will be better than the dealers, the dice will come a 7, etc.

Poker is really interesting case, because essentially it is an auction for the money that all players bid DURING the auction.

Quote:
Crayon Rail System: players build tracks/connections between locations (usually railroad lines between cities). [Can somebody think of a game using this mechanic that ISN'T essentially a train game?]


Bus Boss, the original Funkenschlag are two obvious example. It could be extended to connection games where you draw lines on a grid, etc.

Quote:
Simultaneous Action Selection: players choose their actions for a turn at the same time. [This is not so much a type of decision to be made but a mechanic governing the way or order in which decisions will be made. I include it in this category, though, because the nature of the mechanic is such that it quite seriously and clearly affects the decisions players make.]


No, there is fundamental difference: Simultaneous action selection often requires the players to guess their oppoenent's actions. If you make your actions predictable, your opponent pick the right choice to stop you. So you have to pick your actions somewhat randomly--this does NOT means making completely random moves, but taking the "wrong" choice from time to time.

The mechanic that really is superfluous is "rock/paper/scissors", which is a simultaneous selction action.

Quote:
Stock Holding: players acquire interest by puchasing stock (usually with the implication that no one player has exclusive control over or benefit from an element). [This definition probably needs futher investigation.]


Often includes majority holding of shares in different companies which score or receive bonuses or the right to operate the company.


Quote:
6) Outcome Determiners: these mechanics are concerned with determining game possibilities or outcomes - often the results of player decisions.

Rock-Paper-Scissors: to resolve game conflicts players choose "attacks" from a limited set of options with the understanding that certain attacks are inherently better than others (often, but not necessarily, in a circular pattern as in the "Rock-Paper-Scissors" game). [One can points to games like Dune including something of this mechanic: in combat in Dune, certain attacks are automatically countered by certain defenses. I think the essential element to this form of conflict is that it is not essentially resolved by mathematics.]


This is superfluous to Simultaneous action selection.

The last line is incorrect: Game theory can tell you given a certain "payoff matrix" for a simultaneous action, what percentage of the time you should select each option for optimum results. But you still have to randomly choose your action in line with the percentages.

Quote:
Campaign/Battle card: battles and/or general game events are determined by cards. [I'm not exactly sure about this mechanic - I'd love to hear other people's takes on what it is.]


Primarily games like We the People, Hannibal, Paths of Glory, etc. Each player has a hand of event cards that they can choose to play for their events or to do generic actions like movement or reinforcement.

But other games often get mixed in hear like C&C series, Up Front, etc., where cards limit your available options for which units to play or the actions they can do.

Quote:
7) Variations on Normal Setup: these mechanics involve some alteration in the normal setup of the game, including variations in player abilities. [I assume a set, unchanging board and essentially identical players as a standard.]

Secret Unit Deployment: players' on-board resources are not implicitly known by other players. ['Implicitly' is there to account for the possibility that in many games which use this mechanic ostensibly hidden resources might be known to other players due either to their deductions or their memories.]


Secret unit deployment included games like Stratego (which remain hidden after start of play) and games like Feudal, where players set up hidden behind a screen whioch is removed.
 
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Greg Jones
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Wellsian wrote:
Crayon Rail System: players build tracks/connections between locations (usually railroad lines between cities). [Can somebody think of a game using this mechanic that ISN'T essentially a train game?]


Somebody told me old Power Grid used to be a crayon game. Then FF just changed it so you didn't have to count the distance between cities; the approximate cost of the most efficient route is just printed on the board.
 
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Greg Jones
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How about making this a wiki? It seems well suited.

1. Lots of people seem to have opinions about it.
2. It's objective. It's not about which mechanic is better. Nor is it about what the best strategy is for games with a certain mechanic.
 
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Donald Wells

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Excellent replies. I'm glad to see there are others interested in design arcana!

Some replies in turn...

Rindis:

Re: Point to Point Movement: yeah, the existing definition didn't do a good job of distinguishing this from area movement. But there is a difference beyond graphics, which your reference to the routes between points brings up. There are no routes "between" areas in area movement (areas are adjacent or they're not). But point to point movement allows for new possibilities. In Merchants of Venus, for example, players must move along the tracks between "locations" (in Risk your units are in Siberia or not); heck, even in a crappy game like Assassin, the routes between cities prove important.

Re: Roll and Move and "A House Divided": the mechanic in this game sounds like it combines roll and move and action point allowance. More precisely, it uses action point allowance, where the points allowed are determined by die roll. Is this accurate?

Re: Movement Point Allowance: yes, many hex-and-counter games use this mechanic. Chess is an interesting case because only a couple of pieces have something like a definite point allowance (pawns and kings). Knights MAY fit this, but I think it might be more accurate to say that Knights, like Bishops, Rooks, and Queens, move according to a pattern rather than a fixed point allowance. Perhaps we need a mechanic to account for this (or would it be a mechanic with only limited applicability)?

Re: Tile Placement: whoa. Yeah, my definition really sucked. Back to the drawing-board...


snoweel:

Re: Bluffing: I like this idea, but most of my experience with bluffing is that it is more often a player technique or strategy to maximize use of a game mechanic. For example, bluffing in poker is not a mechanic but a way to maximize your betting, or bluffing in Advanced Civilization can enhance your ability to get the most out of commodity trading.

Re: Blind Bid: this is pretty common, but is it distinct enough from Auction/Bidding to warrant a new division? Maybe...

Re: Clue-giving: I'm going to think about this one.

Re: Victory: I think this list would be better served as game descriptions rather than as game mechanics. Collection of victory points is rather the end or goal of certain games, while the mechanics represent means (of one sort or another) to that end.

Re: Game enders: this list seems more useful as mechanics. How the game ends can be useful to know, and is pretty descriptive. Some games have multiple paths, so perhaps a category allowing for that would be useful too.

rri1:

Re: Gimmicks: yeah, most of this first category would be appropriate to party games. I don't think party games automatically equal gimmick mechanics, but I have the sneaking suspicion that gimmicky mechanics almost always equal "party game."

Re: Line Drawing: hmmm. In the end, I think I may agree with you on this, but I think you'll agree that it's a mechanic with pretty limited application.

Re: Pattern Building: I agree with your point. My point was that it would be helpful to have a clear definition for this mechanic--it's often best to put our assumptions out in the open so we can put them to the test.

Re: Pattern Recognition: I haven't played Set, but it does sound like a good example of this mechanic.

Re: Role Playing: I tried to use the phrase "in the manner of an RPG" to convey the idea you suggest. I think that for a game to truly use this mechanic the role-playing should be pretty integral to the game--and thus should last for the duration of the game (or something pretty close to that). Acting, on the other hand, is more appropriate to games where you, say, impersonate one person one round and then another person the next round.

Re: Trick-taking: your definition seems a bit smoother than mine; however, I still like my caveat involving a "reward or penalty." In some games you want to win tricks (or a certain number of tricks), but in others you may gain unwanted points by winning tricks.

Re: Action Points: how about this: "Each player (and/or each unit) has a bank of points with which to 'purchase' actions (which may vary in cost) from a set list."

Re: MtG: absolutely--this game is a pretty good example of this mechanic. Mana determines your "bank" of points, while the cards you want to play represent the set list of actions.

Re: Partnerships: how about this variation: "Each player cooperates (temporarily or permanently) with at least one other player, winning or losing as a team." This should allow for those games like Dune or Cosmic Encounter where temporary alliances or agreements can work just like partnerships in other games (but only for a time).

Re: Trading: you may be right about the classification of this. Originally, my reasoning was that trading essentially required player interaction. Later, it occurred to me that in games like Mare Nostrum trading can pretty much take place with only a minimum of real or significant "interaction." So Trading probably should be in the list of Decision types.

Re: Area Movement: see above. I think there is a difference between this and point to point, but my original post did not really articulate this difference very well.

Re: Auction v Betting: key to the distinction seems to be your phrase "beyond their control." Sounds good to me.

Re: Crayon Rail: Bus Boss? Funkenschlag? Those are only obvious examples if you've played them!

...does my proposed definition still work for those games?

Re: Simultaneous Action Selection: I disagree with you about this. The key issue for me is your phrase "simultaneous action selection often requires..." In other word, it is not essential to simultaneous action selection, but it is useful for successful use of this mechanic. Considered in itself, this mechanic only implies that you will make your selections at the same time as other people.

Order placement in Game of Thrones is an example of what I mean. This is simultaneous action selection. But it does not in itself determine outcomes. Whether my march is successful or not or whether or not I can raid someone's consolidate power token depends upon other factors.

Rock-Paper-Scissors is still useful as a distinct mechanic for dealing specifically with how conflicts will be resolved or outcomes determined. Yes, it implies a simultaneous choice of actions, but using this phrase can be misleading. In Maginor you resolve conflicts by choosing fire, earth, or water - but I think it would be misleading to say this game uses a "simultaneous action selection" mechanic.

There is also a difference, in my mind, between "12 is higher than 4 so I win" and "water beats earth so I win."

Re: Battle Cards: does the definition I gave cover the kinds of cards you mention adequately?



 
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marc lecours
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Stratego uses a rock paper scisors method to determine the winner of a conflict. Yet the individual moves during the game are not exactly simultaneous. (except in the fact that the initial placement of the pieces is simultaneous)
 
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Michael Leuchtenburg
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Wellsian wrote:
Variable Phase Order: the order of phases changes from turn to turn (some phases may not be present on any given turn). [Puerto Rico is an example of this since the phases are dependent on being selected by a player but the order in which the phases are carried out depends on table order. Citadels and Twilight Imperium (3e) are interesting counter examples - they do not use this mechanic because the actual order of the phases is the same every turn.]


What about games like Power Grid? Is the changing of who goes when considered to be a case of "variable phase order"? Is a player's turn a "phase"? It seems to me like either the answer should be yes, or we need a new mechanic in the database to cover that. Variable player order, maybe.
 
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