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Subject: What are the 3 most fundamental game mechanics? rss

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Ji Dan
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I had to go with three b/c I couldn't do it in 2 without excluding a category of fundamental games (chance vs. non-chance.) Plus, three is a nice, magic number. The answers do not have to be hierarchal in terms of ordering, but if you think there is a hierarchy, feel free to propose that.

Here is my take on the three most fundamental game mechanics, in no special order:


A. "Throwing Bones"

By this I mean any form of physical random number generation, including yarrow stalks, coin flips and dice. I believe some form of this mechanic would constitute the oldest game (which is, of course, a highly speculative, but not unreasonable assumption.)


B. Placement

I propose these because I believe Tic-Tac-Toe is a very likely candidate for world's oldest boardgame.

This comes with the caveat that Mancala has also been proposed, which I think is also not an unreasonable assumption.

In either case, "Placement" is utilized.


C. Connection

This choice skews in favor of Tic-tac-toe, and m,n,k games in general. It produces a vast array of the most fundamental games, including modern extensions via Hex.

Even if Manacala ultimately proves to be the oldest boardgame, it requires "Movement" and "Capture" (Placement and Displacement+Scoring) to function, and for this reason, I consider Connection to be more fundamental.
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Anthony Haines
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I think the most fundamental mechanisms are going to be more basic than that, and essentially all games will have them.
You haven't considered them because you've taken them for granted.
Perhaps something like:

A. Rules
Some form of consensus on terms of play, and how disagreements will be resolved.

B. Sides
Who is playing, and who is in opposition to who.

C. Turn order, or active times
Who gets to do stuff, and when.
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Hervan Rossi
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1. And
2. Or
3. Not
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DrLoris wrote:
I think the most fundamental mechanisms are going to be more basic than that, and essentially all games will have them.
You haven't considered them because you've taken them for granted.
Perhaps something like:

A. Rules
Some form of consensus on terms of play, and how disagreements will be resolved.

B. Sides
Who is playing, and who is in opposition to who.

C. Turn order, or active times
Who gets to do stuff, and when.


Playing field(s)
 
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Ji Dan
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hervan wrote:
1. And
2. Or
3. Not


Yeeeeeeeeesssssssssssss.

So glad I asked this question
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Ji Dan
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DrLoris wrote:
I think the most fundamental mechanisms are going to be more basic than that, and essentially all games will have them.
You haven't considered them because you've taken them for granted.
Perhaps something like:

A. Rules
Some form of consensus on terms of play, and how disagreements will be resolved.

B. Sides
Who is playing, and who is in opposition to who.

C. Turn order, or active times
Who gets to do stuff, and when.


Very interesting answer.

I wouldn't necessarily consider Rules a mechanic, but you say mechanism, which strikes me as correct. In some sense, the concept of "game mechanics" (Rules) is the most fundamental.

Re: Sides, I'm wondering if this is "Number of Players"? A solo game constitutes a puzzle in the strictest sense (where games require multiple competitors.) This Combinatorial Game Theory distinction would seem to support "Sides" as a basic designator of category of game, and it's standard in the field to refer to players a L & R for left and right, because study has largely been confined to puzzles such as Sudoku and two-player games. But modern games often involve more than two players.

Turn order is definitely fundamental. A sequential game has to start off with "Players take turns", and there are also simultaneous games, such as Rock, Paper, Scissors.
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Anne-Christine Bello
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hervan wrote:
1. And
2. Or
3. Not


I don't want to seem dim, but could you elaborate a little, I am not sure what you are saying...
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I can't possibly give as elegant an answer as Hervan, but in a similar vein.

Choice: without a choice there is no game, whether it is which box to pick in tic-tac-toe, whether to push your luck or stick with what you have in, well any push your luck game. Choice is what makes a game a compelling thing to play because whatever the outcome you feel you had a hand in making it and that if you had chosen differently you could have changed the outcome.

Cost: choice without cost isn't an interesting choice, whether it is as simple as choosing to further your line making at the cost of not hindering your opponent's line making or weighing up which cards to build and which to spend in something like Race for the Galaxy or Glory to Rome.

Constraint: rules, hand limits, play areas these are what narrow the choices down into something the mind can feel it has a hope of grasping, not necessarily solving but understanding enough to try.

Some games have few choices with many constraints so as to be entirely soluble, tic tac toe for example there are only 9 possible squares, but because of rotational symmetry there are really only 3 different opening moves (middle, mid edge, corner).

All these elements go to make the Challenge in a Game.
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Hervan Rossi
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annkri wrote:
hervan wrote:
1. And
2. Or
3. Not


I don't want to seem dim, but could you elaborate a little, I am not sure what you are saying...


Sorry, it was meant as an inoffensive joke. These are just basic logic operations.

I see it as funny because I couldn't ever possibly define the three MOST fundamental mechanics - or I'd be barely defining what games are, as DrLoris did (and did well). OP mentions a random generator as one of his candidates for the most fundamental mechanic, but the way I see it, a random generator as bare as he puts is just a fact of life.

(I'm sorry I couldn't objectively contribute to the thread, but I also didn't want to digress too much and prevent people from trying to answer what OP asks.)
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Martijn van der Lee
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hervan wrote:
1. And
2. Or
3. Not

So basically just one rule;
1. Not both
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Kaganishu Khan
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Most fundamental game mechanics would be things that are present in all games, would they not? Not sure if the number is 3, but arbitrarily taken lets give it a look:

Random generator is not present in all, not even in a majority of games in some periods or cultures.

Sides is also, in lieu of the co-op, rather more difficult to use, I would replace it with "role(s)".

Not all games have, or need, a playing field, markers, stones or any physical thing at all.

So, I would rate the most fundamental game mechanics:

Rules, as per the great definition by a poster above, actually defining the scope of the game. Even if the rule is "anything you can think of"

Roles (as in, who is a player, who is trying to do what, in contrast to who is not considered a player, or not allowed to do a specific thing)

Reason to play (alliteration was irresistible. Could probably replace with "point of the game") giving it a trajectory towards which to go (even if said trajectory is "wasting time", its still a goal)


Now, if you want to go into more specifics of what design mechanics for game design are the most basic and fundamental, and which concepts almost all designs incorporate in one way or another, I would say:

Result generation, placement of elements within the gamespace, chronological sequence of actions.
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maf man
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interesting thought.
Changing "connection" to "pattern" came to mind though. Perhaps just because its a little bit more over-arching.
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Ji Dan
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HuggableHamster wrote:
I can't possibly give as elegant an answer as Hervan, but in a similar vein.

Choice: without a choice there is no game, whether it is which box to pick in tic-tac-toe, whether to push your luck or stick with what you have in, well any push your luck game. Choice is what makes a game a compelling thing to play because whatever the outcome you feel you had a hand in making it and that if you had chosen differently you could have changed the outcome.

Cost: choice without cost isn't an interesting choice, whether it is as simple as choosing to further your line making at the cost of not hindering your opponent's line making or weighing up which cards to build and which to spend in something like Race for the Galaxy or Glory to Rome.

Constraint: rules, hand limits, play areas these are what narrow the choices down into something the mind can feel it has a hope of grasping, not necessarily solving but understanding enough to try.

Some games have few choices with many constraints so as to be entirely soluble, tic tac toe for example there are only 9 possible squares, but because of rotational symmetry there are really only 3 different opening moves (middle, mid edge, corner).

All these elements go to make the Challenge in a Game.


Very nice thoughts! I might almost posit that cost can be subsumed by choice, because cost can be reduced to a binary, so as in Go or Othello (to place in this cell or not,) where the cost is uniform, but the games produced rich.

Doing this would allow putting "Balance" as the second fundamental, because

HuggableHamster wrote:
whatever the outcome you feel you had a hand in making it


So if the game is not balanced, it's not fun, because the advantaged player always wins. But if the balance is too perfect, the game always ends in a stalemane.


Constraints is a good thought too. If the game board is infinite, the game may never end. Random number generation (dice, etc.) can be constrained, to act as modifiers as opposed to the single determining factor. Sudoku, a very popular puzzle, is based on simple constraints.
 
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Ji Dan
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hervan wrote:
annkri wrote:
hervan wrote:
1. And
2. Or
3. Not


I don't want to seem dim, but could you elaborate a little, I am not sure what you are saying...


Sorry, it was meant as an inoffensive joke. These are just basic logic operations.

I see it as funny because I couldn't ever possibly define the three MOST fundamental mechanics - or I'd be barely defining what games are, as DrLoris did (and did well). OP mentions a random generator as one of his candidates for the most fundamental mechanic, but the way I see it, a random generator as bare as he puts is just a fact of life.

(I'm sorry I couldn't objectively contribute to the thread, but I also didn't want to digress too much and prevent people from trying to answer what OP asks.)


I thought your contribution was excellent, even if a joke.

With my own proposal, I was using mechanics that can produce actual games. Although a coin toss, such as at the beginning of an American football game is rudimentary, that toss nevertheless constitutes a game.

I chose placement and connection because of the array of games that are built on those two mechanics.

But in the same way, games can be built on these basic logic functions. One of games from my youth that proved most valuable in the long-term was Rocky's Boots, a logic-circuit puzzle game!
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Ji Dan
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Khaunshar wrote:
Most fundamental game mechanics would be things that are present in all games, would they not? Not sure if the number is 3, but arbitrarily taken lets give it a look:

Random generator is not present in all, not even in a majority of games in some periods or cultures.

Sides is also, in lieu of the co-op, rather more difficult to use, I would replace it with "role(s)".

Not all games have, or need, a playing field, markers, stones or any physical thing at all.

So, I would rate the most fundamental game mechanics:

Rules, as per the great definition by a poster above, actually defining the scope of the game. Even if the rule is "anything you can think of"

Roles (as in, who is a player, who is trying to do what, in contrast to who is not considered a player, or not allowed to do a specific thing)

Reason to play (alliteration was irresistible. Could probably replace with "point of the game") giving it a trajectory towards which to go (even if said trajectory is "wasting time", its still a goal)


Now, if you want to go into more specifics of what design mechanics for game design are the most basic and fundamental, and which concepts almost all designs incorporate in one way or another, I would say:

Result generation, placement of elements within the gamespace, chronological sequence of actions.


I have to wonder though, in the strictest sense, if these can be considered actual mechanics, as opposed to conditions, of games.

In some sense, roles are intrinsic--in impartial games players compete using the same tokens, in partisan games, players compete using different tokens. But the competition is inherent.

While it's true victory conditions are required to establish winner and loser, in many games, such as Chess, this is self evident. Even the use of the term "normal play" in Combinatorial Game Theory, which defines the last player to be able to take a turn as the winner, implies a natural interpretation of this condition as victory.

Again, in the most fundamental games, role are implied. In chess, it's Black vs. White.

And games must have appeal to survive, but is appeal (reason to play) properly a mechanic?
 
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Ji Dan
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mafman6 wrote:
interesting thought.
Changing "connection" to "pattern" came to mind though. Perhaps just because its a little bit more over-arching.


Patterns are very fundamental! They are a fundamental aspect of poker, for instance, where they are definitely based on "connection", in this case card value or suit.

I'd make the point that not all patterns are based on connection however.

Nevertheless, very perceptive of you to make that connection!
 
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Ian Parmenter
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DukeZhou wrote:

I had to go with three b/c I couldn't do it in 2 without excluding a category of fundamental games (chance vs. non-chance.) Plus, three is a nice, magic number. The answers do not have to be hierarchal in terms of ordering, but if you think there is a hierarchy, feel free to propose that.

Here is my take on the three most fundamental game mechanics, in no special order:


Interesting question, indeed...

1) Interpreting Game State. Skill. Knowing if you are winning or not; or if you are likely to win or not. Reading X moves ahead to determine strategy. I call this a mechanic because a lot of games we start out with as kids don't have it (Candyland, Chutes & Ladders, etc) because there's no reason to do it.

2) Manipulating Game State. Like you said, Tic-Tac-Toe, but also Chess, Mancala, etc. Not just placement, but moving things, discarding cards to draw more, blocking your opponent, etc.

3) Gambling. Now that you've figured out who's more likely to win and what you can do about it... how much do you risk on succeeding? Do you open with $20 on your inside straight? Do you sacrifice a unit of infantry to take a 5+ shot on the enemy commander? Is it worth giving up a possible win now for a near-certain win later?
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Ji Dan
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Peers wrote:
DukeZhou wrote:

I had to go with three b/c I couldn't do it in 2 without excluding a category of fundamental games (chance vs. non-chance.) Plus, three is a nice, magic number. The answers do not have to be hierarchal in terms of ordering, but if you think there is a hierarchy, feel free to propose that.

Here is my take on the three most fundamental game mechanics, in no special order:


Interesting question, indeed...

1) Interpreting Game State. Skill. Knowing if you are winning or not; or if you are likely to win or not. Reading X moves ahead to determine strategy. I call this a mechanic because a lot of games we start out with as kids don't have it (Candyland, Chutes & Ladders, etc) because there's no reason to do it.

2) Manipulating Game State. Like you said, Tic-Tac-Toe, but also Chess, Mancala, etc. Not just placement, but moving things, discarding cards to draw more, blocking your opponent, etc.

3) Gambling. Now that you've figured out who's more likely to win and what you can do about it... how much do you risk on succeeding? Do you open with $20 on your inside straight? Do you sacrifice a unit of infantry to take a 5+ shot on the enemy commander? Is it worth giving up a possible win now for a near-certain win later?


Interesting qualifier, re: (1). I might suggest re-framing this as "Choice", since, in the simple games you describe, my recollection is that there really isn't any choice, just utilization of the mechanics in an involuntary way. Which is probably why Tic-tac-toe is still such a badass game in the under 8 set!

(2) I might reframe as "Action", taking an action specifically.

(3) I might reframe as "Betting" or even "Bidding" in the wider, general sense of "making a bid". This is a function of games with Imperfect Information, such as Stratego, Battleship, and most card games, and games with Incomplete Information, including bidding games, many economic games, and Rock/Paper/Scissors.
 
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David Sals
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DukeZhou wrote:
Peers wrote:
DukeZhou wrote:

I had to go with three b/c I couldn't do it in 2 without excluding a category of fundamental games (chance vs. non-chance.) Plus, three is a nice, magic number. The answers do not have to be hierarchal in terms of ordering, but if you think there is a hierarchy, feel free to propose that.

Here is my take on the three most fundamental game mechanics, in no special order:


Interesting question, indeed...

1) Interpreting Game State. Skill. Knowing if you are winning or not; or if you are likely to win or not. Reading X moves ahead to determine strategy. I call this a mechanic because a lot of games we start out with as kids don't have it (Candyland, Chutes & Ladders, etc) because there's no reason to do it.

2) Manipulating Game State. Like you said, Tic-Tac-Toe, but also Chess, Mancala, etc. Not just placement, but moving things, discarding cards to draw more, blocking your opponent, etc.

3) Gambling. Now that you've figured out who's more likely to win and what you can do about it... how much do you risk on succeeding? Do you open with $20 on your inside straight? Do you sacrifice a unit of infantry to take a 5+ shot on the enemy commander? Is it worth giving up a possible win now for a near-certain win later?


Interesting qualifier, re: (1). I might suggest re-framing this as "Choice", since, in the simple games you describe, my recollection is that there really isn't any choice, just utilization of the mechanics in an involuntary way. Which is probably why Tic-tac-toe is still such a badass game in the under 8 set!

(2) I might reframe as "Action", taking an action specifically.

(3) I might reframe as "Betting" or even "Bidding" in the wider, general sense of "making a bid". This is a function of games with Imperfect Information, such as Stratego, Battleship, and most card games, and games with Incomplete Information, including bidding games, many economic games, and Rock/Paper/Scissors.


(1) Yes! I was going to write choice, and then saw that it is already addressed. If there is no choice, it is not a game, it is an activity. Candyland, for example is not really a game, because there is no choice (other than if you wish to play).

(2) Yes! Similar to #1, if there is no action, then you are not playing a game, you are just doing a mental exercise.

(3) Continuing this logic, what else is absolutely necessary for it to be a game and not just an activity? I've played games without any betting (unless you consider hoping that your opponent doesn't figure out your strategy "betting"). But I don't think you can play a game without structure. Rules + components = structure.


 
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David Sals
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At what point have we left the world of mechanics? Seems like we're talking about fundamental elements instead? For me a game mechanic (or mechanism for the jokers) is a specific implementation of choice, action and/or structure.
 
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Shawn Harriman
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press your luck

roll and move

set collection

 
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Dave
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Every single game ever can be abstracted to some form of resource management. If you manage your resources better than your opponent(s), you win.

Resource management.
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ScoobyG wrote:
Every single game ever can be abstracted to some form of resource management. If you manage your resources better than your opponent(s), you win.

Resource management.


I think that’s a great observation, but the way you would have to define resources to make that statement true also falls outside the scope of mechanics (like choice, action, structure - these are more key elements rather than mechanics). One could say “thought” is the most basic mechanic of any game, because thoughts come before resource management, but it starts to get silly at some point.
 
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ScoobyG wrote:
Every single game ever can be abstracted to some form of resource management. If you manage your resources better than your opponent(s), you win.

Resource management.


Good answer, but I don't think I agree. What about simple roll and move games? You don't manage resources, movement is pure chance.
 
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Magermilchmagier wrote:
ScoobyG wrote:
Every single game ever can be abstracted to some form of resource management. If you manage your resources better than your opponent(s), you win.

Resource management.


Good answer, but I don't think I agree. What about simple roll and move games? You don't manage resources, movement is pure chance.


If you have options, those are your resources (using the meaning of “resources” that I took from that statement). If you don’t have options to choose from, then it is not a game, it’s just an activity (see my earlier statement about choice).

If you get abstract enough, the statement basically proves itself (but also becomes much less useful).
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