Recommend
4 
 Thumb up
 Hide
36 Posts
1 , 2  Next »   | 

BoardGameGeek» Forums » Board Game Design » Board Game Design

Subject: Is a "unique mechanic" or an "interesting twist" an absolute must nowadays? rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Edgars Zakis
Latvia
Riga
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Hello!

I am working on a game right now. I'm a Eurogamer and the game in process is a classic worker placement (meaning, the basic mechanic is "place a worker, get the associated action"). It is like that because I want it like that, because I'm myself in a wish for a simple and streamlined game that uses only a well known basic mechanic without any fancy add-ons. Mind you, I'm not talking about that the gameplay is simple or primitive, the strategic paths could be very long and wide, once the actions are selected, but the basic is simple as it can be in its mechanics.

The general reception has been good, the people like the game (I like it, too) and apart from some mathematical nuances that need number fixing it actually works very well. However. One frequent comment is that the game lacks innovations. It's oldschool. There is no twist, no new mechanic. I know this, of course, because I designed it like that. And I'm not sure how to react.

Of course I understand that in a world where 3000+ games are released each year you have to stand out. Once you add the unique element or the twist for a well known element, you gain an edge (probably). So it counts. But then again - why wouldn't a classic solid mechanic work? It actually does in several cases, for example, an ongoing example in my group is Lords of Waterdeep, which doesn't do anything new, but it all just works very well together, the same goes with Russian Railroads, both are top 100 games in BGG.

Don't get me wrong, both these games (and others) go the uniqueness way in their farther options (what can you do with the actions), but the action selection (= worker placement) is very basic (and oldschool, if one accepts this way of thinking). This same story would go with my game, but the thinking is - would it be enough?

So the big question is this - do you feel (and it's really mostly about feelings) that a game should have this unique whatever in its basic mechanics to get your attention or would you look at something that's very basic in its heart?

I will still probably follow my own path and in the worst case design something that is not needed for the world but makes me happy, however, it would be nice and fun to get some other opinions on this, as this discussion greatly interests me (as well as the future of boardgames in general, but that's a different topic).

Thanks!
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Bruce Gazdecki
United States
Lindsey
Ohio
flag msg tools
badge
mbmbmbmbmb
I think there needs to be a little bit of a variation or a different way of looking at some mechanism (or multiple), but not every new game needs to be earth shattering and ground breaking.

If a game is said to be "Game X" with a different pasted on theme, unless I prefer the theme more I won't buy it if I already own Game X.

But if they say Game Y is like Game X but has this twist on the action selection system (or whatever mechanism), I'll be more inclined to get it even if I already own Game X.
17 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Comboteur "Crazed 'Beastface' Survivor" Fou
France
flag msg tools
The Orzhov welcome you. Please leave your belongings with the Obzedat. They are not yours anymore.
badge
Hi, I'm a european crested tit, and a very small punk rocker!
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
It's not, some of the most popular games these days bring nothing new, they just do what others do, well, and with good art.
16 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Russ Williams
Poland
Wrocław
Dolny Śląsk
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmb
No, certainly not an absolute must for me.
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Chris Kelley
United States
Midlothian
Texas
flag msg tools
badge
Dovie'andi se tovya sagain. (It's time to toss the dice.)
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Only if you feel like following/being part of the cult of the new. Personally, I prefer older games. They have been tried and tested, and while they might have had that new "thing" at one point, they are still solid games. Besides, I would rather play a game with a mechanic I understood than have to spend time learning a new game with a new mechanic with a new twist...just really gets to be too much for me, and does not get a lot of play time with my group. However, if the theme is good, that could help convince everyone.

If you do not mind me asking, and you do not mind sharing, what is the theme of your game?
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
badge
My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
A number of my favorite games don't invent new things, but instead use existing things in a better way so as to produce a better game.

But don't put much stock in my opinions; I'm an antiquated fogey in the boardgaming world!
10 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Russ Williams
Poland
Wrocław
Dolny Śląsk
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmb
Eric Brosius wrote:
But don't put much stock in my opinions; I'm an antiquated fogey in the boardgaming world!
Are "unique opinions" or an "interesting idea" an absolute must nowadays?
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Edgars Zakis
Latvia
Riga
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
hammerfest451 wrote:


If you do not mind me asking, and you do not mind sharing, what is the theme of your game?

Not at all! The theme actually is the other part of this game where I'm doubting if the world needs another one of this - vegetable growing and selling. Then again, a big part of the succesful veggie (farming?) games are by Uwe and tend to be somewhat similar (though I'm not in the boat with those who shout it's the same game in different coatings, the ones I've played have felt different enough).

Then again, even if the mechanics have been worked around the theme (also in a Euro I like that the actions actually make thematic sense, as much as they can), the theme is adjustable here and can be changed to most of the things that can be grown (fruits, other plants) or matured (cheese, alcocholic beverages).

Let's see - maybe it's only me and there are publishers that are eager for another vegetable game with simple and well known mechanics, and maybe I will just get many, many weird and puzzled stares (assuming I get that far anyway).
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Nate T
United States
Fort Worth
Texas
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Tight design trumps an innovative mechanic every time. It is more important to do what you do well than to present something new, imho.
13 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Arnis J
msg tools
I believe this still can be done, but you need a little twist - to create some interesting combination of basic mechanics or to get the theme spot on.

My favorite example here would be Concordia - more or less classical mechanics, but there is a twist (cards serve both for actions/building and points) and the Roman/Mediterranean theme with maps, while rightly seeming "pasted-on" for an expert's eye, attracts many history enthusiasts and masks the rather bland min-maxing underyling mechanics to create an illusion of cutthroat competition of antique trading empires. Concordia started rather slow (in 2013, I think), but has gone up the ratings here ever since, as people just seem to enjoy the rhythm and feel of the game (also in my group).
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
'Bernard Wingrave'
United States
Wyoming
Ohio
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I don't know whether this helps, but I consider a game for children that is basic to be better than a game for children that is complicated.
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Christopher Dearlove
United Kingdom
Chelmsford
Essex
flag msg tools
SoRCon 11 23-25 Feb 2018 Basildon UK http://www.sorcon.co.uk
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
A unique mechanism turns up about once a decade if you are conservative in what you use that term to describe, or about once a year if more liberal. The other thousand games a year need to manage without one. Some of them manage a new combination of mechanisms. Others not even that.

Take for example one of the games of the moment, Wingspan. Nothing exactly like it, but nothing in it is groundbreaking. One action a turn, check. Limited number of action choices, check. Trigger already played actions, check. Actions have a cost, check. The costs increase, check. The more you have done something the better it gets, check. Objective cards, check. Per round targets, check. Points for everything you achieve, check. Really nice bird cards - no check, but it's not a mechanism.
9 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Julian Clarke
Australia
Melbourne
Vic
flag msg tools
www.unhalfbricking.com
badge
EuroGamer since 1980, & online games retailer since 2003
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Naturally, I am answering 'personally'. I have seen so many games in the almost 40 years I've been euro-gaming. If it doesn't have anything new, it has to do what is does MUCH better than anything else, or it gets another yawn & a pass from me. As Christopher says above, new mechanisms are not exactly coming our all the time, but new games are, & they sell in quantity.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Adam Porter
Wales
Cardiff
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Hi Edgars! Glad to hear about your design!

Dearlove wrote:
Take for example one of the games of the moment, Wingspan. Nothing exactly like it, but nothing in it is groundbreaking. One action a turn, check. Limited number of action choices, check. Trigger already played actions, check. Actions have a cost, check. The costs increase, check. The more you have done something the better it gets, check. Objective cards, check. Per round targets, check. Points for everything you achieve, check. Really nice bird cards - no check, but it's not a mechanism.

I agree with this. The market is shifting and I think simplicity and familiarity is trumping twists and surprises right now as the pool of gamers grows. Many have never had the chance to play a worker placement game before - why shouldn’t yours be their first? Product design is more important than ever - and probably more so than innovation in gameplay. Wingspan sells well because of its pedigree (StoneMaier) but also because it is a slick implementation of familiar systems. The bird theme, colourful eggs and the fantastic bird-feeder dice-tower drive sales just as much as an ingenious new mechanism could (and probably bring just as much pleasure). I would point to Everdell as another example of this.

With regards to farming games, I think we are still way behind videogames with the settings we use for tabletop games. In video games, surreal elements are sprinkled liberally across a farming game. Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley would look bizarre if condensed into a boardgame, with all their magical and fantastical elements. Yet a boardgame about growing vegetables pretty much means exactly that. Nothing fantastical or imaginative at all: just mud and wood and seeds. I think that’s where Everdell succeeds despite its tried and tested formula: it’s just a world I want to play in for an hour or so.

So I would say that there’s still a place for a slick worker placement game - but try and be imaginative about the setting and production elements.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Corsaire
United States
North Carolina
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
When you get the feedback about it being old school, etc. are they saying: "I couldn't see myself buying such a game" or are they saying "I would like to share with you my perspective of the game market..."?

If it is the first, then it is seomething to listen to. If the latter, then you are, yourself, a defining member of your market and should place high value that you aren't so much being true to a vision as being true to the sort of game you want to play.

Personally, I would pick up any worker placement game if the theme is a place I'd like to escape to (which doesn't happen to include vegetable farming.) Barring a theme I want, then I look for reviews about the strength of the game play.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
James Wahl
United States
Chicago
Illinois
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
It's not at all a must, but if you basically share all of your mechanics with another game you need to be better than that other game in "mathematical nuances that need number fixing" or use winning conditions that force a radical change in strategy.

Otherwise, I'll just play the other game.

For example, if I'm buying goods and buying buildings that convert goods into other goods and periodically scoring based on sets and/or how symmetrically I do things, I don't know anybody who needs another game that does that.

As least with a game with an original mechanic, I have to try it to know that I don't like it or don't need it...

If by "classic" and "basic" you just mean that each building block has been used before, that's a different story. I don't need every (or any) song I hear to have a chord or a note that I haven't heard before.
7 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Michael
United States
Hawaii
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Adam78 wrote:
Hi Edgars! Glad to hear about your design!

Dearlove wrote:
Take for example one of the games of the moment, Wingspan. Nothing exactly like it, but nothing in it is groundbreaking. One action a turn, check. Limited number of action choices, check. Trigger already played actions, check. Actions have a cost, check. The costs increase, check. The more you have done something the better it gets, check. Objective cards, check. Per round targets, check. Points for everything you achieve, check. Really nice bird cards - no check, but it's not a mechanism.

I agree with this. The market is shifting and I think simplicity and familiarity is trumping twists and surprises right now as the pool of gamers grows. Many have never had the chance to play a worker placement game before - why shouldn’t yours be their first? Product design is more important than ever - and probably more so than innovation in gameplay. Wingspan sells well because of its pedigree (StoneMaier) but also because it is a slick implementation of familiar systems. The bird theme, colourful eggs and the fantastic bird-feeder dice-tower drive sales just as much as an ingenious new mechanism could (and probably bring just as much pleasure). I would point to Everdell as another example of this.

With regards to farming games, I think we are still way behind videogames with the settings we use for tabletop games. In video games, surreal elements are sprinkled liberally across a farming game. Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley would look bizarre if condensed into a boardgame, with all their magical and fantastical elements. Yet a boardgame about growing vegetables pretty much means exactly that. Nothing fantastical or imaginative at all: just mud and wood and seeds. I think that’s where Everdell succeeds despite its tried and tested formula: it’s just a world I want to play in for an hour or so.

So I would say that there’s still a place for a slick worker placement game - but try and be imaginative about the setting and production elements.

Agreed. The theme "vegetable farming" is mildly interesting to me, although not enough by itself to drive the addition of another farming game to our shelf. An "innovative mechanism" or new combination might help, but still would not be enough to make a game an "instant buy." On the other hand--please bear with me for a moment--we are working our way through Ken Burns' documentary film, "The Dust Bowl" (2012). It is fascinating stuff--scientific and cultural ignorance, political and commercial intrigue, greed, ambition, arrogance, failure to appreciate potential long-term consequences while in pursuit of short-term gain, boom and bust, chaos, poverty, destitution, famine, disease, painful lessons learned, etc.--and, if this theme were coupled with tight (even if well-used, e.g., 18XX, Agricola, Brass, Stone Age, et al.) mechanisms and challenging gameplay, certainly would draw my attention...at which point I would expect to see reviews that included praise for clear rules, effective interaction of mechanisms, and smooth gameplay as well as compliments for theme and artwork.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
A. B. West
United States
Beech Grove
Indiana
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
Why aren't you PLAYING a game?
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
It depends on what you are wanting to achieve. If you want success and recognition, if you want to be picked up by a publisher, you almost certainly need *something* unique in your design - not necessarily mechanics, but *something* in the game. Why is this? It's because we're now in a mature market where many games have been seen and played. Standing out is a possible but not an exclusive goal.

If on the other hand you want to make a game that you enjoy and feels 'classic', you have your answer: make that game. Listen to the feedback that may indicate you are not achieving your goal.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Oblivion Doll
New Zealand
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmb
If you are making a game with the express intent of it being "that other game but I made it" then you're not DESIGNING a game. You don't take a photo of the Mona Lisa and frame it and claim to be a painter. You won't get people appreciating your art when all your "art" is, is photos of someone else's art. If you're just going "that's a great game, I want to pretend I'm the one that made it" and remaking other people's games without anything unique to your copy, you aren't designing anything and you'll leave a sour taste in the mouths of anyone who looks at your game.

If you want to actually design an actual game of your own, then YES, you DO need to make some "unique" detail or some "twist" on an existing formula. If your game can be summed up as "this other game" then you failed. If it can only be summed up as "this other game BUT..." then you made a new game. That said, your "unique" idea or "twist" can be something someone else did in a different game. If your game can be summed up as "game 1 but with this one thing from game 2 instead" then it's still something different. You didn't just remake either of the games you're taking ideas from. Taking cues from multiple sources can be all it takes to make something that feels distinct enough to not just be "this game someone else made but now I'm making money off it not them".
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Edgars Zakis
Latvia
Riga
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Hey!

Thanks everyone for the answers up to now! Interesting and valuable thoughts and opinions, I'll definitely take them into account.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
marc lecours
Canada
ottawa
ontario
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmb
When I taught visual arts in high school, I would tell the students that there were 3 basic qualities of great art: Esthetics, Technical skill and Originality. Not all 3 had to be present. Sometimes great art was focused on only one of the categories. Originality was the toughest category to excel in. Once a new idea was used the first time (i.e. cubism by Picasso), new artists that painted in cubism style could not be great unless they hit the other two categories.

Similarly in games there are many categories that can make a game great. Original mechanics, great theme, How well the elements of the game fit together, etc. Original mechanics are the most difficult category. Truly original mechanics are infrequent. Once invented they cannot carry new games only the first one (or two). Most original mechanics are only a little original (mostly variants on existing variants).

The best games excel in at least one category. It does not have to be original mechanics. BUT original mechanics help a game be noticed.
6 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
United States
Sherman Oaks
California
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Stonemaier Games has built a very successful company on solid iterations of familiar mechanics combined with top notch components and polish.
7 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
david tamali
United States
Tennessee
flag msg tools
I'm curious about the vegetable farming idea. Have there been any games that involved creating compost from refuse? For example, there is a possibility with the right amount of browns and greens, turned regularly, watered at the right amount, with added ingredients like manure and earthworms to create a quality compost pile. Could possibly just make a game about composting . But really, something like that could add to a game
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jeremy Gray
United States
West Chester
Ohio
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I would say yes and no. There needs to be *something* in your game that sets it apart. It could be theme, mechanisms, player count, play time, art, etc. Something has to be novel and better and different. Otherwise, yes, your game will likely not stand out amongst the thousands that are released each year. Merely "good" games are ignored all the time because exceptional games are always coming out.

I may be in the minority, but I don't think having just a tight game design is enough. Perhaps for an established designer or publisher with a known track record, but a new designer is going to have an uphill battle with that. Make the game you want to make, certainly, but understand that if you want wide acceptance and popularity/success with your game, something needs to be exceptional.

That exceptional bit may already be baked into your design. But, if not, figure out what you want people to remember about your game and make that as good as you can.
10 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jeff Warrender
United States
Averill Park
New York
flag msg tools
designer
publisher
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Hmm, this is a nice topic. I have a half-written blog post on where innovation can come from and what it can look like, maybe this is inspiration to finish it up.

In the abstract, yes, I would say a game should be innovative, or at least, that's something I look for in deciding to buy a game. I want something that's really new or creative that will be different from the other games in my collection. But I only buy 2-3 games a year so I'm picky, and not representative of the market generally.

But your question isn't abstract: you have a mostly complete game that works and that people like. No need to rip up the rug and start over if you're in that state. If your goal is to be published, submit it to publishers, and ultimately they'll decide whether it's "new" enough for them. If they say it's not, well, you've at least created something good and that's an accomplishment.

I think it's worth thinking about some of the ways games can present something new, as it's possible to overthink this:

- New mechanic (very rare, as previously noted)

- New setting (easy to do; this is the lowest hanging fruit)

- New implementation of mechanic (i.e. a "twist", also pretty easy to do, though not always all that innovative)

- New concept of winning or new way for players to compete (almost never done, and possibly difficult, but huge opportunity for innovation)

- New activity or player skill (tend to be gimmicky, challenge is creating a game that isn't also a gimmick)

- New combination of mechanics (easy)

- New player experience (ultimately this is mostly what people look for, something that feels new or gives them a new kind of decision space even if it uses familiar game elements to achieve it).
10 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
1 , 2  Next »   |