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Subject: Updates to the Mechanicisms on BGG - Part 2 rss

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Scott Alden
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Thanks to everyone who provided feedback about the changes to the mechanism system. We’re gratified that so many are passionate about game mechanisms and their classification. When we considered adapting the system for BGG we believed that it was it a good compromise between the many different ways that people use the BGG mechanism system, but obviously we missed the mark. Our goal now is to ensure that the mechanisms system is more intuitive and usable for people here at BGG.

We are going to be phasing in some changes to the system, which we wanted to detail here. This is an overview. Geoff has more musings about these topics which he goes into in the next post – separated out for those who aren’t interested.

Short-Term Changes

Removing Prefixes
We are removing the system prefixes. I go into more detail about why they were included in the first place in this thread..

In short, the main intent was to make it easier to search and sort, but it is apparent that they presented an obstacle to comprehension and made the system look more complex.

Renaming Mechanisms
As part of the Prefix Removal we will be renaming some of the mechanisms to make the meaning more apparent. For example, Hex, which is under the movement category, will be changed to Hex Grid.
Elimination of Very Common or Very Uncommon Mechanisms
There are several mechanisms that, in hindsight, are not that useful. The first category is those that are very common. Competitive Game is an example. While it is useful in a full taxonomy of mechanisms, any category that includes 90% of the games in the database isn’t useful. So we will remove these ‘default’ options. In addition, there are some that are very uncommon. We may add some of those back in later (see longer post for why), but for now they add to clutter.

Exemplar Games in Descriptions for all Mechanisms
We will be adding a few commonly-known games that typify each mechanism, to help comprehension.

Medium-Term Changes

Single Page Listing of all Mechanisms
Board Game Geek will be adding a single page that shows a table of all mechanisms, with their descriptions. We hope that this will act as a simpler guide rather than having to go to each individual mechanism page to see what they are.

Adding Diagrams to Mechanisms
Daniel Solis did a fantastic series of illustrations for most of these mechanisms, and we will be adding those to the relevant pages.

Longer-Term Change
Adding Categories to Mechanisms
We are looking at adding higher-level categories to the mechanism tables in the database so that we can ultimately can make searching and filtering simpler – in essence bringing the Prefixes back where they are useful, but not show them where they are not.

Reworking of the Category System
The “Category” system is currently a mix of Genres (Zombie, SciFi, Cthulhu, etc), Families (Abstract Games, Party Games), and other terms (Electronic, Expansion). We are looking at splitting these apart into separate categories, or tagged in some fashion.

Again, we appreciate everyone’s feedback and patience as we implement these improvements.

------------------------------------------------------------------

OK – Welcome to the musings post.

As a game designer, one of the first lessons I learned – the hard way – was that your games are always more complicated than you think they are. As a designer, you are so used to the game, and add to rules systems so gradually, that you don’t really perceive the full weight of dumping the entire system on a new player. Even play-testing doesn’t always show that, as learning from a rulebook is quite different than the designer sitting there teaching it to you and quickly answering questions.

I did not take this lesson to heart in implementing this system. Isaac and I have been dissecting, breaking down, and building up mechanisms for several years now as we prepared the book. So we were incredibly familiar with our terms and system. And it was much easier for book readers to see the context of the way that mechanisms were structured.

When Aldie approached us about using the book as the basis for the new mechanism system on BGG, we had a lot of conversations about the prefixes and classification system. In the end, we decided to include them because it would improve sorting, grouping, and filtering, and give context to the mechanisms beyond the name. I also figured that it would be simple for people to just skip the prefix when viewing the list of mechanisms. We would never just include the prefix without the name, and the name should be fine.

I figured that “STR-02 Cooperative Game” would basically read as “Cooperative Game” and be just as clear.

Obviously I was wrong, and many find the terminology off-putting. We were so used to seeing and working with those prefixes that I think they melted away for us, in the same way that developing game rules makes you less cognizant of the actual complexity.

However, there have been a number of people suggesting that we included the prefixes to “require” people to buy the book in order to understand the system. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we were concerned that included all the mechanisms, descriptions, and diagrams from the book would actually reduce sales. Why buy the book if you could just get much of the content on Board Game Geek?

But one of the comments we got when working on the book was that it would be better as a wiki, and why make people buy a book to get access to this work? This was a chance to extend the book and make the content more accessible, and also make it easier for us to add new mechanisms, and break things down in more detail. There were several we had to leave on the cutting room floor due to page count constraints, and we looked forward to reintroducing those.

A goal for the book, and for the inclusion of granular mechanisms to BGG, is to try to standardize terminology and what it means. Taxonomy is challenging, and there will always be edge cases – I did a whole GameTek about this and it’s relation to Fuzzy Logic: https://ludology.libsyn.com/game-tek-classic-64-fuzzy-logic
However, it is still a reasonable goal for the community to have shared terminology and understand what it means. For example, “Time Track” should have a specific meaning. T.I.M.E. Stories is listed as having the Time Track in the BGG Mechanism list, but it doesn’t. It’s called a “time track” in the game for thematic reasons, but Time Track should be a ‘term of art’ and describe what’s in Thebes and similar mechanisms.

Having standard terminology is incredibly helpful to designers, and somewhat helpful to players as well. Being able to encapsulate mechanisms that are re-used by a term will help players learn games.
This update is an attempt to standardize this terminology. As part of that, new terms will be introduced. For example, the mechanism in Puerto Rico or Glory to Rome where one player selects an Action, and then other players also get to do it didn’t really have an agreed upon name. But it’s important, and a good mechanism. So we gave it the name “Follow”, for better or for worse.

There is a common mechanism where there’s a first player token that gets passed clockwise at the end of each round - but it doesn’t have a name. We called it “Progressive Turn Order”, and hope that gives a convenient shorthand to players over time.

Some of the mechanisms were difficult to name. For example, a great (and important) mechanism is Kramer’s Top Race system. Players play a card that moves multiple race cars. Some you may want to move, and some you may not. The key is when to play these cards to your best advantage. We felt this definitely needed to be listed as a mechanism. After a lot of discussion we ended up with “Moving Multiple Units”, but understand that it’s not clear at first glance. An alternative was “Top Race-style Movement”, but I think that’s even more opaque in the long run. If people have suggestions for alternate names we are very open to that. However, we’d like to change names sooner rather than later, as they tend to solidify after a while, even if they aren’t the best (like “Dudes on a Map”).

We also tried to adopt distinctions that were common parlance, even if there are very similar to other terms. For example, “Worker Placement” is basically the same as “Action Drafting”. In fact, in the book, the first sentence in the Worker Placement chapter is that it’s a subset of Action Drafting. But the term is so commonly used, and does have its own set of expectations, that we felt it needed to be included.
One of the concerns we saw raised about the new system, by Bruno Faidutti among others (huge fan of his, by the way) is that when looking at the new list they didn’t know what the terms meant. Frankly, I don’t see a way around this. We’re introducing terms for concepts that everyone knows, but that haven’t really been consistently named. There’s going to be a learning curve.

Perhaps we should have introduced the mechanisms more gradually rather than dumping 150 new terms on the world. One option we looked at was introducing the more common terms first, and then the more specific subsets. However, the concern we had was that if games ended up in a mechanism, when we added the one that was actually a better fit, it would end up in both places, which would be less useful. So we put up the fully detailed taxonomy to avoid this. Obviously, it was overwhelming for people.

I firmly believe that having these standard terms will be incredibly useful in the long run. But it will take some time for everyone to internalize and learn them.

Another argument I’ve seen about introducing this terminology is that it will ‘turn off’ new gamers from using BGG because they won’t understand the terms. It was said that the new system was gate-keeping and not welcoming to new gamers.

Well, there are already a huge number of jargon terms that get thrown around by gamers, on BGG and elsewhere. And we all had to learn them. What’s a Rondel? What’s a Bag Builder? What’s a Crayon Rail game? Many of us had the luxury of learning these terms gradually, rather than having to jump in. But new gamers see these anyway.

So is the answer to not have more terminology? No. We need to provide on-ramps for people interested in learning more about what goes on under the hood and makes games tick. That’s why we’re adding the diagrams to the mechanisms (always intended), and a single-page-view where all the mechanisms can be looked at in one shot.
Also, as an educator and part-time game historian, I also think this is a great opportunity to highlight some fantastic but often overlooked mechanisms. Hopefully seeing new terms will tickle people’s curiosity, rather than turn them away, and allow them to discover new ideas they were not aware of. I look forward to people re-discovering Tom Jolly’s “Passed Action Token” system from Camelot, Star Fleet Battles’ “Impulse Movement”, or Feld’s “Dutch Priority Auction” from Die Speicherstadt.

One last set of thoughts. I understand the desire to use mechanism classification as a way of discovering new games to play. But it’s a lot to put on its shoulders. Recommendations are a tough thing, as Netflix and other movie services have discovered. And just because you liked Dominion doesn’t mean you’re going to like Thunderstone. There are a host of other factors.

If you compare games to recipes, the mechanisms are a list of the ingredients. If you like a dish with almonds, should you seek out other dishes with almonds? Maybe, maybe not. If you ate a dessert made with almonds you might not be happy with green beans almondine, so being able to look up which recipes have almonds may not be useful. But if you’re allergic to almonds, having that list could be incredibly helpful.

This goes towards the changes we’d like to make to the Category system. There are some terms that are higher level than a list of mechanisms – like Pick Up and Deliver, or Engine Building. They encompass so many different approaches that they are not really atomic. “Families” or some other term is a great place to put that.
Like it or not, BGG is the dominant database of board game-related information in the world. That means that any mechanism categorization system needs to cater to a variety of different constituents:
Players looking to get an overview of what’s in a particular game
People looking for games with a specific mechanism or group of mechanisms.

Designers looking to discover new mechanisms or ways mechanisms have been implemented in other games
Scholars looking to research games that fit certain criteria – like wargames that use square grids, for example.

All of these have conflicting needs, and any one system will have to compromise. If it was simple and clear and easy it would have been done already. I am still working to figure out how to compromise in the right way. This is intended to be a living, evolving system, which is why we created the guild. We knew it was very unlikely that we were going to get it right the first time and were prepared to course-correct. It’s also not the only dimension for cataloging games that BGG offers. Some needs for users can be met in other parts of BGG.
I hope this gives you more insight into my thought process, where we are coming from, and where we want to get to.

We do pay attention to what people are saying and will continue to synthesize all input into improvements. The guild will be the best place to post, as we can separate out different thoughts better rather than dumping everything into posts on these announcements.
Thanks –
Geoff
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Charles Boyung
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While I understand the reasoning for removing the prefixes, I hope you'll do something to identify the old categories while they remain - going back to my personal problem example category of Drafting, there is right now "Drafting" and "Card Drafting" for the same thing. It would be good to have "(deprecated)" or something along those lines appended to the old categories that will be (hopefully) going away.
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Geoffrey Engelstein
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We are doing exactly that. I am working through the current list over the next few days.

For sure, any mechanisms with the Prefix still listed are slated to be deleted.

Geoff
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engelstein wrote:
We are doing exactly that. I am working through the current list over the next few days.

For sure, any mechanisms with the Prefix still listed are slated to be deleted.

Geoff
Or you can just rename those.
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Adam P
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I'm fine with the word "mechanicisms".
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David desJardins
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adamredwoods wrote:
I'm fine with the word "mechanicisms".

The word "mechanicicicicisms" is even better.
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Dave, or "Phineas" or "Tolstoy" or,
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Aldie wrote:
Removing Prefixes
We are removing the system prefixes. I go into more detail about why they were included in the first place in this thread..
Aldie, that link doesn't seem to go anywhere.
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Aldie wrote:
Removing Prefixes
We are removing the system prefixes. I go into more detail about why they were included in the first place in this thread..
not only does it pop up in a new tab (???) but I get an error that the thread does not exist
 
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Geoffrey Engelstein
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Hoya wrote:
Aldie wrote:
Removing Prefixes
We are removing the system prefixes. I go into more detail about why they were included in the first place in this thread..
Aldie, that link doesn't seem to go anywhere.

Sorry - try this: The Prefixes
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Bob Albright
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While the prefixes were visually challenging at times, the one benefit was that they made certain types of mechanics be grouped together. I'm assuming that removing them will put the mechanics back into a purely alphabetical listing...
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dakarp wrote:
engelstein wrote:
We are doing exactly that. I am working through the current list over the next few days.

For sure, any mechanisms with the Prefix still listed are slated to be deleted.

Geoff
Or you can just rename those.

They're going to be deleted later today, so it's not worth it. They'd be deleted already if people - wisely - decided that I could not be trusted with that level of power.
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Rome wasn't build in a day. meeple

Quote:
Our goal now is to ensure that the mechanisms system is more intuitive and usable for people here at BGG.

Sounds like a good guiding principle, but I hope a grand vision of constructing the Board Gaming library of Alexandria remains too.

It's hard work; frustrating, full of false steps, half truths and burning passion.

There's something of value here: in the doing, debating and destination, somewhere over the next horizon.

Simply, as ever was, a work in progress
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Sounds great, but please have a way to search niche mechanisms with only a few games. If someone likes them and wants more games like it, it would help to have some way to find more, even if there's only a small handful that fit the mechanism right now.

Also where do we go to suggest mechanisms to be added?
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Aldie wrote:
Thanks to everyone who provided feedback about the changes to the mechanism system. We’re gratified that so many are passionate about game mechanisms and their classification. When we considered adapting the system for BGG we believed that it was it a good compromise between the many different ways that people use the BGG mechanism system, but obviously we missed the mark. Our goal now is to ensure that the mechanisms system is more intuitive and usable for people here at BGG.
I applaud your willingness to listen to feedback and the proposed changes you are suggesting. I think they will definitely make the system better. I still worry that the taxonomy chosen may be "too academic" for the purposes that it's being used for, but I think the proposed changes will go a long way to making it much more usable.
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Mark van der Werf
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This whole classification attempt to this extent is too much mental masturbation.

Classification should be about simplification and identifying key identifiers, excepting that there is always some loss of information by what is essence a data reduction technique. A key part of a class should be it's use , if you can't name a class easily it is a good hint it shouldn't be a class.

For example, this "progressive turn order' should be removed. So what there are a bunch of games that have this common feature. It's a minute detail, there are endless small mechanics like that you could keep making classes for (tiebreaker rules, ways of scoring, start player determination whatever). It's a classification that hardly adds anything and should have been scrapped.

Like many of the things in this exercise it just feels like "look at us, we know so much of games that we want to show off".

Bgg was better off before this change..

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To suggest or discuss mechanisms, best bet is to use the guild:

Encyclopedia of Mechanisms Discussion Group

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Markwerf wrote:
For example, this "progressive turn order' should be removed. So what there are a bunch of games that have this common feature.

So it makes it easy to scan a game listing and see what elements it has and whether I'm more or less likely to hide it.

Perhaps we could arrange to let you customize the display so you don't have to look at it if it offends you.
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Sounds like a step in the right direction. It sounds like this won't really be very useful for most people until the "Categories" heading is also re-worked into game families/themes/etc, and the mechanisms are also grouped into "categories" (but probably not using the same term in both of those places). I suspect most searches will be at one of those two levels. But it would also be nice to have the super-detailed mechanisms list for each game, too. Minus the ubiquitous ones and the super-rare ones, as planned. Good call to eliminate those to bring the total number of listed mechanisms down to a less overwhelming number.

Very encouraging development! Thanks for the update!
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Maybe somebody has already said this or you are already applying it but, are you using something similar to ontology design as a methodology to define the system?
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FWIW I like the prefixes, they show exactly what mechanic you're talking about. In any context I could type STR-02 and everyone knows exactly what I mean.
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Aldie, this is great. The fact that you listened to criticisms and took swift action is wonderful. Even though any change to the site is going to be divisive to some group of people, I really appreciate your diligence in making BGG the best and most robust gaming community on the internet.
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joeyskywalker wrote:
FWIW I like the prefixes, they show exactly what mechanic you're talking about. In any context I could type STR-02 and everyone knows exactly what I mean.

A wizard who can't lift his spellbook, right? Not much else STR can mean in a gaming context right.

And the codes only make sense if they match the unchanging reference in the book. If the BGG definition and the book diverge, then the code becomes intentional misinformation. The BGG definition can refer back to the book code as reference.

If the definitions aren't solid enough yet, then they'd be VIC-02-Draft1 or VIC-02-2019Aug.
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joeyskywalker wrote:
FWIW I like the prefixes, they show exactly what mechanic you're talking about. In any context I could type STR-02 and everyone knows exactly what I mean.

IRO-07 - IRONIC UNCERTAINTY WHETHER COMMENT SERIOUS OR NOT
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russ wrote:
IRO-07 - IRONIC UNCERTAINTY WHETHER COMMENT SERIOUS OR NOT

Why bother to type out all that text? We all already know what IRO-07 is.
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I am absolutely thrilled to hear that BGG 'Categories' will also see a reworking. Rolling out the new mechanisms without doing so seemed largely meaningless to me.
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