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Subject: THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION... and how games innovate rss

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linoleum blownaparte
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(I am indebted to Roberta Yang for inspiring this article)

What Are The Means Of Production?

Many games are at their heart economic games. There's a concept in these games that is central not only to the mechanics, but how the game feels when you play it. This is the Means Of Production.

What does Means Of Production really mean? It's a concept in Marx's analysis of capitalism. The Means Of Production are simply the tools, abilities, or facilities used to create or produce something, and they are distinct from the Product itself. A car factory is a means of producing cars: the factory is the MOP and the cars are the P.

Games have Means Of Production too. For example, in a simple racing game such as Candy Land, your dice* are the Means Of Production and the product is movement points. Whoever produces the most wins.

*(EDIT: cards - I have been repeatedly informed that Candyland does not have dice!)

Most of BGG's favorite games use the MOP concept in far more dynamic ways than Candyland. To start our journey, let's look at the game that popularized "German style" or "Euro" games for many: Catan.


External image

Marx's "From each according to his sheep, to each
according to his ore" theory didn't go over well at Game Night


In Catan, your settlements are the MOP. The Product? Goods - sheep, wheat, ore and so on. But the game isn't won by the player who collects the most goods. Instead, the real value of Product is that it can be reinvested into the game to create further Means Of Production - new settlements and city upgrades - and crucially, this is the main way to earn VP. Very often, the player with the most cities is going to win.

Yes, Settlers does have some quirks that we're going to come back to in a bit...

External image

The Robber represents how Catan's liberal tax regime punishes "brick creators"


...but it is still the classic and ideal example of an economic snowball game. Using the MOP/P vocabulary we've developed, let's see what defines a snowball game:

1. Players start with similar, scant amounts of MOP.
2. P can be reinvested to create further MOP.
3. In the midgame, players have acquired greater MOP and are capable of greater feats.
4. In the endgame, MOP is often the main source of Victory Points.

Snowballs exist in games well before Catan (for example, Risk) but Settlers is a beautiful distillation of the concept and inspired the whole trend of German boardgames.

Innovating: Tweak The Means Of Production, Change The Game

Let's get to my main point. I want to show you that when we think of "innovation" in board games over the past 17 years since Catan, we are often thinking about games that present a new conception of the Means Of Production.

See, nearly all of the top Eurogames are snowball games just like Settlers. What they brought to the table that was new was a different notion of how players could interact with the MOP.

In general, the main thing that distinguishes Eurogames from mindless mathematical models of exponential growth...

Board Game: Vasco da Gama

(apart from the vibrant colorfulness of our Excel charts)


...is that you have to make decisions about how, when and where to reinvest P to create more MOP. Just like in real life, you can't plop down a factory anywhere you like, and no matter how rich you are, you only have 24 hours in every day. Often, games use this scarcity to create the interest and excitement inherent in the game.

The Philosophy Behind Settlers (1995)

To demonstrate, let's return to Catan for a moment. We can immediately see that, despite my very simplistic earlier description of the game, there are some real complexities lurking beneath the surface:

The numbers create variety with some hexes being more desirable than others.
The dice create uncertainty which dampens both runaway leaders and analysis-paralysis.
The robber is a whack-the-leader catch up mechanism. It also pressures players to productively reinvest their goods.
The map and the placement rules create competition for the scarce but ideal settlement locations.
The trading rules and the ports make the game lenient rather than an unforgiving brainburner.
And finally, the random setup keeps the game from being solved and makes it replayable.

External image
Yeah, Klaus Teuber is kind of a genius.


It is these elements that transform Settlers from a boring math exercise into a game - a game with its unique perspective on MOP.

If we really wanted to nail down what's Settlers' "economic philosophy" is, I'd say it's "people reap nature's bounties." I'm talking about the feeling that you get when you play. A "6" hex really feels like a fertile pasture or a rich vein of ore. The desert is there to remind us that Nature is not always so generous, and the dice show us that sometimes she is arbitrary too. Still, cities and settlements spring up in the most fertile territories just like real life. And finally, and perhaps most crucially, we share the land with each other. When I roll that 6 and get my two ore from my city, my rival's settlement across the hex also collects one ore.

See, despite the simple rules, Settlers is really pushing a philosophy or view of economics. We could even call Settlers a work of art or a political statement.

Let's look at some different games now. In fact, let's look at the most influential games in Eurogame history. What did they really add to the Settlers Of Catan model?

Tweak #1: Co-Determining Production (2002)

One of the neat parts of Settlers was sometimes you didn't WANT to roll a number, even though you'd get cards, because someone else would get even more.

Yeah, so: seven years later along came a game that took that decision out of the dice and put it in the players' hands.

External image

"Wait wait! I know this one!"


Puerto Rico lets the players determine which of your MOP will actually power up. You can have all the plantations in the world but if nobody ships, you can't work that MOP engine.

Puerto Rico was the first "role selection" game. It and its spiritual successor Race for the Galaxy made players think: which sectors of the economy do I want to flourish? And crucially: How can I invest so that my rivals help me more than I help them?

Tweak #2: Two-Gear Engines (2004)

I'm going to use Saint Petersburg as the example here although we could argue that games well before it incorporate aspects of this twist.

Board Game: Saint Petersburg

"Since this whole article is Marxist, shouldn't you be calling it Leningrad?"


What's a two-gear engine? Well, often, Eurogames don't simply reward the player who acquires the greatest Means Of Production. Instead you have to buy victory points. This creates a tradeoff we could call the "St. Pete Dilemma" - when do you cease reinvesting your Production into further MOPs, and start using it to buy Victory Points? Maybe you can buy some "hybrid" MOPs that produce a trickle of VP on the side. It's all in how you balance your engine.

From observing the Geek, I think games that are centered around this approach to Means Of Production (and nothing else) are most at risk for being labeled "Just Another Soulless Euro." Do I pick the card that gives me money to buy more cards, or the card that gives me VP? For some (though far from all) this isn't enough to generate excitement in a game.

Heck, let's talk about something more exciting. Something REVOLUTIONARY!

Tweak #3: Communal Means Of Production (2005)

Don't let the feudal themes fool you - Caylus, The Pillars of the Earth, and Agricola represented a veritable Russian Revolution in gaming.

Board Game: Caylus

Pictured: the dictatorship of the meepletariat


See, the twist behind what we opaquely call "worker placement games" is that the Means Of Production are available to all. Every building is a Means Of Producing those delightfully nondescript wooden cubes and anyone can send their worker to any building.

The competition is no longer "my land vs your land" (as in Risk and Settlers) because we can all use the same buildings. Instead, the competition is who gets there first. Do you snatch up a crucial action now? Will it even be available later?

Communal and interdependent MOPs are also represented in games like Brass: Lancashire.

Tweak #4: "But What About Dominion?" (2008)

... is what half of you have been thinking since about paragraph 3 of this essay.

Board Game: Dominion

Even Basement Cat.


I think the analysis of MOP can show us something new about Dominion, that has been missed by previous critical analysis.

What is the real twist behind deckbuilding games? Is it that you purchase cards to add to your deck? Nah, not really - that's not crucially different from settling new planets in Race for the Galaxy or bringing out new actions in Agricola.

What really distinguishes deckbuilding games is this: each turn, you only have access to a random selection of your cards. That's the whole motivation behind stacking them in a deck, rather than spreading them out in a nice flat tableau.

Why does stacking them in a deck turn it into a new kind of game? Because each Action Card is a MOP, and the product is additional actions, buys, coins, and card draw - BUT - the twist of Dominion is that you have to make those MOP work together. No matter which ones you happen to draw.

The Market is a good "chaining" card. Yet, if you draw a Market but you have no other Actions you want to play, and no cards you want to Buy, well, that Market is useless to you.

"Deckbuilding" is really refining your deck so that it's likely that you'll be able to use your cards to their fullest as Means Of Production.

The uncertainty of the card draw, just like the random dice rolls in Settlers, really works to invigorate the game with tension and drama. The way VP cards drag down your deck is also a neat twist on that "St. Petersburg Dilemma." So Dominion is almost a culminating statement about the development of Eurogames up to now.

The Recent Past (2009-2012)
The last three years haven't really brought us a game that was immediately hailed as a breakthrough the way Puerto Rico, Caylus, and Dominion were.

For example, many of the top games of the last few years are worker placement games - Ora et Labora, Dominant Species, Troyes, and Lords of Waterdeep.

Others follow in the vein of Dominion - Thunderstone, Ascension: Deckbuilding Game, A Few Acres of Snow, and Mage Knight Board Game.

If we look for games released since 2009 that DON'T incorporate these new innovations:

- no variable phase order (Puerto Rico)
- no simultaneous action selection (Race For The Galaxy)
- no worker placement (Caylus)
- and no deck-building (Dominion)

The top five games on the Geek are: Eclipse, Steam, The Castles of Burgundy, Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game, and Summoner Wars: Master Set. While each of these games is creative and well-deserves its reception, none of them is starkly new.

In fact there is nothing wrong with any of the games I've talked about in this section, but they all represent a refinement rather than a great leap forward. It is as if the Game World is taking a big breath before the next gigantic innovation.

Maybe we'll even see that next innovator at Essen 2012 or 2013.

Conclusion: How Will Games Innovate In The Future?

When you look at games through the lens of Means Of Production, it's clear that each game that seemed to be introducing a new "mechanic" to the boardgame world was really showing us how the Means Of Production could work a different way in games, thus making players think and feel differently.

What does the future hold? I don't know. That's the genius of good game design - anyone can look at Dominion and say to themselves, "I coulda thought of that! Why didn't I?"
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Mike Flynn
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Interesting read, but Candy Land doesn't use dice.
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linoleum blownaparte
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You're right shake

My original example was Formula Dé.
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Asger Harding Granerud
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Thanks for sharing Obviously an article that has taken some time to put together!


Whenever there is the assertion that all games are related to some variant of an economic engine (others claim all games are auctions...), I always wonder where that leaves sports simulations...

I've designed a football/soccer game myself (http://www.facebook.com/MentalFootball), and I'm working on other sports games too, and I'm just not sure they fit into these categories.

I can see how all the games you mention do, and most (all?) other "classic" board games do as well. But in a Football/Soccer game the "currency" used to win are goals, and the "means of production" are the players.
There is no build up of production forces (unless it is league management and hence not a sports simulation). In [Mental]-Football the opposing sides are symmetrical and there is no development of an economic engine. At kick off or 2min before the whistle, the basic parameters never change.

Hey hum, just wanted to point out that I often find these "grand theories" to completely ignore sports simulations. Or possibly I just fail to see the connection

Regards
Asger Sams Granerud
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fascinating article , i hope to see more of these in the future.

its an interesting concept and one that sees its use in a lot of euro games, spending resources to create extra sources of income, hmm thats something to keep in mind when making something new
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Very nice article. The MOP idea is a nice metaphor for understanding what is driving a game, even outside of the typical euro-genres.

I wonder about how MOP relates (if at all) to abstract games. What is the MOP in Chess? More broadly, is the existence of MOP in a game a function of the scoring being a continuous range of values (i.e. VP accumulation). What does that mean for games don’t have VP scoring?

The “reinvestment” phenomenon seems to be at the core of euro-game MOP’s, creating these feedback cycles (and the snowball effect). But not every game shares that effect.

I was thinking about Tigris & Euphrates for example (and other games less focused on resources and more about spatial positioning) and what the MOP is. The product is obviously points you get for playing tiles, controlling monuments, and winning conflicts. The MOP must be tiles in your hand you place to earn the above points; but there is no snowball dimension. Having more points doesn’t let me reinvest in any way to get more tiles. But being involved in conflicts might be a way of getting more tiles at a faster rate (if that is strategically what you want).

Anyway, fascinating article. You’ve traced a nice lineage through the economic snowball genre of eurogames. I’d love to hear your thoughts on other potential lineages too. Intriguing concept.
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Many games don't have Means Of Production because they have no significant economic aspect to them. That would cover most abstract games like Checkers and Chess.

Other games have economies but they also have the potential of going over to your rivals' side of the table and burning his economy down That covers "Ameritrash" games like the "4X Hexes In Space" genre, and Ameritrash-wargame hybrids like Axis & Allies.

Finally, there are many games that do have Means Of Production, but they are uninterestingly static. Some examples of that would be Formula Dé and Pandemic where you have an assortment of dice/meeples with special powers and have to decide how to use them. However, you don't acquire more dice or more meeples throughout the game.

Exactly sa Asger wrote, since there is no "buildup of production powers" throughout the game, the MOP perspective is not really relevant.

So leaving those exceptions aside, and perhaps a few others, you have the "classic Eurogame" of resource management, snowballing economic engines, optimization, etc.

If we look at the top 25 games on the geek, here's how I'd sort them

MOP Analysis Isn't Relevant
Eclipse
El Grande
War Of The Ring
Paths Of Glory
Command & Colors: Ancients

MOP Model Is Important In The Game
Agricola
Puerto Rico
Through The Ages
Power Grid
Le Havre
Brass
Dominion + Expansions
Caylus
Race For The Galaxy
Ora et Labora
Dominant Species

Not Sure
Twilight Struggle
7 Wonders
Mage Knight
Tigris & Euphrates
Battlestar Galactica
Steam
The Castles Of Burgundy
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Like a good novel uses tidbits of information to build suspense and intrigue with a plot, the MOP mechanics of a good game change the field of play in a way that builds suspense and creates the mental puzzle which is strategy.

This is one of the problems with "follow the leader" type mechanics. They do not create that same intrigue, but instead increase the feeling of competition that can make the game unenjoyable for a select percentage of gamers that find the hardcore competition aspect a turn off.

MOP Mechanics based on luck are marginally acceptable to most players as it can help reduce the lead of the first player (much like the bandit does in Catan) just enough to allow some hope of catching up to the lead player. MOP Mechanics that originate from making the best placement choices or combinations just make the game more enjoyable to players who like to feel it is their smarts that won them first place.

Most good Euro games have some sort of MOP or builder Mechanics, as that is the game. The game like this is more a thinking exercise then a competition or "war" exercise. I suspect with most casual and female players, the thinking or problem solving aspect has the most appeal in a social situation, versus the sport oriented "I am the best" mentality. This is one of the reasons I am even reluctanct to ever bring the military aspect into any of the games I create, unless those games are solely billed out as wargame simulation.

In the end there are

1) the gamers who like to feel they have accomplished something (even if they lose the game). That way the two to three hours invested in the game produce enjoyment based less on beating the opponents then just being the most lucky and clever. Such games often reward all players.

2) There is the competition conflict based game that rewards the most brutal and cutthroat player. These are sport games in my opinion, and reflect the more commonly male warfare oriented method of play. Such modern games only use MOP mechanics as a disguise for what they really are so as to attract a wider variety of players.




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Linoleumblownaparte wrote:
MOP Analysis Isn't Relevant
Eclipse
I gotta tell you, this makes me even less interested in Eclipse. How can a 4x game not have an economic component?
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Linoleumblownaparte wrote:
Many games don't have Means Of Production because they have no significant economic aspect to them. That would cover most abstract games like Checkers and Chess.

Other games have economies but they also have the potential of going over to your rivals' side of the table and burning his economy down That covers "Ameritrash" games like the "4X Hexes In Space" genre, and Ameritrash-wargame hybrids like Axis & Allies.

(snip)

If we look at the top 25 games on the geek, here's how I'd sort them

MOP Analysis Isn't Relevant
Eclipse
El Grande
War Of The Ring
Paths Of Glory
Command & Colors: Ancients

MOP Model Is Important In The Game
Agricola
Puerto Rico
Through The Ages
Power Grid
Le Havre
Brass
Dominion + Expansions
Caylus
Race For The Galaxy
Ora et Labora
Dominant Species

Not Sure
Twilight Struggle
7 Wonders
Mage Knight
Tigris & Euphrates
Battlestar Galactica
Steam
The Castles Of Burgundy
I'll push a few points, purely for the sake of furthering the conversation and not because I disagree with what is being said.

First, is Risk is lumped in with SoC as a snowball game (as discussed in the OP), I think that opens the door to any of hybrid/ameritrash games that rely on such "burning down of economies."

For example, Eclipse has all the hallmarks of a MOP, use planets to get resources to build ships to get more resources, using ships and planets to get things that give you points. It has the snowball feedback throughout and through. The difference as you point out is that players can directly attack each others' MOPs.

A step even further away from eurogames are those where you not only attack other players' MOPs, but you can actually attack/reduce their points/scores/products directly. Maybe its a bad example, but Munchkin comes to mind. The winner is the first player to get to Level 10. Player's MOP's are primarily their in-play gear and the cards in the hand. Players can mess with each others gear, but also directly cause a reduction in another player's level, reducing their actual score.

Stepping back, I see a basic MOP at work in all games (i.e. even down to Candy Land's cards being the MOP of movement towards the goal). In the basic level, there is no way to affect or grow the basic MOP.

Layered onto many games is a snowball related effect with postive feedback. A further addition would be the ability to interact with another player's MOP. Another layer on that the ability to interact with another players "P" and/or score directly.

In your "Not Sure" Category above:

7 Wonders - definitly has an MOP. Playing cards lets you afford bigger/stronger cards, that lets you do more, etc...

Tigris & Euphrates - This one is tough. I depends on how you define the MOP. Is it your hand of tiles? Is it your Leader's relative positions/placements?
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byronczimmer wrote:
Linoleumblownaparte wrote:
MOP Analysis Isn't Relevant
Eclipse
I gotta tell you, this makes me even less interested in Eclipse. How can a 4x game not have an economic component?
Don't let the comment throw you — people ignore the economic portion of Eclipse at their own peril. Very easy to develop a bloated empire that can't support itself, made up of worlds that cost upkeep, but provide little tangible benefit. I wouldn't say the economy is exactly center stage, but supporting your worlds is important, and attacking someone's revenue base is a viable tactic. Hit his or her best worlds, and leave the bad ones untouched. The targeted empire starts to slow down, impacting every part of the regime.

I don't find any of the individual mechanisms of Eclipse particularly intricate, but one must definitely think while playing, and occasionally juggle a few balls.

The game presents the player with lots of decisions, and despite what the self styled pundits and experts say, the choices are not always obvious.


(Edited for grammar and missing words)
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Elkar wrote:
Interesting read, but Candy Land doesn't use dice.
Wow... when the first example is wrong how does the rest of the analysis
worth?
 
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Did you read the rest of it? Fact check it?

If not, isn't your outright dismissal as "wrong" and unfounded as the first example?


Asger (Holier than thou: Seven days a week!)
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Well Eclipse is THE top-rated game of the post-Dominion era. So it must be doing some Euro things, to attract the praise of BGG's largely Euro-leaning audience.

But, if we look at the lineage or evolution, Eclipse (2011) traces its way back to Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) (2005), which traces back to computer games like Civilization (1991) and Masters Of Orion (1993), which trace back to Civilization (1980), which ultimately is a game in the family tree of Risk (1959).

The philosophy of all these games is "I make a neat little empire in my corner of the map, you do the same in yours, eventually our guys fight it out to see who rules supreme." Everything else - different kinds of income and production, technology trees, different kinds of soldiers/spaceships - doesn't change this central attitude of the game.

Bouncing off what N Rommel said, games like Settlers are about building/accomplishing something, and games like Risk are about beating your rivals.

The snowball in Euro games is about who can build the best one. The snowball in "empire" games is more of a threat that says anyone who is left alone will snowball to unstoppable proportions and eventually roll over everyone else.
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Linoleumblownaparte wrote:
But, if we look at the lineage or evolution, Eclipse (2011) traces its way back to Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) (2005), which traces back to computer games like Civilization (1991) and Masters Of Orion (1993), which trace back to Civilization (1980), which ultimately is a game in the family tree of Risk (1959).

The philosophy of all these games is "I make a neat little empire in my corner of the map, you do the same in yours, eventually our guys fight it out to see who rules supreme." Everything else - different kinds of income and production, technology trees, different kinds of soldiers/spaceships - doesn't change this central attitude of the game.

Bouncing off what N Rommel said, games like Settlers are about building/accomplishing something, and games like Risk are about beating your rivals.

The snowball in Euro games is about who can build the best one. The snowball in "empire" games is more of a threat that says anyone who is left alone will snowball to unstoppable proportions and eventually roll over everyone else.
Yes, but Eclipse is still potentially a snowball game. You even say in the original post that "Snowballs exist in games well before Catan (for example, Risk) but Settlers is a beautiful distillation of the concept and inspired the whole trend of German boardgames." If Eclipse = Risk and Risk = Snowball, then Eclipse = Snowball too. I'd argue that Eclipse's snowball factor is considerably higher than Risk's to boot. In fact, the conflict in Eclipse, while important, plays a much more subdued role overall compared to Risk, as there a lot of other ways to score points too.
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Here is some more food for thought based on these insightful comments by Mezmorki

Quote:

Layered onto many games is a snowball related effect with postive feedback. A further addition would be the ability to interact with another player's MOP. Another layer on that the ability to interact with another players "P" and/or score directly.
and falloutfan

Quote:
I say wouldn't the economy is exactly center stage, but supporting your worlds is important, and attacking someone's revenue base is a viable tactic. Hit his or her best worlds, and leave the bad ones untouched. The targeted empire starts to slow down, impacting every part of the regime.
(emphasis mine)

You got me thinking about the different kinds of player interaction that can be possible with MOPs. Not the usual vocabulary of "direct interaction" vs "indirect" - I'm talking about how my MOP and your MOP can interact.

1. Rush For Land
Type of Interaction: A finite MOP is printed on the board in the form of territories/areas, and players are trying to claim as much as they can.
Examples in games: Risk, many 4x games, empire games, Settlers Of Catan to an extent

2. Communal But Finite-Use
Type of Interaction: the MOP are again printed on a central board, players can use any of them, for a turn at a time.
Examples in games: "worker placement" genre e.g. Stone Age, Lords Of Waterdeep, Agricola

3. Burn It To The Ground
Type Of Interaction: A player can block or destroy another player's MOP.
Examples in games: Ameritrash, war-games, sometimes lightly used (provost, robber) in Euros

4. Stealing Your Products
Type of Interaction: A player can steal or destroy another player's production, while not affecting their MOP per se.
Examples in games: Alien Frontiers? games that involve pirates?

5. Let Me Use Your Factory
Type of Interaction: A player can use another player's MOP, either paying him (friendly) or not (hostile).
Examples in games: Troyes, Brass, Road & Boats, The Manhattan Project.

6. Public And Private
Type Of Interaction: the players build their own MOP, but there is also a communal MOP that can be used by all players and can be built up.
Examples in games: ?????????? Texas Hold-Em?






I…. kind of really want to see a game based on #6 now


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Linoleumblownaparte wrote:

6. Public And Private
Type Of Interaction: the players build their own MOP, but there is also a communal MOP that can be used by all players and can be built up.
Examples in games: ?????????? Texas Hold-Em?

Carson City ?

The Communal MOP is the non-aligned housing that boost the saloons, for example
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Linoleumblownaparte wrote:
Well Eclipse is THE top-rated game of the post-Dominion era. So it must be doing some Euro things, to attract the praise of BGG's largely Euro-leaning audience.

But, if we look at the lineage or evolution, Eclipse (2011) traces its way back to Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) (2005), which traces back to computer games like Civilization (1991) and Masters Of Orion (1993), which trace back to Civilization (1980), which ultimately is a game in the family tree of Risk (1959).

The philosophy of all these games is "I make a neat little empire in my corner of the map, you do the same in yours, eventually our guys fight it out to see who rules supreme." Everything else - different kinds of income and production, technology trees, different kinds of soldiers/spaceships - doesn't change this central attitude of the game.

Bouncing off what N Rommel said, games like Settlers are about building/accomplishing something, and games like Risk are about beating your rivals.

The snowball in Euro games is about who can build the best one. The snowball in "empire" games is more of a threat that says anyone who is left alone will snowball to unstoppable proportions and eventually roll over everyone else.
Wow AWESOME article and responses about a fundamental aspect of games design.

An aspect of many confrontational games is that their MOP feeds a MOD (Means of Destruction). Getting MOP management right is critical to success in MOD management, and often times the MOD feeds the MOP via conquering or extortion or other mechanics ie your interaction types 3, 4, and 5. In my view, the MOP is critical in both but not the exclusive concern in confrontational MOP-MOD games.

Eclipse is a case in point. I think Eclipse definitely has an elegant and self balancing MOP engine which you need to spend at least the first 3 - 5 turns getting going. However, players are subject to runs of bad luck with explored tile flips which can disproportionately inhibit their MOP. We've found this a significant issue in both games we have played of it. Because the number of actions you can feasibly take per turn is derived from your MOP we have found this can lead to significant downtime issues with players opting out after 2 - 3 actions midgame while other players take 4 - 5 actions. Eclipses action system is one of the most euro things about this game, ie you sequentially choose single actions from the same available pool the other players have to shape your turn leading to speedier turn taking and high player engagement. Of course the number of actions you take is a MOP and fundamentally shapes how much you can reinvest in either more MOP or MOD. there are various problems to be solved in the above process during the game and that makes it feel very euro for the first half to me. The second half is usually much more about the MOD, so its predominately a MOP-MOD game. But if your MOP misfires your chance of success is slim and your level of satisfaction will suffer (ie you may only take 20 - 30 actions over 4 hours compared to others 30 - 45 actions).

Despite these issues, the success of Eclipse is I suspect at least partially built on the fact that it plays like a confrontational Eurogame which you can actually play more or less like a Eurogame. eg The plant race seemingly rewards a strategy of backwards isolated exploration and locking up / defending connections with other players while it focuses on system building for VPs.

Expect to see more of this type incremental hybridisation of game types and MOP interaction mechanics through the continuing game diversity.

An archaeological neo-darwinian perspective on the history of the human phenomena of invention is that it often follows this pattern; invention - invention selection / success - fluorescence - standardization - invention - invention selection / success etc etc. And whilst some inventions may be consciously designed as evolutionary steps many are just accidents that clicked for unforeseen reasons (ie were selected for replication and later fluorescence).

Back to a few thoughts on Settlers of Catan.

I've seen friends nearly come to blows over a particularly aggressive surprise triple road build cutoff maneuver in settlers. I've never seen the same level of anger in a confrontational game.

In my long experience with settlers approximately 50 - 75% of 4 or 6 player games have seen 1 player shut out of the game early in a most dispiriting fashion because of their limited MOP due to a combination of limited global supply, AND the snowball momentum of the leaders grabbing best spots first. The combination of robber effects and trade blockades on leaders won't help players with MOP problems. The problem is much reduced in 3 or 5 player games AFAICS. It's a fundamental design flaw some of it's expansions were designed to rectify. In some ways its worse than having another player actively crush you mid - late game. Recognizing the game system itself will probably crush 1 of the players from the get go is a strong reason to leave it on the shelf.

It reflects a fundamental challenge for game designers; retaining engagement of all players while still allowing a winner in a timely fashion.

You raised several valid MOP interaction types which could have helped rectify the above problem in settlers. The challenge is how to build in such mechanisms in such a way that they aren't abused by leaders disproportionately to help them win more or that they don't stack up too heavily as pull back the leader mechanisms.
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HuGostic2012 wrote:
Elkar wrote:
Interesting read, but Candy Land doesn't use dice.
Wow... when the first example is wrong how does the rest of the analysis
worth?
I thought the same thing but glad I kept reading. Well written article with a lot of food for thought!
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kbrebach wrote:

An aspect of many confrontational games is that their MOP feeds a MOD (Means of Destruction). Getting MOP management right is critical to success in MOD management, and often times the MOD feeds the MOP via conquering or extortion or other mechanics ie your interaction types 3, 4, and 5. In my view, the MOP is critical in both but not the exclusive concern in confrontational MOP-MOD games.
A valid point. But an addition to that is the DAE (Defemse Acquisition and Effect) factors. The weakness I find in many game designs is that there is no way to defend against aggressive players. I never design a game that does not have a balance of MOD and DAE choices.

Having everyone start the game with a weak defense and weak attack is also a balancing factor. The strategy becomes do you acquire defenses more then attacks. The all or nothing folks can play totally defensive if they like, but the all out attack folks should not be able to unbalance the game by so easily eliminating players early in the game.

If the Means of Production are too lengthy to build an effective Defense against another player's offense, then the mechanic will be abandoned in favor of an all out attack philosophy. If the Defense choices can be so easily overwhelmed by the Aggression actions, then you have a game that appears to have strategy, but in fact provides action choices that are little more then fluff.

Games that work like that usually gather dust on a shelf as average gamers will not play the games more then a couple times before being aware of the powerful negatives and advantages that outright aggression brings over strategic play. Finding a solution to aggression play can be one of the drawing challenges to a game, but if the defenses are predictable and easy to overcome, then you have weak defense mechanics that quickly become boring.

Quote:
Despite these issues, the success of Eclipse is I suspect at least partially built on the fact that it plays like a confrontational Eurogame which you can actually play more or less like a Eurogame. eg The plant race seemingly rewards a strategy of backwards isolated exploration and locking up / defending connections with other players while it focuses on system building for VPs.
A good game can support a group of aggressive players as well as it can support just construction oriented players. If the mechanics support one method over the other, again the game gets stagnant. In those cases if one player goes all aggressive and the other players are forced to respond by fighting fire with fire, then you have a simple "follow the leader" design that again goes back to the Agricola method of play. Usually one player is eliminated early and gets frustrated with the near hopeless chance of winning.

Quote:
Back to a few thoughts on Settlers of Catan.

I've seen friends nearly come to blows over a particularly aggressive surprise triple road build cutoff maneuver in settlers. I've never seen the same level of anger in a confrontational game.

In my long experience with settlers approximately 50 - 75% of 4 or 6 player games have seen 1 player shut out of the game early in a most dispiriting fashion because of their limited MOP due to a combination of limited global supply, AND the snowball momentum of the leaders grabbing best spots first.

It reflects a fundamental challenge for game designers; retaining engagement of all players while still allowing a winner in a timely fashion.
They got it right with "Settlers - Across America". The worse imbalance in regular Settlers is that a player can go ten plus turns with no resources gained. I have gone up to 15 turns with nothing added to my hand and of course lost the game due to the set back.

In "Settlers - America" a player who gets nothing gains a coin. Each turn players can buy upto two resources a turn at a cost of two coin. They need to apply this to "Settlers - Original" to bring balance to the original games play.

Quote:
The challenge is how to build in such mechanisms in such a way that they aren't abused by leaders disproportionately to help them win more or that they don't stack up too heavily as pull back the leader mechanisms.
Even when there is a way to block leaders, often this falls on the shoulders of one player who must sacrifice to control the leader's massive lead. Relying simply on everyone elses willingness to put restrains on the leader does not work sufficiently. Risk takers may go for this tactic, but most players will not unless they are absolutely sure they will lose.

Random mechanisms that target leaders seems to be the best mechanic from what I have encountered. Let the game invoke controls on runaway leaders and then you have a better balance. In that case it does not pay to be the guy in front at all times. It also creates a whole new strategy situation where the players have to decide what is the best time to play cards or actions that would put them in the lead with the least risk of penalty. An additional balance choice to be considered.

Player psychology is something that is very important in the discussion of game balance mechanics. Perhaps a totally different thread, but yet a factor you need to add to your equation as currently discussed.

Methods of Production will only be selected when the odds seem favorable to the player. The greater strategy in such games that rely on this method is knowing the best time to risk concentrating on production over actions such as "Aggression". It is knowing when to take the MOP and best apply it to jump ahead of other players.




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Linoleumblownaparte wrote:


5. Let Me Use Your Factory
Type of Interaction: A player can use another player's MOP, either paying him (friendly) or not (hostile).
Examples in games: Troyes, Brass, Road & Boats, The Manhattan Project.

6. Public And Private
Type Of Interaction: the players build their own MOP, but there is also a communal MOP that can be used by all players and can be built up.
Examples in games: ?????????? Texas Hold-Em?

I…. kind of really want to see a game based on #6 now
Some additional thoughts:

Some of the crayon rail game permit the player to use another person's track, by paying a fee. Empire Builder and Eurorails specifically.

Merchant of Venus, permits you to sell your goods at another person's space station, saving you movement points, by avoiding planet fall.

Also, Merchant of Venus permits you to construct a factory, produce a good, and that product may be bought and sold by anyone who picks it up.

Cheers!


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I'm working on a game where players can abandon/destroy MOPs for additional actions. Are there other games out there that allows players to do this?
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Can't think of any that have that as a primary attribute, but a number of card games (Magic, Dominion, Ascension, etc) have cards that act as MoPs that can be sacrificed for some greater/different effect.
 
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NorthernRommel wrote:
kbrebach wrote:

Back to a few thoughts on Settlers of Catan.

I've seen friends nearly come to blows over a particularly aggressive surprise triple road build cutoff maneuver in settlers. I've never seen the same level of anger in a confrontational game.

In my long experience with settlers approximately 50 - 75% of 4 or 6 player games have seen 1 player shut out of the game early in a most dispiriting fashion because of their limited MOP due to a combination of limited global supply, AND the snowball momentum of the leaders grabbing best spots first.

It reflects a fundamental challenge for game designers; retaining engagement of all players while still allowing a winner in a timely fashion.
They got it right with "Settlers - Across America". The worse imbalance in regular Settlers is that a player can go ten plus turns with no resources gained. I have gone up to 15 turns with nothing added to my hand and of course lost the game due to the set back.

In "Settlers - America" a player who gets nothing gains a coin. Each turn players can buy upto two resources a turn at a cost of two coin. They need to apply this to "Settlers - Original" to bring balance to the original games play.
In fact, S-AA contains a much more significant balancing factor than just giving a player a coin if they receive no goods from a roll. In S-AA, the settlements you build don't give you victory points - you score victory points by sending a train to deliver goods to settlements built by other players. Building a settlement gives you a new MOP, but at the same time it provides an opportunity to your opponents to score VP, but not you yourself.

In effect, it's an anti-snowball effect - if you have more settlements than any other player, you may be receiving more P, but you have fewer opportunities to convert them to VP than your opponents have.

It's a remarkable refinement of the original SoC concept, IMHO, although it does come at the cost of making it a longer, more complex and less elegant game.
 
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Wonderful article! This is the type of critical analysis that I love to see, and which reminds me of the work Jonathan Degann was doing on his sadly short-lived Journal of Boardgame Design.

While you nailed the key innovations of the successors to Settlers, I think you, ironically, missed the mark on Settlers' own economic philosophy. You labeled it as "people reap nature's bounties". But this only makes sense from a thematic perspective. All of your other examples of MOP relate to the game mechanisms themselves.

I'd say Settlers' economic philosophy is more about the unreliability of one's MOP. Look at how many ways uncertainty play into one's economic development in the game:

- random dice roll determines production on a given turn
- a particular dice roll (7) allows a player to steal a resource from another player AND temporarily cripple their opponents' production; additionally, a player may lose half of their resources
- multiple development cards, including the most common one in the deck, allow for the stealing of players' resources

Thematically, this still ties into the "unpredictability of nature" and the "winds of fate", but more importantly, it allows us to discuss the MOP of Settlers in relation to the innovations of its successors. Unsurprisingly, we see a heavy backlash against this unreliability of MOP, as game designers seek to allow players to exert a greater level of control over their output. Games move away from diplomacy and tactical play and more towards strategic play, each with its own twist on the MOP, but all clearly twisting the same direction from Settlers.



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