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mechanism

A gameplay mechanism (or often mechanic) is a metaphorical term referring to a functional aspect of a game.

In Candyland, there is one central mechanism that drives the game: you draw a card, then move to the next space whose color matches that card: this could be considered a type of roll-and-move mechanism.

In Amun-Re, there are multiple significant mechanisms, which include:

  • auction of the sites and blind bidding in making offerings to Amun-Re
  • resource management in maximizing the efficacy of your funds and income
  • secret agendas from power cards
  • competitive and balanced construction of pyramids

Critic

As with a physical machine comprising many mechanisms, a game with multiple mechanisms is more wondrous and difficult to fully analyze. As a result, repeated plays of such a game will tend to satisfy an adult much more than repeated plays of a game with a single mechanism. On the other hand, a game with few mechanisms will be easier for someone new to games (e.g. young children) to understand. If a game has more mechanisms than a player can deal with, it most likely will result in great frustration and disinterest for that prospective player.

Sometimes elegantly wondrous permutations of play can be produced with few, but well-meshed mechanisms. Such games tend to be easy to teach, easy to play, but not easy to solve.

BGG-Recognized Mechanisms

Mechanic Description Examples
Acting
A game where players must represent another/perform theatrically.
Times Up!
Action/Movement Programming
Players secretly choose the next X turns, and then each player plays their turns out according to the choices made. A game has the programming mechanic if it provides choice of several actions with a mechanism of executing those actions such that things could go spectacularly or amusingly wrong, because the status of the game changed in ways one did not anticipate before the action is executed.
Shogun, Robo Rally
Action Point Allowance System
Players get a set number of points each turn to devote to various actions, at their discretion.
Tikal
Area control/Area influence
Control of an area is awarded to the player that has the majority of units or influence in that area.
Eclipse
Area Enclosure
This term refers to the mechanism that has a player attempting to surround or fence off an area - usually in order to control it, cause it to score, or eliminate it from play.
Go, Boxes
Area Movement
A mechanism used chiefly for war games: movement traverses irregular areas rather than a grid and this choice makes the game develop on more than one front.
El Grande, Dead of Winter, War of the ring
Area-Impulse
Game is articulated through a series of impulses, a mean of activating map areas and moving units in those areas to accomplish movement and combat.
Storm over Arnhem, Thunder at Cassino, Turning Point: Stalingrad, Breakout: Normandy
Auction/Bidding
Players bid or auction on resources to get them and win.
Modern Art, Ra
Betting/Wagering
Players act evaluating cards value, discarding them, making a guess on the result and bidding on it.
Tichu
Campaign/Battle Card Driven
Cards or campaign text depict events, and the challenge is in making decisions and plan their usage to win.
We the people, Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage, Twilight Struggle
Card Drafting
Party evolve by planning, balancing resources, upgrading characters and facilities via decks of cards.
Through the Ages, Mage Knight
Chit-Pull System
Commonly used in war games to address the problem of simulating simultaneous action on the battlefield and issues of command and control. In such a system the current player randomly draws a chit or counter identifying a group of units which may now be moved. Schemes include moving any units commanded by a particular leader, moving units of a particular quality or activating units not for movement but for fighting.
Zulus on the ramparts, A victory lost
Co-operative Play
Players work together toward a common goal. In purely cooperative games all players win or lose together. Semi-cooperative games may have unknown traitors. Cooperative play sometimes coexists in tension with competitive scoring.
Pandemic, Escape, Battlestar Galactica, Castle Panic
Commodity Speculation
Players buy and sell resources or company shares in the hopes of predicting price changes and making money.
Acquire, Kanban, Merchant of Venus
Crayon Rail System
Players draw tracks between cities. See also Route/Network building.
Empire builder, Eurorails
Deck/Pool Building
Players start the game with a pre-determined set of cards / player pieces and add and change those pieces over the course of the game. Many deck-building games provide the players with a currency that they use to "buy" new items that are integrated into the deck or pool. These new resources generally expand the capabilities of the player and allow the player to build an "engine" to drive their future plays in the course of the game.
Dominion, Star Realms, Marvel Legendary
Dice Rolling
Players roll dice to determine outcomes.
Roll for the Galaxy, Mice and Mystics, Yahtzee
Grid movement
The board is completely covered in squares (as in Chess) or hexagons (as in Hey!, That's my Fish!) that allow unrestricted or nearly unrestricted movement in any direction and to any square or hex. This movement mechanic is commonly used in both abstract strategy games and wargames.
Space Hulk, Forbidden Desert
Hand Management
Managing your hand means gaining the most value out of available cards under given circumstances. Players are rewarded for playing the cards in certain sequences or groups. The optimal sequence/grouping may vary, depending on board position, cards held and cards played by opponents. Cards often have multiple uses in the game, further obfuscating an "optimal" sequence.
Android: Netrunner, Through the Ages
Hex-and-Counter
Classic wargame mechanic, played with 'Counters' on a map with an Hexagonal grid allowing to move the counters in more directions (6) as opposed to a square grid with only four directions.
Twilight Imperium, Advanced Squad Leader,
Line Drawing
Games using the line drawing mechanic involve the drawing of lines, for example to connect objects, to isolate objects, or to create areas.
Telestrations, Pictionary, Cranium, Sprouts
Memory
Players are required to recall previous game events or information in order to reach an objective.
Codenames, Hanabi, Coup, Sleuth, Clue
Modular Board
The playing area consists of tiles, cards, or other pieces, usually identical in size, that can be placed in multiple arrangements. Placement may be random or fixed according to a scenario.
Settlers of Catan, Mansions of Madness, Blue Moon City, Kingdom Builder
Paper-and-Pencil
The game is developed using paper and pen to mark and save responses or attributes that, at the end of the game, are used to score points and determine the winner.
Eat poop you cat, Scattergories
Partnerships
Games with partnerships offer players a set of rules for alliances and teams. Partners are often able to win as a team, or penalities are enforced for not respecting alliances.
The Resistance, Dune, Tragedy Looper, Ultimate Werewolf
Pattern Building
Players place game components in specific patterns in order to gain specific or variable game results.
Castles of Mad King Ludwig
Pattern Recognition
Markers, usually with a color or pattern, are placed or added on different random or pre-determined locations relative to a board or the markers themselves. As the markers move during play the player has to recognize a known pattern created by the markers to gain a good, points or win the game.
Quirkle, Ingenious, Ubongo, Jungle Speed, Cathedral, Pentagon
Pick-up and Deliver
Players must pick up an item at one location on the playing board and bring it to another location on the playing board. Initial placement of the item can be either predetermined or random. The delivery of the item usually gives the player resources to do more actions with. In most cases, there is a game rule or another mechanic that determines where the item needs to go.
Merchants and Marauders, Indonesia, Genoa
Player elimination
Player elimination occurs in multiple-player games (>2) when a player can be eliminated from the game and play continues without the eliminated player. There are also games where achieving the win condition will eliminate you from the game and the last person remaining is the loser.
Magic: The Gathering, King of Tokyo, Diplomacy
Point to Point Movement
On a board of a game with point-to-point movement, there are certain spots that can be occupied by markers, e. g. cities on a map. These points are connected by lines, and movement can only happen along these lines. It is not enough that two points are next to or close to each other; if there is no connecting line between them, a player cannot move his or her piece from one to the other.
Arkham Horror, Tales of the Arabian Nights
Press your Luck
Games where you repeat an action (or part of an action) until you decide to stop due to increased (or not) risk of losing points or your turn. Press Your Luck games include both Risk Management and Risk Valuation games, in which risk is driven by the game mechanisms and valuing how much other players value what you also want, respectively.
Goa, Ra, Incan Gold
Rock-Paper-Scissors
A kind of unit, move, or strategy is balanced, winning against some alternatives and losing to others. The best play varies, depending on what the opponent chooses.
Sid Meier's Civilization, Yomi, Dungeon Quest
Role Playing
Some board games incorporate elements of role playing. It can be that players control a character that improves over time. It can also be a game that encourages or inspires Storytelling. This mechanic can be viewed as an extension of Variable Player Powers.
Chaos in the old world, Descent: Journeys in the Dark
Roll/Spin and Move
Players roll dice or spin spinners and move playing pieces in accordance with the roll.
Monopoly, Marrakech, Formula Dè
Route/Network building
Game play features network(s) (interconnected lines with nodes) using owned, partially owned or neutral pieces, with an emphasis on building the longest chain and/or connecting areas or fixed points on the board. See also Crayon Rail System.
Power Grid, Railways of the World, Food Chain Magnate
Secret Unit Deployment
Gameplay contains hidden information. Only the player controlling certain playing pieces has perfect information about the nature (or even the whereabouts) of those pieces. This mechanic is often used in wargames to simulate "fog of war".
Letters from Whitechapel, Fury of Dracula
Set Collection
Players seek prescribed combinations of items, such as three-of-a-kind. Turning in sets typically yields rewards or fulfills a victory condition.
Gin Rummy, Lords of Waterdeep
Simulation
Simulation games are games that attempt to model actual events or situations.
Castles of Burgundy, The Voyages of Marco Polo, Memoir '44, Flash Point: Fire Rescue
Simultaneous Action Selection
Instead of taking turns in order, all players choose their moves and then reveal them simultaneously to be resolved.
7 Wonders
Singing
Players hum or sing familiar tunes in order to fulfill certain game requirements.
Cranium
Stock Holding
Stock holding is a subcategory of Commodity Speculation, in which instead of purchasing or selling an entire commodity, players purchase and sell (or hold) a share in a given company, commodity or nation.
Mombasa, Rapa Nui, Tesla vs Edison
Storytelling
Players can be provided with conceptual, written, or pictorial stimuli which must be incorporated into a story of the players' creation. Alternatively, players don't create their own stories, but instead experience a story from the inside as one of the participants. Games along those lines might present players with a particular narrative situation, after which the player will make a choice that affects which end to the narrative is told — with the results of this narrative affecting the player's standing in the game.
Tales of the Arabian Nights, Dixit, Rory's Story Cubes
Take That
Maneuvers that directly attack an opposing player's strength, level, life points or do something else to impede their progress, while usually providing the main engine for player interaction in the game. Usually used in card games.
Cosmic Encounter, Saboteur, Bang, Munchkin
Tile Placement
Players take turns in laying tiles in positions allowed by the rules. Tiles may constitute a modular board (see above), but not all modular boards are laid by players' choice.
Carcassonne
Time Track
A variable player-turn order mechanism by which the player who is last on the time track goes next. The function of this mechanism can allow a player to have multiple sequential turns due to being last after each one. The basic premise is that you can choose to do a longer, slower task in the game, but in the meantime, a player taking shorter, quicker actions might change the "landscape" of the playfield. It is arguably a derivative of "action point" systems, except in the case of time tracks, the player doesn't have a fixed number of points she can or must use on her turn.
Horus Heresy
Trading
Players exchange game items between each other.
Tikal, Antiquity, Fief, Bohnanza
Trick-taking
Players lay down cards, typically following the suit of the first card in each round. The values of the cards determine the winner, that collects all cards played in that round. A certain number of tricks may be needed to win, or certain cards taken in tricks may give positive or negative points.
Hearts, Haggis, Rook
Variable Phase Order
The order in which Game Phases occur can be varied throughout the game.
Puerto Rico, Race for the Galaxy, Citadels, Myth
Variable Player Powers
Players play according to slightly different rules due to that there are different factions or roles in the game.
Cosmic Encounter, Dominant Species, Sentinel of the Multiverse
Voting
Players vote to determine a group's decision.
Werewolf, Battlestar Galactica, Patchistory
Worker Placement
Sometimes called "action drafting" or "action blocking", players select actions to be taken each round by placement of tokens (or "workers") from a limited resource pool, often into restricted action selection areas.
Agricola, Terra Mystica, Caylus, Caverna, Le Havre, Orleans, Ora et Labora
To do:
  • Add missing mechanisms to the Glossary, and define the mechanism in the Glossary. Update individual mechanism pages with a redirect link to the Glossary entry, e.g. [ redirect=Glossary#name_of_the_mechanism ] (without the spaces before and after the brackets; replace spaces in the mechanism name with underscores). (Glossary is locked for general editing.)
  • Glossary entries with hyphens in the name cannot directly link to the entry from individual mechanism's redirect pages. Consider revising e.g. "trick-taking game" to "trick taking game" in Glossary, and update redirect links from individual mechanism pages.
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