Elegant mechanics for board games


Researching the world of tabletop gaming I became entranced by elegance with which some of them create experience using only a limited set of mechanics. Board game design strives by it's nature to limit the need for consulting the manual, doing math, tracking things. Only to present a sweet crunchy puzzle or a tense anticipation. Basically: only fun parts are allowed. While it is tempting to think that all those limitations result in detrimental experience compared to a video game, and I would disagree. A video game can check everything under the hood and present the options which you can choose from using only the intuition or even at random. While there is certainly some fun in that, having a tangible system that forces a complete understanding of rules in order to experience it, provides an additional fun filter on all those mechanics. Making a game out of tangible bits, easily readable elements and playtesting is how you can know if something works.

By the way, this is in no way Video Games vs. Board Games, I rarely frame things that way - unproductive. It is more about a ways to make a creative process more fruitful. Or just a list of smarty things for myself o remember:


If you try to upgrade your character/army/whatever with cards, each adding/subtracting a stat you inevitably end up with too much math to do. Tabletop often resorts to modifying a set of cards by adding better cards in there. Deck building games are made around that idea, but it also can be used to fulfil a secondary role. Monopoly has a similar concept: instead of adding cash every turn, you increase chance of getting cash.


It is always more fun when instead of taking turns the event happens in an instant. For example: "two players rolling a dice and the one with higher number wins" is more fun then Player 1 rolls the dice, resolves his result, then player two rolls his dice.


For player's strategy some actions are more critical then others. It is best when rules accommodate the "I need to get this done no matter the cost" panic and have rules that allow to perform otherwise suboptimal actions, sacrificing more resources to get something done.


While Strength, Wisdom, Charm etc. are as common as a goblin in any Lvl 1 dungeon, they better not be your first pick. There is nothing wrong about those in particular, but equivalent stats in general that do little to make things more interesting and more to complicate the math. "Statistic A lets you play actions X while statistic B lets you play actions Y". As much as numbers don't add much fun, different group of numbers are just as useless.


During one player's turn he may select an action everyone takes. So waiting for another player is never active. Think Starlight Imperium.


Can be great balancing force. Usually it is a choice between increasing your power and getting points. So getting a victory point sets the player back a bit.


Any mechanics that make choice easier are always welcome. For example, allowing to use the buff only when you know if you need it or not.

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