Mechanics | board games


Researching the world of tabletop gaming, I became entranced by the elegance with which some of them create an experience using only a limited set of mechanics and objects. Good board game design strives by its nature to limit the need for consulting the manual, doing math or tracking things, and this is often achieved using our intuitive understanding of the theme.

Randomness or Choice, which one goes first?

Boardgames take time, often hours, to finish. And based on the number of participants, you may not be actively engaging for a better part of it. And if most of that time you spend guessing if you get a lucky card next turn, that is stressful. That is Randomness rearing its ugly head and saying, "Hey, you have no control". Randomness itself is a great tool - it is what allows you to focus on the theme and have fun instead of number crunching.


When a game needs to invoice a sense of risk, a choice should come first. Some space for hesitation should be provided by game mechanics. The Player decides to engage in a fight, dices roll, points are calculated, the victor is decided.

Here & now

Alternatively, randomness can help players focus on the puzzle at hand. If you don't know the layout of the next turn, then there is no point worrying about it.

"How much do you want it" Mechanic

If cards and the way you use them isn't deciding if you win in a specific situation, what then?... I think you should decide if you win. But then you will always choose to win.

You may lose the battle to win the war.

So we need mechanics to translate players general intent into action.

Maybe you can decide how your troops will fight: ferociously and die to deal maximum damage and then burn down the city, or lunch a bunch of mandatory arrows at the opponent before taking their farewell as they are needed elsewhere for your plan to have the best chances at success.

Or you can quickly get an item that you need from another player, but that will cost you a lot.

Have your players packed with possibilities and power, but design the game so that the one who manages it well wins that day - that is the right strategy and winning this way feels fair.


You can give the game a theme, an elegant mechanic to invoke the thematically appropriate emotions: the joy of building things, the dread of depleting resources, the uncertainty of combat. But if we are talking about a strategy with more than two players, most of that will likely be overshadowed by the last few turns when the more logical approach is to harm the player who is the most likely to win. On the one hand, there is something nice about having everyone team up against a common enemy (player with the most points), but this degrades the experience overall. Many games I actually like have this flaw. Unavoidable in competitive gaming, but it is always worth working on. Be it by providing personal goals or hiding victory points.


If you try to upgrade your character/army/city, granting it a higher yield, you can master quite a formula for your next harvest round. This may end up being too much math to do. The solution is to modify a set of elements that take effect when activated. Deckbuilding games are made around that idea, and Monopoly has a similar concept: instead of adding cash every turn, you increase the chance of getting it.


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


During one player's turn, he may select an action everyone takes. So waiting for another player is not entirely passive. Think Starlight Imperium.