Saturday, October 06, 2018

Games are more than a main mechanism!

One of my favorite genres of game is the typical middle weight Euro. You know, those games that generally last about 45-60 minutes, have a clever main mechanism, a few supporting mechanisms, and not much else. Many games like this come out every year, some recent examples are Ulm with its sliding action tile grid, Barenpark with its tetromino placement, and Noria with its action wheel. Some of the games I've worked on recently fall squarely in this category as well, such as Pioneer Days with its dice draft, and my own Crusaders: Thy Will be Done with its Mancala-rondel. I like these games because it's fun to see clever new mechanics, and this genre often gets right to the point, showcasing the central mechanism in a fairly elegant way.

The down side of this genre is that so many games in it lack longevity, they're kind of disposable. Often times you play a middle weight Euro, and you find it pleasant enough. You enjoy it, maybe you play it a second time, but then you move on. The creme of the crop in this genre may stick with you, but many of these games are fairly forgettable. That doesn't mean they weren't good fun when you played them, and it doesn't mean that they're bad games or aren't worth your time, it just means that they didn't stand out among the crowd of new games. Blame it on the Cult of the New if you'd like, but it's a rare game in this category that continues to be played once the hype of its release has died down.

That's the thing about these middle weight Euros... the main mechanism can be very clever, but whether the game shines or not, whether the game is memorable or not, depends on how the supporting mechanisms work. As a designer, once you come up with a fantastic main mechanism, it's easy to get so focused on that hook that the rest of the game falls by the wayside and doesn't live up to its potential.

Nowadays, a new and clever central mechanism could satisfy the Cult of the New, garner positive reviews from board game media influencers in a rush to get their review up first, or even win awards from judges who just play once or twice. But for a game to have real longevity, that's not enough. The supporting mechanisms, and the rest of the game, need to be good and polished as well. So if you're designing a game in this genre, take this to heart... no matter how new, novel or clever your central mechanism is, don't neglect the rest of the game!

Come November, Crusaders will finally be hitting store shelves. I'm confident the Mancala-rondel mechanism is strong. I just hope I've done a good enough job with the rest of the game that it rises to the top of the genre rather than fading into obscurity!


Michael Brown said...

Now that is an interesting post!

I hadn't considered that getting popular when published and longevity might have different requirements.

Now I have to go back and re-evaluate all of my games to see if they have good secondary mechanics.

jasongreeno said...

This rings true. Any examples of games that you think reach the higher level?

Seth Jaffee said...

@jasongreeno I can certainly think of a few that don't! But I didn't want to call out any games by name in that regard.

I personally feel like Pioneer Days is one that could have some longevity. I certainly hope Crusaders proves to as well!

I worked on a sequel game to Pioneer Days with a similar dice drafting mechanism, which I also hope proves to be a good one (I know *I* like it).

I do think Barenpark lasted longer than most of those types of games for me. I haven't played it in a while, and after a number of plays I would have liked more of those goal tiles or something.