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Design Experiment, Guillotine without a line, 10.22.13

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All righty! Everyone form an orderly mob for today’s design experiment: Guillotine without a line of nobles.

Guillotine is a card game by Wizards of the Coast that puts players into the role of competing executioners during the French Revolution trying to get the most notoriety by beheading the most noteworthy people. 12 nobles are lined up each round, and each turn you get to play one action card and then take the noble at the front of the line and add it to your score pile.

Most commonly, action cards will let you rearrange the order of the line to some degree before taking the noble at the front. With planning, you can take exactly the nobles you want while leaving the low & negative point nobles to your hapless opponents. (Of course, said opponents are trying to do the same thing…)

The line of nobles is central to Guillotine. But what if it weren’t there? Here’s a couple possible solutions that might have also worked.

Grid of nobles

Perhaps the nobles for a given round are put into a 3×4 grid. This doesn’t really remove the line, though; it just makes three smaller ones if you could take from the front of any line.

UNLESS! The action card you played also stated a specific column or row you had to take from the front of at the end of your turn. It could create some interesting choices as you could end up affecting lots of rows & columns with a single play.

The downside of such a solution is that any sense of forward planning would disappear. With a line, you know which nobles are likely to be taken next based on the way they’re arranged. If each action card had a different set of rows or columns for a player to take from, it makes a fairly random game even MORE random (not to mention fiddly). It would work, but not necessarily be satisfying. This could be mitigated by each card only allowing to take from the front of a specific column, but then you just have three lines instead of one.

Hand of nobles

Perhaps nobles are cards in hand alongside action cards, where you draw and play one each turn. The action cards would be fundamentally different; there isn’t a line to affect any more. They would instead focus solely on hand and score pile manipulation.

The play feels like it would get stale pretty quick unless other changes were also made to the game. You’d simply play the highest-point noble you had at any given time and try to pawn off the negative-point nobles on other players. Whereas the first alternate was too random, this one is too scripted. And they BOTH lack good player interaction that the original design has.

One possible additional change could be what my cohort calls Knizia scoring (after designer Reiner Knizia for using it in Samurai, Ingenious, and others). In a game with set collection-based scoring, your best set does not count toward your score. Instead either your second highest set (or other sets if there’s just three or four) or your lowest set are your final score. If such a mechanic were mixed with action cards that specifically focused on set size manipulation, that could be fun  while still maintaining the theme.

That’s all for the possible solutions I lined up for ya. How would you tackle this change?


Written by krinklechip

October 22, 2013 at 5:27 am

Simultaneous Action, 10.16.13

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Quick! Try to stand on one foot, balance an egg on your nose, AND clap your hands. … now that we’ve all failed miserably and made a mess of our computers, lets have a look at simultaneous action in a more controlled fashion.

Simultaneous action can speed up gameplay considerably (or at least make it feel fast).  Whether it’s through phases where actions are taken by everyone or an outright free-for-all, here’s a few ways simultaneous action could be implemented.

Everyone’s turn… ALWAYS.

One way is for it to be always everyone’s turn. A few examples of this are Escape, Brawl, and Icehouse. This format tends to make for frenetic play as everyone rushes to complete the game’s objective first (or together if it’s cooperative.) A game that uses this does well to not have lots of bits everywhere, as players who get into the game may get… enthusiastic… about completing the game.

This form of simultaneous action also usually has a built-in timer of some sort, whether it be a sound track to play the game to (Escape), a component limit (Brawl), or simply a timer set off to the side (Icehouse) to help force players to actually do something instead of waiting out an opponent.

Simultaneous choice, ordered resolution.

Another way to introduce simultaneous action into the game is to break up the actions being resolved into discrete phases. Space Alert and Revolution (or any simultaneous bidding game) do this.

With Space Alert, each player maps out what she intends to do while playing the cards corresponding to the actions on an action track. After a set time, players then resolve the actions for that particular phase and hope something doesn’t go wrong elsewhere on the ship (or that she didn’t play the cards wrong…)

Revolution does it in a similar way, with players deciding how to place their bids at the same time, then resolving the bids in a specific order every time until the game is over. Even though Revolution is about 45 minutes, it doesn’t really feel like it thanks to the quick pacing of the rounds of everyone bidding simultaneously.

Simultaneous action can be tough to implement well (much like trying to drive, read, and eat at the same time), but when done right, it can create a great experience (much UNlike trying to drive, read and eat at the same time).

Written by krinklechip

October 16, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Posted in Concepts, Game Design, Rules

Design Experiment: Forbidden Island without sinking, 10.14.13

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Io there! We’re starting this game design blog back up with look at a game without one of its key mechanics. (We’ve done a few like this before looking at Monopoly without money and Power Grid without power stations.)

Today, we’re lookin’ at Forbidden Island without the island sinking.

A quick primer: Forbidden Island is a cooperative game where players work together to retrieve four artifacts from a sinking island and get everyone off to safety before:

  • A) an artifact is lost,
  • B) someone drowns, or
  • C) the exit is lost.

Each turn, players move about the island helping keep the island afloat while working to gather the four artifacts. Each player has a special ability nobody else has, and the sinking of the island intensifies as the game continues. It’s a fantastic intro co-op; go get it (or its older brother, Forbidden Desert).

One of the main mechanics that drives the action of the game is the fact the island sinks a little bit each turn. This provides the sense of urgency and danger a cooperative game needs. So if we take it out, what might happen? Here’s one possibility:

  1.  No sinking means there isn’t any danger of losing. Without a threat, the cooperative element falls a bit flat. To keep an element of uncertainty and danger, perhaps the game spawns guards each turn that must be dealt with or avoided. One per player could start in play at the beginning of the game.
  2. Guards could be spawned by the flood cards. Instead of the space listed getting flipped over, it either spawns a guard at that location or moves a guard on that space a set number of spaces with hitting an edge wrapping the guard around to the opposite side of the board.
  3. A hit point system could be implemented. You could take being landed on by a guard X times before you’re caught.
  4. Guards could be removed from play by moving into the same space from the side or behind.
  5. As gameplay continues, you would start drawing more than one card to determine guard movement and placement. Eventually, the players would simply be overwhelmed by the guards and be caught.

Still keeps a rough feel of being Forbidden Island, but with a funky twist. How would you work with the change? Let us know in the comments!


Written by krinklechip

October 14, 2013 at 7:51 pm

11.25.11 – Team Play, Pt. 2

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Surely we must hang together, or we will surely hang separately.  Then again, perhaps that’s what some want…  We’re having a deeper look at team play today.  You can see a previous Game Mechanic article on team play here

Full Co-op:  Cooperative games have come some distance since since my previous article.  Forbidden Island, Ghost Stories, Flash Point; the list goes on.  One thing the games just listed have in common is a general formula of Action Point-based turns with a phase of the board beating on you between turns.  Nothing wrong with that formula; it works *really* well.  It keeps tension high the entire game.  But perhaps there are other ways to do it… 

  • Wreck It All – Have the board completely wreck your trash before you even begin.  It’s then up to the players to rebuild as best they can within some kind of time constraint.  Essentially, this is the game taking most or all of its ‘bad’ actions all at once.  One potential drawback to this is a loss of tension as players start doing well and undoing the damage.  However, what if you combined Wreck It All with Pivot Point below, with the pivots being timers running out or things being fixed?
  • Pivot Point – Players have breathing room of a set number of turns or until some key event occurs to get their acts together before something terrible happens and the game bares its fangs.  Betrayal at House on the Hill does this with its Traitor mechanic, actually; players scramble to gain as much stuff as possible before the Haunt begins and the board, under control of a Traitor player, tries to kill them. 

Hidden Role:  This is another form of team play that has seen serious burgeoning:  Battlestar Galactica, Resistance, and Panic Station are all good examples of this mechanic.  Players are dealt ‘role’ or ‘loyalty’ cards that dictate which team she is on and possibly what her goals are to win.  Games of this nature tend to focus on the tension of not knowing who is on your team; can you trust your neighbor with that really good equipment card, or will he just turn around and use it on you?

A possible twist on this is multiple roles per player.  In a Goal Completion style game, each role has objectives for the player that grant (or take away) VP and bonuses for doing them.  However, what if objectives on two role cards are at cross-purposes and can actually result in the player *losing* points for following the wrong objectives?  This could cause some cognitive suffering for your players.

Coopertition:  Coopertition, or working together while still trying to be the overall winner, has also seen some implementation; Castle Panic and the Renegade role from Bang! come to mind.  Perhaps it’s a business game where only one player gets to be CEO at the end, but if players don’t work together, the company will have to shutter its doors.

Be mindful, though:  if there is the possibility the players can lose if they don’t work together while pursuing a personal win, you may end up with a lagging player throwing the game to spite everyone else.  I’ve had prototypes have this issue, and it ain’t pretty to watch.

That’s all for now, everybody.  Now if you’ll excuse me, this loyalty card says I need to go stir up some revolution… I hear it’s a good thing to have every now and then.

Keep on designing, yo!


Written by krinklechip

November 26, 2011 at 9:47 am

Posted in Concepts, Game Design

Deck building, 11.22.11

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Io, fellow designers.  Lets shuffle up some possibilities with deck building.

-Here ya go!:  Have your players build each other’s decks.  However, building your opponent’s deck should be more than just throwing trash together so you can stomp them.  That’d be too easy.  Add a couple of twists:

  • Cards in play generate resources for your opponents, with better resource generation tied to stronger cards.  You may want 5 gold on your turn, but it’ll cost ya giving your opponent a good card.
  • Cards with sub-par effects generate lots of resource.  Give your opponent starting resources, or better late-game cards?  Mmmm…. cognitive suffering.

-Working together:  Players build a communal deck to play from.  This could be used in a co-op game, with players pitching in for the greater good while weeding out chaff for other players.  Or, you could have it be competitive.  However, to avoid the free rider problem, cards could be drawn face-up onto the table as the set of resources and actions available for everyone at once.

-Tertiary Deck building:  Deck building doesn’t necessarily have to be the main mechanic, either.  Take Starcraft, for example.  Players build a combat deck and draw from it each combat.  You may have an Ultralisk bearing down on me, but do you have the card to utilize it properly?  Perhaps players are building a resource deck in a game with multiple ingredients.  Or, a riff on worker placement:  I build a deck of how many and what kind of workers I get to place each round, with the cards drawn representing contracts with the workers.

Now that I’ve built the article, lets see what I draw.  …Nothing but Victory Points?!  BLAST!

Keep on designing, yo!


Written by krinklechip

November 22, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Puzzles, 9.14.09

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Riddle me this:  what kind of games typically have puzzles in them?  Not too many, save for RPGs and some adventure games.  The key reason is that once you know the solution, the puzzle can’t be used again.  But!  It could be argued that deduction based games are a type of puzzle; gathering information until you arrive at the answer the game requires (be it the perpetrator of a crime or some kind of code key).  A re-usable puzzle, much like in Clue, simply switches out the variables each game.  In Clue’s case, the murderer, weapon and room are swapped around each time.  This could be applied in other ways, as well.

-Substitution.  Players use equipment in ways not intended by its design.  Take an exploration game where the players choose their starting equipment (or scavenge it as they go along).  During the game, problems that are potentially outside the scope of the equipment they have; needing to cross a narrow ravine for example.  If the group has an ax, they could just cut down a tree and lay it across.  If they don’t though, the players could combine (and downgrade) their current equipment to make a makeshift bridge:  break apart a tent for the poles, rope and ‘planks’ (out of the fabric).  You don’t have a tent anymore, but you now have rope and poles (with the fabric being too torn up, gamewise).  The potential problem of this is that players may run into a situation that they genuinely have no answer to.  If that occurs, be sure to give them an out (alternate path, can still continue at some penalty, etc).

-Chain Reaction.  A player’s action has an immediate ripple effect with other elements of the game.  Take a dungeon-crawl where the doors are activated by levers.  Pulling one lever sets off the other levers in certain ways (resets them, activates them as well, locks them, etc.) in addition to opening the door in the room.  This creates a logic puzzle where the players must figure out the best order to activate the levers to move from room to room.  This type of puzzle can suffer from two problems:  fiddlyness and ‘dead ends’.  If every time a lever is pulled every other lever is affected in some way, that’s alot of extra stuff to do from one single action.  Board design (such as each lever on a ‘slider’ path to show pulled or not) can mitigate this to some degree, as can the scale of the game.  If it’s just five or six levers, that’s not too bad.  If it is around 15, though, you have a problem.  The ‘dead end’ issue can be a bit trickier if you are building the dungeon randomly as you go.  One way around this is to allow for a reset of the chain reaction components, which may open paths that were previously blocked.  Another way is to allow a ‘force’ for the cost of time or some other resource.

Puzzles are one of those things that are difficult to properly implement in a way that has good replayability.  If done correctly, though, they can take a title over the top.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to figure out this damn finger puzzle…

Keep on designing, yo!


Written by krinklechip

September 14, 2009 at 7:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Dexterity, 9.9.09

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Dexterity is typically associated with:  a)  sports, b)  video games, c)  being a fan of mass murder and d)  STR & CON.  When it comes to board games, though, dexterity ususally brings to mind games such as Jenga, Barrel of Monkeys, Crokinole and the like.  However, with titles like Cornerstone where elements of strategy are mixed in (building a tower for little doods to climb), we may start seeing more strategy to put our steady hands to.  Things like…

-Skill Shot Randomization.  Players flick a disc along a ‘randomizer’ board to determine various effects.  Take a game where the players are gods and the weather needs to be determined for each round.  You could just make it a card draw, die roll, etc., but why not give the players a chance to play planetary Crokinole?  A disc that represents the Sun is placed on the edge of a modular ‘Weather Board’ and players flick it toward a weather type they may want next round.  A shot that falls off the board counts as the last weather the disc touched before falling off.  This could be applied to just about anything that needed randomization that wouldn’t suffer overmuch from players sort of being able to control the outcome.  Stock price changes?  Check.  Warp Drive malfunction result?  Check.  Combat?  You would be better going with…

-Skill Shot Combat.  Taktika is the game that currently best does this.  Each unit is represented by a disc that must follow different rules to kill an opposing unit.  Infantry must ricochet off another infantry before hitting its target,  archers must get close to their target without touching it and cavalry is all about knocking the opposing piece out of play.  It’s essentially a light wargame meets Crokinole.  What if different weapons were represented by different disc sizes?  Units themselves could be about 3 CM, an arrow may be a disc that is about 2 CM, whereas a catapult payload could be upwards of 5 CM.  And why do the units and such need to be discs?  Sure discs glide fine, but so do cubes, meeples and so forth.  If weapons were represented by cubes, whichever face ends pointing up could confer some sort of effect; extra damage, free move, etc.

-Stacking.  Players build different structures out of cubes and discs on the board for different effects.  For example, building a pyramid out of cubes is reasonably easy and would hav a more nominal effect than say, a hollow tower.  Effects would depend on the game, but could be anything from combat bonuses for towers to more actions for a monolith.

With breakthroughs in concept like Taktika and Cornerstone, game designers should think twice before dismissing dexterity as a mechanic in games.  Now if only my hands weren’t so shaky…

Keep on designing, yo!


Written by krinklechip

September 9, 2009 at 9:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Scoring Timing, 9.8.09

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In terms of broad concepts, scoring is in every game.  The end scoring in Coloretto, unit generation in Risk… the list can go on.  What makes each game’s scoring different?  And not just in what is scored; of course you get points for settlements and cities in Settlers of Catan and hexes captured in Memoir ’44.  One of the key differences (and the one we’ll be investigating today) is the timing of said scoring.  Are points score instantly?  Do you need to wait for the right time to cash in?  It doesn’t even have to be the final score you’re aiming for; hitting your opponent in a fighting game reduces his ‘Life Score’, bringing you closer to winning that particular match.  Lets have a look at the effects of scoring timing.

-Instant Gratification.  Players are rewarded instantly for their actions.  Whether it be reducing your opponent’s hit point total or scoring a goal in a sports game, this is about as straightforward as it gets.  This form of scoring is typically combined with other scoring techniques to create different strategies.  Ticket to Ride is an excellent example of  this.  A player is instantly rewarded points for placing trains on a route, but said route may or may not contribute to their destination cards (which tend to offer big point swings in the endgame).  In a combat game, each hit brings one player closer to winning and the victim closer to defeat; even if defeat is just losing a unit in a particular instance.  Even within the same way to perform scoring, the effect can be dramatically different.

-Save It Up.  Players save scorable resources until a time that it is most beneficial to them to cash in.  This scoring technique is all about timing and predicting what will (or won’t) be valuable later in the game.  This is often used in commodities/stock trade games.  You may have say, 30 shares of stock X, but you won’t score anything good at $1 per share as compared to say, $9 per share.  The Motley Fool’s Buy Low, Sell High is essentially this with the added spin that each share sold actually decreases further profits due to there being more supply available.  This creates a good tension if the commodities fluctuate a bit and increases if the scoring is based upon other players’ choices (much as in Buy Low, Sell High).

-Endgame Scoring.  Different ways of doing endgame scoring itself has been previously covered here; this is going to deal more with the effect it has on play.  Endgame scoing creates more tense play in making the game uncertain until the very end.  Perhaps that player in third place has a bunch of Resource X she has been saving all game to cash in for big points.  Maybe the leader didn’t account for final scoring and overextended, causing him to come in a close second.  If it creates tension and uncertainty in the final outcome of a game, end game scoring is being used correctly.


Well folks, I’ve written enough.  It’s time to turn it in for final scoring.

Keep on designing, yo!


Written by krinklechip

September 8, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Posted in Concepts, Game Design

Combat, 9.4.09

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Time to duke it out!  Combat is another staple of many games.  From the dice fest that is Risk to the calculated move/countermove of chess, combat takes many different forms in gaming.  Lets throw down some ways combat can be done…

-Dice.  Combat is determined by opponents rolling dice.  There are many, MANY iterations of this one alone, some of which I covered in my very first article.  Another way dice are used in combat is by placing symbols on combat dice that have different effects/results.  This approach has been popular lately, appearing in titles ranging from Doom to Memoir ’44.  The gist is this:  the dice you roll have different symbols on each face.  Different symbols have different effects on combat, from hitting the opposing force to forcing you to discard an ammo token.  God Dice takes this and turns it on its ear a bit; the symbols on the dice are used to match up different combinations on your character to determine what attack you use that round.

-Cards.  Players use cards with numerical values to determine combat results.  This is another common one.  Typically, each player plays a card and the high card wins the battle (or adds the card’s value to the unit’s base combat value).  Cosmic Encounter is probably one of the best representations of this.  Essentially, a player attacks an opposing planet with 1-4 ships and both attacker and defender play cards from their hand and add it to the number of attacking (or defending) units with high number winning outright.  But what if the cards represented ammunition?  Take a wild west style game where each player had a gun with different ‘stats’; ammo, firepower, accuracy, range, etc.  Each player also has a ‘bullet deck’ that she can draw from to load into her gun.  Each card in the bullet deck would have an shot strength, accuracy modifier and so forth.  Players would either ‘load’ their gun with as many cards equal to her gun’s ammo limit, creating an ‘ammo deck’ and shuffles them up.  Each time they fire, the top card of their ammo deck is flipped over to determine how good the shot is.  Once the ammo deck is empty, that player must reload by taking extra time/actions/etc.

-Capture.  Players determine combat results by moving two pieces onto the same space.  This one is probably among the simplest of all, with the attacker often being the automatic winner; chess utilizes this.  Stratego turns it around a bit by giving each piece a ‘combat ranking’, with higher ranked pieces automatically beating lower ranked pieces and the attacker winning a tie.  You could turn this into a ‘siege’ style mechanic by having capture still work this way, but requiring multiple units to capture a space/opposing unit.  Take a fantasy siege game where units represent armies, siegecraft and supply trains; each unit also has a ‘combat rank’ as in Stratego.  Players are trying to capture X cities from opponents by placing say, between three and five of their units in said opposing cities.  If armies encounter each other outside of cities, a battle ensues much like Stratego, but where combat rank can be altered by card play.  That sounds kind of fun…

Those took the fight out of me; I surrender.


Keep on designing, yo!


Written by krinklechip

September 4, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Tile Laying, 9.3.09

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Tile laying is one of those core mechanics like trade or card drafting.  Surely all possibilities have been laid out, right?  In terms of area control or a modular board, much has already been explored in this mechanic.  Place a tile, maybe place a dood on it to exert influence on it.  Said influence contributes to scoring of that feature at a later point (such as a road being closed off at both ends, as in Carcassonne.)  I’m going to line up a couple of possibilities you may not have thought of…

-Combat.  Players could all be contributing tiles to a communal ‘combat board’ much like the tiles are laid out in Carcassonne, with the features increased/completed granting a bonus to attack or defense (or even a special ability trigger).  The trick for players in this iteration is every tile you place gives other players the opportunity to build off of your placement for more powerful attacks… I loves me some cognitive suffering.  Take a wild west style game where tiles laid out could result in increased accuracy (lining up bullseyes), more shots (lining up ricochet paths from tile to tile) and so forth.  Or players could place tiles onto their own personal ‘combat board’, allowing for massive firepower all over the place.

-Movement.  More for a race or pick up and deliver type of game, tiles would have features that would allow movement, turns, jumps, etc.  Take a robot programming game where the tiles look like a stylized circuit board.  In order to move each turn, players must add a tile to the communal Movement Circuit.  Lining up ‘Speed’ wires from tile to tile would make you move one space per tile with said wires on it.  Add in obstacles that may damage (or worse) your robot, and this can become a risky proposition to keep a particular wire live.  Perhaps you want to turn instead.  Line up a couple of ‘Turn’ transistors and you’re set.  Now if only everyone didn’t keep changing the circuit…

I’d place a few more ideas out, but I just can’t line up those edges… DAMN!

Keep on designing, yo!


Written by krinklechip

September 3, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Posted in Game Design, Mechanics