Board Game Basics – Game Mechanics

Board Game Basics – Game Mechanics

Board Game Basics – Game Mechanics

In my last article I went over the most common types of tabletop games that are out there. This probably gave you a good idea of what to look for when buying a new game. However, two games in the same category can still be pretty different, so today I want to dig a little deeper and look at some of the mechanics that make these games run.

When someone talks about game mechanics they are referring to the basic elements of a game used to play it. For example, Poker has the mechanics of "set collection", "wagering", and "bluffing". So if you love poker then you probably want to look for a game with some of those elements to it. I'm going to go over some of the most common game mechanics and I'll give you some examples of games that use them as well. This list is by no means comprehensive but my goal is to make it easier for you to identify the types of games you most want to play and to demystify some terms that might not be quite as obvious as "auctions" or "bluffing".

Worker Placement

What this means: These games will have a limited number of communal actions that do various things in the game. Player take turns picking actions by placing “worker” pieces on them and performing that action. With this mechanic, many times the number of players who can take actions are limited and players will also have a finite amount of workers. So you are constantly assessing your priorities in light of your goals as well as likely actions by the other players. 

Notable games that use this: Agricola, Robinson Crusoe:Adventures on the Cursed Island, Lords of Waterdeep, Viticulture

Splendor Board Game
Publisher Services Inc (PSI)

Resource Management

What this means: Often paired with worker placement, this mechanic involves collecting or even hoarding resources to influence the game and accomplish various in-game tasks. These resources can act as currency, building materials, or even victory points. Sometimes you can trade or share these resources so a barter system may emerge, and the game may experience shortages and surpluses of resources changing how you work to achieve your goals..

Notable games that use this: Settlers of Catan, Agricola, Puerto Rico, Splendor

Deck Building

What this means: Players in these games will have a deck of cards that they use as part of the game play. During the game the players will have the opportunity to add and remove cards from their deck, shaping it to the form they choose. With this mechanic, each player's deck starts with similar value but will evolve throughout the game. This mechanic is almost a genre of games in itself as there are many games where deck building is the entire point of the game.

Notable games that use this: Dominion, Star Realms, Mage Knight, Legendary: The Marvel Deck Building Game

Cooperative Play

What this means: Games with cooperative play (co-ops for short) have little conflict with the other players. Instead players need to all work together to win the game by accomplishing various objectives or beat one player who is acting as an antagonist. Some times games with this mechanic will include the related "traitor" mechanic, where one player may or may not be secretly working against the other players to make them lose and thus win themselves.

Notable games that use this: Pandemic, Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Dead of Winter, FlashPoint: Fire Rescue

7 Wonders
Distribution Solutions LLC


What this means: This mechanic involves players taking turns to pick pieces, usually cards, from a common pool. Sometimes the pieces being picked are available for all to see on the table at once and sometimes players have them secretly concealed, as in a hand of cards, which they then pass to the next player after picking. You often have to modify your objectives based on what is availing itself to you and in light of what your competitors are doing.

Notable games that use this: 7 Wonders, Seasons, Blood Rage, Suburbia

Area Control

What this means: With this mechanic players are vying to score points against each other or collect resources based on who has the most game pieces on the various regions of the board during each round. Games with this mechanic also commonly have some element of direct conflict as well as you vie for coveted spaces on the board.

Notable games that use this: Small World, El Grande, Blood Rage, Scythe

Small World
By Game
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