The Design of a Resource-Efficiency Game

A resource-efficiency game focuses on turning resources into victory points through a chain of actions. It’s a very common design style for euro games, but also one with considerable room for variety.

The recently released Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction (2016) shows the style at its simplest. You start out with worker resources. You turn those into yellow cake, which you turn into uranium, which becomes victory-point bombs. There’s a single development path for a four-link chain. The game is all in how fast you can walk that path.

Catan ConflictThe ever-popular Catan (1995) shows a different methodology. A variety of resources become roads, settlements, and cities. You can also look at this as a four-link chain: resources are necessary to create roads, which are necessary to build settlements, which in turn upgrade to cities. However, as with many more complex resource-efficiency games, there’s a feedback loop: settlements and cities can create more resources. Thus the game becomes not just about maximizing efficiency but also maximizing opportunities. Continue reading

New to Me: Summer 2016

Summer was a nice quarter for gaming, with a number of releases really excelling. Here’s a look. Remember as always that these are “new to me”, which means that they might be brand-new releases or something a bit older that I hadn’t yet seen.


The Great

Agricola Revised Edition (2016). Yep, this is a pretty old game by now. The new edition has better rules and cleans up the cards a considerable amount, producing a more balanced game. I recommended Agricola before, and it’s only better now. Continue reading

Anatomy of a Revision: Caverna

This blog has long focused on the design of games, investigating how and why they work (or don’t). Usually, it’s picked apart existing games. However, there’s one sort of work that can offer particularly interesting insights into design: the revision. A revision can allow you to delve into a game, see what was there before, what was there afterward, and thus see how a change in design made a change in the game.

That’s why I’m going to be looking at Caverna: The Cave Farmers (2013) this week. Though it’s essentially the same game as Agricola (2007) in the big picture, it’s been revised, polished, and expanded rather thoroughly — providing lots of insight into the design process.

Please note that this article doesn’t try to be a complete list of changes, but rather is a look at the ones that are the most interesting.

The Furnished Rooms

Caverna: Furnished RoomIn Agricola, each player gets a hand of occupation and improvement cards that he uses to specialize his farm. A very small set of just ten major improvements are available for all players. Conversely, in Caverna there are no individual cards. Instead furnishing tiles are available to all players, first come first serve.

Result: The change was probably a reaction to the randomness of the card draws in Agricola. If a player got lucky and got a nicely matched set of cards he could do very well, while an unlucky player with no synergy amidst his cards could lose the game before he even started to play. Obviously, having all the cards (tiles) available to everyone makes the game less lucky.

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Five Designs of Dutch Auctions

Merchants of AmsterdamAuctions have faded a bit from the euro-scene. They were a prime euro-mechanic during the genre’s youth, but pure auction games like High Society (1995) and For Sale (1997) soon turned into auction hybrids like Amun-Re (2003). Then auctions became just another mechanic — a part of more complex games like Age of Steam (2002) — and even that has mostly disappeared in the modern day.

There’s one prime exception: a style of auction that has survived well into the present day. It’s called the Dutch Auction, and I think it’s survived better than standard auctions because it can be so tightly integrated into a game that you might not even realize it’s an auction at all.

In a Dutch Auction, prices on an item drop until someone decides to purchase it. That’s its power: there’s only one bid, none of this round-after-round silliness that can go on forever. If done well, it can look like a purchase — not an auction at all; the price just happens to drop as part of the normal flow of turns. And that’s how some of the best Dutch Auction games of recent years have done it.

I’ve listed five of them below, arranged in ascending order of elegance.. By chance it’s also a climb toward in the modern day. This isn’t unusual in designs: I think it shows how the use of the mechanic has matured over time.

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More Solutions to Naked Aggression

Viticulture GameboxAfter Jamey Stegmaier read my article on The Problem with Naked Aggression, he posted a comment to say that he’d been considering the same issue for his own game, Viticulture. He asked if I might be interested in a guest blog on the subject. I accepted, so the following is Jamey’s take on the topic. One of the things I particularly like about it is that Jamey talks more about why naked aggression can be bad, while I jumped straight to solutions. Also, when he looks at solutions, he looks toward the euro sort of scarcity conflict, which is a nice alternate take on the issue. –SA, 9/14/12


More Solutions to Naked Aggression

by Jamey Stegmaier

I stumbled upon Shannon’s blog entry, The Problem with Naked Aggression, a few weeks ago. Shannon touched upon some key elements of game design that I often think about. I asked Shannon if I could share those thoughts on his blog, and he graciously agreed.

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The Tao of Board Gaming I

The Tao of Board GamingI. The Student of Catan

There was once a young student named Bonnelyn who, to every Board Game Night, brought but two games. The first was The Settlers of Catan and the second was Puerto Rico. Whenever she was asked what games she would like to play, she would softly smile and say, “I have brought The Settlers of Catan and Puerto Rico, and they are both games that I enjoy.” Sometimes others would join her in these pursuits, but sometimes they did not. Yet, if another game won out, Bonnelyn would play that alternative with a good heart as well.

There was one day when Bonnelyn came to play Agricola in this manner. She did well, mastering the game with a quiet ease that surprised the other players. And, it was obvious that it touched her as well, for she smiled when she upgraded her house, cheered when she was able to place her last family member on the board, and even wept when she did not bring in enough harvest one year. She won the game handily and everyone who played said that they had never seen her having so much fun.

The next week one of those players said to her, “So, Bonnie, what game would you like to play this week?” From the way the player rested his hand upon his new, shiny Agricola box, it was obvious that he thought he knew the answer to his question.

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