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

Anatomy of a Genre: Role Civilization, Part One: An Introduction

San Juan CoverThe evolution of board game mechanics fascinates me. That’s the main reason that I’ve written a long series on deckbuilding games: to assess new ideas and tropes as they enter the design space of a genre. With 25 such articles under my belt, I should really write a summary some time!

This week (and over a few more weeks in the future), I’m going to be examining another genre of games — one that’s much smaller. In the main, it contains just four games, plus a number of supplements and spin-offs. However, those games constitute a strong design style that’s full of innovation.


The releases that I call “role civilization” games started with San Juan (2004), but are actually part of a rich stream of game design that’s produced many of the most notable games of the 21st century. Continue reading

The Tao of Board Gaming V

The Tao of Board GamingKoans I-III can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming I (December 2009). Koans IV-VI can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming II (April 2010). Koans VII-IX can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming III (October 2012). Koans X-XII can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming IV (May 2014).

XIII. The Problems of the World

The best gaming store in the world was located in an urban center that was peopled by progressives, anarchists, minorities, and other persons who sometimes felt the need to speak out against the establishment. Thus, the student of gaming who regularly attended events at that store sometimes found his route there blocked by protests arising from questions of social justice.

This was the case one day in the long winter when reports revealed that protesting in the urban center had turned into looting, vandalism, arson, and assaults. Sadly, this was not unusual.

Undeterred, the student of gaming set out for his regular gaming evening.

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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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The Alea Analysis, Part Three: Wyatt Earp (S#1), Royal Turf (S#2), Puerto Rico (#7)

In this third part of my look at the Alea games, I’m moving into the small box set which appeared in 2001 and concluding with Alea’s best known release, Puerto Rico (2002). For Ra, Chinatown, and Taj Mahal, see the first article in the series. For Princes of Florence, Adel Verpflichtet, and Traders of Genoa, see the second article. Continue reading

Alea Treasures #3: Puerto Rico

Puerto RicoTo date, I’ve written about the Treasure Chest expansions for three of the Alea games: Louis XIV and San Juan (way back in 2010, when the Chest was a bit fresher) and Witch’s Brew (back in June).

I’ve since managed to get Puerto Rico back to the table, and with it the nobles expansion contained in the Treasure Chest. As such, I’m now ready to talk about what I think Treasure Chest adds to the game that was the one-time reigning Euro Champ.

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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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