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 2015 — A Lot of Good

I played a lot of new games during the Summer — almost 20. And for the longest time, most of them were good but not better. Fortunately, toward the end of the season things improved and move games appeared in my Very Good to Great range. As always, this is a listing of games that I’d never played previously, and it’s my personal take on the games, as a medium-serious game player.

The Great

KeyflowerKeyflower (2012). This Richard Breese game is a couple of years old, but I played it for the first time a few weeks ago, so it makes the list. All of the Breese games I’ve played to date are dense combinations of classic Euromechanics, and this one’s no exception. In fact, it’s an auction/worker-placement/tile-placement game. (Seriously!)

I found the combination of auction and worker placement to be both innovative and interesting. Each turn you either place meeples as workers (to take advantage of a tile’s action) or else you place them as bids (to try and purchase a tile for future usage and/or victory points). The balance is a really tricky one because you might want to grab an action before anyone else, or you might try to make an all-important first bid; doing either also allows you to determine the color of meeple (currency) that must be used for all future bidding on working on that tile.

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Anatomy of a Game: Catan

Catan 5e Box CoverMayfair Games recently released their fifth edition of the Settlers of Catan (1995) — now just called “Catan”. Even if you aren’t impressed by the fact that Mayfair has produced five major iterations of the core game, you have to be impressed that Catan Gmbh reports that over 18 million units of Catan have been sold. That’s a lot of games!

To celebrate the newest edition of the game, its 20th anniversary, and perhaps most importantly its continued success, I’ve decided this week to take an extended look at what makes Catan great. I’ll be examine the game’s major systems, the rules underlying them, and the emotions they create. 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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New to Me: Summer 2013

It’s been another quarter, and thus time for another listing of games that were new to me — mostly including new releases, but also including a few older ones that crossed my gaming table. As always this is an assessment of how much I like the games, rather than whether they’re great or not. I tend to prefer light to medium euros that don’t make me work too hard.

As you can see, there’s still a bit of emphasis on cooperative gaming; that’s because I was finishing up a complete book on the design of cooperative gaming. I hope to talk more about this in the future, but this could end up being the first “Mechanics & Meeples” branded game book! To keep up-to-date, I encourage you to join the Mechanics & Meeples page on Facebook that I’m now putting together.


The Great

Hanabi (2013). A cooperative game about playing fireworks cards to the table in the correct order. It’s a terrific game because it’s all about trust. The other players have to tell you what to play, but the language that they’re allowed to use is so deeply constrained that you have to have faith that what you think they’re saying is what they’re actually saying. Did I mention that it won the 2013 SdJ? I’d prefer to see the SdJ go to games with a bit more meat … but this game is so clever and innovative that I nonetheless have to say it’s well deserved.

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The Dice Rollers of Catan

Settlers of CatanThe Settlers of Catan (1995) is what I like to think of as a primordial eurogame. You can see some of the clean abstractions of eurogaming — like the resource-to-building engine — and Settlers pretty much invented modern ideas of clear iconography and rulebook-less play. However, Settlers has something that you wouldn’t expect to find a modern German-produced eurogame: a pretty big heaping dollop of randomness. I’m not talking about the development cards — which are more in line with the level of randomness you’d expect from a (somewhat random) eurogame. I’m talking about the production rolls at the heart of Settlers, where every turn players only earn the resources specified by an entirely random dice roll.

The dice rolling of Settlers reminds me more of the design of a French eurogame — which tend to have more theme and more luck. As a German game, it’s quite unusual … and some people hate that!

I should note that I’m not one of them. I’m perfectly happy to enjoy Settlers for what it is. However, I’m aware that not everyone agrees, so this week I wanted to spend some time on one of Germany’s top games, and investigate how its production could be made less random.

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New to Me: Fall 2012

I’ve continued to be largely incommunicado in recent weeks, and that’s been due to illness. Before the 2nd I hadn’t even played any games in a couple of weeks, which will tell you how sick I’ve been. As a result, my newest “new to me” column is about a month later than usual.

This one talks about the games that I played in October, November, and December that I’d never played before.

The Great

Timeline (2011). I was surprised to discover that I’d only started playing this in fall because it’s already become a regular part of my game nights. The concept is simple: each player is dealt a handful of discoveries, events, or inventions. One at a time you have to place these in a timeline in their correct order. So it’s a trivia game, which I usually hate, but somehow this one really works. Maybe because the guessing seems simple enough. You just have to figure out where a card goes relative to the others. The result is surprisingly thoughtful and fun and … dare I say it … educational. Its really quick gameplay helps a lot too.

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