If you’ve played Pandemic, you know how great the infection deck mechanic is: after an outbreak, the discard pile is shuffled and put on top of the deck, ensuring that the action is focused in known problem areas while keeping the exact order of infections hidden. While the game was innovative in many ways (it effectively created the co-op genre!), I think it was this clever mechanism that made it an instant classic.
And if you’ve played Forbidden Island, you know it uses… the exact same mechanic. In many ways, the game is just a simpler, more accessible version of Pandemic. Of course, both games were designed by the same person, Matt Leacock, so Forbidden Island doesn’t really steal from Pandemic. But is it always okay for a designer to reuse the same mechanic in multiple games?
I started thinking about all this because I’m considering doing the same thing with one of the unique mechanics in one of my games. In Corporate America (now on Kickstarter for a second edition!), players take turns picking which of several industries makes money. One option is revealed for free, but the player must pay to see additional options. Eventually, the player will have to pick one option he or she revealed, but other players can try to influence the choice with bribes. It’s a really fun, lively part of the game. I’d say it’s the highlight for most players!
Now I’m working on a totally different game, which has gone through several major revisions. The last version didn’t fix some lingering problems, so I decided to radically change it, and in doing so introduced a very similar mechanic to the one found in Corporate America. I haven’t tested it much yet so I’m not sure if the mechanic will work in this context, but it’s made me wonder:
When is it a good idea for a designer to reuse the same mechanic? Are there any situations when it’s definitely a bad idea? Or is it just building on a mechanic that has untapped potential?
I don’t have answers to these questions, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let me know what you think in the comments below!