Wish it was Sunday…

What tabletop games did you play over the weekend? Do you do as I do and think on what makes a board game tick? If you like it, what mechanics made it successful? If you didn’t like it, there may even still be a piece of the game design you appreciate.

This past week I played everything from my classic fav – Puerto Rico – to a bunch of titles I had not played before, such as Five Tribes. Seeing new players enjoy Puerto Rico reminded me that I’ve always wanted a blog segment just appreciating mechanics – little or big gears that make a game work. So I’ll start with a few that come to mind. Add your own in the comments. If there’s interest, we can do this segment from time to time, either me or another leaguer can take a turn.


Five Tribes play


I’m late to the party playing Five Tribes. I saw it on shows, read reviews of course, and figured I’d eventually get to playing the worker “displacement” mancala mechanics. Oh, but it’s so much more than this. Without getting into the deeper layers of strategy, what gets you from decision one is the MEEPLE POWER plus TILE POWER. With 5 colors and 5 tile effects, that’s essentially 25 combinations when you take your turn. And again, that’s before the game state gets really interesting.


This is such a perfect fit for this game, for the theme (infection occurs in cities already hit) and for the type of game (cooperative, requiring active and tough “AI” foe). I love this. This makes me think of combos in Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone where you summon something, bring it back and summon it again. In this loop, great things are possible.


Likely BANG! would not have survived replay value for me if it had not been for this simple set of 12 cards (an expansion) that change existing rules for an entire round. In particular, I remember many a game where the simple “all player powers are not in effect” is the crucial moment when you need your power or can get through a chink in someone else’s armor. And since tons of cards rely on traditional poker card suits to function, changing all cards to hearts for the round makes a simple rule set become very flexible.


I have such an appreciation with what Richard Garfield did in the expansion to this game. By taking the least used dice result (hearts/health) and making it into a variable player power that is optional, he created an emergent mechanic that each player decides if they want to unlock. Combine that with an already solid base game, this makes this game something I won’t ever turn down.


There’s an underlying beauty to all the mechanics in this game, and that is they are always benefitting the player. It’s like the game “rounds up.” You get the resource now. AND later. You are always rewarded. Combos that allow you to spend 2 wood, get that same 2 wood back like you never spent it AND have set up 2 wood on future turns just feels good. And when something feels good, you just want to do it again. This game has huge lessons for me in terms of player benefit.


There are many things I love about Puerto Rico – simple rules and limitations that are broken/altered by building powers. But all of that is layered inside a changing turn order. The simple idea that you can pick one of X roles, the power and timing of each role varies and that not every role is selected each round, makes this game so engaging. Every decision from the opening move to the end is full of impact and even old strategies can become fresh.

Well, that’s just a sampling on this Mechanic Monday. What game mechanics do you enjoy? Share the title and why. And thanks for playing!