I recently started developing a board game. It is currently still lacking the basic mechanisms needed to even play, but the overall ideas and guidelines for the relationships between my 3 largest mechanics in the game are in place.
Here’s the thing: I actively started work on this side project for about 4-5 days. That’s it, and I’ve gone through not one, not two, but three iterations of the main mechanic E, 2 iterations of mechanic A(t) and birthed a third mechanic (e) to help add depth to the game. Still, it feels… loose.
What I mean here is that the game doesn’t look like it has an engine. It is about prediction and card counting for the most part, coupled with resource management of about 2-3 main resources, and eventually coming out on top by avoiding stronger opponents or overpowering them while augmenting your resources and diminishing theirs in, ideally, an elegant symbiosis of mechanics; but it feels like there’s no drive. There’s no singular thing that the game could not roll without.
One excellent example of a game with an engine mechanic is King of Tokyo. For those who don’t know about this game, I find it’s a lot of fun in big, casual groups. It handles 2-6 players at any given time, and features a really quick and exciting atmosphere. Imagine Yahtzee meets Godzilla, which then makes random lizard babies with King of the Hill. That is how King of Tokyo do.
Integral to the game, to a point where the rest of the game is impossible to play without it, is dice rolling. By rolling the dice, the game comes alive: when the dice stop, the game is dead. It’s that simple, and that uniquely powerful engine is not only easy to understand, but easy to use. Furthermore, it is the driving force behind a money mechanic, health, damage, and points. 4 interesting things with very cool relationships with one another.
Other games lack a central mechanic completely, and still manage this interesting phenomenon. Sentinels of the Multiverse, for instance; despite its huge amount of variety inherent in the many, many, many decks it has, the game has only that: variety. The mechanics of the game are almost non-existant, leaving only one, card management. As a result, interesting relationships emerge only once in a little while from the rules, but the game is still fun to play so long as you make use of the variety and enjoy a fairly simple game which relies on the relationships between the cards in play rather than underlying mechanics at work.
Even here though, with no underlying, overarching mechanics, the game still has a driving force: the self-played villain and environment decks, which consistently throw problems to solve at the players, which are solved usually by bashing it repeatedly in the face, but the solutions can be a lot more elegant on occasion. This constant barrage of problems to solve moves the game at a reasonable pace, and keeps players playing.
And so I look at my game, and I have to ask myself: what is driving my game? How do I create a relationship between two mechanics that really gets players to WANT to do things in my game? How do I get the person playing my game to really want to go? It’s not an easy answer…