Question of the Month – September 2012 – What Is Your Favorite Game Mechanism?

I began the Question of the Month in September with this question – What’s Your Favorite Game Mechanism?
I received many responses and I’m happy to share them with you now.

Bully Pulpit Games and Amusements Manufacturing and Company
Jason Morningstar, designer of Fiasco, Durance, Grey Ranks, & The Shab-al-Hiri Roach –
Right now my favorite game mechanism is the productive, leading question.
“There’s a human head tied to the monster’s belt. It’s someone important to you. Who?”

Steve Segedy of Bully Pulpit Games
I think my favorite mechanic is a bit of a classic in our circles- the Keys from Shadows of Yesterday. I love the self-rewarding motivations that put the mechanics in the hands of players and telegraphs what they want their interested in to everyone else.
I’m also very fond of one of the mechanics in Fiasco, and since I didn’t design the game, I can gush about it- the “last die is wild” mechanic is a great bit that was born out of play-testing and never fails to get an “ah-hah” reaction when I’m explaining it to new players.

Daniel Solis, designer of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, Happy Birthday! Robot!, and soon to be published Belle of the Ball
For me, a good game mechanic is all about moderating feedback loops. How do you keep one optimal strategy from creating a runaway winner every game? How do you spread attention across multiple paths to victory?
Few mechanics do this better than Knizia’s set-collection mechanic: During the game, you’ll collect resources A, B, and C. Your final score is based on how many complete sets of A, B, and C you collect by the end of the game.
Simple, elegant and loaded with deep strategic potential. That’s my favorite game mechanism.

Stephen M. Buonocore of Stronghold Games
My favorite game mechanic is… Hidden Traitor!
Hidden Traitor is the most “social” of all mechanics, and I play games to be social.  When a group is cooperating toward a single goal, but all of a sudden someone is found (or thought) to be working against them, the accusations, curing, finger-pointing, back-stabbing, hilarity, and general mayhem ensues!  This is the best part of gaming… 🙂
And this is why, of all of the games that I have in print, PANIC STATION is my favorite game!  🙂

Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel Games
My favorite game mechanism is probably:
“Player influenced game timers.  That is to say that players through their actions have the capability to bring the game to a faster completion if they so choose.  I like this mechanic because it allows me to speed the game up if I have determined that I am winning or to slow the game down if I know that I need more time.  This is especially good when there are at least 2 distinct strategic paths where one is a quick VP obtaining path at the sacrifice of long-term regular point scoring as well as a path where you sacrifice early points in order to build a better VP engine.”
If you include my quote, please link to @tastyminstrel on Twitter.

Dan Yarrington of Game Salute and Myriad Games –
I love games with varied character roles – see Citadels, Sunrise City, Arkham Horror, etc. Anything that adds flavor to the character.

Doug Bass, designer of Garden Dice and owner of Meridae Games
I like many different mechanisms, but the auction is the one I like most.  Power Grid and Chicago Express are my two favorite games, but there are others: Goa, Princes of Florence, and Tinners’ Trail. I like auctions because they foster intense player interaction and present delightful mental and psychological challenges, not to mention the physiological responses they can produce, at least in me.

Michael Harrison of GeekDad and The Dice Section –
In my opinion, specific mechanics only work as well as their integration with the game’s other systems and its theme. Taken at face value, though, I think that social mechanics like auctions or voting are my favorites. Whether it’s a secret bid, like in Ra, or public debate and vote, like in Werewolf or The Resistance, I just love the build-up and release of the social anxiety, and the hidden (or partial, depending on your friends’ tells) information suddenly revealed.

Chris Norwood of Exploring Games with GamerChris
Geezaloo; that’s hard!  It could also be a little up in the air to define what exactly is a mechanic. But since it’s listed as a mechanic in the “Advanced Search” on BGG, I’m going to go with…Cooperative Play!  The single element or mechanic that I like best in games is when players have to work together. Whether in a fully-cooperative game like Pandemic (my favorite game) or as part of a team working against one or more others (like in Letters from Whitechapel), I just love it when a game brings the players together and forces them to work towards a common goal.

FarmerLenny of the I Slay The Dragon gaming blog
My favorite mechanism is the auction. I like it because it allows the players to set the value of the pieces in the game. Auctions are ripe ground for head games with opponents, bluffing, and even negotiation. They highlight the risk/reward balance present in games and (for me, at least) automatically invest a game with tension.

Seth Jaffee of Tasty Minstrel Games and designer of Eminent Domain –
My favorite mechanism? I don’t know if this counts as a “mechanism” or if it’s more like a “game dynamic,” but I find that I really enjoy games with Multiple Paths to Victory. My go-to example of this dynamic is shipping vs. building in Puerto Rico. I really enjoy when there are various different strategic paths, and even better when players can pursue each to varying degrees, and the player who does the best job at the combination he chooses will end up winning. The key being that many different combinations of “shipping and building” can be viable.
This dynamic is one of the things I like about Kennerspiel Des Jahres winner Village [link: http://bgg.cc/boardgame/104006/village%5D. In Village, there are 5 major sources of points. Specializing in just one probably won’t win you the game, but if you spread yourself too thin you probably won’t score well either. So you have to pursue some combination of 2 or 3 of them and do a good job of it to win the game. There is a similar dynamic in the upcoming Noblemen from TMG and Pegasus, and I am enjoying that game quite a bit!
I have tried to use this dynamic in Eminent Domain as well. In EmDo there are 3 sources of points: Planets, Trading, and high level Research. Every player will need to flip a couple of planets, but depending on your strategy you might transition to Production/Trade, or you might concentrate on Research. Most strategies will benefit from some Level 1 or a Level 2 tech card, but you’ll only score really well off of Research if you really concentrate on it. I feel like this makes for a very replayable game, as you can try different combinations and strategies.

Jason Kotarski, designer of The Great Heartland Hauling Company

I really dig card games so I’d probably say hand management. I like to see all the interesting ways people use cards and having to learn to work with what I’ve got in my hand…as long as the card don’t have too many words. Ha!

So did you see your favorite in the list?  The most ‘popular’ mechanism from the list above was the ‘social’ game where players have to interact with each other in some fashion.  Whether that is in an auction, a cooperative game, something like voting or drafting, that idea of having some sort of interaction with the other players at the table seems to be the favorite.
Surprises to me: I really like Jason’s answer.  For a role playing game a leading question can often lead to gold.  It too touches on that ‘social’ part, as role playing games better have a lot of social interaction.  That is an awesome answer.
I was also surprised at Michael Mindes answer as I had not thought of that mechanism before.  I agree with him that this mechanism creates interesting decisions in a game.
Another surprise was some things that didn’t get mentioned: no worker placement, no deck building, no action point allocation.  This surprised me.  I really expected to see at least one of these.

My favorite: I have a hard time deciding.  Looking at my top three games, Macao, Pandemic, and The Princes of Florence, the thing I see in common in all these games is a social aspect.  Whether an auction (Princes), co-op (Pandemic), or card draft of Macao, each has a mechanism that requires players to interact.  And I think any mechanism that fosters player interaction is a good one.

There you have it.

What is your favorite?  Why not let us know by leaving a comment below?

The October Question of the Month will be up soon.  Come on back to check it out.

Thanks,

Tom

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