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Engine Building

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Ark1t3kt
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Hey everyone, I'm in the very early stages of designing an engine building euro game. (See my previous post titled "Original Mechanic".)

I have a few questions regarding the concept of engine building:

What are some of your favourite engine building games? What do they do well?

What are some pitfalls to avoid when designing a game focused around engine building?

What makes engine building fun? What kind of player experience should I be aiming for?

let-off studios
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Grand-Daddies

Lots of hobby gamers are past Dominion. But many have yet to play it and/or master it and its many expansions, or become bored with it. Same with Power Grid. I mention these two since they've been around a long time, and in particular Dominion is widely considered the most successful progenitor to deck-building games, and engine-building is required.

Determine your audience for this eurostyle concept of yours, and answers to your questions will become more clear.

Generally speaking, I become bored with engine games because blunders or missteps in the early stages of the game can cause you to never have a chance at victory. It's magnified when you play with experienced players, who have likely solved early-game puzzles (or played enough similar games) long ago and can run circles around you with their time-tested engine and/or building practices.

I'm not drawn to engine-building games personally, so my opinion may not necessarily be what you're seeking. I prefer a more casual/tactical experience, and engine-building fans seem to gravitate to heavier game experiences.

Ark1t3kt
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Thanks For Your Input!

Thanks for your input! No worries if you are not the biggest engine building fan, any feedback is welcome.

Yes, that is a very good point you brought up about mistakes in the early game being drastic and unforgiving. This will definitely be something to watch out for...

Corsaire
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Competing strategies are good

Competing strategies are good for engine building games. Basically a person can play a faster game with less engine that stresses the complex engines (gold strategy in Dominion)

Interactions in the game that allow blocking or slowing engines without destroying your own building (Race for the Galaxy and action selection)

Century: Spice Road is a great new engine game because it is small scale engines and not probabilistic as engines are for deck builders. Also you can buy out key cards if you are aware of opponents engine goals. Varied VP opportunities help constrain spikey engines.

Ark1t3kt
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You have lots of insightful

You have lots of insightful ideas, some really good points here.

Yes, I always love competing strategy aspects in games, I am going to make sure to implement it in mine.

Century is a great game! Hmm, varied VP opportunities, this is something that I'm probably going to have to improve in my game...

Lots of food for thought, thanks for the great feedback!

joebergmann
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Runaways

Hey Ark1t3kt!

(ohhh, architect! I just got that... :) )

One pitfall that has directly affected me while playing an engine building game is what I will call the runaway. I just played a prototype game where one of the players, to their absolute credit, figured out how to build what was essentially an exponential engine. Once it got going, they simply couldn't lose because no one else could catch up. So, I would be very motivated to have ways to break, or slow down another players engine somehow. Like a catch up mechanic, I suppose. I must confess, it was very disheartening towards the end of that game, which is a bummer because it is a beautifully done project with novel ideas and great art. I hope the designer can find a way to mitigate the runaways. :)

Ark1t3kt
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Hehe, yeah, most people don't

Hehe, yeah, most people don't figure out my username; it's a little obscure...

I agree with the issue of the runaway. It seems to me that mitigating this is the primary challenge when designing an engine building game - because engine building seems to be inherently linked to the runaway leader problem.

Are there any engine building games or mechanisms that you know of that tackle this issue really well?

let-off studios
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Diminishing Returns

Ark1t3kt wrote:
Are there any engine building games or mechanisms that you know of that tackle this issue really well?
I don't know any off the top of my head, but are there any games out there that have an upper limit or threshold of earning points along a specific track via engine building? A built-in level where the return-on-investment reaches the point of diminishing returns?

To sum up: The more one has, the less they're worth.

Having a situation where one earns fewer points the longer one sticks with a specific strategy is what I'm describing. To extend the example to Dominion, it would be like a certain number of duchies or whatever can be purchased using Gold, while others would be purchased with Alchemy bottles. Or a situation where if a player has up to five duchies, they're worth 3 points each, 6 to 10 duchies means they're worth 2 points each, and then 11 or more duchies would mean they're worth maybe 1 point each.

Corsaire
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Trains and Automobiles use

Trains and Automobiles use waste cards to clutter a deck (or cubes/bag in the case of Automobiles.) Essentially runaway actions generate runaway waste. Game length is another way Automobiles controls against crazy engines: you select the number of race laps you want to play; 3 or 4 laps don't give engines enough time to fully ramp, 6 or 7 and the best/craziest engine will win (which is cool because some people really want to build wild engines, just need random/variant starts to make finding the engine the game.)

I think you have to break geometric engines, because even with competing powerful engines in the game the first person to hit their "sweet turn" will win X turns later.

You can throttle things like storage limits when runaway resources are an issue: "Congratulations your amazing engine produced 16 units of absurdium, unfortunately you can only store 5 of them!"

let-off studios
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Inventory Overload

Corsaire wrote:
You can throttle things like storage limits when runaway resources are an issue: "Congratulations your amazing engine produced 16 units of absurdium, unfortunately you can only store 5 of them!"
Yes! Like you have a storehouse that has only so much room in it. When it's full but you have more inventory, you can choose to optimize your current storage contents, and sell off the rest for a loss or at worst abandon it.

If it's a smaller-scale game (like a person instead of a town), the storehouse is a backpack instead.

In this kind of scenario, it's about planning what you produce for maximum utility versus maximum quantity. More does not necessarily mean better.

Ark1t3kt
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This Is Key

Yeah, I definitely think that what you've just described is key: You can avoid the runaway leader problem by designing a game where "more stuff" is not necessarily "better". I actually think that this is a good rule for all board games - having a "more stuff" win condition makes any game feel fairly linear and predictable in my opinion.

Obviously, these games are far more difficult to design...

Rick L
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interference and win conditions

One other way to deal with a runaway leader is having different win conditions. If an engine begins to generate exponential benefits in one area, other players could hopefully do the same in a different direction. Maybe Scythe is one example of that?

Another option is player interference - a way to slow down opponents so you can catch up. It could extend the game time a little, but the positive is that it adds interaction, and possibly give you things to do between turns (such as a combat mechanic).

Something I'm using in my alchemy-themed game is a "final experiment", which acts as a sort of buffer. Most games just score you points, but in this situation, you need a certain amount of points before you can attempt the final experiment. The trick is, that final experiment is more difficult than the rest, so just because you get enough points to attempt it doesn't mean you have enough ingredients, backup ingredients, and lab equipment to have a good chance of completing it. So you MIGHT risk it and try it with the bare minimum, or you might need a turn or two to build up so you feel confident in finishing strong. That, of course, gives other players a chance to catch up on the points, then make a more desperate attempt on the final experiment while the leader is busy prepping!

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