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BGDF Designers? Reference Library

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IngredientX's picture
Joined: 07/26/2008

On this great forum of ours, I find that there are a few games that I keep coming back to whenever making a point about design. Most members of the group are familiar with these games, but some aren’t. So in an effort to keep everyone on the same page, I wanted to list the games that always seem to be perfect examples of trends in game design.

Note that while I love most of the games I’m about to mention, I don’t intend this to be a list of my favorite games. Rather, each of these games have unique traits, or being the current “flavor of the month,” they have a lot of the game community buzzing. Still, since my tastes veer towards European games, expect this list to be biased slightly. If you feel that you’re always mentioning a game in the forums, feel free to add it in a reply.

Also, many of these games are playable online, most on BrettSpielWelt. I’ll go more into that in a second. In fact, if you find me at BSW, you can usually rope me into teaching and playing some of them.

Finally, I’ve linked these games to their entries at BoardGameGeek. If you are looking for information about any board or card game ever released, that site is invaluable.

So here we go…


DESIGNED BY: Klaus Jurgen-Wrede

THE SCOOP: Casual tile-laying game. Its relaxed atmosphere and limited choices result in a light but fun experience. Its subsequent expansions notch up the strategy a few levels. Beautiful artwork; a finished game looks very nice on your table.

GAMEPLAY SUMMARY: Each player is building up the medieval city of Carcassonne. On his turn, a player selects a random tile and places it on the board. Tiles have can have different features (meadows, cities, roads, churches, etc.) which must line up with previously-placed tiles. A player can then play one of his pawns on the tile he just placed to score points.

Some people complain that this game is too luck-based, and a player who draws the best tiles will beat the player with the best strategy. The luck of the draw is significant in the basic game, but the expansions give enough additional options to players (as well as correcting the tile mix) that the advanced game usually feels fair to everyone.


DESIGNED BY: Klaus Teuber

THE SCOOP: Ultra-popular resource management game. Upon analysis, there’s no single feature of this game that should have made it into the beast it’s become; but taken as a whole, it has enough strategy to engage everyone, yet just enough chaos and direct interaction that most players can win after a couple of games. Most eurogame fans, myself included, have this game to blame for their addiction.

GAMEPLAY SUMMARY: Players are attempting to gather 10 victory points through construction of settlements and cities. These constructions are connected by roads, the longest of which score points. All of this happens on an island assembled from cardboard hexagons. Each hexagon produces a resource, triggered by a die roll at the beginning of a player’s turn. These resources can be traded in for roads, cities, settlements, or development cards, which allow players to get points, assemble a military force (the largest of which scores points), or do interesting things with their resources.


DESIGNED BY: Andreas Seyfarth

THE SCOOP: One of the heavier, more intricate German games. This game features deep gameplay and rich strategy, so a good player will usually embarrass a newbie. The role-choosing mechanic is not original, but is marvelously implemented, and has been the topic of conversation on this forum a few times.

GAMEPLAY SUMMARY: Players attempt to win victory points for colonizing the island of Puerto Rico. The game simulates a production process for goods. Players need to develop plantations and construct buildings to facilitate these goods’ production. This is done through the above-mentioned role-choosing mechanic. A player on his turn will choose a role that represents one stage of the production process. The catch is that all players will be engaged in that process, but the selecting player gets a bonus.

The challenge of the game is to not just pick the roles that benefit you the most, but that benefit the others the least. Some argue that the lack of direct interaction results in “multi-player solitaire,” but since the players are vying for common resources, one player’s decision can have a massive impact on another player’s game.


DESIGNED BY: Reiner Knizia

THE SCOOP: Very simple 2-player card game. Mechanics are so elegantly constructed, you’d think there’s not much of a game; but it’s actually a wonderfully-designed piece of work. A great lesson for the aspiring game designer, because it shows that a game can be “done” without oodles of fiddly rules.

GAMEPLAY SUMMARY: There are five suits of cards, numbered 2 through 10. Also, there are three multiplier cards for each suit. Players are dealt a hand of eight cards. Each player plays a card on his side of the table that matches the card’s suit, and draws to replace. Easy… but the card you play must be higher than the previous card you played of the same suit. It’s a simple rule, but its implications make a tremendous game of learning when to hold up, and when to go for it.

Note that this game is very similar to Knizia’s other games, in that it features marvelous mechanics hiding under a paper-thin theme. This game is “about” investing in expeditions, but that information really doesn’t affect the game much. Another game design lesson: while a game with a great theme but bad mechanics is never fun, a game with no theme but great mechanics will always be fun.

DESIGNED BY: Richard Ulrich and Wolfgang Kramer

THE SCOOP: Often mentioned in the same breath as Puerto Rico, even though it came out a couple of years before. Another heavyweight German offering, this one about players competing to attract artists, scientists, and scholars to their kingdoms. Very intricate mechanics; the more experienced players know what each game element is worth, which is crucial in an auction game like this.

GAMEPLAY SUMMARY: Players recruit great thinkers to their kingdoms, and receive points or money when those thinkers publish seminal works. A player can adorn his playing area with landscapes and buildings, and declare certain freedoms in his land. Different thinkers produce higher-valued works with the correct combination of landscapes, buildings, and freedoms.

The catch is that there are seven rounds in the game. Each round, the minimum amount of points that a work must have in order to be published goes up. Therefore, this is a game of detailed planning and intricate strategies. The only player interaction comes from bidding over common, limited resources. Like Puerto Rico, the multi-player solitaire argument comes up, but the common resources are limited enough that a player must consider other players’ actions as he considers his own.

DESIGNED BY: Sid Sackson

THE SCOOP: Hugely influential board game, originally released in 1962. Without it, none of the games mentioned above would exist. This game’s elegant and sophisticated rules, relatively short gameplay, and deep strategies are the foundation that many game designers aspire to. Those traits are cornerstones in the designs of many European games.

GAMEPLAY SUMMARY: Players look to earn the most money through careful investments in hotel chains. Each turn, a player places a tile from his secret hand onto a grid. Adjacent tiles become hotels that players can invest in; the more adjacent tiles, the more valuable the hotels’ stock. When two hotels grow to become immediately adjacent to one another, they merge, with the bigger hotel acquiring the smaller hotel. Players who own the most stock in the acquired hotel get payouts.

As I’ve said, this is a list of games that I usually wind up talking about. I’m sure you have a game that you find yourself referring to a lot; feel free to add it to the list!

Scurra's picture
Joined: 09/11/2008
BGDF Designers? Reference Library

Great idea.
Here's a couple more (no links yet - I'll get on to that!) that are in the "Internet Top 100" top 10.


DESIGNED BY: Reiner Knizia

THE SCOOP: Complex tile-laying game of bluff and calculation. Players are building new civilisations on the Babylonian plains. Gradually these new kingdoms will come into conflict over aspects of their development. One of those games in which a minor mistake can come back to haunt you. Not for inexperienced gamers, however, and experience suggests that you will either love it or hate it.

GAMEPLAY SUMMRY: Players lay down coloured tiles, with restrictions over placements (there are markers to place too.) The player has to keep an eye on the strategic outlook - where should the kingdom expand? who should I avoid? But there is a great deal of tactical skill involved in determing where and when battles are held too. A neat scoring mechanic requires the players to be even-handed in their points acquisition, and the only minus point may be the sole random element in the game which can condemn you to a losing position almost before you have begun.

Until Puerto Rico arrived, this was the Gamer's Game par excellence. Not a game for faint-hearts, the interaction of the mechanics is so subtle that it takes more than a few games to even begin to grasp what you should be doing. But once you've "cracked it", it is one of the finest games around.


DESIGNED BY: Reiner Knizia

THE SCOOP: The games that really made Knizia's name, these exemplify the Auction game by using a variety of different methods. In "Modern Art", the items up for auction are paintings; in "Medici", the players are shipping agents buying goods to transport on their limited capacity ships.

GAMEPLAY: As mentioned, these are both auction games, a mechanic that Herr Knizia has almost made his own. And between them you get to experience almost every type imaginable: blind bidding, once around bidding, reverse bidding, bidding with VPs and so on. I have a personal preference for "Modern Art" - a rare case of a Knizia game having a theme that fits perfectly - simply because of the atmosphere the game engenders during play; since the whole point of the game is that the items are only worth what people are prepared to pay for them, and hence their value rises with their popularity, players find themselves trying to persuade others to enter the market. But "Medici", in which the items become more hotly contested as players begin to specialise in goods, uses the player's Victory Points as the bidding mechanism to devastating effect.[url][/url]

Joined: 12/31/1969
BGDF Designers? Reference Library


DESIGNER: Reiner Knizia

THE SCOOP: Well, if you mention Modern Art and Medici, you also have to mention Ra, the third game of his so-called auction "trilogy". In this game you are bidding for different tiles which depict influence spheres in ancient Egypt. The theme-mechanic link is very weak, but the game itself is a classic.

GAMEPLAY: Unlike in Modern Art and Medici you are not bidding with Victory Points, but with numbered tiles, called "Suns", which do not directly translate into victory points.

Players receive three suns with which they can bid. On a player's turn he may either draw a random tile and place it face up on the rowtrack or he may call Ra and invoke a once-around auction. An auction is also invoked if a player randomly drew a "Ra" tile. The tiles on the rowtrack are auctioned to the player who bids the highest sun during the auction.

Tiles score in a variety of ways. For example, you score 1 point for each Nile, but only if you have at least one flood. You need at least one civilization tile or otherwise you lose 5 points, but if you have three different civilization tiles you get 5 extra points. The player with the most Pharao's gets 5 points, the player with the least pharao's loses 2 points.

Also, if you win an auction the sun is placed in the middle of the board and is taken by the player who wins the next auction. So, the value of the sun in the middle must also be taken into account when determining the worth of a row of tiles. A row of tiles that is worthless to you may be very valuable to an opponent and preventing him from getting it too cheaply is a very important tactic.

The round ends when either the Ra-track is full with Ra-tiles or all players have used up their suns. This may lead to some nerve-wracking "push-your-luck" scenarios where players who have one or more suns left when the Ra-track is almost full want to draw "just one more tile" to make that row of tiles just a bit juicier. Of course, the next tile may be a Ra-tile which ends the round right then. The game lasts three rounds.

- Rene Wiersma

IngredientX's picture
Joined: 07/26/2008
BGDF Designers? Reference Library

Some more games to add to the list. Please note that I have never played Diplomacy or Cosmic Encounter, but I have seen and read enough about those games that I feel I can intelligently describe them.


DESGNED BY: Allan B. Calhamer

THE SCOOP: This 1959 board game is fondly remembered by many as one of the nastiest, ugliest, most vicious and dastardly games ever made. It is not unheard of for some players to finish a game in tears. As a result, it’s not for everyone; but some never tire of it.

What can inspire such a reaction? It is a game of pure negotiation. There are no dice. There are no chance cards. Each player makes his moves based on what he told other people he’d do… and what they told him in response.

GAMEPLAY SUMMARY: This game is based on the formation of alliances that defined World War I. Each player controls the forces of a European country. In contrast to a detailed wargame, there are only two kinds of units, Land and Sea. There are no dice. There are no event or “chance” cards to introduce a random element.

The board is a map of Europe, with larger countries and the surrounding bodies of water divided into spaces. Scattered through these spaces are 34 resource stations. The object of the game is to control a majority of them.

Each turn, your pieces can move one space, or help another piece (yours or another player’s) attack or defend. Each turn is timed to 15 minutes, during which players negotiate with others. Some stay around the board, some pair off away from the board (or even to other rooms, out of earshot) to plot and coordinate their movements. At the end of the turn, everyone moves simultaneously, and combat is resolved. Some alliances are strengthened. Some backs are stabbed.

It is not absolutely necessary to lie to win, but a completely honest person will probably not last to the end of the game. It’s long too, sometimes taking an entire day to play. And as you can probably see, it’s not for everyone.

But those who love it adore it. And coming out in 1959, its novel approach to gameplay has been a significant influence on many successive games.


DESIGNED BY: Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, and Peter Olotka

THE SCOOP: Released in the ’70s, this is widely regarded as the first “exception” game. Players are all different races of aliens vying to control as many planets as possible. The interesting part is that each race has the power to break a single rule of the game. Since the basic game comes with almost 50 different alien races, there are 50 different ways to play the game. This is very much a “schmoozing” game – diplomacy and negotiation are as vital to a winning player as strategy is to most other games.

GAMEPLAY SUMMARY: Each player starts the game with bases on four planets. On his turn, a player randomly determines another player to challenge. These two players then choose how powerful their attacking/defending strength will be, and try to enlist the other players to help them. They then play a card from their hand with a value of 1 to 40, and add the power of their attacking/defending strength (plus their allies’ strengths). Highest total takes or keeps the planet, with successful allies returning to their corresponding players. Losing pieces are all sent to the middle of the board.

This isn’t much of a game… until the various race powers come into play. One race’s dead pieces return straight to the player, rather than going to the middle of the board. Another’s pieces are worth 5 points rather than one point. Some races encourage negotiation, others combat, others treachery.

The concept of the “exception” game, where players have or can acquire certain privileges during the game that allow them to break the rules, is a staple in gaming now, be they Magic cards or the buildings in Puerto Rico.


DESIGNED BY: Andrew Looney

THE SCOOP: One of the craziest and most chaotic card games ever made, Fluxx was created to be a meta-game, in which the game starts with a very basic ruleset. Most cards represent a new rule that, when played, alters the game somehow. Some people love Fluxx, especially at 3 am after a long, intense session of a more “serious” game. Others despise it, because it features little strategy.

GAMEPLAY SUMMARY: The game begins with a simple ruleset: each player is dealt three cards. On his turn, a player draws a card and plays a card. Some cards change the number of cards each player draws; others change how many cards must be played; others change how many cards players may have in their hands, and so on.

Some cards are “Keeper” cards, which are laid out in front of each player face-up (unless the current ruleset instructs players to lay them out face-down). Other cards are “Goal” cards, which announce a Keeper or combination of Keepers that will win the game. The moment a player satisfies the conditions of a Goal card, he wins.

The best way to approach Fluxx is as an event, not a game. As a game, its lack of strategy is a sticking point for many players. It’s impossible to plan ahead, considering that the player in front of you can chance the game’s goal, or empty everyone’s hand. In fact, there’s usually one point in each game where the rules instruct players to play more cards than they have in their hands, so the game devolves into War, where each player must play the card he draws from the deck.

If games with self-referencing rulesets intrigue you (you sick Discordian you :) ), be sure to look into 1000 Blank White Cards, Nomic, and Dvorak.


DESIGNED BY: James Ernest

THE SCOOP: This game is not being included on its own merit, but as a representative of an entire game company’s philosophy and output. James Ernest’s Cheapass Games puts out games that feature only the barest essentials of what is needed to play a game: the board, the cards, and the rules. Pawns, dice, and play money are expected to be scavenged from other games. This allows Cheapass to produce many, many games (I think the list approaches 50 games, which is incredible for a company that’s been around for 10 years), usually available for US$10 or less. All the games are incredibly funny, and some of them even play well. :)

The impact of this is very important to us game designers; while it’s desirable to produce high-quality games, there is a precedent to a “low-fidelity” release.

GAMEPLAY SUMMARY: I picked Kill Dr. Lucky because I think it’s the best game released under the Cheapass name. The game is billed “like Clue, only earlier in the evening.” The game board (six pieces of cardboard, cut up to fit in a large envelope) represents the J. Robert Lucky mansion, and each player’s pawn (scavenged from other games) represents someone looking to murder the old man. A different recycled pawn represents Dr. Lucky. I like to use the Robber pawn from Settlers of Catan; I feel it gives me more incentive to do the deed.

Each player has cards that let them perform different actions – move themselves or the Dr. Lucky pawn a certain number of spaces or teleport to a different room, enable them to use a variety of weapons, or foil another player’s murder. The one rule twist is that the Dr. Lucky pawn itself moves at the end of each turn, and any player in a room that Dr. Lucky enters gets to take another turn. This injects some semblance of strategy in the game.

This is not a deep or intricate game by any stretch of the imagination. The idea is to try as many different murder attempts as possible to get those Failure cards out of everyone’s hands. But it is a fun filler game, and a great example that a solid game does not have to be mounted on a professional board or come with killer bits. If you see people talk about thinking of releasing their games “Cheapass” style, this is what they mean.

Note that Cheapass released what seems to be a very long and involved strategy board game, One False Step for Mankind. I’m very interested to see whether or not this game will sell. I’m not convinced that a “deep” strategy game can be supported well if its players are expected to scrounge up 100 poker chips on their own.

(If you have any comments on what I’ve written, you may want to consider forming a new topic; I’d prefer this topic to feature as many game reviews as possible. Thanks!)

[edited to include links to Nomic and Dvorak]

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