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Defining broad categories of mechanics according to player actions

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larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008

While working on some game ideas, I was considering what kind of mechanics, or things I should be asking from a player.

For example, in the "D&D Shadow over Mystara video game" the "things" the player are asked to do is basically:

- Dexterity: Fight monsters and avoid damage
- Resource Management: Manage expandable items, spells and gold.

A Zelda game would add for example "Puzzle" to the list above which is used in dungeons and boss monster.

Now for video game, most of the time, the dexterity part take over everything else, which means you do not have to consider much what the player needs to manage so much because it mainly about dexterity.

Let say you want to convert the game above as a dungeon crawler board game. Now you need to remove the dexterity part and end up with something like:

- Mathematical computation with dice: For combat resolution and other hazards.
- Resource Management: Expandable items, spells, maneuvers, Money to buy new equipment, etc.
- Tactical movement: positioning you heroes at the right location.

Now since the dexterity aspect is not taking over the game, you realize that the player has little things to think about. The only strategy in the game is basically resource management and movement since mathematical computation seems to have less decision.

So here you might want to add other things for the player to handle else it becomes only a resource management game. Now what else could be added:

- Development/Progression: Powering up your character in a certain path to get a certain game play.
- Puzzles: Rarely practical, but it has been done in Mansion of Madness. Also you could make a very tactical game where each maneuver affect specific squares on the board which means it becomes a kind of puzzle to know which action to do to hit your opponent.

So the idea would be to synthesize the core of the game in a series of broad mechanics determined on what players needs to do. For example:

Setlers of catan would be something like this in order of priority:

- Resource Management: Manage resources to do stuff
- Development: Progression of the player's empire
- Puzzle/Tactical: The positioning of the road and cities could be considered as a light puzzle.

The problem in attempting to designing such list is to determine where to stop. You could be tempted to fine grain the categories up to actual mechanics like auction and worker placement. But that is not the goal, the goal is to determine for which purpose those auction and worker placement are used for.

It would allow us to determine what is this game about. Is it lacking something, is there too much, is it the objective of the original design. That could make certain mechanics added or removed to comply with the broad mechanics.

Do you think it could be possible to build such list and do you think it could be useful.

adversitygames's picture
Joined: 09/02/2014
larienna wrote:Now for video

larienna wrote:
Now for video game, most of the time, the dexterity part take over everything else, which means you do not have to consider much what the player needs to manage so much because it mainly about dexterity.


I play a lot of FPS games. But I'm doing a lot more than button pressing and twitch clicking. I do DPS calculations on the fly taking a wide variety of ranges, weapon types and enemy types into account. There's also a lot of observation skills (visual and auditory) used to identify and locate threats. Plus a load of fps games try to have other elements to make combat more interesting, such as map features that you can use to get an advantage (cover, explosive barrels, etc).

And to take another example there's also RTS games, which do require clicking accuracy but most of the work in RTS is done in your planning and organisation skills.

Fighting games are probably the most demanding in terms of dexterity, but even then if you lack planning and strategy you're gonna get wrecked by someone who *does* have a plan.

I'm not saying no video games are just about the dexterity, but loads of them (including most common mechanics) are not.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
By dexterity, I was implying

By dexterity, I was implying a broad category which would include perception and other real time aspects.

As for analysing map feature, using planning and organisation, those are not dexterity, and video games does have such categories of mechanics. But most of the time, the focus is on the dexterity/real time aspect, so that if you remove that aspect (Like if you were converting a video game as a board game), the other aspects are much less important. While board games try to have more balanced categories.

If you remove dexterity from a video game too weak or simple forcing you for example, to improve the depth of the non-dexterity features. Or add new categories of mechanics to replace the loss of dexterity.

Anyway, the only applications I could see is :

- When converting video games as board games (or vice versa). If some mechanics groups needs to be removed, you might need to add or change new groups.
- When a game is inspired on another game. If you inspire yourself from another game but remove a mechanic category you do not like, you might need to replace it with a new one.
- Have an idea of the mechanics categories available. If you are searching for a mechanic replacement.
- Playing with mechanics: Moving mechanics categories around to analyse the various results. For example: "Dungeon Twister" is an inconventional dungeon crawler, so it's an example of mechanics group substitution.

But in the ends detailed mechanics like "hand management" and "auction" could be used for the same purpose. The only restriction I could see is that they must be universal to any type of game. For example, resource management can be handle in many different ways regardless of platform. A "Set Collection" mechanics can be handled in very little ways and could be restricted to certain platforms.

Anyways, I'll continue to give it some thought and see if regular mechanics could do the job.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
If, we are talking about the same dexterity

I think dexterity can be added to all other mechanics:
- Exploring the map asap.
- Building up your resource management asap.
- After witnessing your enemy movements, planning or moving into location, asap.

The thing that video games have above board games is that the mechanic dexterity can easily be applied now.

When I tried to get a video game into a board game, it was especially the real time aspect that I wanted to keep in as much as possible. Resulting in giving all other players a chance to immediately react to a certain decision of the player in turn. And giving so much choices, as if it is a real time decision, only in slow motion.

In general, I think it is safe to assume that certain mechanics combined will get completely different results in how players play.


Has not someone already tried to map out mechanics before? I think it is a bit to broad to map them out.

However, you might want to create classes. And simply file your mechanics in them? I think you mean that.

- Dexterity
- Resource Management
- Puzzle
- Mathematical computation with dice
- Tactical movement
- Development/Progression

Having a list to choose from might indicate to the audience that you are aiming for. However, I think it is better to start with an idea, and simply work it out.

Still you could see what classes you are using. And this would give you a general idea in how broad your game really is. which is... what you said in the following quote.


It would allow us to determine what is this game about. Is it lacking something, is there too much, is it the objective of the original design. That could make certain mechanics added or removed to comply with the broad mechanics.

But in a sense, you are mapping your own game. And this map could help you in explaining the game to players in a manual. A manual is often a map of certain game mechanics?


Do you think it could be possible to build such list and do you think it could be useful?

You have to start somewhere. But eventually you have your own list. Perhaps others can add it too. There should be an open source of some sort. Where everyone could add.

A board game mechanic wiki :)
But then again, I think there is to much to map it out. After all, if you need a certain mechanic. The list is there for idea's. But not to pluck from and simply combine. You still have to adjust the mechanics to one another.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
I somewhat agree with your

I somewhat agree with your dexterity part. I made a quick list which is similar to yours. The idea is that it can be applied to any platform, from board game to video game to sports to tv shows, etc.

- Real-time interaction: Dexterity, perception, etc. Could be something included in others.

- Resource Management: The management of expandable and deplete-able resources. Set collections, etc

- Optimization/Efficiency: Configuration, Economic Machine, Character development, progression, etc.

- Socialization: Negotiation, Acting, Bluffing, NPC interaction

- Puzzle: Solution to a problem, reach a specific goal, Spatial puzzle like carcassone.

- Conflict Resolution: Using dice, rock paper scisor or even deterministic mechanics. Can include more than 2 people in the conflict. But I don't think you could have solitaire conflict.

- Tactical Positioning: Analysis of playing field and position of units. Chess and XCOM video game would fit in that category.

- Discovery: Exploration, Random Events, Searching (Fury of dracula, scotland yard)


For example, I am currently playing Zelda Oracle of ages, so I consider that game to have:

- Real-Time Interaction: Requires dexterity skill to accomplish many things in the game. (maybe removed, see later)

- Resource Management: Very limited, but you have different quantities of items like seeds and bombs.

- Optimization/Efficiency: Very limited, in that zelda specifically, you can equip rings, but only one can be equiped at a time while many can be carried, so little optimization is possible.

- Puzzle: Dungeons and some enemies like boss requires puzzle solving.

- Conflict resolution: Maybe the combat system could be defined here instead of Real-time Interaction. Still, you can have non-combat dexterity challenge, which could be considered dexterity puzzle.

- Discovery: You have various dungeons and a world map to explore.

What do you think?

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
quick scribble

I think the start of this checklist is nice.
For expanding games, designers can actually use it as an reference.

How anout adding victory conditions? If this is different for the same game. Then the choices of players will be different as well. Then again, the outcome of every little skirmish is a little victory as well.

You can also make a second list of all possible tools that belong to a game. Different tools means different mechanics and thus different choices as well.

Table (for looking up numbers or effects)
The board
Type of pieces

For example, some games don't have carss. But might benefit greatly in gameplay if they are added. For example, i use event cards that players can use. Some allow players to attack the back of an army. This will encourage the flow of the game to go forward.

Another example. I discarded a table for reference. Instead, this too will have cards now. Each containing the info a player needs. This adds simplicity in looking up stats. Some tablea are just too BIG.


Any way.
A class of mechanics.
then it is up to the designer which class to choose and describe.
A class of tools.
Again a choice and how the tool(S) is/are used.

Most mechanics will point to tools and vice versa, the tools will point to the mechanics.

Would this help designers enough?

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
I want to remain platform

I want to remain platform independed, so I don't want to get into components.

As for victory condition, there is just different mechanics to evaluate victory. The same game could value the same victory goal using different victory system. From last player standing, to victory points. I don't think it has much to do with "What is the game about".

As for categories leading to mechnics, yes it is possible. Certain mechanics could be used for various purpose/categories, but some mechanics like "acting" could hardly be applied to other categories.

I was thinking to end up with something similar to the Holland code of games where each game has a 3 letter code.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
I see, the 3 most important

I see, the 3 most important factors of a game.
Then victory would belong to any game. But the mechanics are in other factors implemented for reaching the victory. So it is indeed logical, not to add this one.

But instead of classes of mechanics. Perhaps it would be better to describe the players behavior instead?

I want players to:
- Trade
- Wage war
- Help others (could be intertwened with trade)
- Plan (economics, tactics/strategy)
- Rush (race)
- Calculate (results, chances)
- Build (economics, army, city, research, techtree, customizing)
- Gamble/Taking chances

Then work from this?

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Hmm! that is more similar to

Hmm! that is more similar to what I am looking for, but more detailed.

Trade could be in both socialisation and resource management.

It is hard to draw a line to determine what should be accepted or rejected. The independence to platform is good restriction, but I need something else. Else it would end up like a classication tree with general concepts and specific concepts.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
By thinking about it, I might

By thinking about it, I might replace "Tactical Positionnning" by something more general like "Analysis", which can be the analysis of a board, situation, etc.

It's not resource management, and it's not development/efficiency management. Most of the time, it has a spatial element related to it even if abstract.

A st0ck mark3t game could have analysis as a mechanic since you need to analyze the market and situation to determine your next move. Settlers of catan's board requires analysis to determine best position for your buildings. XCOM requires analysis of the battle field to determine where to move your units.

So the new list so far should be:

Resource management
Conflict resolution

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
Doesn't efficiency also fit

Doesn't efficiency also fit in analysis? I think that one always analysis to be efficient as possible. I like the list though.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Yes and no. For efficiency I

Yes and no.

For efficiency I was thinking like:

Character development: Decide which skill to use to perform an abusive character or acomplish certain goal.

Dominion card game fit in there. make the most effifient economic machine.

But it's true that there is a bit of analysis. For example, you need to analyse the cards available in Dominion to know the optimal way to use them.

On the other hand, in XCOM, you are going to analyse the terrain, but find the most optimal way to occupy the space available. So mostly analysis, slightly efficiency.

I guess all mechanics could have mixes and not beign entirely pure. But I think combining both would create a too large group. I'll see if I can come up with something to split them or simply merge them.

I'll check my thread on BGG, there were some mechanics suggestion to classify I did not have time to answer.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
Not to dig up a topic.

But I just discovered this site:
I don't know how much it will help. Or how reliable this is. And how far you got.

This site seems new to me. And perhaps it is build up in a way that only 1 person thinks is good. Maybe you can shine your light on it.

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