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Theming an action mechanic: helpful or clutter?

2 replies [Last post]
Joined: 08/03/2008


I am starting this thread to discuss a particular design of mine, but any examples from your own games that address a similar question are more than welcomed.

I am contemplating a major revamp of the action selection system in my game. Suffice it to say that in the present version, there are 8 actions and on your turn, you choose one action and execute it. In the new system, there will be 9 actions, and on your turn, you choose two actions and execute one or both of them. The way I'd like to communicate this visually is to lay the different actions out in a 3x3 grid of squares, and you select two actions by placing a marker on the edge of the squares (which actually is itself a small rectangular box).

I think this is more or less simple enough, but I'm unhappy with the wooden language describing it in the rulebook: "On your turn, place your marker in one of the 12 rectangular boxes, and then use the action in 0, 1, or both of the square boxes adjacent to it". I am contemplating adding some thematic trappings to this; namely, the idea that the 12 rectangular boxes each correspond to a particular personage, and you are giving that personage control over some aspect of your empire for this turn. For example, the personage who sits in the rectangular box between the "chronicle" and "advance" actions could be the "scribe"; the personage who sits in the box between the "conquer" and "produce" actions could be the "general", etc.

I could even see adding a Days of Wonder-esque visual element to this, by laying out this display as though it were a top-down view of the king's throne room, and the nine action "squares" contain visuals that correspond to the action in each square; maybe the "conquer" action shows some guys poring over a map, the "chronicle" action shows someone writing on a scroll. And then, there could be 12 different seats, each one placed between these various action areas, corresponding to the 12 personages that the king can call upon to do his bidding.

My concern is that this might be straining too hard to integrate the game's theme (that you are ruling an empire) into this aspect of the game, and that it might be better just to let the action boxes be action boxes and leave it at that. Given that the game is supposed to be richly themed, I will feel like it's a missed opportunity if the action selection mechanic feels like a game mechanic and doesn't have any thematic justification. But sometimes, it's better to explain a game mechanic as though it were a game mechanic rather than introducing too much thematic clutter. I'm not sure where in that continuum this idea sits. I welcome your thoughts.

Jean Of mArc
Jean Of mArc's picture
Joined: 04/21/2010

I'm by no means experienced enough to give my opinion much weight, but I understand your dilemma. My initial thoughts are that the theme does make things sound more interesting. When you are placing your tokens on squares, it sounds much more interesting (and relevant) if you are giving a personage some control. It reminds me of Carcassonne, and how you are putting "a theif on the road" or "a guard in the city" rather than "a token on a line" or "a token in a box". I think that as long as you make it clear WHAT you mean when you say "control" or "personage" then the player should be able to get it. My suggestion would be to give the rules to someone with your explanations and see if they make sense to them. You will need more words to describe things thematically, but it would lend to a more exciting feel for the game. Also, if you provide images, ambiguity is greatly reduced.

Hope that helps!

truekid games
truekid games's picture
Joined: 10/29/2008
i'm a fan of theming

i'm a fan of theming mechanics when possible. if done correctly, it helps people remember how and why things work the way they do, on top of being more immersive.

if you include the external borders of the squares, this gives the ability to only be next to one action, so you could just say that people take the actions adjacent to their marker, rather than the "0, 1, or 2 of the adjacent actions".

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