Game Design

Overhauling Your Tabletop Game Mechanics

If you’re designing a tabletop game, you may have run across elements of your game that just didn’t click. Why, though? Well I’m telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town! Wait, that’s not right. This is my first tabletop game, and it’s gone through many iterations. I’ve changed the theme, I’ve added or removed some minor mechanics, but for some reason the game still didn’t click. The answer came to me from one of my beta play test sessions. Someone gave me critical feedback. I don’t even think they were aware of how critical it was and how much I needed it.

Here’s what they said:

It just seems like all of these mechanics are a complicated way for me to just get one thing.

That’s when it hit me. I was trying to shoehorn in a resource management element to a game that’s about players trying to fumble together to create policy to solve problems. Later on, they—as an experienced board game player and statistician themselves—gave me advice on how I might change the mechanics to fit around the resource management mechanic. I, personally, took a different approach—I sliced that mechanic out with a machete and reconstructed the game.

So what was the problem?

The issue was that players weren’t encouraged to bargain with one another, they weren’t motivated to interact. There also weren’t any ways that players to make the game more difficult for one another. So I got rid of the resource management element in lieu of one that lets players tinker with the power of various factions.

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A prototype of the faction power board.

Now, players must create alliances and work together to solve in order to solve a crisis. If they can, their faction’s power increases. If they can’t, their faction’s power may decrease.

I’ve still got some work to do on this. I’m working to force more allegiances with players, and I may break this out into eight or twelve factions instead of just four.

What does all of that junk mean on your faction board?

You may have noticed that the green squares don’t necessarily go up at a steady increment—that’s a balancing technique, as it depicts the amount of influence that players receive at the end of a round. They use influence to bargain for an alliance, veto other player’s vote tokens, and to buy vote tokens themselves.

Players also have special abilities which are unique to their characters.

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Prototype of the character cards. (These are public knowledge to all players.)

The symbols on top of the sliders indicate a special ability that players who are aligned with that faction will get when they bring the faction to that level of power.

OK but how to do people win, just by bringing their faction to full power?

Players also have a hidden motivation. This is the true nature of how they win as individuals. I’m still testing this to see how much fun it brings to the game.

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Your motivation is only known to you.

Is that it, then?

I’ve still got more to work on with the bargaining and allegiance mechanics, and I have to figure out which special abilities factions will have when their power increases. But this is coming along! I’m hoping to have a mostly finalized version of the game for balance play testing within the next three months! (Stay tuned.)

By Neutrino Burrito

A writer and board game designer currently puttering about the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

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