Two weeks ago I started a discussion of what makes a good game by talking about design intent, simply put what does someone what to accomplish as they make a game. There are several other factors that also contribute to what makes a good game. Today I want to talk about game mechanics a which are key to any game, good or bad.
What are game mechanics? As Wikipedia defines it: “Game mechanics are constructs of rule or methods designed for interaction with the game state, thus providing gameplay.” In other words the mechanics define what the game is and how people play it. There are a lot of mechanics in the world of games ranging from dice, bluffing, worker placement, and many more. Some of these mechanics deal with gameplay and the actions on a player’s turn or even how turns are played: are actions simultaneous? How do you resolve conflicts? These are important things to think about as you play any game.
What makes a good mechanics in a game is that it enforces the design intent. A good mechanic should reward players for acting according to the design of the game. If you want players to interact with one another then mechanics that allow players to interact, if the design intent was to create a mistrusting atmosphere then bluffing is an excellent mechanic. Other things that make good mechanics is that they are understandable, they provide an easy way to stay engaged in the game, and they allow players to make interesting decisions. Some might argue that for a game to be good the mechanics must be unique from game to game but I don’t fully agree with that. If there are mechanisms that build off of known concepts or take an mechanic and really polish it, then those are ingredients to making a good game. Personally, I have other ideas about good mechanics which include allowing for interactivity, allows for multiple strategies, encouraging replayability all of which can be debated.
So having gone over what are things that make mechanics good, what makes bad mechanics in a game. I would argue that there is only one bad kind of mechanic, the one that rewards not playing the game. Otherwise there are no ‘bad’ mechanics, just misplaced ones. There are 4 types of mechanics that could lead to a bad game 1) the mechanic does not add gameplay, 2) the mechanic does not reinforce the design intent, 3) the mechanic is busy work, and 4) the mechanic is overly complex. As I have mentioned Monopoly as a game with good design intent let me talk about the mechanics of it. Monopoly’s mechanics are simple in that having sets of matching properties are good and work with the theme but some of the other mechanics leave things to be desired. The mechanic of going to jail seems like it could be good but eventually leads to a turtling strategy that the lead player can adopt as they want to go to jail, this means that the player is rewarded for not playing the game. To fix that a designer would need to put in incentives to keep going around the board, and that could be anything from more powerful effects on the board to the ability to buy off another player’s properties. The various misplaced mechanics could be refined in any game by simply removing them and/or distilling them to the core design intent eliminating complexity. If you are a designer who has tons of cool ideas for mechanics, don’t fret if they are not working in a game you can always use the ideas that aren’t working in another game!
So this morning, think of the mechanics as the expression of design intent like the words of poetry to convey emotion. In both cases the more true to the core idea that is trying to be expressed the better the final product will be. A good game will have mechanics that add to the design intent and reward the player for playing the game. So as you play various games in the coming week, think about the mechanics and decisions you work with during a game and see if they reward you for playing the game, are too complex, or leave you feeling like you’re winning by not playing. In any case I hope you have a good morning and enjoy this food for thought.