As I’m sure you’ve realized, I love games. All sorts of games. Here, I generally focus on board games because they’re a nice compact way to get in gaming and introduce new people to the hobby. They don’t have the buy in requirements of trading card games, the sometimes prohibitive system requirements of computer games, or the huge time investment of RPGs. This post, though, is more genre agnostic.

I want to talk about mechanics.

Mechanics are a critical part of all games, since they’re the engine on which the game runs. Some argue that they should be nearly invisible, others like being able to tinker. Everyone has their tastes, and that’s a good thing!

The problem is, some people think they don’t matter. You can play any game with any mechanics and it’ll work out the same. That’s just not true. Especially as time goes on and more mechanics are added to the pile of things we’ve tried with games.

Go and Othello are a good example. They’re both traditional territory control games, but their mechanics make them wildly different. A good example is the fact that the extreme corner spaces in Go are very bad places to play, but the most powerful places to play in Othello.

But what about RPGs? This is where the debate appears the most. That the rules don’t matter, it’s the role playing that is most important. I used to agree with this view point. I liked so-called ‘universal’ systems. Over time, with experience in more games, I came to appreciate why the mechanics mattered. A game of fear is better if the mechanics reinforce fear. The game Dread does this by using a Jenga tower for conflict resolution. As the tower gets higher, the risk goes up. A game of heroes is better if the characters have heroic capabilities.

This is why I like game design for the sake of the design. Seeing how a designer developed the game for their goal is interesting to me, and reinforces why mechanics matter.

Have you ever played a game where the mechanics were as important as the theme or setting the tone? What did you think of it?