Mechanically Sound #1

In addition to writing as ideas come to mind and posting guest submissions, I have a handful of semi-regular features I'd like to introduce. Mechanically Sound is the first.The idea is to share interesting mechanics from existing games in the hopes of providing inspiration for your own creations. One of my biggest goals as a designer is to create more unique and innovative designs. One of the best ways to attain this goal is to immerse myself in the cleverness of others.

My other hope for this feature is that it's easy for readers to submit mechanics they encounter. If you encounter a really clever mechanic, contact me! Explain the mechanic and tell me why it stood out to you. 

For this inaugural post of Mechanically Sound, I thought I'd detail mechanics from 3 games I've recently encountered and enjoy: Discworld: Ankh-MorporkConflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! Kursk 1943, and Navegador.

The Card Choices in Discworld

Each turn, the active player must play one card from his hand. Above are three example cards from the game. There are approximately a half dozen Actions, represented by symbols (look at the top of the cards above).The player may choose all, some, or none of the Actions to take, with the exception of the pentagram Action, which must be executed.

The other twist is that players must execute the actions from left to right. You may want to take the second Action before the first Action, but too bad. It's to the right.

Finally, if you see the Scroll symbol (shown on the left 2 cards above), you can choose to execute the Action written at the bottom. This allows the designer to creep outside the relatively small number of Actions when necessary.

The iconography is excellent and players generally learn the handful of Actions shortly into their first play. The fact that most cards have multiple Actions, some you want, some you don't, and some you cannot at this time, makes most turns really compelling.

Damage Counters in Storms of Steel!

In Storms of Steel! every unit is represented by a small token like the one on the left in the image above. These markers convey the cost to take a Move or Fire action, the direction the unit faces, the range of the unit, its attack strength, and finally, its defense. That's a lot of information!

In many war games, as units take damage they suffer a penalty to attack and effectiveness. That's the case here, but the designers make it far more interesting, varied, and thematic.

All units in the game can absorb 2 hits, at which point they are destroyed. When the unit takes its first hit, the player draws a face down token from a pool, like the one on the right above. These tokens convey the feelings a unit in combat might experience, such as panic, cowardice, or like the one above, suppression.

Instead of forcing the player to memorize several stats for several states, the designers instead give you a token that displays the modifications to the specific stat in the same location as the unit token.

For the unit above, Suppression increases the Action Point cost for firing to 4 (the +1) and reduces the unit's firing effectiveness against infantry and armor targets by -2 (bottom left).    I love how this mechanic introduces a little randomness and variety into the game without complicating things too much. Such a great idea and great component design!

The Rondel of Navegador

In Navegador, the player takes one Action each turn. To determine the Actions available, the active player looks at the location of their player piece on the rondel (see the blue token in the image above).

In the image above, the blue token is currently on the orange sliver: Building. For the player's next Action, he may choose Shipping, Workers, or Market, i.e. any of the three Actions in front of his token.

The beauty of this mechanic is that your future turns are predictable and your choices are limited. On some turns you may take a less ideal option to move yourself along the rondel more quickly in order to cut off an opponent seeking the same goal, or slowly move around it while taking every Action possible. It was so simple, yet so compelling.

Do you find these mechanics compelling and innovative? Comment below! Post your submissions in the comments or contact me.


Excellent post, Grant! I think those are all innovative mechanisms. Mac Gerdts seems to have patented the rondel or is at least trying to use it in nearly every game he's designed.

I thought the dice placement in Castles of Burgundy is quite fun and different.

I love the layout of the actions in Discworld. It creates interesting and deep gameplay without sacrificing simplicity. Super clever.

One mechanic my gaming group all found to be very interesting is the auction system in The Speicherstadt. We found that most of the time the player to act last had a slight advantage because they could dictate the final cost in one of the columns. Also, when placing your first worker, you usually don't want to place it where you want the card the most. Holding out as long as possible so you can get the cheaper cost tended to be the best strategy.

I look forward to reading more of these articles!


Die Speicherstadt is really excellent overall. I agree that the auction is a great twist we (me and my group) all enjoyed.