Mechanically Sound #2

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Mechanically Sound is a recurring column in which I quickly detail some interesting game mechanics that have appealed to me recently. By promoting the mechanics, I'm not necessarily recommending the game itself (though that's often the case). I want to hear from YOU as well. What are some great mechanics?

I have been uncommonly busy these last few weeks, which means I've played fewer new games. Nonetheless, a few interesting mechanics have caught my attention. For this column I'll be briefly discussing the interesting bidding mechanic in The Speicherstadt, the market in Octopus' Garden, and 1812: The Invasion of Canada's flee mechanic.

Bidding in The Speicherstadt

Typically in a bidding game players go around one-upping each other. "I'll pay 5." "Oh yeah, I'll pay 6." And so forth. The Speicherstadt by Stefan Feld presents a fantastic twist to the traditional bidding mechanic that deepens the choices.

There are a set number of cards available each round. Each card can be won by a single player or no players if there are no bids. Each player has a finite number of meeples that he places on a track above a card to denote a bid. The first token means two things: the first player gets first right of refusal to buy the card and the card costs one coin.

However, this is where things get tricky. For each additional meeple placed, the cost increases by 1. If two meeples are placed, the first player can buy it for 2 coins. If there are three meeples, the cost is 3 coins. The first player may pass on the bid and remove his meeple. Now, the player with the second meeple has the option to purchase for the cost of the number of meeples behind him. The cost decreases as players pass.

This system allows for a really compelling situation that involves blocking to drive up the price and gaining position to have first choice. Even better, the bids are resolved from left to right, so you can drive up the price on a far right bid knowing your competitor won't have sufficient funds once he gets there, forcing him to pass. It's outstanding.

The Market in Octopus' Garden

On each player's turn in Octopus' Garden by Roberta Taylor, the active player may purchase objects for her ocean. However, the options available for purchase are drawn randomly from a bag. Secondly, the player must buy an entire row or column of objects.

This means if you want the oyster, you need to buy the grass and coral as well. That means you need to pay full price and fill your ocean with less than optimal items.

Octopus' Garden in particular lacks something that really makes it a game that you want to keep coming back to, but the market mechanic is really excellent and may fit perfectly within your design.

Fleeing in 1812: The Invasion of Canada

1812: The Invasion of Canada by Jeph Stahl and Beau Beckett is an outstanding game that I could reference constantly. To be honest, I probably will.

The game features a novel form of attrition that uniquely alters the state of the game constantly. There are 5 factions in the game: British Regulars, American Regulars, Canadian Militia, American Militia, Native Americans. Each faction player rolls a unique set of dice. All dice have 3 possible faces: Hit, Flee, or blank (command decision). Hits allow you to remove enemy units (i.e. a kill) whereas command decision has a variety of effects. Let's focus on Flee.

For every Flee symbol that is rolled, the active player must remove and place 1 Unit onto the Fled space on the board. At the start of his next turn, these units are placed back on the board far back at the player's muster area (i.e. spawn point). Ultimately, the units aren't killed, but they are removed from the front lines and must be brought back to the front. This takes time and often, you need the units in the battle right now.

The other beautiful aspect of this mechanic is that it's a brilliant way to demonstrate the personality of the units. British Regulars never fleet. Never. They will stand and fight until they are killed or you move them. American Regulars rarely Flee, but they still do it. The Militia on both sides constantly Flee and by mid-game they are a joke to all involved. This is historically accurate, but also incredibly elegant.

What have you encountered lately that really stood out? List it in the comments below!