Saturday, February 23, 2013

The difference between mechanisms and texture

I'm beginning the work on a new design of mine (so new that it doesn't have much of an identity yet, let alone a name), and as is increasingly customary for my design process, it has begun with an idea for an interesting mechanic.

The main concept is one where players will bid a certain number of workers towards a number of available actions, which each turn are supplemented by two bonuses (the bonuses themselves rotate around the actions after every turn). Players get to carry out all actions that they bid for, with the strength or quality of that action determined by the number of workers they bid. In addition, winning a particular action (by having bid the most workers) allows you first choice of one of the bonuses, with the player in second getting the other.

No matter how novel or interesting this mechanic turns out to be, I am becoming increasingly more interested in how the texture of a game is designed, rather than its engine. You see, I am a very mechanical type of designer (it is not surprise that I am so drawn to Stefan Feld's games), but I tend to struggle in designing the texture of the game that is to surround the many mechanics that I come up with.

I might be using words a little freely here, but for me the texture of a game refers to what the players are actually doing, rather than the choices that lead them to do these things (or in fact, the way by which the players make these choices). It's all very well to present players with a gripping mechanism that constrains what choices they can make on a turn, but it is for nought if the 'what' of the game cannot live up to the 'how'.

Both mechanics and texture are central parts of any gaming experience, and in my opinion far too much emphasis and critique is placed on the former. For example, many laud Feld's Castles of Burgundy for its innovative dice mechanism, but I am more and more impressed with the feel of playing the game - the variety of the little tiles that you use to create you own dominion throughout the game, and how this looks as it proceeds.

The take away message for me is that each part of a design must hold up on its own to contribute to a truly great game. A designer needs to be mindful both of the details and the whole, and they require different skills in their creation. Let's see if I can follow my own advice as this fledgling game develops!

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