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Combining game mechanics, the side dish theory

Page: DesignArticle.Article-SideDishTheory - Last Modified : Tue, 11 Jan 11 - 2311 Visits

Author : Eric Pietrocupo

I will start this article with an example. I am not sure if that is the case for you, but most people like hamburgers. They comes into variety of toppings and meat. Now pickup your favorite hamburger and eat it (or imagine doing it). It tastes good right? Now eat that same hamburger with fries or chips, does the hamburger taste better? Yes. It's still the same hamburger, but for some reason, the whole experience is better when eaten with fries or chips.

This is the same thing for games. Sometimes designer make an innovative mechanic and make a game about it without adding anything else. So it makes a small game very simple to learn but that feels empty. It's like placing 8 shrimp on a white plate. It feels like if something is missing. Even if the shrimp are very good, the client would still want to eat them with a side dish that mix well with the taste of the shrimp. The client also want to fill his stomach, so the second function of the side dish is to satisfy the client.

So the side dish theory is composed of 2 elements:

1- When a core mechanic is combined with other mechanics, the core mechanic gets better.

2- A game need to have a minimum size and complexity, being too small and simple will not satisfy the needs of the client.

How many mechanics would be required to make a good game, well there is no single answer. I really like a minimum of 3 mechanics since it creates a triangular dynamics. Sometimes with 2 mechanics, you get the feeling of playing 2 separate game if the relations are not tight. A mechanic in it self does not have to be very complex. You could use 3 very simple mechanics that communicate with each other. That would be better than making a game with 1 large mechanic. Mechanics can also be of various size. For example, the core mechanic could be more complex while the side mechanics can be very simple.

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