There are certain things we can be sure of in games: Someone has to win, you need a way to figure out who wins and you need a medium by which you can determine the figures that decides who wins. Such is the dog eat dog eat game board world of tabletop. It’s a competitive sport, a place where the mind and body must be tested, just so I can prove my hippo was indeed the hungriest. But in that vein, a question arises:

WHAT GAME MECHANICS DO YOU USE?

Basically, what kind of game are you making? And I’m not talking about “Will my game be for fancy people, like Chess?” or “Will my game make people want to flip the board and rage quit, like Chess?” or “Will my game put unnecessary strain on a disfunctional father/son relationship, like Chess… and literally every other board game in history?” No, I’m talking about the way you lay out your game so people can play it.

In fact, let’s go back to Chess for a moment. Before we flip the board over and ruin game night for everybody Billy, why don’t we take a look at the way it’s set up. Chess is set up on an 8×8 grid of tiles with alternating colors for easy reference. Both players are given the same lay out of pieces from their perspective. There are no dice, no cards, nothing besides the board and the caste system of pieces used to play the game. It is a very straight-forward, all strategy, no luck system. And yes, it’s the kind of game that lends itself to tournament play and grandmaster hierarchy. But let’s imagine we want to have fun…

Board games have grown and evolved over the years, but many have found themselves supplanted by dice and cards. In fact, Pandemic, the feel good board game about microbial contagions, later had a dice version in Pandemic: The Cure that had an impressive following in it’s own right. Even the traditional family game night selections like Monopoly and Clue have received card based versions in the modern era. Perhaps this makes them more portable or faster. Or maybe it just takes board flipping out of the equation, Billy! Sorry… oh that’s also a card game now!

So, what advantages do we get out of making a card game or a dice game? This applies to RPGs as well, because you could find yourself using cards to role-play as easily as dice, depending on how you build it. You could even use tile-laying mechanics to make an RPG function, if you want such a thing.

Are there inherent advantages to using cards over dice? Is it more interactive to lay tiles rather that placing a prepackaged board on the table?  How much does probability and randomness play into your game? Will we ever see the resurgence of the little spinning wheel from Life that never really worked after Billy had an “episode” during the family reunion?

Is portability a factor? Or is it more about speed and pacing? How do you imagine someone playing your game? Are they playing on a train heading to work? Are they in the back seat of a car on an ill-advised family vacation? Are they sitting around a campfire, seeing if your cards are fireproof?

You have a lot of options when you are building a game. The way you craft it determines how your players interact and interpret that game. And face it, you don’t want Billy wrecking game night again because you turned Go Fish into a highly flippable board game, do you?