I really like technology in games, most of my favourite games have it in some form or another. Recently, I have been thinking about the different kinds of technology mechanisms out there. Here are some of my thoughts on them.
Different games integrate technology in different ways. From what I can gather, most fall into one of the following:
- Player Board
- Common Pool
- Deck Building
- Hand Management
Players each have a personal board with a full list of available technologies. When a technology is researched it is marked as acquired, usually with a cube. Clash of Cultures and Exodus: Proxima Centauri both use this. What I like about this is that, at any moment during the game, players can look at all the technologies available and plan their long term strategy. No-one else can steal their technology before they get the chance to research it. Player board technology is also good for integrating asymmetric player setups: only you can get the technology on your board. Your opponent’s board may be completely different and you don’t have access to the same things. The obvious down side: the amount of information to digest for beginners. Also, you can’t make certain technologies less common than others: there is no supply and demand.
Players all have access to a common pool of technologies. The common pool can either be fixed (Kemet) or can evolve randomly over the course game (Eclipse). The pool is usually limited, so not every player will be able to get a specific technology. This integrates supply and demand but also empowers the players to customise their strategy. However, sometimes the technology you really need just doesn’t come out or someone grabs the one technology that was essential to your strategy before you can get it.
Players start with a set of technologies, usually a hand of cards. On his/her turn, a player can choose one of them to keep but must pass the others to another player. 7 Wonders in a nutshell. I see this as is the easiest way for players to get into the technology system. It gives the players a chance to customise their strategy, but only gives it to them in baby chunks at a time. This doesn’t mean that it can’t make for interesting decisions. The beginner will go for looks good. The intermediate player will conceive a strategy and grab any card that is good for it. The expert will be watching what other players are doing an deciding if he/she should take the card that is good for his/her strategy or the one that is excellent for an opponent’s game. Drafting is mainly used either as a smart way to integrate asymmetric setups (Seasons) or as the main game mechanism (7 Wonders). I can’t think of a game the uses drafting technology during the game a small part of a more complex game system. I feel like there is a lot of undiscovered design space to explore here.
This one is a lot like common pool in many ways. However, the way technology is used once the players have it makes deck building a category of it’s own. Players build a deck of cards out the technology they buy. During play, players will progressively draw and play cards from their personal deck. Once their deck runs out of cards they reshuffled it. Core Worlds is my favorite example.
What I like about deck building is how your deck controls how often you can use the technologies you acquire. Your deck is your long term strategy: you have to optimise it enough to make it effective but not so much that you can’t change strategy if need be. You may have access to the most powerful technology in the game but it my not be worth getting because your deck isn’t built for it. A small specialised deck can be good when you want to cycle back around to a few high powered cards as fast as you can. Other times, you want a big chunky deck full of cards that work well together as a whole and have a broader range of competences.
Players have a hand of technology cards. However, the cards only actually count as technology once they are on the table. Usually, the cards will have some other purpose until they are in play. Some games base the whole engine on the cards: Glory to Rome. While others use the cards for combat: Hegemonic.
Can you think of any other categories that I have overlooked? Which are your favourites?