I am an unabashed lover of market mechanics in board games. Let me be clear, the emphasis in that last sentence is Market Mechanic. Why the emphasis, well as Michael R. Keller of Visible Hand Games and I discussed at UNPUB 4, many people mistake market themes with market mechanics. A few people avoid all market mechanics because they mistakenly associate them with bad market theme games that do not use any market mechanics.
That is why I am starting a new lecture series examining different types of market mechanics and how to use them in board games. But before I discuss specific market mechanics that can be used in board games, I need to clarify what is the difference between a market theme and a market mechanic.
Difference Between a Theme and a Mechanic
Themes are stories. Stories can be spun so that a particular action represents something occurring within the story. When I play Formula D my friends and I are telling a story about driving a race car. Am I actually driving a race car, no, but I am taking a series of actions that lets me pretend I am driving a race car. The grafting of a story to a set of actions is a theme.
A mechanic is undertaking a particular set of actions to achieve something. For example, in Monopoly I can roll a dice and move my pawn. The mechanic is roll and move. I am physically rolling dice and moving it along a board.
Because I use a roll and move mechanic does not mean I call it that within the game. Theme lets me pretend the act of rolling and moving is achieving an imaginary outcome, be it go to work and collect my salary in Monopoly or advance my car in an auto race in Formula D.
Mechanics and themes do not have to be different things. We can play the game 100 yard dash by physically running the 100 yard dash and seeing who can finish the race first. The theme and mechanics is the 100 yard dash in the 100 yard dash game.
Should Mechanics and Themes Always Be the Same?
Each mechanic needs to be assessed on how it will contribute to the enjoyment of the game. Some mechanics are a great theme by themselves. Charades is a game built on a mechanic of acting. Acting is fun, acting is silly, acting makes a great game. Others mechanics are events you never want to experience in real life. For example, I personally do not want to play a game of Werewolf were the sheriff eliminates a players by physically shooting and killing them.
To assess if a market mechanic contributes to game play we need to understand how different market mechanics work and how to separate the market mechanic from a market themed game. This lecture on market mechanics will not only empower us to answer the question when market themed games work better with market mechanics, but also when do market mechanics contribute to non market themed games.