Game-Defining Concepts

Introduction to Game-Defining Concepts

Written by Matt Pavlovich

After some in-depth design analyses of a couple of our favorite recent games, Terra Mystica and Bora Bora, this month, we’re taking a closer look at some iconic mechanics and components and their impact on the design of the games they’re part of.

What makes a concept game-defining?

One way to think of a “game-defining” concept is as a component, mechanic, or other design element that is so closely connected to the identity of the game that it’s is inevitably talked about when the game is brought up. Well-known examples might include the “king” mechanic in checkers, the “letter tile” components in Scrabble, or the idea of a “trick” in bridge. The polyhedral dice used in Dungeons and Dragons could represent a game-defining concept in a few different ways: the idea of random variables operating under different probability distributions is central to the game’s behind-the-scenes math, the mechanic of rolling dice to resolve the outcome of an action is the single most important mechanic in the entire game, and the dice themselves are such distinctive components that anyone who has ever played the game instantly recognizes them.


Game-Defining Concepts – The Doubling Cube

Written by Alex Harkey


This month we’ve looked at numerous games which show off game-defining concepts; brilliant mechanics and noteworthy ideas which share identity with a game. Later this month we’ll be looking at how to identify opportunities for creating a game-defining concept in your game and how to actually get started implementing it.

To emphasize our monthly topic we wanted to analyze one example to demonstrate how a simple solution can truly define the strategy of a game while resolving weaknesses.

This week we’re looking at one of the greatest game concepts ever created: the Backgammon doubling cube.

Building Game-Defining Concepts

Written by Alex Harkey


This month we’ve been exploring brilliant mechanics, elegant components and revolutionary ideas in tapletop games. We’ve titled this month’s theme “Game-Defining Concepts” to encompass the variety and scope of all these innovations. These concepts help formulate the draw to specific games and often create a “hook” that will draw in an audience.

In this article we’re going to pursue some basic frameworks that game designers can utilize as a starting point to develop game-defining concepts. There is no such thing as a comprehensive list, but I’ll look at several key areas that can often develop game-defining concepts.

Question the Status Quo

One source of innovation is simply to ask the right questions about the current climate and format of a topic. We’ve seen innovation emerge in all areas of gaming using a simple question as a starting point. One source of these questions in gaming is to re-examine the typical approach of a player. Every new mechanic or idea in games may require an adjustment from player expectations but there are usually a number of accepted conventions players can carry between games as a method of comfort. Let’s look at card games as an example: