Board Game Mechanics – Engine Building
Continuing on my series of board game mechanics, we’re going to be looking at Engine Building games. This has nothing to do with motor vehicles but it is building together pieces to make it work. Engine building games can be fun because they are games that ramp up, but let’s look into more detail what they are.
In an engine building game there is some part of the mechanic that is going to make your game work more efficiently, effectively, and consistently. Deck building could be considered a weaker form of engine building as you are trying to build combos together. But Engine Building generally is going to be more specific than that. You’re going to be collecting the pieces so that you can do something that is going to give you a better chance of winning the game, and so that you can consistently do it over and over again. And each time you run the engine it should be running more efficiently and powerfully.
Your engine can do a lot of different things, it might generate resources of some sort, from goods in euro games to money, or it could just give you the points you need to win the game, or it could power up your attacks and the combat in a game. But as you go you’ll be able to generate more of what you need more consistently and possibly more efficiently. This can be done through acquiring new cards or abilities or upgrading abilities that you already have.
An example of this is Splendor where you are trying to buy gem cards for points and fulfill the wishes of wealthy nobles who are looking for specific combinations of gem cards. To get a gem card you have to spend gems, so at the start you inefficiently collect gems on your turn to get gem cards that don’t give you any points but do give you a permanent gem of one of the colors that you put on the table in front of you. So the more of the cards you can get, the more permanent gems you can get. And you can use the permanent gems to help you get more cards, so eventually the cheap cards that don’t get you any points, you’ll be able to get for free, and maybe even some of the medium level cards that give you a few points. Towards the end of the game you are spending only a gem or maybe two to get another gem card that is giving you a bunch of points. So the game has a building action to being able to do greater things, getting expensive gem cards. And the gem cards you have collected are your engine for getting more gem cards in the future more efficiently.
Let’s talk about some interesting engine building games.
Homebrewers – I could have gone with Splendor here and it isn’t a bad choice, but I prefer Homebrewers because I prefer beer to gems (not a great investment strategy), but also because of how fast Homebrewers is to play. In Homebrewers you are a homebrewer who is trying to brew the best beer for Summerfest and then Oktoberfest. To do that, you need to sanitize your equipment, get grain, and brew. It’s very simple, but where the engine building comes in is that you can add in ingredients to your beer. So I am going to brew my IPA, I can add in something like oyster (don’t ask me why), and that might move up another one of my brews on the scoring track, or it might then give me money, or straight up victory points. And each time I brew that beer I’ll get more of whatever oyster gives me, and I can add more ingredients as well to IPA, or maybe my IPA’s are plenty good for scoring, I could add it to my Stout or Porter to build up that engine. So you can create combos that allow you brew more and get more points across the board.
Medium Weight Game
Photosynthesis – Now, let me preface by saying, I don’t have a lot of medium to heavy weight engine building games in my collection. While I enjoy good engine building, I get that most of the time through deck building which is a more random version of engine building. But I really like Photosynthesis, not because it’s overly complex, but because it has some thinky decisions in it. You’re trying to plant trees in the right spots at the right times, growing them so they will get you sun points, while trying to minimize the number of sun points your opponent gets. There’s a lot of thought that goes into where you are going to be placing the trees, where the sun is going to be located on the board and what trees might be getting blocked from sunlight in upcoming turns. This game definitely has more take that than the other two where you are a building your engine and you can block other people from getting sun points with the trees that they have just by planting close to them and casting a shadow that blocks their tree. Plus the game looks beautiful.
Charterstone – Now, I haven’t beat all of Charterstone, but it’s a fun euro legacy game where you unlock things from game to game to make your engine more efficient, but also you can improve your engine in the game by getting more helper workers, friends, guests, items and more. So you can pick various strategies to help you score points, but it’s fun because it’s an engine building game that builds up not only throughout the game but also between games with the legacy aspect. So while the core concept of the game place your worker, take the action is very simple as time goes on and with the right guests, friends, workers, etc. you can build up a pretty complex engine that’ll allow you to do multiple things on a given turn. And that grows a lot throughout the game with a wide variety of things to do and utilize.
Now, I know my heavy/complex engine builder is nothing compared to a lot of them out there. Charterstone on Board Game Geek (BGG) is a 2.8 out of 5 in terms of weight, there are games like Food Chain Magnate or Terraforming Mars that are much higher with Food Chain Magnate over 4. I am interested in trying some of those games, but they tend to be less interesting to me because they are often longer. What I really like about Homebrewers is that it backings in some engine building in a package that can be taught and played in forty-five minutes.
What are some of your favorite engine building games? Is it a mechanic that you like or that sounds interesting to you?
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