Experience Points

Game Components

January 09, 2022 Dave Eng, EdD Season 1 Episode 50
Experience Points
Game Components
Show Notes Transcript

Game Components

On today’s episode we’ll cover “Game Components.” Games are often broken down into smaller elements. This is done in order to help designers create them as well as help academics study them. Of course there is debate on what exactly constitutes a game “dynamic” or “mechanic.” I realize that there is much contention over what these terms mean.

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Game Components

Hi and welcome to Experience Points by University XP. On Experience Points we explore different ways we can learn from games. I’m your host Dave Eng from games-based learning by University XP. Find out more at www.universityxp.com

On today’s episode we’ll cover “Game Components.”

Games are often broken down into smaller elements. This is done in order to help designers create them as well as help academics study them. Of course there is debate on what exactly constitutes a game “dynamic” or “mechanic.” I realize that there is much contention over what these terms mean.

Though, just because it’s challenging to identify and define these different formal elements of games doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to do so. That’s why this episode will concentrate on a more formal definition and identifications of elements that make up a significant part of table top games: components.

This episode will provide a very broad and generalized overview of the different components that make up table top games. Disclaimer though: this list is not meant to be comprehensive or completely inclusive. 

Of course, there are opportunities to discuss and debate the use of these different components. The list and applications of game components will continue to expand as those are shared.  This episode will cover what these game components are as well as sort them into applicable areas. 

Table top game components included in this episode are boards, mats, boxes, sheets, booklets, pads, screens, cards, tiles, chits, cubes, meeples, miniatures, standees, pawns, dice, spinners, sliders, dials, counters, and timers. 

These components are listed and discussed and organized into a general hierarchy including main components, versatile components, identification components, randomization components, and measurement components.

Designers, researchers, academics, and educators alike use different table top game components for different applications. This episode is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all table top game components or what they can be used for. 

Rather, this episode is meant to provide a broad and general overview on what components CAN be used for in table top game design rather than what they SHOULD or MUST be used for. 

Game components are the physical representations of game mechanics and dynamics as they are present in a game. In table top games, these are the physical pieces that players interact with throughout the game. 

They often serve and multiple uses including: representing information; positions; and relationships within the game. They can be used to track resources; provide scope of play; demonstrate the passage of time; accumulation of points; or randomization of elements.

Game components are provided as the main ways for players to interact with table top games. In fact, for most players, the components ARE the table top game for them. Components for them are the most memorable aspect of play.

Most people can name some of the major pawns in Monopoly; many can tell you that Catan is played on a board with hexes; and almost everyone can tell you that poker is played with cards and craps is played with dice.

Components are the tangible representation of the game for the players. They are the interface for both the player experience as well as the user experience. As such, they represent much of player memories when playing table top games.

A list of components that are included in most table top games are:

Boards, Mats, Boxes, Sheets, Booklets, Pads, Screens, Cards, Tiles, Chits, Cubes, Meeples, Miniatures, Standees, Pawns, Dice, Spinners, Sliders, Dials, Counters, and Timers. 

Alone these components don’t mean much. But through the magic of game design; they can be used to represent everything from number theory; the French Revolution; scientific expeditions; and the world as we know it.

But communicating all that through game components can be difficult. So I’ve decided to categorize components into five main areas based on their known uses. I call these five areas component types and they include: Main Components, Versatile Components, Identification Components, Randomization Components, and Measurement Components.

Main components are the types of components that are used for the majority of game play. They are usually relevant to either the global game state or players’ game states.  The global game state is the state that affects all players whereas personal game states – for example the hand of cards or secret player screens - represents just individual players’ information.

I’ve attributed the following as “main components:” Boards, Mats, Boxes, Sheets, Booklets, Pads, and Screens.

Boards and mats are often what people think about when think of “board games.” This is the map of the world in Risk; mars in Terraforming Mars; and the city of Lisbon in Lisboa

Sometimes these boards are made up of mats which serve the same purpose – like in Rising SunPlayers may also use player boards that represent their own “personal scale” in the game. These are often seen in games like On Tour and Patchwork. These personal boards represent an area of agency and information known specifically - and sometimes only - to the player.

Boxes are interesting in table top games because they usually only serve a very utilitarian function: to store; keep; and organize the game between playing sessions. 

Though, the box can also be used as a board - Niagara is a good example of this - so it can ride the line between storage and game play. Mechanica allows players to play right out of the box.  So in that case the box stores and organizes components as well as serves as the board.

Externally, the box also serves as a marketing tool for the game. That’s because the box represents the contents and play experience to the consumer when it sits on a retail shelf.  

In this way, the box serves the same purpose as a book’s dust jacket: communicating in as few persuasive words as possible: what the game is; how many players it plays; the appropriate age; the time length; the theme of the game; and the “hook” or what makes the game interesting. 

Sheets, booklets, and pads serve as a place for players to write and store information about the game and game play. One of the most popular examples of this is with the score pad for tallying players’ points at the end of the game. Another is the rulebook which includes the written information about how to play the game. 

We don’t often think about the rulebook as a component. But, the rule book serves an important purpose: it represents the designer and their intentions for the player as they embark on the player experience of the game. So sheets, booklets, and pads communicate perhaps the most information about the player experience than any other component.

Screens may not be used as frequently as other game components but they often serve very important functions. For hidden information games they can provide the ability for players to have a “private space” for them to store information, chits, or other components that are supposed to be hidden from other players.

In addition, screens can be used as a player aid for information about the game. Screens can represent different game iconography; turn orders; game play overview; and scoring conditions. 

In a game like the Paris Connection the screen serves a dual purpose: hiding information (trains) from other players while also providing an aid for players on turn order and game ending information.

Versatile components are those components that can be use for just about everything and anything.  They can be used to hide information; display information; show territory gained; or demonstrate influence.  These components are so versatile that for most games they are the ONLY component.

I’ve attributed the following as “versatile components:” Cards and Tiles.

Cards are some of the most ubiquitous gaming components available. The 52 card deck is a staple of gaming and entertainment. The number of games that can be played with a standard 52 card deck seems nearly endless. That’s why cards are one of the most versatile components available.

They can be used for any number of different things including helping you randomize a set of characteristics; events; or resources. They can be used to track attributes and commodities like in Catan. Cards can also be used to provide player information such as “character” cards that provide flavor text for some games and useful asymmetric starting powers for other games. 

Tiles are almost as versatile as cards. Cards can often be shipped and stored in tuck boxes. That means that generally you can store many more cards in the same amount of space compared to tiles. 

But tiles give players an additional tactile sensation when playing with them. Carcassone is almost exclusively a tile game where their order is randomized throughout play. Tiles can also provide players with areas to control and develop like in Takenoko and Eclipse

Identification components have been used primarily to identify status or demonstrate and show information about players or the game state to others. These components often represent resources or groups of resources in the game. They can also represent the “player” or their avatar in play. These are often the player’s physical representation of themselves in the table top game world.

I’ve attributed the following as “identification components:” Cubes, Chits, Meeples, Miniatures, Standees, and Pawns.

Cubes are perhaps the darling of the modern euro game. No other component can be found as commonly throughout different contemporary games than the colored cube. Their mass production potential combined with their ability to show and demonstrate many things such as resources, status, player states, and board states makes them incredibly versatile.

However, in most circumstances they are very small components that are often limited in their representation of information compared to chits. Some of the most common uses of cubes are to track the status of different tracks such as in Hyperborea.

Chits can also be classified as smaller tiles. They can provide a little more information compared to cubes since they can have information printed on a flat surface. So chits are often used in games where more information needs to be shared or represented in chits than can be accurately conveyed with cubes. 

Wreck Raiders is game that uses chits en masse in order to describe different types of treasure – color - but also the kinds of treasure – logo - on each one of the chits. 

Meeples, miniatures, standees, and pawns also represent information; but do so often in relation to the position of other elements in the game. Meeples and pawns are one of the most comment representations of players in a game. These avatars of the table top world are one of the easiest ways to represent a player’s position. 

Miniatures take the meeple one step further by providing additional detail and fidelity of the player character. Standees also provide more information at the cost of abstraction of players in the game. That’s because standees are two dimensional and appear differently depending on the angle a player views them.

Randomization components are used in games in order to provide random values; outcomes; or events. They are used in conjunction with other game mechanics and components in order to provide an atmosphere of outside control that falls beyond the grasp of players. These elements are either used to provide some sort of random output or random input.

I’ve attributed the following as “randomization components:” Dice and Spinners

Next to cards, dice are one of the most ubiquitous randomization components in games. The standard D6 die with its 1-6 digits represented in pips is one of the most common icons in gaming. So much so that Perudo - also known as Liar’s Dice - is one game of many that is played using only these dice. 

Dice in their many formats, configurations, and combinations are able to provide a wide variety and spectrum of random inputs and outputs for players.

Spinners represent another form of randomization for games. Though spinners can provide more granular outcomes than dice can. They are also larger and more visible than dice can be. 

The Game of Life is one of the most popular examples of spinners; though one of my favorite games Montana also makes use of the spinner by providing players with random types of workers to recruit.

Measurement components are usually used to measure or judge the relationship of different states of things that are happening in a game. These can be the progress on a track; the rising or falling scores of other players; or the amount of time remaining in a real time game. These measurement components can take on many different shapes and applications based on their role within the game.

I’ve attributed the following as “measurement components:” Sliders, Dials, Counters, and Timers.

Sliders and dials are used to measure the relationship or state of a given object or status of resources. Some games choose to use cubes, chits, or other objects - like money - to represent the amount of a given resource in a game. If these amounts change frequently then sliders are often a better choice for representing this change. 

Sorcerer’s City is a game that uses these sliders to track four different resources for players over the course of the game. Dials can also be used to select a set amount of information on a scale. Dice can be used in this way up to certain values. But a dial is a better choice if a player needs to select information to be kept hidden. An example of this is in Scythe, where the amount of power used during a military action needs to be kept secret before revealing it to an opponent.

Counters are another form of measurement component. Counters can often be chits or cubes or meeples that can be used for this specific purpose. Often, one of the most common forms of counters in games are for money, currency, or something more goal focused like victory points. Counters can also be used to track the different states of different components like cards in Magic the Gathering. So they can serve many different purposes like versatile components.

Timers are often a misunderstood component in board games. Many players may recognize the sand timer from games like Codenames but they often forget about other components that are both timers and tracks. Star Wars: Rebellion makes use of a track as a timer in order to anticipate when the final actions of a game will take place. 

Timers can also be considered when a resource of a game runs out or when a deck of cards are exhausted. Though, most designers and players often attribute timers to the actual sand timer component found in games. They are best used when a set amount of actual time needs to be measured.

This episode provided a very broad and generalized overview of the different components that make up table top games. Though, this episode was provided with a disclaimer: the components listed here are not meant to be comprehensive or completely inclusive. 

There are many opportunities to discuss and debate the use of these different components. Especially as we consider what role components can play in table top games. This episode covered what some of the most popularly used components are as well as sorted them into applicable areas.

Components covered in this episode were boards, mats, boxes, sheets, booklets, pads, screens, cards, tiles, chits, cubes, meeples, miniatures, standees, pawns, dice, spinners, sliders, dials, counters, and timers. 

These components were listed and discussed and organized into a general hierarchy including main components, versatile components, identification components, randomization components, and measurement components.

I hope you found this episode useful. If you’d like to learn more, then a great place to start is with my free course on gamification. You can sign up for it at www.universityxp.com/gamification You can also get a full transcript of this episode including links to references in the description or show notes. Thanks for joining me!

Again, I’m your host Dave Eng from games-based learning by University XP. On Experience Points we explore different ways we can learn from games. If you liked this episode please consider commenting, sharing, and subscribing.

Subscribing is absolutely free and ensures that you’ll get the next episode of Experience Points delivered directly to you. I’d also love it if you took some time to rate the show! I live to lift others with learning. So, if you found this episode useful, consider sharing it with someone who could benefit.

Also make sure to visit University XP online at www.universityxp.com University XP is also on Twitter @University_XP and on Facebook and LinkedIn as University XP. Also, feel free to email me anytime at dave@universityxp.com Game on!

References

Eng, D. (2019, June 4). Formal Game Structures. Retrieved February 17, 2020, from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2019/6/04/formal-game-structures

Eng, D. (2019, November 26). Abstraction in Games. Retrieved February 17, 2020, from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2019/11/26/abstraction-in-games

Eng, D. (2019, November 5). The User Experience. Retrieved February 17, 2020, from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2019/11/5/the-user-experience

Eng, D. (2019, October 8). Game Dynamics. Retrieved February 17, 2020, from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2019/10/8/game-dynamics

Eng, D. (2019, September 10). The Player Experience. Retrieved February 17, 2020, from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2019/9/10/the-player-experience

Eng, D. (2020, February 6). Game Mechanics. Retrieved February 17, 2020, from https://www.universityxp.com/blog/2020/2/6/game-mechanics

Sargeantson, E. (2019, March 7). Board Game Pieces - Names, Examples and Uses. Retrieved February 7, 2020, from https://mykindofmeeple.com/board-game-pieces-names-examples-uses/

Tags

game components, components, board games, ludology

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game components