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Tile Placement Mechanic

Tile Placement Sketch

One of my favorite things about flying in an airplane is looking down just as you’re starting to really gain some altitude and seeing country fields all laid out in more or less perfect squares of varying colors. There is something quite enjoyable about seeing the world unfold in beautiful, manageable chunks that makes me eager to look out the window until we are too high to clearly see the land.

Tile placement games have something of the same appeal, as they permit us to unfold new landscapes and new possibilities one (often square) tile at a time. Players get to create, and to make something unique to that game, which helps the increase both the enjoyability and replayability of the games that we design.

Join me as we explore some of the things to consider when designing a game that uses tile placement as a core mechanism.

Overview of Tile Placement

Games like Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan immediately come to mind for many people when thinking about tile placement, and those games have certainly done much to popularize it as a game mechanic. Many new games use tile placement, and games with tile placement can be found in nearly every category, from filler games to complex feature games, and from luck-based games to highly strategic games.

So, what tile placement as a tabletop game mechanic? For our purposes we define tile placement as a mechanic where tiles or cards are placed or moved throughout the game and where their placement affects the gameplay in some way.

Designing tile placement in a game can be a great way to add structured variability, and can provide a lot of great opportunities to build strategic decisions into your game. Tile placement is possibly most frequently used for board- or map-building in games (such as in Forbidden Island), but it can also be used in a variety of other ways as well, such as in Azul, where players create personal grids with various patterns that score points. In Falconry, square cards are placed in a grid with the goal of aligning enough of your own cards to win the game.

In addition to adding structured variability, tile placement can help players better process the various options and decisions in the game, and gives players a thematic mental image to use while organizing their thoughts and planning how to approach the game.

What do you enjoy or dislike from your own experience about tile placement as a tabletop game mechanic?

Important Considerations with Tile Placement

Usually when tiles are placed, the location matters. However, the degree to which the placement of an individual tile matters is up to the designer and the desired game style, theme, and weight. Generally, the fewer considerations players must keep in mind when placing a tile, the lighter the game; while adding more decision factors will increase the game’s length, weight, and complexity.

Here are a few examples of some of the possible considerations for players’ decision making that might make a difference in how you design your game:

  • Will the tile placed interact with tiles and components already played?
  • Will the tile placed interact with the board space where it is played?
  • Will the tile placed interact with players’ other tiles and components not yet played?
  • Will the actions triggered by placing a tile take place immediately, or throughout the game?
  •  Does the tile have a limited area where it may be placed, or can it be played anywhere?

As noted above, tiles offer a great deal of flexibility as they may interact with the board, become the board, open or close options, interact with both in-play and unplaced components, and affect the game in both immediate and future ways.

When considering a game with tile placement, use icons, colors, contrasts, and illustrations to help players quickly identify what effect the tiles played will have on the game. This is especially important in games where tiles have a lot of variation and when the game is very complex. Here are some examples of how these elements are used well in some existing tile placement games:

  • In Alhambra players complete a personal grid to score points. Colors and borders are used to quickly show players where tiles may be played, and which ones will give them points.
  • In Kingdomino colors and crown icons are used to help players easily identify useful tiles and plan how to add them to their kingdoms.
  • Azul has simple colors and players mainly have to think about how to incorporate them into their boards to make scoring patterns.
  • Falconry uses colors, symbols, and backgrounds to help players quickly identify patterns in theirs and other players’ cards.
  • In Bruxelles 1897 players have many decisions and factors to consider, which makes the decision process difficult, but cards that will be placed use distinct colors, icons, numbers, and illustrations to help efficiently communicate a lot of different information to players with minimal time and effort.
  • Tsuro keeps things simple by only requiring players to look at clearly-illustrated paths and watch where their piece will end up.

Cautions and Tips for Using Tile Placement

As you incorporate tile placement into the games you create, make sure to not try to communicate too much information at once, so that the information you do communicate comes through clearly to the players.

In addition, if your game operates without bounds (for example, a set grid size or a fixed play area such as a board or mat), keep in consideration the size of the tiles, and the player experience in finding a play area and in keeping tiles together.

What are some interesting ways you have seen tile placement be used as a part of a game? How else can tile placement be used to make board and card games even more engaging? Please comment below with your thoughts!

Tile placement is a mechanic where tiles or cards are placed or moved throughout the game and where their placement affects gameplay in some way. Designing tile placement in a game can add structured variability to your game, and can provide a lot of great opportunities to build strategic decisions into the gameplay.

Tile Placement Sketch

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Other Tabletop Game Mechanics to Explore

Are there other game mechanics or topics that you would like to see explored further? Please comment below with any requests!