Some mechanics are moderately new as the hobby of gaming grows and adapts to new players, themes, and play styles. Other mechanics, however, seem to have existed since the hobby’s creation. Tile placement is one of the latter.
According to Board Game Geek The mechanic of Tile Placement has arguably existed since 1120 with Chinese Dominoes. The year can be up for debate; but the idea that Dominoes is a tile placement game is clear making this one of the older mechanics that is still used in modern gaming.
A vast majority of games that utilize Tile Placement involve matching parts of the tile to other parts already in play. In Carcassonne players must keep roads attached to roads; castle walls to castle walls, fields to fields, rivers to rivers, etc. Similarly in Alhambra players must match tiles with walls to other tiles with walls. Returning to Dominoes, based upon the variant in play, players must generally match number to number.
One of the beautiful things about Tile Placement is its versatility. The tiles themselves are quite flexible in regards to shape, size, and how they interact with other mechanics in play. I will look at two games specifically in this regard to illustrate. First Carcassonne; which we will look at in more detail tomorrow then Tsuro. In Carcassonne the main crux of the game falls to tile placement; players draws a tile from a bag then places the tile on the play surface further developing the world at large. The variance comes in worker derived area control. The more in depth explanation of this second mechanic will be detailed further in the next blog, but as the players develop the map with tile placement they then have the option to place a worker on the tile they just placed for the sake of earning them points either now or at the end of the game. This additional mechanic, which I would define as a hybrid mechanic, partners well with the tile placement as the two are co-dependent; the area control gives purpose to the tile placement while the tile placement gives players an area to control.
Tsuro gives players a different experience with the same mechanic. In Tsuro players start on the border of the play area then move about the play area as they place tiles. Each tile has two connection points on each of the four sides; the connections are then connected with lines in various patterns; either going straight across the tile; curving to the other connection point on the same side, or crossing to one of the connection points on the adjacent sides. Players draw a tile from a bag then place in in a manner that one of the connections on the new tile is connected to their pawn; their character then moves along the line on the placed tile then any other tiles the new one leads them to. As players place tiles eventually they will find the placed tile moving not only themselves but other players as well; as any time a tile is placed adjacent to your pawn your pawn follows the new path. At any time if a player is forced off the play area they are eliminated.
These are but two examples of how the tile placement mechanic can vary; be it used to create areas to be controlled or to form a path the characters must follow. The mechanic can be partnered with others quite well; Alhambra, for example, merges Tile Placement with card drafting and hand management, while Caverna uses Tile Placement in conjunction with Worker Placement. Tile Placement has thus recently become a common secondary mechanic serving in partner with mechanics that derive their purpose from said placement.
The future of the mechanic excites me; as I see new designers toying with the mechanic in more clever and unique ways I have hopes to see the game space growing and adapting. One of the joys that comes from this mechanic is the aspect of modular boards. Catan, for example, does not use tile placement in play though the board is created using tile placement with hexagonal tiles as opposed to the square tiles that are most commonly seen. Clash of Cultures similarly uses tile placement to create a modular map while not using the mechanic in the play of the game.
The mechanic as a whole is fantastic and variable which leads to its endurance as it adapts to the themes and play styles that are popular at any given time. If you are looking for some game to play that use this mechanic well I would recommend; in partner to the previously listed games; Gold Ahoy (a good 2 player game that works well with younger players), Turbulence (an indie game that uses tiles in a very unique manner), and any of the games from the D&D Adventure System which use tile placement in an RPG setting.
Come back Tomorrow as we look at one of the most popular Tile Placement games; Carcassonne! Until then you can find us on social media!