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Board Game Diary: Massively Dynamic

Dear Board Game Diary,

The conversation at Game Night last week was flowing like the games and the brews: frequently and passionately. It’s nice when a game can spark some light conversation and let’s one in on the thoughts of the people at the table. We were discussing a game that most of us were in agreement on that we have frequently passed on as it has lost its initial luster. I described the game as being very static and my preference for a more dynamic experience.

In my two beer state, this made complete sense but upon further analysis the following day, I needed further clarification. What really is a dynamic game? On the other side of the coin, what is a static game? How do these terms cross into the board gaming world? That may be going a bit too far so let me start by defining exactly what is dynamic and static.

Dynamic, as it would be used as an adjective, is characterized by constant change, activity, or progress. In essence, remaining in constant flow. Static, on the other hand, is lacking in movement, action, or change. As defined, they are contradictory: two faces of the same coin.

I find these definitions to be rather restrictive when I try to use them to describe a board game. As a system, board games have a flow dictated by a set of rules. These rules are intended to restrict players to provide the challenge of the game; it is these qualities that more align with the definition of static. This implies that all games are rather static, and I would agree with that notion. I will concede this but these analyses are in a vacuum because we are comparing board games to themselves and not to strictly these definitions.

I also feel when describing a board game that one would be able to say definitively that it is either static or dynamic. All games are intrinsically static with players driving gameplay to be more dynamic. It is here, in our games play space, that game’s dynamic natures emerge. For these reasons, I say that each game lies on a spectrum with static on one end and dynamic on the other. Where a game falls on it depends on how the players interact with the mechanisms designed within.

Evaluation of such things is rather subjective on the player’s experiences so obviously, I’m bringing my bias to the table here. Regardless, I would like to further define what aspects of a game I feel can push a game toward being dynamic. These aspects are multiple paths of play, evolving game spaces, and asymmetry somewhere within the system.

Multiple paths of play involve having a plethora of options at your disposal. This wider landscape allows players to develop strategies through play. A static game keeps the number of options to a minimum with it’s underlying depth to be found within the mastery of the game. Both of which, dynamic and static games, provide depth through different means, dynamic with options and static with long-term, tactical play.

A dynamic example of multiple paths of play is A Feast for Odin with over 50 worker placement locations.

The evolution of the game space, as I see the definition, is how the players interact with the rules and each other over the course of play. This aspect can be found throughout games in general but how it displays tends to differ between static and dynamic systems. Static systems provide the same starting conditions, rules, and options throughout, but tactics evolve as the game state changes. This is displayed through the ever-changing board state of a Chess match; your tactics change with your position on the board without affecting your options. Dynamic systems evolve differently. Starting conditions, rules, and options throughout the game may change which force players to adapt strategically. Think long term adaptive strategy for dynamic and a short term calculated approach for static.

A dynamic example of evolution of game state is Scoville with an ever-changing pepper field with different crop yields and variable order cards.

Asymmetry of play ties heavily into my previous statement. Static gameplay tends to favor having a similar starting position with the same set of options throughout play. Dynamic gameplay, on the other hand, will favor each player receiving different options than their opponents. This can manifest with unique player abilities, limited resource or action pools, or individual starting conditions. Each player is provided with different opportunities in which to explore strategy.

A dynamic example of asymmetry is Wingspan with each player receiving 5 individual bird cards with individual powers that no other player possesses.

Though the differences between the two systems seem subtle, they couldn’t be any more different when you are able to see them through play. Some games make this more obvious than others and tend to lean in one direction more. Each mechanic or rule will favor one style which drives the game on the spectrum between dynamic and static.

All of these games have a time and place at your table. Sometimes, I don’t want the proverbial lions share of options at my leisure. There may be times that a static game like Onitama is just not the experience I desire. The important detail to remember is to listen to the players at the table and find the perfect experience that suits their needs.

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