The Game Mechanics: Tile Placement
Tile placement is a board game mechanic created by the ancient Romans when they were installing the mosaics in the great bathhouses of Rome. Actually... no that's not what happened at all. When I think of modern tile placement games my first thought is always Carcassonne. It was the first tile placement game I played and will forever live in my brain. For this edition of The Game Mechanics I will use Carcassonne to dive into Tile Placement.
What are tile placement games? Tile placement games are games where most of what occurs in the game is the act of placing tiles in a personal or shared tableau. Traditionally there are games like Dominoes and Scrabble that are very much tile placement. Then there are hobby games like Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Patchwork and Suburbia that all have us placing tiles to win the game. Sometimes tile placement is just a part of a game as a group of mechanics. Games like this are Betrayal at House on the Hill, Zombies!!!, Maglev Metro.
Tile placement games are games where most of what occurs in the game is the act of placing tiles in a personal or shared tableau.
Carcassonne is a tile placement game without much else involved so its a great case study on what tile placement is and how it works. The game starts off with the starter tile that has a little bit of everything, a road a field and a city. These are the three basic types of tiles that come in the base version of the game. There are tons of expansion for Carcassonne including rivers, towers, festivals and carnivals. There is so much to buy here. There is even a co-op version with ghosts!
In Carcassonne each player gets 7 meeples. On a players turn they draw a tile from the stack and place it next to an existing tile (boom tile placement explained). The tiles all have some sort of terrain on them that dictates how they can be placed adjacent to other tiles. For example if you have a tile with a road on it the road has to connect to another road it cannot just point to an empty field or a city tile. This is what I love about tile placement games, its the puzzly aspect trying to figure out of the available places where you can fit the tile. In Carcassonne placing the tile is only part of it. You have those 7 meeples and you can place them on the tiles to "claim" the features. For example if you put that road tile down then you can place a meeple on it to claim it.
Most games need some sort of conflict and if you are just placing tiles and meeples where does the conflict come in?
Place a tile and claim a feature on it seems super simple on the surface, however there is another aspect to it. Most games need some sort of conflict and if you are just placing tiles and meeples where does the conflict come in? Scoring! to score a feature you need to complete it. Carcassonne is famous for being a walled city. To score a city you need to complete the wall that encloses it. One of the rules in Carcassone for placing meeples on the tile is that you cannot directly place a meeple that is directly on the same feature that another player has claimed. However you can place one nearby and then connect the two features later with a third tile. This is how you steal features from other players. When you score a feature the player with the most meeples on the feature scores the points if its tied then both score. This aspect is what makes Carcassonne competitive.
Tile placement isn't just about placing tiles on the table. Tile placement allows players to build the game environment as the game progresses. With tile placement in a game no game is going to be exactly as the last one. Basic tile placement games like Carcassonne are great on their own. I also enjoy tile placement as part of a more complicated game like Betrayal at House on the Hill and Castles of Mad King Ludwig. Tile placement keeps all the players engaged during the game as they are all responsible for building the ecosystem of the game. Thanks for reading and please join the email list and come back as we continue on with our series of game mechanic analysis, The Game Mechanics.