Mechanics Focus: Dexterity Games


The BoardGameGeek Glossary defines Dexterity Game this way: n. A game where the major skill needed is a physical action, such as flicking (Crokinole), balance (Topple), or deft manipulation (Jenga).

General Appeal

Many people of all ages enjoy dexterity games and since they generally require skills that are not necessarily acquired with age, people of all ages can usually enjoy them together. Usually the “smarter” adults can’t stomp on the younger players just because they have more gaming experience. In fact, young players often have the dexterity necessary that can deteriorate with age, so in a dexterity game they may have the upper hand, as it were.

Specific Interest

So why am I writing about dexterity games now? Well, the great folks at Great Than Games (and Dice Hate Me Games) are running a Dexterity Game Design Contest until August 31, 2015. If you think you may be interested at all, please go check it out.

In the competition announcement dexterity games are described as such: “A dexterity game, in the context of this announcement, is defined as a game that requires the combination of physical ability and strategic thinking. A few notable examples of dexterity games are Jenga, Animal Upon Animal, Pitchcar, Ascending Empires, Cube Quest, and Terror in Meeple City.”

Truth be told, these days I am not a big fan of what I would call pure dexterity games, but I certainly have enjoyed them through the ages and have owned several. As kids we played many of these games daily and enjoyed the heck out of them: Jacks, Marbles (I still have an awesome collection including some from ca. 1920), Pick Up Sticks and the much more interesting variety Jack Straws, Barrel of Monkeys, an Olympics themed game that I can’t seem to find on BGG, but still have some of the bits around, eventually Jenga (when it was the new hotness in 1983), and some super-cool big games as well, like: Carrom, Skittles, Table Skittles (I wish I knew where mine is today), and many more. But, my fingers are not as dexterous and my hands not as steady as they once were, so these games are not as fun.

Additionally, I used to make penny pool games – miniature bumper pool games where you flick pennies into the pockets – and wooden puzzles and toys for craft fairs. I even built my own first-class Skittles game from my own pattern with hand-turned pins.

Grand Design

So why would I be interested in designing a game for this contest if dexterity games aren’t my favorite mechanic today? Well, I think of the great designer Ignacy Trzewiczek who has stated that he does not like co-op games which caused him to design my favorite co-op game (and one of my top 5 favorites of all games) Robinson Crusoe (BGG Rank 13!). Not a bad implementation for someone who doesn’t like the mechanic. Since I have a long history of playing dexterity games, but today am generally looking for something more out of a game than what the typical dexterity game provides, I may have some ideas on how to implement the mechanic into something unique. I may also completely miss the mark – creating something that meets nobody’s expectations.

Another contributing factor is that I am a fan of Dice Hate Me Games and their focus on “Americana” games. These are themes that really interest me and I have a few designs in the works that I think are good fits for the Dice Hate Me brand. So maybe I have an affinity to what they are looking for in a game in this contest. Maybe not.

As I was thinking about what I would want in a dexterity game today, two designs came to mind.

The first was completely new and came to mind as I thought about two public domain games; one that is the hotness of dexterity games and the other a traditional card game that I have been tinkering with several tweaks over the last year or so. Now, obvious mashups can result in horrible games, but they can also be quite interesting. This could be an extra challenge to do well.

The second is a game that I have been simmering on the back burner for almost two years and already thought would be a good fit for Dice Hate Me. As I thought about what I am already working on and how dexterity could make one of those designs more interesting a light went off – more like a fireworks display. A dexterity component in this game could literally “make the game.” Unfortunately, this game includes components that I don’t think I can fabricate easily for a prototype, so this one is also a challenge.

So please play along as I start the design process on these two games – yep, both of them. Since they both have challenges that could topple my attempt at having a design entry by the end of August, I will be working on both of them. Oh, you want to know more? Watch for posts on each of these designs in the New Games Design Workbook over the coming weeks.