Engine-Builder Games

I love building things so engine-builder games generally leave me very satisfied.  I’m currently designing an engine-builder called Brewin’ USA: Taproom Takeover. Since I’ve been playing a lot of these games, I am writing down some thoughts on favorite and popular games with this mechanic.  I plan to start a design diary on Taproom Takeover so constructuing an informed written opinion will be helpful to me.  I hope it’s helpful to you as well if you’re going to design an Engine-Builder game.


Splendor – Your resources are your engine which definitely allows you to get points faster.

  • What I liked: Simple and easy to learn.
  • What I disliked:  Splendor is so streamlined and tight that it results in an intense play experience even for new players.
  • Other comments: Personally didn’t feel like I was builder an engine but rather an infinite resource discount.  This intensity lessens the enthusiasm to play this game.

Race for the Galaxy – Your tableau provides your engine and VP.  Your tableau allows you upgraded actions and production.


  • What I liked:  This is my first exposure to engine builder with nice level of interaction via role selection.
  • What I disliked: There is a lot going on, and a lot of stuff to remember but it can feel very satisfying.  Learning the icon soup and turn-to-turn upkeep can be “feature” barriers to getting this game to the table.

Roll for the Galaxy – Race but with dice so it must be good.


  • What I liked:  The components were very nice.
  • What I disliked:  I was expecting to like this more than Race hearing that it was more streamlined and better components.  The dice present randomness to the roles which takes some of the role selection depth out of the game.  It wasn’t different enough to add to my collection and the hidden player screen is a big component turn-off for me.

Orleans – My favorite on the list. The engine is the tokens in your bag that you will play on your player board and spend back to the bag only to draw them again later.

  • What I liked: The player had control to keep this game really tight or to acquire a large bag of tokens.  There was a fair bit of center game board interaction in addition to the engine.  There additional to this game that I have not yet explored, but information was compartmentalized pretty well so I was not overwhelmed.
  • What I disliked: Players having access to all upgrades (I think). Going that route allows players to optimize additional token placement options for their player mat.  I never really utilized this aspect of the game and still had a great time so I wonder if it is adding value or not.

Terraforming Mars – Your engine is somewhat already established and your goal is to make it more efficient.  Each round you get a boat load of credits and your goal is to improve this and convert it to VP later.

  • What I liked: The theme just works.  It was fresh and executed in a way that you could tell the publisher / designer was excited about terraforming.  Layering in co-op, semi co-op, and competitive parts of the game is neat.  The end scoring is a clever design.
  • What I disliked: I felt that the loosey-goosey rules deterred me from enjoying the game altogether.  My main gripes were about players taking one action or two actions on a players turn both slowing the game down and rarely adding strategic significance.  The entire game I kept asking myself why this was not a simultaneous action selection game.  The game components were a bit of a letdown.
  • Other comments: This game is very expandable.  The combination of cards driving with a strong resource conversion backbone and shared game board interaction was impressive.

Imperial Settlers – Your tableau is your engine and it’s cool to have the choice of production, features, and actions that are either common or faction specific.

  • What I liked: The engine aspect was very neat and the tableau placement a welcomed layer of depth.  I liked drafting cards because I felt like I was interacting with other players.
  • What I disliked:  One small gripe was not really being able to see other people’s engines and making draft choices lacking this information.

Dominion – Mostly commonly referred to as a deck-builder, but your deck is your engine.

  • What I liked: A mechanism distilled down to its core.  Combos are all over the place which adds a lot of depth.
  • What I disliked: Not being able to read cards on the table.  Variety is really only added by different sets of cards.  Player interaction is very little.

Gizmos – Your tableau triggers free actions when you do a particular action allowing you to generate combos.

  • What I liked:  The marbles were cool and the engine you built was a challenging project to make something efficient.
  • What I disliked:  It didn’t feel like this game did anything interesting in terms of player interaction.  The randomness of the marble draw was pretty painful if you’re only drawing one marble at a time.  A player’s engine can ramp up much quicker than another player’s engine.

Scythe – If only this game were pitched as an engine builder game.

  • What I liked: There is a lot of awesome stuff here.  The simple action selection system builds a lot of depth into your turn.  The game flows really well.  The end-game scoring is pretty dynamic and the goal system is charming.  I think the most innovative part of the game is how you move resources around with you on the map.
  • What I disliked:  The theme makes me want to fight with mechs dudes on a map style, but the game caps its incentives to fight.  Some player boards and starting location combos can feel disadvantaged.

A few observations of this list:

  • There are not a lot of light games on this list.  I would say Splendor, Dominion, and maybe Gizmos are the lightest of the bunch.
  • The heavier games tend to involve a central play area that creates more interaction.
  • Many of these games have a lot of resource types (avg is 5+).  The games with less resources or an underlying money resource have much more combo flexibility (terraforming / dominion).
  • Not many dice games on my list.  Let me know if I am missing some.
  • Asymmetry is somewhat popular.
  • Not many engine-builder games have an elegant slow down mechanic.  The one solid example here is dominion and VP cards that slow your deck down.
  • Randomness is not used too often.
  • A lot of these games could also be classified as a race game.  Splendor, scythe, gizmos, dominion, both race and roll.
  • Not that many options for solo or co-op on this list.
  • No craft beer games on the list…

My next article on engine-builder games will start to dive into the game design for Brewin’ USA: Taproom Takeover.

If you have a favorite engine-builder game, let me know which one and what you like and dislike about it!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.