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E12 | Games | Builders, Start your Engines

This episode's engine building theme poses some of the toughest discussions, questions, and choices of the podcast so far. With great drinks, a fascinating icebreaker, and some of the toughest recommendation decisions, this episode lived up to every bit of excitement that Nelson felt for the topic!


What's on our Flight (00:41)

  • Dalton’s drinking: Auchentoshan's American Oak. This non-peated, lowlands scotch was discussed in our whiskey episode and is enjoyed for its smooth, bourbon-like taste. A highly accessible whiskey and a great transition to scotch for new drinkers!

  • Nelson's drinking: 3 Floyds Brewing Co.'s Robert the Bruce. This malty scotch ale was a beer we shared for the first time in college. It's great to see Nelson pursuing maltier options on the podcast!


What's On Our Table (6:14)


  • Race for the Galaxy. This neat little engine builder is cleanly executed and a great choice for the theme this week! I loved that this game fits engine building in 30 minutes and has varied strategies to explore. Plus, everyone love a great space theme!


  • Scythe, specifically The Wind Gambit expansion. We have discussed Scythe a lot (and will continue to throughout this episode), and have played it more. Nelson has been enjoying airships for the fresh mechanics and interesting twists they add to each play.


The icebreaker question for this episode was submitted by Andre (18:40)

What game has the single best example of a good board design and why? It could be viewed as aesthetically or mechanically best.

  • Nelson: Tzolk'in's board cannot be beaten! This game features interlocking gears that rotate for completely novel gameplay. Workers placed on the gears gain value over time as they rotate each round. Combined with a colorful Mayan theme, this board maxes out for mechanical integration on a game board.

  • Dalton: Scythe. The balance of the game board is central to the success of this epic, top-10 game, making it a great mechanical success. The true success, though, is in the art and theming implemented on the board. With hidden Easter-eggs, fantastic lore, and individual art on every game component, Scythe's board is truly a masterpiece of a game board.

Andre, this is a phenomenal question and one that was an absolute blast to think through! Thank you so much for the submission! If you are looking for us to answer a question, submit your question here.


Discussion starts at 29:43 in the episode

We found it so difficult to draw a boundary around which games are included in "engine building." We keyed in on games that create systems to generate more. More money, resources, power, etc. In an engine builder, you should feel more powerful each turn, able to do and obtain more with every move. You should be able to look back at the end of the game and be noticeably more powerful than at the start. That acceleration, that increase in power with every turn is what makes engine builders so fun to play! They yield a real sense of accomplishment with every game as you end the game having accomplished a lot, even without winning.

Market games have a particularly interesting application as the inputs and outputs that help the engine run are shared in a "free market," allowing players to shift their engines based on emerging trends from other players. Power Grid and Brass: Birmingham are particularly good applications of this mechanic.

We also discussed Evolution at length as a funky application of engine building. Based on evolving competing dinosaur species, this game has players at each others throats over communal food sources which function as victory points. The game also features an increasing maintenance cost to the engine as more populace species must eat more each round or will die out. Look to similar mechanics in Agricola and Underwater Cities to see how an increasing maintenance cost can help prevent the dreaded "runaway leader" scenario which is so dangerous for engine builders.

As always with our mechanics exploration episodes, we have prepared recommendations for low, medium, and high complexity engine builders based on your experience level. If you would like to continue reading on different growth mechanisms in engine builders, we found the following article especially helpful.

Recommendations start at 47:55 in the episode

Low Complexity

  • Dalton: Century: Spice Road. I find myself consistently using this game to describe the core of engine building. By purchasing cards that function as your "engine pieces," you craft an optimize spice-trading empire to overrun your opponents. This game feels very similar to Splendor but with a bit more mechanical integrity. MEC: M - 9, E - 7, C - 5, Overall: 6.5.

  • Nelson: Race for the Galaxy. Mentioned throughout the episode, this game is a great place to start for players new to engine building. Nelson is able to fit 2 plays of Race for the Galaxy in a standard lunch break! MEC: M - 7, E - 7, C - 5, Overall: 6.8.

Medium Complexity

  • Nelson: Wingspan. It almost feels silly to recommend this game based on the number of awards it won this year. Wingspan offers you only a few options for actions, but allows you to build your engine by upgrading your actions throughout the game. Also, in case we have not said it already, the game is stunningly gorgeous. MEC: M - 7.5, E - 8, C - 8.5, Overall 7.9.

  • Dalton: Viticulture (with Tuscany expansion). Personally I have only played Viticulture with the Tuscany, but I cannot imagine it being played any other way. The game does a great job of feeling slow at first but still allowing you to ramp over the course of the game. There are more paths to victory in this game than are immediately obvious, so take a sip and let the game develop on your pallet over time! MEC: M - 7.5, E - 7, C - 7, Overall 7.0 (note: I bumped up my M rating after playing again since we recorded)

High Complexity

  • Dalton: Scythe. Scythe earns its spot by encouraging players to find ways to take more powerful actions consistently as the game goes on, giving it that feeling of acceleration that we look for in engine builders. With phenomenal theming and art as discussed already, this game makes an excellent addition to any experienced gamer's collection. MEC: M - 8, E - 7.5, C - 9.5, Overall 8.1

  • Nelson: Underwater Cities. We are all very proud that Nelson managed to recommend a game in engine building week that is NOT Terraforming Mars! Underwater Cities is such a fun game to explore, forcing players to choose between powerful card and board actions with each turn. Acceleration in resources and power is truly felt with each round as the players colonize the daunting realms of our planet's oceans. MEC: M - 8, E - 9, C - 8, Overall 8.5.

Thanks for reading! Let us know what your favorite engine building game is in the comments!




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