Some games create a whole new world to explore, one tile at a time. This is a great way to create a new experience every time you play. Each tile placed carves out a section of the world to discover. I want to discuss how tile laying changes the control of a game. How can tiles change how people approach games? Is it too random or too controlling?
"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust
Scrabble is an incredibly popular board game where players lay tiles down to form words. It started in 1931 as a game called Lexiko and ever since then people have argued as to whether or not they can spell. The board grows as more and more words are added. This gives players new opportunities for words. Players become paralyzed analyzing their next move knowing that other players will point out the faults in their plan. They are competing both with other players and with the draw of the tiles.
Another well known game is Carcassonne made in 2000. This is considered one of the best games to bring people into the new era of board games. It combines a great medieval theme with a great tile laying mechanic. Players build a world of farms, roads, cities and more. At the end of the game people traverse this world to find out how many additional points they get. Each world is different and it's this difference that leads players to immediately want to create a new world.
This is a great game for both competitive players and those who prefer less conflict. Players can decide to use their tiles to make other players life hell or they can work on their castles and roads away from other players. However, it has the same issue as most point gathering games. At the end of the game is when most of the points are calculated. No one really knows who is in the lead until the very end.
Tsuro is a tile laying game that boils down the mechanic to it's simplest. Players lead their dragon through a mystical world created by placing direction tiles. If they fly off this world or crash into another dragon they are eliminated. Each player is given three random tiles to choose from. They can predict a limited scope of what the world might look like. This focuses players into reacting to the tiles and other players while also leading them further and further into the game. This is a great quick game that everyone seems to enjoy.
It is common that the theme matches the mechanic. For tile laying, the themes are usually exploring new and interesting areas. Linking theme and mechanic allows players to pick a game that suits their interests. The Cave has players discover the hidden depths of caves using tents, ropes and scuba gear. A must have for people with adrenaline filled weekends. Arboretum has players create a diverse and majestic garden of trees showing off the beauty of nature. Patchwork has players create an elaborate patchwork quilt filled with goofy shapes.
In all these cases, the players have started with nothing and ended up in a world they created. A world influenced one part by player choice and another by randomness. It's this balance that makes players want to come back and see what the next world will look like. It's the players attempts at controlling a chaotic world that makes it tense. It's the balance between theme and mechanic that makes this effective. Try adding tile laying to a game you play to see if it adds value, e.g., Chess, Monopoly, Pandemic, Risk, Ticket to Ride