The 10 Best Mechanisms You Aren’t Using, Part 5

As we get closer and closer to the top spot, we take on increasingly maligned game mechanisms.  Today, we look at two mechanisms with particularly poor reputations–fetch quests and player elimination.

3.   Fetch Quests

A fetch quest looks something like this: You need a screwdriver.  Merchant A has a Screwdriver but you’re broke.  So Merchant A says you can have the screwdriver if you see can get a new set of earrings for daughter B.  You go to jeweler C and ask for earrings D but since you still don’t have any money, jeweler C will let you have earrings D if you can eliminate the rats E that have invaded his shop.  So you eliminate rats E and get earrings D from jeweler C which you give to daughter B so merchant A gives you the screwdriver–whew!

Fetch quests are quite common in computer roleplaying games.  They are a handy tool when plotting tabletop roleplaying games as well.  They can be a quick, slick way to wrap a bit of plot around the core roleplay experience.  They can also serve as a nice way to introduce new characters into the setting.

Fetch quests are also derided so much so that when I mentioned to my friend Jenny Gracin they were to be featured in this article, she snarled and spat.  Clearly some folks have had bad experiences with them.  And that’s fair too.  Much like memory, fetch quests can enhance or destroy a design depending on how they’re employed.  At their worst, fetch quests in a CRPG can be little more than an evening scrolling through meaningless dialogue boxes until all the appropriate points have been hit.  tsk.

Appropriate use of fetch quests in RPGs requires that the fetch quest enhance the roleplaying experience rather than replace it.

Appropriate use of fetch quests in tabletop board games requires that Merchant A and Jeweler C be players at the table.  When it is other players who have what you need, these fetch quests drive you to interact with them.

Players in Uwe Rosenberg’s wonderful Klunker sell gems to one another, working to collect sets.  The game plays in alternating phases. During phase A, you must put gems into your window that other players will want to purchase. During phase B, you attempt to buy the ideal set of gems before someone else beats you to them.  Rosenberg’s approach uses these fetch quests to keep you constantly working to read the other players.

Players who wish to build rail in the second half of Martin Wallace’s Brass must first find a connection to a coal supply.  You are allowed to supply your own coal but more often you will be fetching it from another player’s coal mine. Because coal must be shipped along a rail line, you will often find yourself building rail to destinations you don’t particularly care about, just to establish the fetch line you need for the coal.

Again, the key to good use of fetch quests in tabletop board games is that these quests must enhance player interaction.


2.   Player Elimination

Player elimination is the red-headed stepchild of game design.  At best, it is dismissed as a useless residual from the bowels of American game design.  More often it is spat upon, beaten and kicked across the message boards.

Working from this attitude, most modern Werewolf-type games focus on eliminating player elimination.  This has led to some great designs–Resistance Avalon is a personal favorite.  Even wargame design has been similarly restrained by either banning player elimination or terminating the game at the moment a player is eliminated.  The era of player elimination seems to be over.

Two years ago, I realized just how limiting such an attitude can be.  A group of teenagers was being introduced to Werewolf and it was my job to narrate. Even though the “dead” players were forbidden from speaking or interacting with “living” players in any way, they remained and observed with great intensity as the game played out.  Even though they had been eliminated from the game, they were still highly engaged in its outcome.

This was the day I discovered the depth of my misunderstanding.  Player elimination does have its place in the game designer’s toolbox.  Proper implementation simply hangs on whether players can be kept engaged beyond their participation in the game.

Yatsutaka Ikeda’s Shadow Hunters–another Werewolf game–makes this approach completely clear to players.  You win if your team wins.  It doesn’t even matter if your character is dead. Because of this emphasis on the success of the team, the game allows opportunities for deliberate sacrifice. A player can remain engaged to the end of the game, waiting to see if her sacrifice brought victory to her team.  Ikeda made player elimination an asset rather than a liability.

Terry Goodchild’s Formel Fun is a racing player elimination game which is extremely popular among my gaming group. Each player has a team of cars.  At the end of each lap, the rearmost car is eliminated and the race resets. The race has a heavy hand management element that makes it necessary to sacrifice one of your cars to preserve the other members of your team. Even when their last car is lost, players tend to remain in the audience, eager to see who pulls the victory and how.


Have you seen any great board games with explicit fetch quests?  What’s your position on player elimination?  Add your comments below!

I’ll see you Thursday for the top of the chart–roll and move!


4 thoughts on “The 10 Best Mechanisms You Aren’t Using, Part 5

  1. Cédrick Chaboussit says:

    You could have added the wonderful success ok King of Tokyo 2 years ago which combines players elimination which (unstable) team play. It’s coming back indeed !

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