Design Patterns: What You Do Helps Others Too

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For the inaugural post of the series I wanted to talk about a pattern that has been really important to my own designs, and that has become a hallmark of modern games.

What you do helps others too is a pattern in which your play doesn’t function to block others as much as it opens up possibilities to them. In this kind of game the winner is the one who is best able to get more out of her plays than she gives up to others. The name of the game is to capture surpluses, not to enforce scarcities.

Many games have some expression of this design pattern, but a few games are built strongly around it, like Carcassonne, Ingenious, and Eminent Domain.

In Carcassonne each tile creates new possible scoring options for players – though a strong player will claim the best scoring options for himself first. Ingenious has a similar feel, but unless tiles are placed so as to foreclose the option, it’s often the case that the following player can score one better than the one who played before him. Tile-laying games have this pattern deeply embedded in them.


New Frontiers for Role Selection

Eminent Domain  is just one example from a rich collection of role- and action-selection games that feature some mechanism that allows other players to benefit from actions on the active player’s turn. Glory to Rome, Puerto Rico, Race and Roll for the Galaxy, and Tiny Epic Galaxies all have different flavors of this mechanism. In Puerto Rico, everyone gets to take the action of the role selected, but the chooser gets a bonus. In Race and Roll for the Galaxy, the only phases that take effect are those chosen by the players. In Eminent Domain and Glory to Rome, players can follow the actions of other players, and may take very strong versions of those actions based on the cards in their hands and tableaus that match the chosen action. In each of these games, players must think carefully about which actions to take so as not to give away too much to their opponents, and must also position themselves to be able to take advantage of actions their opponents are likely to choose.

In our game, Seikatsu, Matt and I took this dynamic that’s typical of tile-laying games and pushed it to the extreme.

A Game of Pespectives

In Seikatsu, players have the opportunity to score every single tile in the garden, whether they played it or didn’t. However, each player scores sets of flowers that exist in rows, and player view the rows from different perspectives. With every play, players create opportunities for other players to create sets, and must consider carefully how to maximize their score not simply by making the highest-point play, but by taking into account how their opponents might score off of that play too.

This design pattern can support both low-interaction games like Race for the Galaxy and high interaction games, like most tile-laying games. While it supports some blocking, especially in expert play, it tends to generally create positive feelings of increase, building, expanding and opportunity. Players feel good because they’re always gaining, and players feel clever when they maximize their opponents’ plays for themselves.

Your turn! What are some of your favorite games that feature the pattern of “What you do helps others too” ? What kinds of design problems do you solve with this pattern?



  1. Randy Hoyt July 10, 2017 4:15 pm Reply

    I love this element in Canterbury (2013) by Andrew Parks. It has 6 escalating services: water, food, religion, military, commerce, and culture. You cannot build a building in a district until it has all the prerequesite services. When I build something, I open up new options for other people. Plus, the high-scoring moves provide services to a lot of districts … so the more points I score then the more options I’m opening up for others.

    I love this pattern in Ingenious, which you mentioned. This pattern gives players another angle to consider than just, “How do I get the most points for myself on this turn?” In Ingenious, you often have to play in a way that caps off a row so an opponent can’t score even more than you did. Of course, when you make a choice to limit the options other players will have, you also may end up limiting what options *you* have. It’s a great sense of tradeoff and tension without just being, “Do I give up scoring on my turn to take you out?”

    • Isaac Shalev July 10, 2017 4:56 pm Reply

      Great examples! Spatial relationship games can easily incorporate this pattern as an alternative or complement to traditional blocking strategies.

  2. Bastiaan Reinink July 10, 2017 5:14 pm Reply

    I subscribed to your blog a few months back through an RSS reader (Feedly to be exact) but this latest post doesn’t show up in it. I haven’t a clue why, but it could be something you might want to look into.

    • Isaac Shalev July 10, 2017 7:01 pm Reply

      Thanks, I’ll try and figure out why. The feed address is and the new post is showing up in the content of that feed. Might be your reader hasn’t updated the feed?

  3. Matt Knaack July 10, 2017 5:43 pm Reply

    Lanterns is definitely part of this secret pattern cabal. I’m thinking that Patchwork is as well but to a much lesser degree. Both games force you to consider the options you will create for your opponent.

    Arguably, you could say any game that allows a player to control their opponent’s potential turn input (and thus their opponent’s potential turn output) would fall into this pattern.

    • Isaac Shalev July 10, 2017 7:05 pm Reply

      Nearly all games feed players’ choices back at one another. In this design pattern I wanted to emphasize the pattern in which what you do HELPS other players, rather than hurting them. Lanterns is a great example of this, in that you’re providing resources to other players every turn. Patchwork, on the other hand, is more ambivalent – everything you do creates a different choice for your opponent, but they aren’t necessarily helpful choices. Terraforming Mars, on the other hand, features a greenery tile that provides VPs to anyone who builds adjacent to them. By laying down the tile you help yourself, but you create opportunities for other players to score as well.

  4. Daniel Newman July 11, 2017 11:33 am Reply

    I added a follow mechanic to Dead Man’s Party and it really helps keep players engaged. The active player chooses an action that only they can do, and then one that everyone does. There can be a big decision there, in figuring out what you want to do that nobody else will that turn and what you’re ok with everyone getting a piece of.

  5. Jeffrey Henning July 11, 2017 11:41 am Reply

    Puerto Rico and San Juan are examples of this too.

  6. Nathan Hansen July 11, 2017 6:46 pm Reply

    Intriguing concept. I immediately thought of Lanterns when I read this. I look forward to reading further posts on patterns.

  7. Greg July 13, 2017 3:50 pm Reply

    Twilight Imperium does this for me. Though sometimes a secondary action feels like a right rather than a bonus, you see players saying “What do you mean nobody took research this turn?! I wanted that secondary”

    With the Scandinavia and the World game I’ve been doing a lot of playtesting to get the best sets of cards into the game. I’ve seen some odd effects in which the most loved abilities are sometimes things like “Pick a player, they draw 2 cards, you draw one” and sometimes “Destory a character and everything they owned” I’m not sure there is a preference for constructive over blocking play, I see plenty of examples of people loving both.

  8. Jake Forbes July 19, 2017 2:42 pm Reply

    Certain Lords of Waterdeep Intrigue cards, some Stone Age culture cards, and other games I can’t immediately recall have a drafting element where the inciting player gets first pick and all other players choose after. I really like this both as a way to introduce some moderate randomness where the player who chooses has greatest odds of finding a win, but with a chance of backfiring. It also can function as a bit of a mode shift, changing up game dynamics for a minute or so in private picks in a game that is otherwise about transparent choices.

    Another Chudyk game, Innovation, uses this very effectively with the ability to piggy back on, or else block attacks, if you have equal or more of the associated icon as the active player. The active player also gets a free card draw as payment for others taking the free action. This can create interesting tensions where a player can technically take a free action but choose not to because the draw pile distribution would give a windfall advancement to the active player. I like it a lot.

  9. Gray Detrick July 30, 2017 8:27 pm Reply

    Leadin from the “feel good” component of everyone getting things on other’s turns – Even though it’s not based off a player decision, but rather a random roll, the resource gathering of Catan or Valeria: Card Kingdoms as examples gives people’s hands a little something to do off turn, and keeps the anticipation of their turn building (ignoring the threat of the Catan robber…).

  10. Scott July 31, 2017 7:42 pm Reply

    Alexander the Great by Colovini and Go West! are two games that use this horribly. You have to use up your action to score, and you score everything, so you will help the winner stay in the lead unless you can get more points. The score track in yhis case ruins the game because you can clearly see who is winning and by how much. Hidden vps might help this. So, I can see good and bad versions of this mechanism in games. Another is Age of Steam, where you need to deliver packages along a route which may contain the winner’s tracks, paying them. Tranban by AV fixes that in its simplicity of gaining vps besides helping others

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