Dynamics are what happens when game mechanics, rules and components come together as a whole and create your games unique player experience.
There are a lot of games out there that are similar in many ways. If you take games like Carcassonne, Azul and Terraforming Mars. All three of these games can very much be classed as tile placement games. That being the case they all create very different player experiences.
Even if we were to strip back the theme of each game. Focus solely on the rules and mechanics, it would be hard to say that these titles played the same.
That is because as we layer more mechanics, rules and player actions into the game, the “dynamics” of each title changes. Dynamics are what happen when you throw everything together. They are the whole engine of the game working together in one system. I used a set of gears as the feature image of this post. That is a good way to think of dynamics. Each cog represents a rule or mechanic or component. The sum of those parts are the dynamics they create.
Interestingly as much as a game will use the same mechanics and create a different dynamic, we can also use different mechanics to create similar dynamics in a game.
Take Settlers of Catan for example. In the base game, you use dice to activate tiles (or the robber) at the start of each round. Statistically, we can can predict how often a number will come up and adjust strategy accordingly. The 5 & 6 player expansion comes with cards that you can choose to draw rather than rolling the dice. This is a different mechanic that can be used to create the same dynamic within the game.
What Do I Do With Dynamics
So now you have a firm understanding of what they are, what can you do with dynamics?
To be perfectly honest, not much.
If game design were like baking, you as a designer would spend the time in the kitchen. You’d be throwing ingredients together, measuring and mixing in the hopes of creating a great tasting cake.
After you pop it in the over and leave it to cook, you don’t really have much say in the way the cake turns out. Dynamics are very much the same. They are the result of what happens after you’ve baked all your mechanics, rules, themes and components together.
One interesting thing to mention with regards dynamics, is they are not always driven by elements you intentionally add to your game. Take Risk for example.
The game rules don’t specifically mention anything about forming alliances with other players, or making cease fire agreements. However, these are dynamics which often appear in the game regardless. These player behaviors extend beyond the rules of the game, but are still absolutely dynamics of the game.
And that is something you should always look out for when play testing you games. The desire to create meaningful mechanics and moments can come from how players choose to play your game, as much as how you enforce them to.