Compound Games: Games within games

This thread possibly needs a better title. I have a naming issue.

I want to talk about games that have multiple systems that make up the whole of the game. I have been thinking about this after recently playing a game of Tapestry and shortly after that Beyond the Sun. The third game that is in my mind and that is largely responsible for me thinking about this is Black Angel.

What makes all these games similar to me is that they have distinctly separated “theaters of play” in Beyond the Sun this is the tech tree and the planets board. In Tapestry I feel that each of the tracks is its own sub game but you also play the central map and your city map. In Black Angel there is the central board, the space actions and your personal tile pushing game.

Of the 3 games mentioned, I think that only Beyond the Sun seems to do the composition well enough that it feels like you are playing one game. Still balancing your resources and actions is tricky and a large part of how to play well.

In Black Angel the personal board with the tiles feels the most superfluous and I wonder if the game had been better if it had just been the central ship actions and the space actions.

I don’t even know where to start with Tapestry. I played on BGA last week and this made the effect of it feeling disjointed even worse. Solos on my table felt a little more controlled and puzzly which I enjoy. I could never grok how to play with the area control thing in the center. I’ve ignored this in almost every game usually to my own detriment.

Are there other games like this? What do you call them? Why does Beyond the Sun work better (for me!) than my other 2 examples which I both really really still want to like? (I don’t even have Black Angel anymore–a fact I regret every once in a while despite never once really enjoying a game of it)

Am I just trying to draw connections between games where there are none? is it just me trying to make sense of my failure to enjoy Black Angel and Tapestry years later? Is this just another version of a point salad? Is this the Lacerdarization of board games?

It is a common thing among games that aren’t too concerned with thematic integration of mechanisms. Despite my love of complex games, I do prefer it when the game is focused on one thing - your tableau, or a central shared space - and not a variety of sub-games mashed into one.

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An extreme case of this: Space Cadets, where each player is playing a different solo minigame, and sometimes you have to swap positions. Then at the end you see how well you did, and that has some effect on the overall state of the ship. (Previously owned; I loved the idea, but the actual gameplay wasn’t much fun for friends or for me.)

SUSD play

SU&SD Play Space Cadets - YouTube

I certainly favour games that do one thing well – I still prefer The Resistance (pure social deduction) to Battlestar Galactica (social deduction plus resource puzzle). And I like a big complex game to rely on basically the same mechanism throughout – this is definitely considered a virtue in RPGs, and something like 90% of GURPS comes down to “roll 3d6, the lower you get than your target number the better you’ve done”. (Indeed, one of my arguments with it is that it’s only 90%.)

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From what I can remember, you guys came up with “Theme-park Euro” as a label. Choose which ride you want to try and they are all disjointed.

I certainly prefer integrated mechanisms. Best I can think of that I enjoy is Terra Mystica/Gaia Project where the game has two separate focus: the temple/tech track and the buildings. The latter has the tech track to be a means to an end, so it’s more integrated.

Tapestry, Troyes, and Black Angel are that sort of Euros that I don’t like.


I wonder if some variant of point salad could be used. Mechanics salad? Board salad?

Nah in second thoughts…

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I remember now. Though I do not associate Beyond the Sun with that and so maybe that’s why I didn’t remember the term.

Now that you mention Terra Mystica and Gaia Project, I wonder if 2 is just the maximum number of separated play elements / boards a game can successfully combine into a whole. Overall, I think Gaia Project is doing this better than TM. The cult track is about the only thing I don’t enjoy anymore in TM after having seen what Gaia Project did with it.

I was also thinking a bit about Antiquity when I made this post and the duality of having your own city to build while branching out into the common map. But those two elements integrate so well that it didn’t seem like a good fit–or maybe it is precisely what I am looking for.

I think Lost Ruins of Arnak might fit in this category, but I have only played it the one time and it was a while ago. You have the research track, with two separate paths on it, Guardians to overcome, resource collection, and deckbuilding/worker placement mechanics powering it all.

I don’t know, maybe these aren’t distinct enough to fall into this definition, as I have only played BtS out of the list you give, and it very definitely has the two theaters, tech tree and space colonization.

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A good example might be Pipeline, with Curious Cargo as the counterexample.

In Pipeline, the economic/action selection elements are the game we’re all playing. Even though purchasing pipe tiles is incorporated into that action selection, the act of laying those tiles is effectively another game in its own right. It’s a solo puzzle you play concurrently with the game we’re all playing, and your performance is pretty crucial.

Curious Cargo also has a pipe puzzle with other elements (in this case a snappy push-and-pull supply-and-demand faceoff). The spatial element is very similar to that of Pipeline’s, but it and all the other elements are the game we’re all playing. Your performance with the puzzle aspect is crucial once again, but it’s also deeply integrated with the movement of cargo trucks and what cubes push to the other player’s board.

In both cases your performance in the game will be profoundly affected by your performance with the pipe puzzle, but in Pipeline there’s a distinct “side game” feel to it. It can make a big difference on the scoreboard, but if you really boil it down, it’s just a really deep, freeform personal goal generator.


Hmm. Everdell?

Although (in the base game) you’re using the board to directly pay for the cards, and the cards can generate more board resources, so they’re very connected.

Where games fall over is when you’re left asking “Can subgame 2 even generate enough victory points to be worth pursuing instead of Subgame 1?” and I’ve heard that asked about Lost Ruins of Arnak and Beyond the Sun.


I’m sure I’ve heard about someone winning Beyond the Sun entirely on the planets board…


Bora Bora There is an excellent dice placement mechanic that’s a way in to several mini games. There’s an island area where you get points for extending your network, a shells market for set collection, a market to get workers for bonus actions, a priests track to compete over and a personal player board with 3 sub games on it. There are links between some of these areas and god cards to break rules and constraints around the dice placements. This is the only Feld game I own but he may well be the exemplar of the style discussed in this thread so a bunch more of his games could be choosable (Trajan :eyes:)


I did consider buying Bora Bora. The only Feld game I have played more than once is Castles of Burgundy (actually playing a series of them on BGA right now with a friend, it‘s good fun and well suited to async) and that doesn‘t qualify. The other one I tried is Carpe Diem and that doesn‘t do it either. I nearly bought Bora Bora a year ago when FLGS still had a copy but ended up deciding against more Feld games when it turned out that my partner really didn‘t want to play Carpe Diem.

I am not actively looking for these games, just wondering if I should avoid them and what are red flags for such games… as in will they come together as one game or remain a disjointed jumble of ideas.

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The original Android from FFG was like this. Suspects were a secret placement game; the Conspiracy was a tile-laying puzzle; plots were CYOA story cards; and the main board was its own spatial movement optimization game.

Lots of worker placement games have elements of this. For example, Champions of Midgard has several types of monster battles you can participate in, each with its own peculiar gameplay. You can’t do all of them and have to choose.

Open world games can be like this too. Western Legends gives players multiple options for gaining VP on different areas of the map. You can rustle cattle, fight bandits, rob the bank, rob the train, be a good-guy marshal, mine for gold, and clear out the frontier.

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