‘Ship’ Building

There are a bunch of different board and card games that, in some way, relate to making things. Making things is cool, players like making things, and giving players opportunities to make things gives them something to engage with. This isn’t a unique observation: board and table games are awash with games about building things, both mechanically and thematically.

And there are some that let you, mechanically, in one way or another, make ships.

Merchant and market games often let you buy ships to transport goods. Some games let you make trade routes. Some games let you position an arrangement of ships so your opponents can attack them. And some games even let you build a ship out of specific little pieces, tiny tiles.

But what if we took some of these games about ships and made them about ships?

Jokey tone aside, in this case, here are the two terms of ‘ship’ I mean, if you’re confused:

  • Ships, referring to vessels designed to transport goods, usually over water, but also sometimes the term we use for moving things through space. A spaceship, a trading ship, that kind of thing.
  • Ships, referring to fan-derived interest in relationships between established characters in a fictional canon.

So what we’re doing is taking ship games, about spaceships and boats and trade and stuff, and seeing what they look like if they’re ship games, games about relationships between characters.

Here’s three ideas!

Machi Koro

This game works on a mechanic where you have a set of cards you own that are public, and sometimes connected or adjacent to one another, in a form known as a tableau. Your tableau holds your cards, and you roll a dice on your turn to see which of those cards do something. Cards you have get you resources you can use to buy other cards, and that means that you can build out what your tableau does when the dice get rolled.

Now, making this for a shipping game – we’ve kind of made this already, the game Cafe Romantica, but that game uses the mechanics to represent the operations of a Cafe, with irregular attendance, where your cafe can react to the dice rolls in different ways. Also, in that game, the relationships are a bit abstracted. You can pay to make characters ‘favourites’ and that makes them react to one another’s actions.

What if we wanted to shift this idea into a game about relationships? Well, my idea here is what if you start with two character cards that you want to ship, and then the cards you’re buying, to add to your tableau, are buiding a connection, showing and legitimising that the idea of their relationship. This case, the game would kinda be about you arguing about the ship with your friends.

Galaxy Trucker

In Galaxy Trucker, you have a grid based board where you slot square tiles into spaces that have to connect to one another like a sort of mad-libs jigsaw. Galaxy Trucker is really cool, a game I like a lot, and part of the joy of it is watching as your construction kinda gets out of hand, and you start desperately scrabbling for a piece that will make it make sense, even as other people are taking pieces from the same common space.

This game’s building phase is deliberately kind of scrabbly and then you see how good a job your ship – like the vehicle – does sustaining attacks from circumstances.

I kind of like the idea of a Galaxy-trucker based game where what you’re trying to do is build a plausible, coherent argument to defend your ship based on ‘evidence’ from the material in the content, and then the ‘events’ that play out from like, watching the series in question. That could give you something fun.

Any Roll-And-Write

I went looking for the Roll-and-write that I was thinking of for this? There’s a roll-and-write that uses the dice rolls to represent damage to your ship as you sail around the cape of good horn but I can’t find it. Anyway, point is.

Roll and writes are great for this kind of game because you don’t have to give people the same kind of content, you can literally ask them to pick their own actual ships and then use rolling dice to determine new story beats and connections between them. You don’t want to necessarily make it a full writing exercise, but you could use these ideas to do like a relationship chart, drawing lines between characters.


There, a handful of ideas. Change the context of existing games and see what the mechanics look like they’re expressing.

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