Coursera Gamification Course Activity-The Structural Elements of A Game That Makes it Successful

Pillars of the Earth

Pillars of the Earth is board game for 2-4 players based on Ken Follet’s book with the same title. For those unfamiliar with the game search google or see my review here:

Structural Elements of Pillars of the Earth:

Simple player choices

In this game players aren’t constrained to the traditional roll and move mechanic that immediately comes to mind when board games are mentioned thanks to games like monopoly and snakes and ladders. In Pillars of the Earth player’s have several choices on the board to which they can allocate resources, in this case their workers. Allocating workers on a certain spot on the board will trigger an action or an effect later on in the game.  An important rule is that there is a limit to how many players can put workers on each spot on the board. All actions are detailed on the board so players know exactly what they are getting into by putting workers on a specific spot. After allocating resources then the game proceeds to executing actions automatically on the board in a very linear way.

It’s a very simple choice but can have strategic depth when coupled with the bidding mechanics and the progression of the game.  

I think simple choices in a gamified system is important since in gamification  we are trying to produce habits in our target audience. Complex choices will probably do the contrary and take up people’s time. I’m not an expert on behavior, but I’m speaking for myself when I say that when I encounter overly long processes on a website for example then it’s an easy choice for me: leave.


            Pillars of the Earth is a worker placement and resource management game. Almost all the resources players have are limited. This creates competition among the players(who gets to a certain resource first for example), and allows for many instances when players can block each other’s strategy(although indirectly). Though player’s have simple choices to make, their choices can actually affect the choices of the other players, which can make for some interesting and fun decisions.  Being multiplayer, players can actually see the results of their actions on other players. This feedback (seeing your friend’s face when you screw him over) I think is one of the reason’s multiplayer games are engaging.


Engaging UI that encapsulates the theme

Pillars of the Earth have one of the most beautiful boards I’ve seen in a board game. It’s almost a painting that I can hang on a wall. The board also tells a story. During the second phase of the game, after allocating resources, players take the journey from the first spot until they get to the church they are building. Take away the art, the characters on the board and it’s just a simple worker placement/resource management game. When I play the game, as I take the journey through the different locations on the board I’m immersed in the story which tells of the building of a grand cathedral and all the perils and obstacles the characters have encountered to make it. 







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