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Game elements used to distribute resources, often with different characteristics, without necessarily revealing the distribution.

Tiles are physical game elements used either to distribute resources between players or to mark places on gameplay areas. They may be of many shapes but are typically heavy enough to not be move unless players intentionally mean to move them. They may shared the appearance of one side with other Tiles to make randomization of them possible, and let game designers choose the exact distribution of each type. Tiles do not need to be physical game elements; they can also be simulated in computer games.

Note: this pattern shared the same definition as Tiles since the difference primarily concern material and ergonomics.

Note: this pattern does not deal with the tiles that may be used to construct the Chess boards and their like, since these tiles are decorative and cannot themselves be manipulated in games.


The board game Othello consists of playing Tiles and flipping them, trying to make one's color dominant on the board.

42, Mahjong, Scrabble, and Tien Gow are all Tile-Based Games where Tiles are used as resources that form players hands, similar to how cards are used in many Card Games. Tetris can also be said to be a Tile-Based Games.

In contrast, Tiles are used in Carcassonne to build game worlds as gameplay progresses while in Hey! That's My Fish! they are used to destroy game worlds as gameplay progresses. The gameplay area of Settlers of Catan is constructed from Tiles before gameplay begins, but by randomizing these many different areas are possible. Carolus Magnus uses Tiles to represent gameplay areas also, but here the actual Tiles have no important information - what affects gameplay is how controls them, if they are joined with other Tiles to form groups, and their position in relation to other Tiles and groups. Small World has a fixed board for each number of players but use Tiles to mark mountains and various constructions that players can create as part of their moves.

NetHack and Slaves to Armok II: Dwarf Fortress uses Tiles to represent corridors, walls, dungeon, and cavern floors and so on. Minecraft does the same although here the Tiles are actually blocks. These Tiles are used to generate an almost limitless number of different dungeons but only qualify as Tiles as they can be destroyed or in some cases moved.

Using the pattern

Tiles have many similarities with Cards, so any design intending to use Tiles can also consider using Cards. While both can be used to create Hands of potential actions (e.g. Mahjong and Scrabble uses Tiles in this way) or as Bookkeeping Tokens, Tiles tend to be used to create Game Worlds while Cards instead tend to be used to create Abstract Player Constructs. Usually only one side and one facing of Tiles are used but Othello shows an example where they are flipped to indicate Ownership; American Megafauna turns biome cards to indicate how prevalent the biomes are in regions and Rommel in the Desert turns blocks to indicate the strength of Units.

Tiles can be used to build Game Worlds, and if combined with Randomness can do so before gameplay begins to create entire Procedurally Generated Game Worlds. Tiles used for this can represent Environmental Effects and they can be modified by making them into Resource Generators, Resource Locations, or providing Location-Fixed Abilities. All of these can make the Tiles into Strategic Locations. A choice when using Tiles to create Game Worlds like this is if they should be designed so they are "plane-filling" or just represent the important parts of the Game Worlds. The former is necessary if Diegetic Consistency is to be maintained and examples of games with this design solution include NetHack, Minecraft, and Settlers of Catan; games that do not this include Carolus Magnus and Container (although the latter claims that the surface the game is played on represents an ocean).

While Tile-Laying can result from Tiles combined with the Construction pattern (e.g. Dominant Species), having Tiles as Destructible Objects instead results in Shrinking Game Worlds (e.g. Hey! That's My Fish!). Both placing and removing Tiles are examples of when these become Focus Loci for players, but this can also be the case if players can in other ways manipulate them, flipping them as done in Othello is one example of this. In Computer Games, Tiles may have natures that are more dynamic. In the Super Mario series there are several examples of Tiles that start to deteriorate when stepped on, creating Time Limits for long the tile can be used. In Greed Corp each turn a harvester is used next to a hex or on it while remove one layer of it and finally remove the Tile altogether.

Like Cards, Tiles can be used for Trick Taking and is in this case often combined with Turn Taking. These, and games where Tiles are picked by players and then played (e.g. Carcassonne), often place the Tiles in Drawing Stacks. Used Tiles can be placed in Discard Piles and the distribution of Tiles in Drawing Stacks can be manipulated by Stack Seeding.

Diegetic Aspects

As Tiles can be the building blocks of Game Boards, Game Worlds, and Levels, they can be important in maintaining a game's Diegetic Consistency.

Interface Aspects

Tiles is an Interface Pattern.


Tiles can construct Game Boards, Game Worlds, and Levels, and allow these to be separated into clearly distinguishable areas, making the position and possibilities of actions easier to judge. This also allow easier changes in them, either in ownership if they represent Territories or in the actual gameplay area; the latter is in many cases used to have Reconfigurable Game Worlds (e.g. to create Shrinking Game Worlds). They also make it easy to have Configurable Gameplay Areas before gameplay begins (e.g. Settlers of Catan).

Besides being used to create Game Boards, Game Worlds, and Levels, Tiles can like Cards form Sets or Abstract Player Constructs. Being able to add Tiles to Abstract Player Constructs make Abstract Player Construct Development possible while being able to add Tiles in other gameplay is often some sort of Construction activity.

When Tiles need to be given to players during gameplay, they can support both Drawing Stacks and Drafting and through shuffling them Randomness. With fixed distributions of which types of Tiles exist, these design solutions encourage players to engage in Memorizing which Tiles have been drawn and which have been played.


Can Instantiate

Abstract Player Constructs, Bookkeeping Tokens, Configurable Gameplay Areas, Construction, Diegetic Consistency, Drafting, Drawing Stacks, Environmental Effects, Focus Loci, Game Boards, Game Worlds, Levels, Memorizing, Randomness, Reconfigurable Game Worlds, Sets, Strategic Locations, Territories

with Abstract Player Constructs

Abstract Player Construct Development

with Construction


with Destructible Objects

Shrinking Game Worlds

with Randomness

Procedurally Generated Game Worlds

Can Modulate


Can Be Instantiated By


Can Be Modulated By

Destructible Objects, Discard Piles, Hands, Location-Fixed Abilities, Resource Generators, Resource Locations, Stack Seeding, Trick Taking, Turn Taking

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



An updated version of the pattern Tiles that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.


Daniel Bernhoff, Annika Waern, Karl-Petter Åkesson