Entrenching Gameplay

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Games where the perceivable game state becomes less and less mutable as gameplay continues.

In some games, effects of the actions players do cannot be undone. When these effects combine, they can limit the possible future gameplay actions and steer the gameplay towards focusing on dealing with the local situations that have arisen. This leads to a form of Entrenching Gameplay where while the initial gameplay may be seen as quite open or unpredictable, the later gameplay focuses on a few specific parts of the game state.


Go is an archetypical example of a game that becomes more entrenched as gameplay continues. This since each player action is placing a stone on a board with a limited size, and even if stones are sometimes removed, the space freed up is limited in how much gameplay options are available. The puzzle game Sokoban consists of pushing single boxes and trying to cover all target areas with boxes. Since boxes can become stuck - and usually are - through being pushed into corners or into clusters of other boxes, most played levels exhibit Entrenching Gameplay.

The tiles placed while playing Carcassonne cannot be moved. While many tiles can be placed next to existing tiles in the early game, the combination of tiles neighboring the same empty spaces reduces the number of tiles that possibly could be placed there. The placement of roads and settlements in Settlers of Catan locks the options for other players. This makes game instances of the game exhibit first initial expansions, then races, and finally a focus on developing settlements and acquiring score cards.


The gameplay of Munchkin often includes quick shifts in who is the leader and generally the possibilities of the players. This runs counter to the core of Entrenching Gameplay.

Using the pattern

The main component in constructing Entrenching Gameplay is the use of Irreversible Events (and by implication avoiding Reversibility). This does not in itself cause gameplay to focus on specific parts of the game state, but this is typically achieved when the events can cause emergent effects (i.e. when the game has Emergent Gameplay concerning the events). Complete Resource Depletion can also be used to create Entrenching Gameplay when the Resources no longer available are what allows actions that can radically shift game states.

Entrenching Gameplay is often used to create Predictable Gameplay Time; if this is the reason for using the pattern then an alternative is using Positive Feedback Loops instead.

Narration Aspects

Since Entrenching Gameplay describes the general structure that gameplay will take during a game instance, this provides a basis for having a Predetermined Story Structure in the game. If having this is part of the design goals of a game it however probably also needs Characters or Factions so players have something that they can see as having goals or intentions.


Entrenching Gameplay often makes games exhibit Middlegame and Endgame phases, the former typically due to competition over Expansion and the latter due to defensive stances in Combat; Entrenching Gameplay may occur in Startgame phases but not if Randomness plays a large role in the beginning of the game (as in e.g. Carcassonne). Since Entrenching Gameplay is defined by the game state changing less and less it typically does not provide Varied Gameplay (it is unlikely that players are offered more types of actions when the game state can be changed less and less).

As mentioned above, Entrenching Gameplay provides a Predetermined Story Structure to games. This behavior of the game system makes Entrenching Gameplay a way of achieving Critical Gameplay Design.


Can Instantiate

Critical Gameplay Design, Endgame, Expansion, Middlegame, Predetermined Story Structures, Predictable Gameplay Time

Can Modulate


Can Be Instantiated By

Complete Resource Depletion

Irreversible Events together with Emergent Gameplay

Can Be Modulated By


Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Reversibility, Varied Gameplay


New pattern created in this wiki.




Karl-Petter Åkesson