I was playing Pandemic, by Z-Man Games, yesterday at board game night and it occurred to me that my favorite board games have similar mechanics. They have pre-programmed events that occur that move the "narrative" of the game forward. Tikal has volcano tiles that occur several times throughout the game. Power Grid has an economy that gets tweaked several times as the game progresses. Pandemic has epidemic cards that work in the same way. The same mechanic in Caylus kind of bugs me, since it tweaks the rules when it occurs, but I've only played that once, so maybe I need to try again.
This pre-programmed mechanic adds to the tension of the game, and with Pandemic, a cooperative game, it's your major adversary. In Tikal it marks your scoring round. In Power Grid it marks an economic transition that you should be planning for. Most importantly, it helps tell a story and gives a game definition, like a topography of sorts. For me, it makes other board games feel flat and lifeless. I'm sure board game gurus have a better term for this mechanic and I'm now probably considered a particular type of board gamer: the narrative gamer,the program gamer, or something, but it's kind of a nice discovery to know what you like. Now I can look for more of them.
Pandemic, by the way, is a lot of fun. It's the kind of game that makes you think about it long after you're done playing. It turns out to have a very tight timeline as other players have also reported losing on their last turn, like we did. I can't help comparing it to Arkham Horror. They're both cooperative and they both require you to keep something very bad from happening. Arkham is a lot longer, a lot slower, and a lot less predictable. Perhaps it's an American style version of the euro style Pandemic? I would love to see the Pandemic mechanics applied to something else, even closing the gates before Cthulhu and his cousins take over the world.