The Evolution of Area Control
So another mechanic that I like a good amount is area control. Area control is the mechanic in which you get a bonus for having the most figures in the area or the only figures in the area, so, you have control of the area. Area control is a very common mechanic for war based games but has made it’s way into a number of other games as well. Primarily, though, I’ve played the combat focused area control games.
There is a grand-daddy of all area control games, and that’s Risk. Probably as I was describing area control, that’s what popped into a lot of peoples heads, trying to control the continent so that you can get the bonus troops. So while you might be getting the two bonus troops from Australia, how do you get out of Australia so you don’t have to try and take over Asia, because that will never work. However, if that’s what you’re thinking of for area control, you might not be a big fan of area control games. Risk has one major issue that cropped up in it and other older area control games. That being the one that I might have one troop and you might have twenty, but because I’m the defensive players and win ties, I might be able to deplete your troop if I get lucky rolling the dice.
Risk also has one more fairly large issue besides the dice, and that’s the length of game and the fact that a player can be eliminated and then might have to sit around another four hours if they want to see how the game ends. Thankfully, that’s a part of a lot of area control games that has since gone away. In every game I mention below, if you are knocked off the board, you are always able to come back, or in the case of Star Wars: Rebellion, if that was to happen, that would likely just end the game, especially if the Empire did that to the Rebels.
Modern area control games do several things to try and mitigate die rolling, though some of them still use that as the luck for the game so that doesn’t because a complete strategy game.
Star Wars: Rebellion is a game that has more going on in it than just area control, but there is that aspect where if you have more planets and certain planets you’ll be able to build more ships. The combat is based on a die pool that you build with the troops you have. There are a couple of things to make this not just a die roll to see who wins. First, you have the ability to negate hits by playing cards or add in additional hits by playing cards. You have a limited number of cards, but you can possibly get more as you go through combat. Also, the ships or troops you bring in do damage of certain types, depending on the color of dice, and same with how ships take damage. While there is some universal damage, it means you could easily out number someone, but if your troops can’t hit their troops as well, they can come in and wipe you out. This is one that is still primarily die rolling through, but it’s not longer just pure luck.
Smallworld is probably the most Risk like in terms of area control on the list, because the game is purely area control. You get points for controlling certain areas and any skills that you might have. But Smallworld removes basically all luck from the game. The luck comes from correctly using your race and special ability and being able to find one that is working well. However, when taking over an area, the rule is simple, you need one more piece of cardboard, the troops are cardboard, than is on the spot you are trying to take over. Where there is a tiny bit of luck is that you can push for a final take over at the end of your turn. So if you have one guy left and you want to take over a spot with one guy on it, you can roll a die that hope to get two or better. The downside is that this isn’t a normal six sided die so there are multiple blanks and multiple ones that are going to stop it from succeeding most of the time.
There are some games that just do away with die rolling for area control. Blood Rage and Cry Havoc are two examples of how this can work very differently. In Blood Rage you have an action point economy that is helping you put troops onto the board into areas. The areas have a certain number of spots for troops, so you can try and totally control and area, but if you out number your opponent in the area or you have good combat cards, you can try and take over an area to get the reward while it is contested. The luck in this combat comes from playing a variety of combat cards, though only one per combat. Some of the combat cards just add a large combat value, others may cancel other combat cards or steal some of their rage, which are your action points. So while winning a combat is generally the best, there are strategies where you can play without controlling too many areas.
Cry Havoc, a game about collecting gems on a crazy planet. In fact it reminds me a lot of Avatar. This is extremely unique area control. So you score based off of having the most gems at various times, but to have gems, you must control the areas with the gems. So you’re in conflict with the other players over the areas. Instead of doing a straight swap of troops or rolling to see if you kill, there is a combat board. There are three areas of the combat board, you can control the area, kill the other persons troops, or take prisoners. What’s interesting with this is that even if your troops in the control the area are killed later in combat, if you have the most there, you still control the area. So the combat has a bit of a puzzle feel because of the order of combat. Then there are cards you can play that allow you to adjust combat once you’ve seen what your enemy is doing as well. It is an extremely unique combat for area control and one that seems fairly polarizing.
Now, all of these are games where area control is a huge part of the game and you are looking to keep control of areas throughout the game. Area control does go into other games as well.
An interesting example of this is a combat game still, but is handled differently than most games like it. The game is Sword and Sorcery. It’s a pretty standard dungeon crawler, but it looks like a lot of fun. I haven’t played it yet, but it’s a game that I might track down for live streaming at some time. In the game there are a couple of different options for controlling spaces while fighting an enemy. If you have more characters than the enemy does in the area, you might get a special bonus, if you have twice as many characters, then you get an even better bonus. However, the same is true if the enemies out number the troops. This means that you have to go in with force yourself, and you may not want to divide and conquer in some situations, but you might also want to divide and conquer in others to keep the troops from all rushing to a single injured party member.
Area control is a mechanic that can show up in a number of games. Clearly I have it focused more on combat games. I think that there are some games with area control that might have more of an Euro aspect to them, but a lot of them are more the Ameri-thrash games. The reason for that is that a lot of area control does rely on luck, so it is less planned than a lot of euro games are. However, there are likely some games out there that are handling it in a Euro game, and even Cry Havoc has some Euro tendencies for a combat area control game.
What are some area control games that you like? For the most part I like all of the games I’ve talked about with the exception of Risk, and even Risk I’ve had plenty of fun times playing it. Area control games can be fun, but you have to be willing to be cut throat.
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