Top 5: Variable Player Powers

Top 5: Variable Player Powers

Between campaign building, I want to go back to some of the board game lists. And this is probably my favorite mechanic for a game, where people can do things just a bit differently than other players.

Image Source: Gamer Geoff

5. Smallworld
The lightest game on the list by far, but one that has a ton of different variable powers. In fact, every race and power is unique, and those combinations are randomly generated each game. So how you play is going to change each time. Add in the fact that you will have multiple different race and power combinations throughout the game, and this game is basically just about those variable powers. However, it works really well in this game, because you get that silly area control, but you also have some decisions to actually make in the game. I’d highly recommend this or my #2 on the list as options for introductory games with variable player powers, and then work your way up to the rest of them.

4. T.I.M.E. Stories
Not one that I have put on a list before, but T.I.M.E. Stories has an interesting way for unique player powers. Because you are traveling back in time or to other dimensions, and how they do it in this game is by sending your brain back into another person’s body, you now have all of that persons stats and issues. No spoilers for anything more than the base version of the game, but you might get sent back into the body of a cannibal or someone who is addicted to cocaine, so good player powers like you’d expect. And you can change it up between jumps depending on how you want to play through the scenario. The one thing I wish it would do a bit differently though is that you need a balanced party with mental stats and physical/combat stats. It would be nice to avoid combat more often if you wanted to.

Image Source: Space Cowboys

3. Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition
This one is great because not only are your characters different because of stats, such as lore, strength, agility and others, they also have different powers. You could go into a scenario with a character who can attack better, gain clues when monsters die, or maybe you have someone who can reroll when doing lore checks and has a great lore. There are support characters and there are attacking characters. While the scenarios might be the same, with the exception of slightly different generated rooms, the game can feel different depending on who you are playing each time you play a scenario. And how you go about solving scenario might change as well, because sometimes your investigators might prefer a more direct approach.

Image Source: Polygon

2. Pandemic/Pandemic Legacy
Both are rolled into one since I really shouldn’t spoil characters in the Legacy version, but even in the base version it’s great. The medic can do something different than the dispatcher, the scientist different than the researcher, and so on. Each role has something that they are better at, and people can pick to tailor to their playstyle if they want. Or you can just try and random combination to see how well they work. They do a really good job of balancing the characters in the main game. And in the legacy version you get to decide even more options to make your character feel even more unique which is great.

1. Gloomhaven
Each character in Gloomhaven plays differently. You might be the ranged character, a magic user, a healer, tanks, there are so many different unique options. Gloomhaven is a massive game, a huge story driven dungeon crawler, and because of the card play, the combat is less random than a lot of dungeon crawlers where you are just rolling dice. And from the start you feel like each character is unique in what they do. I’ve played three different characters so far, and while they have all kind of been support characters, they all feel different and support in different ways, they haven’t been just healers. Overall my favorite game, and just great variable powers that the player can then even customize themselves.

Image Source: Leder Games

There are a ton of games that I haven’t listed with variable player powers. Most of the time they are in games it works really well. But there are risks that a certain combination might be too powerful in a game if not properly playtested.

A few for the honorable mentions:
Cry Havoc – Gives each race their own buildings and style for getting points. Definitely a fun option that allows people to go from Euro to Amerithrash in the game.
Imperial Assault – Each playable Star Wars character has their own stats and powers. See Mansions of Madness for how the game play works somewhat. Or at least how the variable powers work.
Arkham Horror LCG – Fantasy Flight does a good job of creating Lovecraftian games with variable powers through their investigators. This one is probably my #5, but it’s similar to Mansions of Madness, so I didn’t need a double up.

And there are so many more games that I love like this. Root, Star Wars Rebellion, Legends of Andor, and so many more that it’s hard to keep track. What are your favorite games with variable player powers? Do you find it confusing in some games or do you generally want it?

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