Top 10 – Variable Player Power Games
I have a lot of mechanics that I like, deck building was an easy list for me to make and while I don’t always love area control, there are some of the games that I love that use it. But variable player powers, that is probably my favorite. For those who aren’t as familiar with the concept, simply, it means that I can do something that you can’t. That can be that I could move a piece for free, or do a more powerful version of an action, but I can do something unique. It’s that feeling of doing something different that gives you the feeling that you are special in the game or that you have a different direction in the game than other players can that is really cool.
10 – Lords of Hellas
You’re playing as a mythological Greek character, of course they are going to have their own powers. They have a couple of things that are unique, first they have something that they get while setting, up, in my case, I was getting a priest/priestess to start the game. And then you have a special ability that only you can do. It kind of helps focus you on what you want to do for a win condition because those are so diversified as well. The game has a lot of unique things that you can do as well, because when temples are built, it might trigger drafting a blessing. And those blessings are unique powers to you a well so you become more unique and diversified as time goes on the further you get into the game.
9 – Dice Throne Season 1 and 2
These characters are completely unique in the game. They roll their own unique dice, they have their own unique decks, and their player board is going to do unique things as well. The game is pretty simple in concept as it uses Yahtzee and King of Tokyo style rolling where you can roll three times and you see what you get, but when you actually dig into what the characters can do, there’s a lot of interesting things that allow you tweak dice or that you can focus on. The Pyromancer plays very different than the Shadow Thief who plays different than the Gunslinger who is different than the Cursed Pirate, so you do need to plan out your strategies and hope that you have the cards to make the dice rolls work. It’s probably the simplest game on the list, but it gives you that feeling of playing a special character without you learning so much that’s new.
8 – Aeon’s End: War Eternal
There are a number of things that make you unique in this deck building game. First, your deck is going to be constructed differently at the start, you are going to have a card in there that is special to you. So that’s a unique power. The set-up of your breaches for casting spells is also unique, but not really a power. Finally, on your player board, you have an ability that you can charge, that ability is probably pretty powerful and it’s unique to you. All of that gives you a unique feel and a unique focus. If you plan it right, you can set-up good synergies between the characters where one character can get a spell cheaper and pass that spell to another player, and that other player can then focus on getting breaches open to cast more spells for better use of the games money.
7 – Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition
Spoilers, this isn’t the only Arkham game on the list. Fantasy Flight does a good job of making all the characters with unique powers. Not only do you have a unique skill set and health and sanity levels. But it’s the character powers and unique character items that really can set you apart. And generally, you’re going to need to use those powers because it’s going to give you something that you can do that is just better than a regular action. Now, they don’t always come into play, but to really optimize your game, you’re probably going to want to use those powers. There’s just a lot to love about this game and the variable player powers is just the icing on the cake.
6 – XenoShyft: Onslaught
Not one that jumped out to me at the start as having variable player powers, but when I thought about it, you do have unique roles that you do. At the start it’s just that every role can buy a certain type of item cheaper. But as you get further into waves, you unlock more special abilities that make your character unique. Plus, in your starting deck, as this is a deck builder, you get unique things. It might be weapon or armor or a soldier, but you are going to have a unique starting deck compared to everyone else. That really drives the game because you need to support each other, and it has the interesting mechanic where you can trade cards or play cards when another person is going in order to help them get through their line up of alien bugs. So while some of the variable power games on the list have you really as your own unique character where you do that thing, this one is set-up so that you can help the other players which is a unique twist.
5 – Arkham Horror: The Card Game
First of two living card games, but all of Fantasy Flight’s Arkham line of products (seeing as this isn’t the first on the list) do a good job with variable player powers. You always are going to have different stats for things like lore, agility, and strength, but you also are going to have a special character power that only you can do, and beyond that, your health and sanity ratios are going to be different as well. Beyond that, each character is going to have a deck that is uniquely built for them. While some of these aren’t technically powers, they are things that make your character feel very unique. And it can help tailor your play style, you’re probably always going to need to be okay at getting clues, but some characters are going to be better at that while others are going to be stronger at attacking. Overall, it’s just a good system and makes any Arkham line of game feel unique.
4 – Marvel Champions
Marvel Champions hits what I want for variable player powers, giving it to me not just because my deck of cards is unique, but because I can do something special as both my super hero side and my alter-ego side. In this game you’re facing off against a villain as a Marvel superhero such as Spider-Man or Captain America. Captain America can do something different as Steve Rogers and as Captain America and those things are different than what Peter Parker can do or Spider-Man. And each character that they release is different. So in a multiplayer game of Marvel Champions, you feel like your hero is that hero and that you can do different things. Then you add in aspects, which are part of the deck building piece, so you might have protection where you are better at defense or aggression that make you even more unique.
3 – T.I.M.E. Stories
This one is a bit trick to talk about because everything is kind of part of the stories in the game. But I’ll give you the premise for the game, you are part of a time agency who is meant to stop time incursions from coming through and messing up the timeline. But it isn’t like you are fully transported back in time, just your conscious is transported. That’s where you get your variable powers from. And the powers your “vessel” as they call them in the game, has, depends on your scenario. Again, I don’t want to go into it too much as it’s fun to determine what a scenario is as you open up the thing, but some of them are fairly obvious at least to the setting with names like Under the Mask and the Egyptian images on the box or The Asylum is probably about an Asylum. I’ve really enjoyed the puzzle nature of the game, and while I think that the player powers sometimes are just okay or won’t be used at all, it is part of the game and you can find some decent combos.
2 – Pandemic Legacy Season 1
This is true for all Pandemic games, so if you don’t want to get the Legacy version of the game, just get basic Pandemic. In the game you take on different roles of people trying to stop a Pandemic. The Medic is able to remove disease cubes easier, the Dispatcher can move players around the board faster, the Scientist can discover a cure with fewer cards. And you can upgrade and improve the characters as you go so that they get more diverse and more variable in what they can do. I won’t go into what those upgrade are as it would be a little bit of a spoiler for some of the stuff that you unlock in the game, but it’s a great experience and the fact that you can customize and streamline your team in hopes of being able to better win games, it’s a ton of fun.
1 – Gloomhaven
It’s my favorite game, of course it has variable player powers. In the game, you play as a character and you have your own unique hand of actions that you can do. Some characters are going to be manipulating elements to perform stronger attacks. Others are going to be supporting with healing or they might be the tank or maybe they’re a ranged attacker. But each character is really different and it makes you feel like you are unique. It can be mechanical in what the character can do, but it really does feel like you can do something else compared to your fellow players. And every time you unlock a new character by retiring your old one, it’s something different. Yes, this game is massive, but if you want something that just has so much diversity in the characters, you can’t go wrong with Gloomhaven.
So, I have so many more that I could put on as well. Literally, all of those games are probably in my top 15-20 of all time (20 as of 2019, minus Lords of Hellas that I hadn’t played yet). I also considered another game in my top 15, Star Wars: Rebellion. Board Game Geek has it listed as variable player power and they definitely are. However, it is so asymmetrical that I feel like I need to put it in it’s own separate category, because everything is so different. Sure, you’re still producing things in a similar way, but it’s more asymmetrical for me. And there are others like Sword & Sorcery and Dead of Winter just missed my list, like I said, I love games with variable player powers.
What are some of your favorite games with variable player powers? What are some that I should checkout?
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