Jumping back into another board game list, this time going with another mechanic I like quite well. Area control is a fun mechanic because it really pushes conflict in the game, and the games that do area control well really encourage that conflict to happen. […]
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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I mentioned the topic in the Kickstarter FOMO post, but I wanted to talk more about different game mechanics that you might here people talk about when it comes to describing a board game, this will be a bit more focused definitions than the Jargon post. And I’m going to talk about what I do or don’t like about the various mechanics or games that I like or don’t like in the various mechanics.
Worker placement is a very common mechanic in board games, an in particular in Euro games. It basically means that you’re placing out a piece to do some action or get some resource back. At the end of the game you’ve built up some collection of resources, cards, money, or points. You might like worker placement games if you like games that have a lot of thinking and a whole lot less luck. The luck can come from what cards you’re able to get, but generally you can plan out what you’re going to do for the whole game early on in the game. To me this is a knock on these game, as well as that they are often themed around trading in the Mediterranean which I don’t find exciting. For one of these games, if I’m to enjoy it, the turns have to be fast, and while there doesn’t have to be a plethora of variability in it, there shouldn’t be a single option in the game that is so strong that everyone feels like they need to follow the same path. Games like Puerto Rico have a method to what should be taken when and what actions should be done when, and that isn’t fun to me. However, Charterstone does a good job of having very fast turns with the exception of a few turns that matter the most, and to me, that’s a good worker placement game. You have lots of options, but your turns go fast so that no one is sitting there wondering what to do, and if you are sitting there thinking, you know it’s a big decision.
This was one of the biggest mechanics in board games for a while with games like Dominion and Marvel Legendary leading the market. Now another mechanic is bigger and I’ll get to it in a minute. Deck Building games have everyone starting out with the same few cards in their own personal decks, then as time goes by you can purchase more cards to add to your deck customizing it so that it plays like you want it to play. In my opinion, something that is purely a deck builder, probably isn’t much of a game. Dominion, the biggest deck builder out there, has a theme that doesn’t matter to the game, and the only thing it has going for is the fact that when people know what they are doing it goes fast. There are other games that make your cards actually mean something like Xenoshyft: Onslaught, Marvel Legendary, or Clank! In! Space!. These games the cards mean more than just giving you an action, a buy, and some money, but they maintain the simplicity of the deck building for the most part.
This is a subset of a Deck Builder in some ways. Instead of building up your own deck of cards you are either separately or jointly building up a bag of tokens, cubes, dice, whatever it might be, so you are drawing randomly from that. Clank! In! Space! adds this as an addition to it’s game as you’re trying to not make too much noise so Lord Eradikus doesn’t get you. Basically it’s the same thing as a deck building mechanic, just with the other possible elements.
Roll and Write
This is the biggest one out there right now and most of you probably have heard of a game that does this from a long time ago, and that’s Yahtzee. While Yahtzee is the original, it has definitely progressed beyond that at this point. Now you might be building railway lines or you could be doing city planning, but based off of what the dice say, that gives you an idea of what to fill in. Personally, I still enjoy Yahtzee and I haven’t done anything else in this mechanic, but I am tempted to pick one up sometime soon. These sorts of games tend to be fairly simple and easy to teach so they are a good faster game that you can pull out with a lot of different levels of gamers and often with larger groups as well.
Now, I split up deck builders and bag builders, but with drafting, this can be a lot of different things. Most of the time people are going to know of card drafting, but there are games where you draft dice. What I like about drafting is that the games can range from simple games like Sagrada and Sushi Go! Party to more extensive games like Blood Rage. So it’s a mechanic in games that is pretty easy to build up to the more complex games because you have a lot of different steps along the way. With drafting, I also like the fact that it makes you make a decision. It might be obvious, like you need another eel in Sushi Go! Party otherwise you’ll lose three points, or it might be tough, because you don’t want to pass the eel to the next person getting your cards because they need the eel to score seven points, but you’re also not sure that there’s going to be another eel coming to you. Or in Blood Rage you have to determine what you want your strategy to be, do you want to get points for winning battles or maybe do you want to get troops onto the map faster, it allows you to customize your playing style.
This is a mechanic that can be overlooked a little bit because most games that have it, like Blood Rage, also give you other mechanics that are just as interesting. However, Action Points are another one of my favorite mechanics in a game because it forces you to make tough decisions again. How many points do you want to spend to move a troop into a territory to try and take it in Blood Rage, or do you want to spend points to upgrade your troops? Something might cost two points versus one point, so is it better to do a one point action twice or a two point action once? You have a limited resource that is counting down faster than you want it to, and you never feel like you have quite enough to do everything you want, so you have to make a tough decision at some point in time. Blood Rage is a game that really focuses on this, though the drafting can dictate how important that is for you.
In some ways like a deck builder, hand management could be you determining and selecting different cards to be in your hand. But it can also be determining when you might play a card from your hand that might be identical to everyone else’s hand of cards or how you diversify your hand. Two games come to mind when I think about hand management that I have and they both do it in different ways. In Not Alone as the survivors of a wreck on an alien planet, you have a certain number of places you can go, so you have to determine where you want to go to avoid the alien and hope that everyone doesn’t go to the same spot or talk to determine a strategy so that you don’t all go to the same spot. But with your identical hand, you are now debating through a lot of different options that everyone has. Or in Gloomhaven, your hand is your life, if you lose cards from your hand too fast, you might die before the scenario is done. So do you use the card for the amazing ability to help kill off the monsters faster to complete the mission or do you use more basic abilities so that you can survive longer in a scenario if the scenario isn’t going fast. Both of these games keep a good tension between using your cards or holding onto your good cards.
Area Control is another mechanic I like, it often means that if you control a certain area you get a benefit. This is another mechanic that Blood Rage uses, as you are trying to have the strongest force in an area to pillage it and gain the improvement from the area or to complete a quest that you have. There are also some games that are more focused on area control and it is if you control all the areas you can win the game. Risk, while not a great game, is an area control game. I enjoy these game generally because they encourage conflict for all players because you can’t let anyone get too powerful. While Risk is pretty lucky, games like Cry Havoc, Blood Rage or Smallworld cut down on the luck aspect while allowing the game to flow nicely and quickly through combat or through control. That can be a downside with area control games is that the combat causes the game to bog down and you end up spending all of your time on combat or on a few turns, leaving other people waiting.
Variable Player Powers
This one is and isn’t a mechanic in my opinion. I think though it is worth calling out here as there are some people who love it. Basically, variable player powers means that each persons role in the game is going to be different. While there might be a lot of overlap, everyone has something that they can do that is unique to them. In Root, each player plays a different faction of woodland creatures, and you can see in my review of it how it works generally, but they do things in a very different way from other people having very unique player powers depending on which faction you pick. Or in Smallworld, you are taking different race and power combos. Those are extreme examples of a lot of variability, but a game like Cry Havoc, everyone is basically doing the same thing, you have slightly unique player powers. It can run a fairly large range that way from completely different powers to similar roles but slightly tweaks. Another example of that lesser change is Pandemic where people can all do the same actions, but each person also has their own unique thing they can do, and you may or may not use that unique power on a given turn.
What are some mechanics you like? What are some that I’ve forgotten as I’m sure there is a number I haven’t touched on. Are there any mechanics that you’ll actively avoid?
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This topic came up recently on a forum that I’m on, football related but in the general random talk section, how to find people to play a game with you. The person has The Thing board game, and wants to get it to the table, but […]
So, last Sunday, instead of really watching the Oscars at all, Kristen, and some other friends, and I started playing SeaFall. SeaFall is a legacy game, which means that when I say we started playing it, I mean that we are going to have several more months of playing games with different challenges and the longer you play it the more the game changes as you add things to the board, new rules are found, stuff like that. It takes you standard board game and makes it so that it’s something you get more invested in. There have already been a couple legacy games with Risk Legacy and Pandemic Legacy Season 1 (Season 2 sometime this year).
So, what is the premise of SeaFall? As compared to Pandemic Legacy which is built around the mechanics of Pandemic and Risk Legacy being built around Risk, SeaFall is a completely stand alone game that doesn’t tie into any other previous title. The story of SeaFall is that you are pirates who are going out to explore the world (or a small chunk of the sea), looking for the lost leaders of your clan and generally just trying to eventually become the pirate emperor. That’s basically what we know story wise at this point. All of this information is found out in the prologue, so I’m not really spoiling anything that is game central. It looks like a fun game with a ton of moving pieces and something that is going to be more challenging than playing Pandemic Legacy (which we did poorly at, but we knew how to play).
Mechanically, they have it split up into a number of nice different options. You can raid locations for resources, you can buy resources, you can explore (probably getting resources), and you can build in your settlement or upgrade your ships. Each of these actions is split into it’s own guild, so it’s not like you can all of these on a turn. A lot of these actions are built around rolling dice, and building that dice pool can be a bit complicated, but reading the dice, thankfully, is very simple. Alright, so let’s talk a bit more about how the game works. There are two different types of rounds, the first being the winter round. The winter round is when you can get additional money, refresh resources that were getting low, stuff like that. It’s kind of resetting the board so that you’re ready for taking turns during the six summer months. During the summer months the big thing that you get to do are the guild actions. Each guild has three actions (one always being sail), and you get to pick 2 out of the 3 to do. The other big thing that you can do in SeaFall, to help make it easier to complete a milestone or get points is buy an advisor. They can make buying or selling items cheaper, they can make it so that you are better at exploring or better at raiding, or they can make upgrading cheaper. A final nice thing is that with how the turns go, and once you get going, they don’t actually take that long, so you can really get rolling.
Let’s talk about one HUGE negative to this game though. The rules as written are kind of hard to understand to start the game. It took me probably an hour of reading them repeatedly to get exactly what they meant, granted that was during the first time we tried to play the prologue. So don’t let the fact there is a prologue fool you, it teaches you nothing about the actual game, you just get to play the actual game without consequences. So watch the video below, he explains the rules very well, and it’s faster than reading the book. Once I watched the video I was able to remember how to play exactly until we played, so it made it much faster.
So what else do you need to know about this game?
I’m not sure, we’re just starting it out and playing for the second time coming up here in about a week. I’m very stoked for it. If I were to give any more advice about playing the game, it would be, have someone who really knows board games be the person to “control” the game. Let them set it up, let them be in charge of the rules, and really lean on that one person. This game is intimidating for a casual player and there is going to be a learning curve. Also, pay attention to the balance of things. I’ve heard rumors that this game can break down a little bit and that once someone gets behind it is hard to catch up. There seems to be a mechanic in place in the game to help with that, but still, keep an eye on that. You are pirates in this game, but that doesn’t mean you always have to be cutthroat.
I’ll come back once we’re done with the whole game with a review of it and some grades for casual and more serious players, so look for that in a while.
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