Fun board game thought I had yesterday, surrounding board game nights. Last board game night, the theme was new to you games or new to the group games. We got to play Just One, One Night Ultimate Vampire, and Lord of the Rings Dice Game, […]
Tag: Ticket to Ride
This one is a bit out there in some ways. I would say that there has been attempts at unique powers for a while and some solid successes, but there was a time where the difference between who you were and who I was in the game was that I was the thimble and you were in the iron in Monopoly.
For a lot of people, that’s what it is still in gaming. Even if they’ve progressed away from Monopoly and into games like Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, and Carcassonne, the difference between you and me is that I’m blue and you’re red. Otherwise everything we do is the same. And that’s a-okay in a ton of a games. There isn’t a need for your character to be slightly different than mine, but in some games, it makes the game a whole lot better.
Back in 1949, there was an attempt to make “unique” characters when Clue came out. Professor Plum, Mrs. White, Mr. Green, and the rest of the cast allowed you to pick your favorite based off of more than just color of the pawn you were using. Now, they gave you some art, but it really wasn’t a unique character at that point. You were really just picking a color still. But in some ways that was the start of having unique characters. It gave some foundation that could be built off off later.
Now, we see two prominent ways that unique characters are done in board games. There are more ways beyond that, but there are two major ways. The first is the special power route. Your character has something specific they can do that no one else can. The other way is the asymmetric route. Definitely the harder of the two to pull off, because what you do in the game is always different than what I do in the game.
The first type, is the special power or action that only you can take. A great example of this is Pandemic. In this game you have a base set of actions, treat disease, move, trade cards, etc. that everyone in the game can do. But each character has their own special action that they can take or improvement upon one of the other actions. For example, all characters can treat a disease by taking a cube off of the city they are in, but the medic can take all of the disease cubes off of the city they are in. The dispatcher, on the other hand, can move people on their turn, versus just having to move yourself. The rules still apply the same way for how they can move other people’s pawns.
You can start to see from Pandemic how having unique powers can make the game different each time in different ways. In fact, unique powers are a really good way to keep a game replay-able over a long period of time.
There are games that keep the base action for you, but allow either for changing your unique power or setting up your own unique powers. Two examples jump into my head quickly. The first being Smallworld. Since the races and powers are randomly shuffled, you might end up with flying wizards one time, and wealthy wizards another time. In this case, the game, like in Pandemic, dictates what your unique power is.
There are games, however, that allow you to determine how unique you want your character to be. This is the other example, Blood Rage (also Seafall does this), where you can spend action points that upgrade your clan. A pair of warriors can be made to be worth more in battle for you, or you can gain points when your warriors die in battle and go to Valhalla. Maybe your clan leader is now worth more points, or you can move your ship in a certain way. Maybe you have access to monsters now. Based on how you draft cards, you can shape your own player board to be unique. This type of game is interesting because at the start of the game, your clan is the same as everyone else’s clans. But as the game progresses, the clans play more and more differently depending on your cards, and which ones you choose to use. In Seafall, had the game been good, it was similar where you started out with the same base at the start of the first game, but you could buy upgrades that left from game to game, but you could also put in permanent upgrades as well, so the more you played the more unique you were.
Now, that has been the simpler type of player powers to talk about. The more difficult is the asymmetric player powers. The reason that this is tougher is because even if there is the same base to the game, everyone plays with that differently.
A great example of this is Root. In Root everyone has some pretty similar actions, but how they go about doing all of them is completely different. While you all might be moving troops and trying to control areas, the cats, to gain more troops have to build up various buildings, where as the birds are trying to create an order or cards that they play. The woodland creatures are just trying to get onto the board by using cards in yet another way, and the Vagabond is doing something else different with their actions.
This type of game is very interesting, and Cry Havoc is another example. There is one fairly big downside to a completely asymmetrical game. The time spent teaching the game the first time you play it is pretty to extremely high. In Root, for example, you have to explain a fair amount about each character, even though some of the base actions might be the same. In Vast, this problem is made even larger by the base actions being a greater variety. Cry Havoc is probably the easiest of them to teach, because the base actions for everyone are the same, just the buildings, objectives, and special powers mean that how you play the game as each faction is different.
You can see how this has all moved on from Clue where you had a name for your character, but that was about it that made you unique from just being a different colored pawn.
There are a few more ways that games try and add differences. The other most common, though what you can do might not change, is the hidden traitor role in a game like One Night Ultimate Werewolf or Resistance. These games, what everyone does is basically the same, some expansions provide more variability to the game, but in the base, you can hide your actions because you are doing the same thing as everyone else.
This has then been expanded upon with games like Dead of Winter and Shadows Over Camelot. Shadows Over Camelot gives the bad guy more that they can do, if there is even a traitor in the game. In Dead of Winter, each player has a hidden objective. So while you have the exact same set of powers, you are trying for a slightly unique state of the game when it ends, mainly what you have in your hand at the end of the game. For me, these games can be a bit more hit or miss, because depending on if there is a traitor or not, it can greatly hinge the game on various things, and it can at times force you to look like the traitor to actually win the game. If there was some balancing mechanic for it, it would make the game better, but potential hidden traitor and hidden objectives is very hard to pull off well in a game.
That’s a lot variable player powers and the range that can run. Personally, I’d be interested in seeing a reworking of Clue so that Professor Plum can do something different and better than Colonel Mustard, but that’s already been done in some of those investigation games, like Fury of Dracula.
What are some of your favorite variable player power games? Are there some where certain combinations are too broken to play with so you’ve banned them at your table?
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Maybe instead of gifting for a gamer, you are gifting to someone who is just getting into the board game industry. They’ve played a few of your games and are looking to start getting a few games of their own. What games should you look at for someone like that?
Ticket to Ride
This should be the first game on basically any intro to modern board gaming list. It’s a smart simple game where you are trying to collect sets of train cards of various colors and connect routes across the board. That’s what the game is, but there is some strategy to it as to when you complete a section of your route, when you take train cards, and when you might want to get more routes. Not all that complex, but enough so to keep more serious gamers engaged well enough and so that people can pick it up quickly. There are also a ton of different versions of the game. The United States map, just called Ticket to Ride, is the most straight forward, but anything that’s added in the other boxes can just be skipped and you can play it as the normal Ticket to Ride.
This tableau building game as you competing for the favor of nobles and building up your supply of jewels. The game is simple as you start out building out your tableau by taking one time use jewels but soon you’ll have built up a good jewel collection so you have permanent jewels. The game is another pretty straight forward game with a limited number of actions in the game. That makes it a lot easier to teach. Now, this game is pretty themeless actually, but the components and artwork are nice, so it gets to the table pretty easily that way.
Sushi Go! Party
Card drafting games aren’t always the easiest to teach, but with the very cute artwork of Sushi Go! Party, it’s definitely an exception. I will add in one caveat for this game, there are a few of the specials that I would avoid at the start because they are a bit more confusing, but the game itself is pretty simple. You take one card from your hand and pass the hand to the next person and repeat the process until you’ve done that with all the cards. The game plays fast and while the first couple of decisions might be a bit trickier or explaining the rules the first time might be a bit trickier, the game is easy to play multiple times in one sitting.
Or as it used to be known, Settlers of Catan. This game is one of the games that started the modern board gaming trend. While it still has some of the classic board gaming issues, mainly there isn’t a way to mitigate just rolling poorly, it’s going to be one that a lot of people are familiar with. The game is pretty straight forward but it’s still enjoyable and it’s something that people will recognize as compared to a game like Splendor that people might not have heard of.
This is probably the trickiest game on the list because there’s more strategy in this game than some of the others, but because of the presence on the table. In this game you are drafting dice to create a stained glass window, and you just have to follow certain die placement rules about colors and numbers being next to each other and while filling in certain colors or numbers based on the window that you are creating. The game play is fast and there is an expansion that allows it to play up to 6 which might make it easier to get to the table and keep everyone involved at a family holiday party.
I’ve managed to get Pandemic Legacy on to two other lists (too big for a stocking), but for this one, I suggest the base Pandemic. This is a really good cooperative game and a game that lays out what is done on turns and peoples actions really nicely. It’s also not that tough a cooperative game so for a new player, they aren’t going to feel like they’re being beat down over and over again. It’s also not that long a game for everything that is going on in the game. If you haven’t played it yourself, I’d recommend it for someone who is even a gamer or the Legacy version as it’s a really good game.
There are a ton of introductory games, and I might give out some suggestions next week for what to give people if they like a certain classic game already, but that will be later.
What are some other games that you’ve used to introduce people to modern board gaming?
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Moving away from the world of Role Playing Games for a little bit, I wanted to talk about what the “essentials” are to have in your board game closet, on your board game shelf, or stacked in a corner somewhere. This list is meant to give you an idea of some good games to have around that people will enjoy and to introduce you to a different type of gaming. I’m not putting extremely complex games on this list and I’m not going to put extremely niche games on this list, these are games that if you want to build up your collection, it’s a good spot to start.
10: King of Tokyo
Why? Because this game introduces you to a fun, quick pseudo-euro style game that is all about die rolling. The rules are simple and it is very fast to pick up and gives you a lot of different ways to try and win the game. Plus, the theme, you get to play the movie monsters (or their knock-off cousins) who are trying to destroy Tokyo. Even a non-board gamer is going to enjoy that theme.
9: Five Tribes
Why? This game kind of gives you everything. You get some unique mechanics with the piece movement, you get to build up your own collection of different items, and it requires some strategy as you try and determine how you’re going to get that next person or resource that you need. Five Tribes is also a game that is visually fun to look at. The pieces are nice, the artwork is nice, and it’s very bright and colorful. Finally, even if someone new is playing the game, they can still pick a single strategy and keep trying that to win the game.
8: Seven Wonders
Why? This card drafting game set in ancient times is pretty straight forward. You get to build your wonder of the world. Again, it’s a theme that is very accessible for new players, and it is one of the games that uses a drafting mechanic that is a ton of fun to play. Now, this game can require a bit more strategy than some other games on this list, but it plays quickly, and people tend to want to play it again.
Why? Smallworld is the area control game for this list. It’s a fun lighthearted game about stomping down the other players as quickly as you can and then getting stomped down yourself. Why this works without hurt feelings is that it is basically impossible to gang up on someone and the game moves quite quickly. It also has very good replay value as each race that you can pick get’s randomly matched up with an ability so some game you might have flying orcs and in other games they might be diplomatic orcs.
Why? This is my worker placement game for the list, and it has a very unique component to it. You get to build the game board as you go along. This game moves pretty quickly, there are a limited number of options and the scoring tends to stay pretty close throughout. The game has been around for a long time and it’s stood the test of time for a reason.
5: Resistance/Ultimate Werewolf
Why? Pick one of these games, do you want to be trying to take down a future government, do you want to be trying to find out the secret werewolf? These games are a great hidden agenda game that tends to play quite quickly as you try and determine who a traitor might be or who a werewolf might be. It’s good for a social sort of game that is around bluffing, and there are so many different versions/themes of this game that you can really pick the one that is right for your group or for your friends who you are trying to get to play.
4: Sushi Go Party!
Why? This is another card drafting game, but with this game you are drafting adorable little anthropomorphized little Japanese sushi. The game plays quite quickly, the rules are easy to understand, and you can have many different combinations to start out your game. It’s also good because it expands out to eight players.
So, the last seven entries I would say are good games, but it’s kind of a take it or leave it with them. I’d highly recommend all of them to someone who is looking to build up your collection of games and someone who is looking to try a bunch of games to figure out what type of game they like, but these last three I really think should be on every board game shelf.
Why? Tsuro is my go to “party” game, I call it a party game because you can have up to 8 players and the game goes very very quickly. Plus, you don’t have to pay that close attention to what is going on until your turn because your option to do things is very limited. However, this isn’t what you’d think of a normal party game because it doesn’t have you guess trivia, say things in a silly voice or draw something when you really can’t draw. Tsuro is a very safe, fun, and fast game to get people who might be shy about playing a “party” game into playing a game.
Why? Well, in my last sentence about Tsuro, I talked about how it’s great for getting people into a game who aren’t normal gamers. Tsuro tends to work well as it goes quickly, however, when you are getting to something more serious, Pandemic is a very good game to have. One huge selling point to getting a non-gamer friend or a new-gamer friend to play it is the fact that it is fully cooperative. You are all working together, so you win and lose as a team and someone who might not be as good at strategy can still enjoy the game. The game is also streamlined enough that you are limited in what you can do in this game on your turn, so there is less decision fatigue than a more complicated game. At the same time, this game keeps you on edge and involved the whole time with a great premise for a game and with having so many ways to lose that it makes it seem like it would be hard to ever win. Even though this is a longer game than some of the others on the list, you’ll finish playing and people will want to play again.
1: Ticket to Ride
Why? This of this game as a gateway drug to other games. This game is pretty and pretty simple. You are trying to complete train routes by collection matching colors of train cars that correspond to the colors on the map. This game works well because it isn’t too complex and you get to score points at multiple times. This means that when someone is a long ways ahead in the middle of the game, they might not end up that far ahead. It’s also colorful and pretty to look at. Finally, this is a game that, while you are working against each other, it doesn’t seem all that cutthroat.
What are some games that you think are essential for building out a budding game collection?
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