Board Games That I’ll Always Play
One hot topic in board games right now is replayability. Now, when this is used, it often means variability. Replayability would be something like a legacy game that you can’t play again even if you wanted to, that has no replayability. On the flip side, Monopoly is infinitely replayable. What people are talking about, though, is a games ability to feel different each time you play it. People want to discover new things in their games and not be able to just fall into a single strategy.
I get the desire for this at least to some extent. The people I see complaining about it shouldn’t be the ones complaining about it. I’ll explain what I mean here, they own a ton of games. They might play games often, but if they want to play a different game every day of the year, they can. Who cares about variability then. But for people with smaller collections and more limited resources to grow a collection, I get it. I would want me games to feel different each time.
So What Makes a Board Game Variable?
I think that this is what trips a lot of people up in this topic. There are a lot of people who want variability but also don’t want randomness. Random events, die rolls, things like that, those create a different game each time. Unless I’m the luckiest person in the world, I won’t have the same things happen over and over again.
There are other things as well. For example in a game like Pandemic, yes there is randomness of the cards you draw, but in the base game there are something like 6-8 different characters you can play as. So playing two players that is a ton of different combinations of powers you can play around with. Lords of Hellas is another game that allows you to pick your starting character, then you can add powers as you go that are randomly dealt out.
Other games do it with modules. The concept here is you have 4-5 different modules, or more, in the game. But you only play with two at a time. So that again creates those different combinations to explore. It helps if, for example, the modules have a lot of cards. Now you can swap out cards and still not see all the cards of a given module. That again keeps the game more variable because you don’t know which cards you will randomly see.
But Do Games Really Need This?
Yes, and no. It’s not a great answer, but I honestly do think that some games need it. For example, Pandemic, I think with four characters, that game would get stale pretty fast because you wouldn’t have combinations. Catan and Dominion without variable set-ups, those wouldn’t be too interesting.
Other times, the limited variability is just fine. I don’t know that Ticket to Ride needs more. The randomness of route cards and colors of train cars coming up works. It also helps keep the game simple. So for that reason, I don’t want a ton of variability in gateway games. If there is more, that means that I have even more to teach.
But sometimes with some of my favorite games I do wish that they had more. I want to continue playing them, but I feel like I’ve seen everything. I think it’s something that is often overstated by a lot of people. Something that doesn’t really matter for most games.
What are Some Games I Always Want to Play And Are They Variable?
This one is definitely a game that I am always up for playing. I played it 4 times in the past three days in fact. I like it because it is variable with 16 different characters to take up against each other. It gets it’s variability in a number of different ways. There is dice chucking, so you won’t have the same results from that, but more so the characters each play differently.
The Gunslinger has a quick draw defense that can cut down damage by a lot. The Barbarian heals on defense and the Treant mainly prevents damage. And that’s just how three of the 16 characters play on defense. Plus what you draw cards makes a huge difference. If I get a lot of upgrades, I can hit more attacks, but might have less choice over which attacks. If I can modify my dice, then I can get better attacks on some turns but have less upgraded. The game is really good in terms of making each character feel unique and play differently.
Now, I think Gloomhaven has less variability than it might seem. There are a ton of different characters you can play, like Dice Throne, and those characters are variable. But you play with a single character potentially for quite some time. This is a good thing though. I found, as did the people I was playing with, that it took some time to learn your character. So having that time with just one character definitely makes a difference.
Now, there is variety in a lot of different areas. Different monsters and their AI’s based on the scenario. Scenario set-up, and how the modifier cards come out. But for how the characters attack and interact, there is limited variability as you play a character repeatedly. That’s not a bad thing because if it was more random or the puzzle of what you did changed up every time, it’d make it much harder to keep track of a pretty complex game.
This one is interesting when talking about variability. There is a ton of it because it is a deck building game. Sure, there are rules as to how you can build decks, more than Magic the Gathering anyways, but it is deck building. The bad guys you can mix and match with different henchmen, so there is a ton going on. However, once you have a deck set-up that you like that deck is going to play out fairly consistently, at least it will if you’re a good deck builder.
So the variability in what happens, that happens before the game, when you are constructing the decks for the most part. And yes, Wasp feels different than Hulk who feels different than Black Panther. But Black Panther is always going to feel like Black Panther when you play him. This again, like Gloomhaven, is a good thing. I don’t want Black Panther to feel like I’m playing the Hulk. I get Marvel Champions because I can be the superheroes who I have seen in the movies and read in the comics. Being a generic hero wouldn’t be nearly as fun..
What About Games That Might Not Have It?
Sword & Sorcery
I’m just going to give one example of this. And the reason I am picking Sword & Sorcery is because it has a lot of randomness, but I feel like not that much variability. When I played through the base game, I enjoyed it well enough, but the longer I played, I realized it was missing something. Whereas Gloomhaven gave you different feeling bad guys in droves, Swords & Sorcery was limited. While Gloomhaven had story that went all over the place, Sword & Sorcery was limited. All of that is fine but for one thing.
The issue I had with Sword & Sorcery was with how you played the characters. I don’t mind the dice chucking, that is fine. But what you did was really obvious. Once I had an ability that was better than the rest, I’d use it, let it cool down, use it again. Or when I got two actions, non-combat, to take on a turn, I moved and aimed, that was it. Most of the time other actions were pointless. So there was a certain element of the characters just playing themselves. In Gloomhaven, I had choice in what cards to play and I could create my own solution to my puzzle. In Sword & Sorcery, the solution was given to you.
So Do I Look For It?
Yes, and no. Another kind of answer to the question. A game with variability in what happens in it is a lot of fun. But do I really need it to have tons and tons of it? No, most games don’t need that. I haven’t played Ticket to Ride in a little bit, mainly because I play with family, but I don’t need to get special powers for the players and all sorts of crazy stuff to make it more variable. If I got that, it would make it harder to get to the table.
So there are some games that it matters and others it doesn’t. I think games with strong mechanics inherently in the game need less variability because they will present more options as to how to win. Plus, going back to what I said at the top, how often do you play games. I could play one game per day and not repeat for a long time, so how much variability do all these games really need?
What are your thoughts? Do you have a few games you love to play over and over again because of their variability?