Normally you get to hear about all of the games in a given order, but this time you won’t. There will be one game in the order that won’t be talked about, because it’s going to be a gift. But I can, of course, talk …
Tag: Dice Forge
There are a lot of games out there that are based off of other games that feel pretty similar to them. Ascension and Dominion are both Deck Building games, and they really don’t do that much mechanically unique from a lot of other deck building games. But every now and again, there are games that do something different, something that makes them fell mechanically unique. I already did a list of unique themes that you can find here. Let’s see what I can find for unique mechanics.
10 – Potion Explosion
Now, Potion Explosion is not that unique in terms of video games, but for a mechanic in a board game it has something very cool. You are taking/collecting marbles to mix together in your potion. That piece is pretty standard set collection fare that you see in a lot of games, but it has a mechanic where, because you are pulling marbles from a tray and then more marbles drop in, that if you pull a marble and then like colored marbles hit, you take those marbles, and if more like colored marbles hit, you can take those, so you can set-up a big chain reaction of marbles to use on your potions. It’s a simple mechanic to add into the game, but they execute it well with the tray that holds the marbles and allows them to roll. There’s also more strategy than it feels like there would be, but is still a simple game to teach.
9 – Captain Sonar
This one is interesting to have on the list, because I don’t know that it has a single completely unique mechanic, but the combination of trying to figure out hidden movement, breaking down and repairing systems, and navigating all at the same time, and getting systems loaded, there’s just a lot going on in this hectic game. But they work together extremely well. You get that pressure of trying to hunt down the enemy sub and figure out where they are and what they are up to. And if things go poorly and you need to resurface, all of a sudden they have a chance to find you. This game is also interesting because it’s a big group game but doesn’t have a party game feel.
8 – Dice Forge
I believe that there are a couple other games that have done this, but none, in my opinion, as successfully as Dice Forge, and that is dice customization. In this game, which is basically just a seeing who can get the most victory points over a few rounds, you are swapping out the faces on your dice so that you can get more of several different resources, whether it’s to purchase more and better cards that give you points, or if it’s money that you can spend to get more points, or maybe even just more points. The game gives you a number of strategies for it. But the most fun part is popping off the side of a die and replacing it with something better which really then allows you to customize your strategy going forward.
7 – Hats
Hats is an interesting one to put on the list because it’s just a very small card game and all you’re doing in it is collecting hats in front of you and trying to keep what you want for scoring on the table at the Madd Hatter’s tea party. But how it works is interesting because the cards you get for scoring are from the table. So if you aren’t careful, you could set it up that a color of hat you’ve been collecting might not be able to be scored anymore. So it’s a give and take of collecting a variety of hats but also keeping a lot of scoring options open. It can be pretty thinky at two players. Just the play of the table and how you get cards in front of you feels different and unique to me. So many games you use your own hand for scoring, but in Hats, what you have in your hand, you might not use for scoring at all.
6 – Photosynthesis
First the theme is quite unique, growing trees is not that common a theme, but it has one really interesting and cool mechanic and that’s the sun. In this game the sun rotates around the board and there are games that do that with the moon as well, but the sun rotating can determine if you’re tree is going to get any sunlight and give you points to grow your trees more so and eventually remove your biggest tree which will get you points. But the game is played a certain number of rotations of the sun, and there are a number of spots it can be, but the taller the tree is, the more shade it casts, so it’s a balancing act of blocking your opponents trees at times while getting your own to get the sun in a lot of situations or consistently getting energy to use from the sunlight.
5 – Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
Not the most unique mechanic anymore, because they’ve come out with two more Crossroads games, though only one of them has been well received. But Dead of Winter is a zombie survival game where you have a main objective, personal objectives, and possibly a traitor, but what makes it unique is that there are Crossroads cards. These cards will only get triggered in certain situations, maybe if you take a certain action or go to a certain place or have a certain character. But that’ll immediately interrupt your turn and you’ll be given a little bit of story and then have to make a decision, it can be something that might help the colony, but most of the time it isn’t and you’ll have to choose between a couple of bad options. It’s a fun mechanic that adds more theme into the game and makes a pretty tough game considerably harder.
4 – Gravwell: Escape from the 9th Dimension
You’ve been sucked through a wormhole and are being pulled into a black hole, so you really need to get out of the 9th Dimension. Fortunately you have a bunch of random elements on the ship that you can use for fuel, unfortunately you’re not sure how well they’ll work. What makes this unique is that the elements do different things, they’re all going to move someone, but some might move you towards the nearest ship, some might push you away, or some might pull ships towards you. And when your ship fires off is completely dependent upon the element that you’re using. The elements fire in alphabetical order, so you might have a card that’ll move you a long ways but it’s later in the alphabet, so you need to use that when you’re confident that it’ll pull you towards a ship that’s ahead of you, and not the wrong way. It’s a simple mechanic but one that works well and causes a lot of tough decisions to be made.
3 – Cartographers
This flip and write does a fair number of things that other flip or roll and write games have done before, or even other board games with the scoring set-up. And combined those by themselves are pretty unique, but there’s one very unique thing that this game does. It causes you to pass your sheet and someone else will write on it. As you are creating your map, monsters might show up, and when they do, you pass your sheet either left or right and that other player puts the monster in the least useful spot possible. And you get negative points if you can’t completely the map around the monsters. Just that screwing over of your fellow players is very interesting and normally roll and writes can be a bit solitaire so this adds in some more interactions.
2 – Xenoshyft: Onslaught
So, in the introduction I gave an example of how a lot of deck building games aren’t that unique. I think that Xenoshyft: Onslaught does something unique in how you can use the cards. In most deck building games, even cooperative ones like Aeon’s End, there are certain steps that you have to do to help the other players at the table. In Xenoshyft, however, you can simply pass them a card while you are setting up your defenses. This means that the person in charge of the armory who can get weapons cheaper can pass the medic a weapon, or maybe someone has six troops in their hand, they can pass an extra to another player to add to their line of troops. Compared to other cooperative deck building games, and actually many cooperative games in general, this one allows you to cooperate and collaborate more on what you are doing.
1 – Betrayal at House on the Hill
Now, this one I’m putting here because of the two halves on the game. There are other games that have multiple distinct parts, Galaxy Trucker for example, but with Betrayal at House on the Hill, you go from a tense cooperative game of exploring a house, mainly tense because you don’t want someone to get too much stuff or too powerful, to a game where it is one versus all as someone becomes the traitor. It does a good job, in my opinion of balancing the tension. There’s less to say on this one, because the mechanic is pretty simple, find enough omens, have a bad enough roll and bad things will happen.
Now, I’m sure I’m missing some that I’ve played and many that I haven’t played that could be unique or do a twist on some more common mechanic. What are some of your favorite games with unique mechanics?
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That dreaded moment in the game of Sorry, you are trying to role a two, exactly, so you can end up finally ending the game, and you roll and fail, again, and again, and again.
Or Monopoly when you’re five away from the spot you want to land, and you get a four on the two dice, and now you have to hope no one else lands on it before you get around again, even though you’ll probably not land on it yet again.
In Clue, when you need to get into a new room to find out some information, and the room is six spots away, but it takes you three turns to get into there, so you’re way behind on information as compared to every one else.
Your troops are poised in Risk to take out the single troop, and you have five, but you end up rolling every single time below what the other person rolls and you lose your troops until you’re down to one, and now you’re wide open for the next person’s turn, even though you should have been able to beat the other person on one of those dice rolls.
Those are the classic frustrations that came with dice in board games that people grew up on. Maybe not teens now, but when I was a kid, those were the games we had and man, it sucked. A game that could have been fun, ended up being ruined by a bad roll of the dice. But, there are still dice in games now, how are those games not ruined by the randomness of dice, and are dice always bad in a game?
There are some games that still use what is called the classic roll and move. If that doesn’t make sense, it’s when you’re rolling a die or two to see how far you move. So it might mean, if you’re rolling two six sided dice, and this is especially noticeable in Clue, you roll and you can go two spaces while someone else rolls and they can move twelve. This is generally still considered a really bad thing in a game. Because someone with a bit more luck with the dice might be able to run away with the game.
So what are dice doing in games now that is good?
The first thing that games are doing is making the dice mean something beyond movement, or maybe they can be movement, but they can be other things as well. When dice are used as movement or in a lot of games now, they are rolled in what is known as a dice pool. A great example of this is Dead of Winter where you have a die for each survivor plus one that you roll at the start of the turn. You can then use those dice to perform certain actions. Each character has a search level and killing zombie level that if they can match or beat higher on the dice, means that they can do that action. But what if you roll below? If you roll below that number or even if you don’t need to search or kill a zombie, you have other actions that require a die. So you could use a die to barricade against zombies or clean trash out of your base. But you’re always able to do something useful, but maybe not as useful or not exactly what you had hoped. There are a number of games that do this or something similar, and that keeps you always able to do something.
Dice are still very common in the genre of game known as Roll and Write games. Yahtzee is an example of this where dice are rolled a specific number of times and you’re hoping to get what you need to score the most points. While the point thing is still huge in a lot of these games, a number of done away with the dice mitigation of rolling multiple times that Yahtzee has, we’ll get back to this mechanic in a bit. Instead of looking for something very specific, they pretty often look for where you place a certain number. And depending on where a number is in conjunction to other numbers or things printed on the board it is worth points. These games are generally a bit tricky to explain abstractly without the game being in front of you, but the rules are generally simple. The dice randomness makes the game play differently every time as well.
But let’s hop back to the Yahtzee mechanic, the roll dice, take some dice, roll again, take some more, and roll one final time. This works in two types of situations, one where the game is fairly silly and the other where the game is more serious, but the dice are always useful. Kind of like Dead of Winter, in the last of the two options for the Yahtzee mechanic, it sets you up so that you can do stuff, but you might not be able to do everything you wanted. The Reckoners is a game like this, but along with that, they also tend to give you a large number of dice to roll, so that you can always do something that is very good just by sheer number of dice faces you’ll see. However, silly games are probably more common, and even in those cases you can generally use most of your dice. King of Tokyo is the prime example of this. Monsters fighting in Tokyo, trying to punch each other, get energy to buy more powers, heal up, get points, you are doing a ton of things with dice. Because of this, it keeps the game moving well and generally as compared to a roll and move game the game doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.
Now, there are a number more things that dice are still used for. And a lot of custom dice that come with some of those things. Dice are still used in combat, but now, instead of the Risk mindset of roll and whatever you roll is what you get, you can use cards to boost results, to change results, or to roll again. A game like Star Wars: Rebellion actually adds in some more with that by having different troops roll different dice, which isn’t unique to that game, but it makes there be even more strategy with what troops you are bringing into the battle. This bit of added strategy makes the game feel much less random in combat than Risk does. The larger force of troops should generally win.
Dice are also used to simulate things that are difficult to do. And this is generally tied into your characters ability to do something. Fantasy Flight has a number of great examples of this with their Arkham Horror and Mansions of Madness games. In these games you have different skills like strength, agility, observation, will, and more that you will be tested with at times. Instead of just rolling a die to see if you get it, if you’re a strong character, you’re going to roll more dice on a strength test, but if that character also has a weak will, you are going to roll less dice for a will test. So while you still might not be able to do this impressive strength test because of a poor roll, you’re going to succeed with that more often than you will with a will test. And when you get a tough will test, it feels like you’ve really accomplished something. With this, they also do away with some of the pass or fail die rolling that people expect. A good will test might not stop all the horror from coming through, but you’ll be able to stop some of it. This is pretty common in combat dice as well, where a die roll might give you defense to stop some damage but not all of the damage.
This is getting to be a pretty long post, but you can see some of the ways that dice are being used now that is different than your standards from Sorry, Monopoly, Risk, and Clue. And I hope that while I was negative with dice in those games, you can understand that dice are great in some games when used correctly. It’s when dice are used too simply that they can become an issue. There are a lot more examples of how dice are used well such as in games like Sagrada where they are being drafted or how dice can change throughout the game, such as in Dice Forge.
What games do you think use dice well or how in modern board games do you think dice are used best?
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