So it’s that time of year again when everything goes on sale for Black Friday. This year, though, that looks different because with Covid, you don’t want hundreds of people rushing madly into your store, standing in long lines next to others and breathing the …
We’re getting down to it, getting close to the Top 10 games, only a few more of these lists. It’s been a blast as always putting these out and I’m glad that people are enjoying them. I’d be very curious to know what your top …
This is one of my favorite mechanics in games, it adds a lot of variety to games and to the strategy of games. However, it can be one of the trickier, though there are trickier mechanics, to teach in a game.
The idea of variable player power is that each player can do something different in the game. Now, that might mean that you’re the only player who can do something, or you can do something better than anyone else. And this isn’t because of the skill that the player possesses themselves, it is instead something that the game grants the player the ability to do.
A kind of silly but obvious example of this is in the game Magic Maze. In that game you are trying to, without verbal communication, move a group of heroes through a mall so that they can pick up what they need and then get out before time runs out. In this game each player has a certain power, you might be able to move the heroes down while I can move them up, someone else can move them left, right, and so on and so forth. While all the powers do basically the same thing, move the heroes, each of them moves it in a unique way. And now I wouldn’t really consider this a great example of how variable player powers can be used in a game, it is obvious, because you are doing something different than anyone else, in fact, you are only doing things different than everyone else.
In most variable player power games, your power isn’t the only thing that you can do. Most of the time there will be a set of common actions that you can take, but you’ll have some added thing that you can do in the game. Pandemic is a good example of this. In Pandemic everyone has the same abilities, you can travel, treat a disease, trade a card, or cure a disease. However, if you are the Dispatcher, you can move other character pawns, not just your own. If you are the Medic, you can treat a disease better. And the same goes for the likes of the Researcher and Scientist and all the other characters. They can all do the basic actions the game, but they can improve upon a basic action or add in a whole action or affect that is specific to them.
Why I like this mechanic so much is that it makes each role in the game feel different. And it means that each time you play the game it feels different as well. In the Pandemic example, if I play the Dispatcher, I’m doing actions that are helping us win the game but that are consistently different than those of the Medic. I care about getting people to where they need to be versus healing a disease. So next time when I’m the researcher and my actions are all about getting people the cards they need, I can coordinate and plan with the Dispatcher to get me to where I need to go so that I’m not using the cards I need to help someone else cure a disease. Sure, you can repeat or find a favorite character for playing or team that you like for winning, but some of the fun is trying out new things. And that’s even more interesting, in my opinion, in a competitive game, because generally that means you are changing how you target a win, I’ll talk about on of my favorites with that coming up here.
Homebrewers – Now, I’m sure people have a bunch of different games that I could have put here, but this newer game is one that I really like that plays fast. In this game you are brewing and improving your homebrewed beer. You do this by adding ingredients to your beer, this improves your beer so it makes it more likely you’ll play in the Summer Beer Fest and Oktober Fest. Where the player powers come in is that each character can do something unique. One of the homebrewers is better at cleaning their equipment, another is efficient so they get an extra action die in a month. All of things that are done are simple, and at the end, you end up with a lot of crazy sounding beer that might be good or might just be weird. If that theme doesnt work for you, Pandemic is also a great opion.
Xenoshyft: Onslaught – Again an area that could have a lot of different games, but I really like this one because it combines two or my favorite mechanics, player powers with deck building. You even get to blow up some bugs in this cooperative game. In Xenoshyft: Onslaught, you are fighting back wave after wave of bugs who are trying to get into your mining base on an alien planet. To do this, you create a line of defense, but what’s fun is that you can help other people with their defenses as well, so it’s very cooperative in nature. The player powers come in with what group of the security defending the base you are. If you are a medic, that means you start with a special card to start in your deck and it means that you get a few special abilities that unlock over the various waves of bugs. It can be a discount when it comes to buying weapons, armor, more troops, medical supplies, and then they start to build from there. It’s a very tough cooperative game, but I like it a lot.
Lords of Hellas – Now, this one is my most controversial pick because there are a lot of good ones out there, and some people don’t like Lords of Hellas all that well. I really like it, though, because of the variable player powers and multiple win conditions. In this game you are either trying to control two groups of land areas, a completed statue, defeated three monsters, or control areas with five temples. At the beginning of the game you pick a hero, and that hero has a unique power. This can help you decide what you want to go after in terms of winning the game. It can be as simple as just starting the game with a priestess but that means you can start going down the path of getting temples faster. But it leads you a bit in a way to win, though, when I got the extra priestess and was going for temples, I actually got closer to winning with two areas controlled. But I like the different options that it gave you and there were a ton of different heroes, so you could really tailor it to how you wanted.
Those are just some of them that I like, there are so many out there, even something like Gloomhaven falls into that category but I skipped dungeon crawler games because while it is a variable power, it feels and plays different, and I’ll talk about dungeon crawler and what that means coming up anyways. What are some of your favorite games with variable player powers? Does it sound interesting to you if you haven’t played a game like that?
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Continuing on my series of board game mechanics, we’re going to be looking at Engine Building games. This has nothing to do with motor vehicles but it is building together pieces to make it work. Engine building games can be fun because they are games …
Alright, the classic mechanic in board games, rolling some dice. Whether it’s Monopoly or Clue rolling dice to move, Risk where you roll dice to attack, or Yahtzee where you roll dice to fill in a sheet, dice have been a staple of board gaming for a very long time.
When I am creating this list, I’m not just looking at games where it is mainly rolling dice, I’m looking at games where rolling those dice is a very important part of the game. So it’s not just going to be a bunch of roll and write games or older games, but a variety of games that rely on dice. I would guess that some people won’t consider the games to use the dice enough, but for me, it’s one of the major mechanics in the game, which is enough to get it onto the list.
10 – Sword and Sorcery
A good ameritrash game to take the #10 spot on the list, Sword and Sorcery has some story to it, but it’s all about crawling through the “dungeon” to advance the story, running across different monsters, fighting them and then going back and doing it all again. When you fight monsters, it’s about chucking dice. If you can gang up on them, you get get some automatic hits, or if you have the right items, you get more automatic hits, or if you aim, and maybe with all of that and a good roll you’ll be able to take a monster down in one hit. This game is about making you feel like a hero fighting through the dungeon and it might be a little bit easy. That said, the dice rolling is fun, especially with the extra symbols on the dice, not just hits or misses, because if you get the right combo, maybe you can boost your damage some more or ignore their armor. Of course, after your turn, you have to roll for the enemies and they might just hit you back hard and take you down as well. It’s a good straight forward dice chucking dungeon crawling game.
9 – Dead of Winter
I like the idea of games where the number of the dice matter, and not just in a simple comparison of does my number beat your number, if so, I win, like Risk. Dead of Winter gives you a lot to do with those dice. You can kill zombies, if you rolled high enough, you can search locations, if you rolled high enough, or you can barricade or do other things spending dice to keep the small group of survivors alive another day. There is no dice mitigation in this game, so that means that what you roll you get. Now, there are always things you can use the dice for, but it might not be what you really want. And while the dice roll is a random thing, it is one of the things that makes everyone look a little bit like a traitor, nothing that they can do about it, but it feels like a bad roll is somehow more likely to make a traitor. And that’s what Dead of Winter is about, it’s about fighting zombies, but it’s more about can you trust your fellow survivors, so are they out to get you?
8 – Village Attacks
Sometimes you just want to be a monster, and Village Attacks, you’re able to do that. You and your team of monsters are just resting in your castle most likely at the top of a cliff that somehow manages to keep the village below it in constant shadow when those pesky villagers decide to ruin your evening by attacking your castle with their pitchforks and torches. Can you fend them off? That’s what you use the dice for, they give you the ability to move, attack ranged, attack close and do other things, such as defend against the damage that might be coming your way. There’s less dice mitigation in this one, so you better hope that you roll well. But if you do roll three of the same symbol you are always able to reroll that until you don’t have it anymore. The theme is just fun, and while the game is a bit dark, I’ve found that it plays sillier because of the theme and the idea of these monsters just wanting some peace and quiet but the villagers keep bugging them.
7 – Homebrewers
I love beer, so Homebrewers might be higher on my list than some, but it’s a fun small engine building game where the engine that you’re building is the beers that you are creating. You do that by getting ingredient cards and adding them to your different brews. But the dice play a major part in that, the dice you get have to clean up the mess you’ve made while brewing, get you ingredients, add in ingredients, get you grain for brewing, and brew your beer, so your one roll is very important. However, there’s good dice mitigation just in case you rolled almost all of a single symbol. You can trade dice with other players. Maybe I have two brew and no grain and you have no brew and two grain, we could swap a grain and a brew so that both of us are able to brew. But maybe I think you’re in the lead and you brewing will help you more than just doing a simple trade would help me, so instead, you can spend a dollar and change the face of a die. The game plays fast and feels almost like a filler type engine building game, but it’s a ton of fun and who wouldn’t want to drink a bacon nutmeg ale?
6 – Criss Cross
Smallest game on the list and only roll and write on the list. This game is very simple and very dice driven, you are putting down pairs of dice like they’re dominoes onto your sheet, as is everyone else. And you’re trying to get symbols next to each other so that you can score points in both rows and columns. It might seem like there’s an optimal solution that everyone would gravitate towards form the dice rolls, but you are free to put the pair of dice down on on your grid where ever you want, and you get to pick what symbol you want to put in a starting corner, since there are an odd number of squares. So the strategy for the game and plan for it diverges based off of whether or not you can match symbols next to each other at the start. Overall, the game is simple, it plays fast, but it’s a good little filler dice game that I like a lot.
5 – Sagrada
Most of the games on the list, you’re rolling the dice and using them to resolve something. in Sagrada, you’re rolling the dice, then drafting dice, an using them to create a stained glass window. That by itself sounds like a lot of fun, but you have rules as to where you can an can’t place dice. You can’t have the same number or same color orthogonally adjacent to each other (left – right and up – down). Plus at the start of the game, you get to pick a stained glass window that you’re going to make. That is going to mean that you need certain colors in certain spots or certain numbers. So that locks in what you can pick even more so. Can you grab the right dice or get them to come out of the bag so that you can complete your stained glass window?
4 – Dice Throne Season 1/2
While this isn’t a pure dice game, it is one of the games that most heavily uses the dice. You’re rolling them every round, Yahtzee style, in order to hit your opponent and take down their health faster than they can take down yours. What’s interesting about it is that straights or four of a kind, that can mean a different sort of attack for each character. The Pyromancer might set someone on fire so that they are going to take more damage over time. The Shadow Thief might steal the CP (combat points) from another player and deal more damage because of that. And if you’re really lucky or can manipulate a roll so that you end up with all sixes, you can pull of a great ultimate attack. Then, assuming the damage can be defended against, the defending player rolls a single defense roll which might block damage, hit back for a little bit, or do something else, depending on the character. The game shines because of the cards, in some ways, though, because you can improve your attack or defense by playing down upgrade cards. So if you get a great combat upgrade, you might be able to swing for more or open up more options for what you can do on combat. It’s a really fun game and plays fast.
3 – Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition
Mansions of Madness is one of those games where you use the dice to check everything. If you need to see if you know the lore of something and won’t be going more insane, look at your lore skill, grab that many dice and roll them. If you need to fight off a monster from the depths of the oceans, it’ll tell you look at your strength and roll that many dice. The only thing that you don’t use dice for is puzzles, as those are handled by the app or something so simple that anyone could do it. But Mansions of Madness uses the dice well and like a lot of the games in the Arkham line from Fantasy Flight, there are ways to mitigate the dice with rerolls, or you can spend clue tokens to turn clue rolls into successes. I think this is a good example of having just enough mitigation in the dice that it doesn’t feel so lucky, but you’re always hoping for that perfect roll and as you get later in the game and need better rolls with less resources, often, it adds to the pressure.
2 – T.I.M.E. Stories
For what is basically a complicate Choose Your Own Adventure with a bit of escape room thrown in, you get an interesting game with a lot of dice rolling. Some might argue it’s too much dice rolling as you test your skills to see if you can get enough agility to slip a key off the cooks belt or to fight off a crazed monster down in the tunnels. You never know what you’re going to run across that you’ll need to make a roll for. Now, the rolling, like I said, is not some people’s favorite piece to the game, it can be random and it can be quite swingy. So you might make it through a couple of tough encounters with ease and then an easy encounter might just wipe you out and cause you to restart a run. But for me, that’s some of the fun of the game, in the game you aren’t be swapped into the best vessels from that era or location, so you aren’t going to always be the perfect team. Plus there’s the time die which gives some variability to how much time you’re counting down and that can also cause you to have to go on another run. A controversial pick, but one that I enjoy.
1 – Betrayal At House on the Hill
So remember, when I do these Top 10’s, it’s going to include a lot of my favorite games, but dice rolling in Betrayal at House on the Hill tends to be somewhat important. I don’t think that it uses it best out of all the games on the list, but it’s my favorite. In it you’re using dice for combat, but more importantly for the haunt. The haunt is when the game shifts from being cooperative and turns into a fight for survival as one character becomes the betrayer and has their own winning objectives compared to the other players. This roll is known as the haunt roll and you’re trying to roll more than a certain number to keep it from happening. So a poor roll early in the game could cause the haunt to come on faster. While this can be an issue for some, I like that fact that ti’s not as standard a feel as a horror movie because you never know when the haunt is going to happen or if you’ll be prepared to win.
There are a whole lot more games where dice can play a big roll. I actually left Star Wars: Rebellion off the list, because I think that the expansion changes up combat some so that it’s not as luck and dice driven, but it does have a lot of dice in there as well. And you can see that even though some of my favorite games use dice, not all of them is it the highlight of the game. T.I.M.E. Stories is on the list because I don’t mind the dice, but I’m there for the story, whereas other games use the dice really well, like Dice Throne or Mansions of Madness where it’s so key to what you’re doing.
Let me know in the comments below what some of your favorite dice driven games (or at least games where the dice are very important) are. Are there any that you think I need to checkout? Looking at my shelf, I need to get Formula D to the table which has a lot of dice to roll as you race.
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Another mechanic that I really love, action points/allowance is basically how many things you can do on your turn. Now, I want to say that this differentiates from something like Monopoly or Clue where you can do multiple things on your turn, possibly. I doubt …