Board Game Literacy
We know how to “talk” computer games, the cultural explosion has led to a host of acronyms and words entering common parlance among video gaming circles on a day to day basis, a grounding for internet language as a whole. Most of us understand terms like FPS, TBS, MMORPG, freemium, and we know what “early access” means, at least half the time (plenty of good early access stuff out there guys, don’t hate).
As the board game renaissance alters the face of its own market, monopolising the world of crowdfunding, becoming bigger, more elaborate, and more prolific, we’re noticing more and more that genres are emerging from common mechanics and themes. They’re some important things to pay attention to if you have intention to design a board game, or even if you’re intrigued about the nature of board gaming. Here’s some of the words I hear thrown around more and more commonly:
Deck Building: Amongst my favourite genres of board games and one I plan to have a crack at creating. Players typically begin with a simple deck of cards comprising those that do one thing and those that do another, and often one is more useful at the start of the game than the other, but may prove increasingly useful as time goes on. Cards are acquired from a “run” of cards pulled from a much larger deck that each player uses to improve upon the decks they already have that will prove ultimately useful in completing some grander goal, like defeating an opponent, defeating other players, or just accruing points to have the most at the end of the game.
They’re great games for people taking their first fumbling steps into the world of “bigger” board games. The deck you start with is incredibly simple, and everyone starts with roughly the same opportunities to gain in power, so experienced and new players often have the same odds of winning.
Examples: Dominion, Star Realms, DC Deck Builder, Hogwarts Battle
Draft: Begin with a hand of cards but don’t get used to having it, you pick (usually) one and pass it around, slowly but surely building towards your final goal. This one’s a popular format for breaking into a new CCG like Magic the Gathering, as everyone starts on a roughly even playing field without the vast stores of their collection to draw upon, which naturally makes for a well balanced board game format as well.
Some of these games are not so great for new starters, as familiarity with the contents of the cards will help massively, and if complex mechanics are involved there can be an awful lot to remember in your first game, but with only a little experience you can rapidly become as competitive a player as someone who has played a thousand times. The hardest part becomes deciding whether to take something that benefits you, or that screws over the person you’re handing your cards to.
Examples: Citadels, Sushi Go!, 7 Wonders, Great Scott!
Push Your Luck: More often than not a format found in dice games, where you have a finite resource (often life) that you can wager to take another stab at a repetitive mechanic that will score you points, or leave you with nothing. The dice giveth and the dice taketh away, and in their most simple format the question is as simple as “will you keep rolling?”, or “will you flip another card?” but can go into complexities of holding or abandoning territories, holding resources or exhausting them.
These games are often simple enough that anyone can pick up and play no matter their experience level with games of their type, as the only hard part is deciding when to hold and when to fold. The problem with Push Your Luck formats is that they can often lead to some players being left woefully behind while others race ahead, and while chance can occasionally balance the scales, it’s nothing you can think your way out of, you just have to keep trying and hope.
Examples: Zombie Dice, King of Tokyo, Incan Gold, Dungeon Roll
You have a wide range of actions that you are capable of in any given turn, but you are limited by the locations of your team of workers. Move them to wherever you need them most so that they can grant you abilities to advance your progress to victory, some will gather resources, others will use them for special actions, you may be able to deploy workers to create new ones, or destroy the workers of others and inhibit their progress.
Games involving heavy levels of worker placement are often complex and inadvisable to new players, although their are a few stripped down versions that can act as a soft introduction to the concept. For experienced board gamers they can be deeply involved and engrossing games that can occupy a day of gaming alone.
Examples: Alien Frontiers, Village, Photosynthesis, Ankh Morpork