Nifty Board Game Mechanics

This past week, Leanne's sister and fella were over for a bit of a break from work. This means several things:

  1. Nobody sleeps*.
  2. Sales of rosé and fruity ciders from the local Co-Op increase.
  3. Board games are played.
This week was no exception. It was great fun - especially the small diversion we had one day when we decided to hit up the local Games Workshop, er... shop, and get stuff for painting miniatures. These miniatures belong to Super Dungeon Explore - a game we have still yet to play**.

Anyway, the whole thing got me thinking about the little mechanics that particularly tickle me from the board games we have played.

Settlers of the Stone Age

BGG Rank: 975

By the guy that brought you Catan, we have a very similar game set in the Stone Age. If you've played Catan (and if not, why not?) you will be very familiar with the set up. Hex board of different resources that are awarded whenever their number is rolled, settlements on the corners, trade between players - that sort of thing.
But the desertification is the interesting thing. As players rush to explore and try to find those elusive victory points, the continent of Africa gets gradually turned into a barren desert. This means it no longer produces resources and the settlements there rapidly become useless. The players then have to migrate across Europe to find new resources. It feels like having a HUG*** in a board game.

Whilst being a pretty good analogy for what actually happened, it plays pretty well too. You're always having to re-evaluate the current situation and you can't just turtle up to gather resources. Likewise, if you're the player doing all of the rapid exploration, then it's also likely that you're the one yet to move out of Africa, meaning that in your greed you may end up scuppering yourself in the late game.

Castles of Burgundy

BGG Rank: 11

Interesting game this one. It's a town-builder where each turn a new set of potential building options is revealed in the communal part of the board. The players then take it in turns to remove those options from the board and place it in their own town.
The thing that makes it cool is the way the turn order is decided. At the start of the game, a simple dice roll sorts out the initial ordering. After that, it moves to this system whereby placing a Ship tile that you've managed to accrue moves you up the pecking order. There are a total of 6 Ship slots for each player and every time you play a Ship, you move up one. Whoever is furthest along that track goes first and so on. In the case where two people have played the same number of ships, the person that played their ship last is the one who takes precedence.
It makes for an interesting, rolling boil of turn order - not entirely dissimilar to the chaos you get in the middle of a Mario Kart race. If you manage to get two Ships ahead, you're okay, but if you only get a little bit ahead, you're constantly being buffered and shunted to the back of the line.
Castles of Burgundy also includes a system whereby a resource can be traded in to modify dice rolls. For each worker you trade in, a dice can be modified by 1.

Kings & Things

BGG Rank: 1167

Something similar exists in Kings & Things. Before most crucial dice rolls, a player can elect to buy modifiers with gold. It costs 5 gold per extra point the player wishes to add to his roll. The kicker here is that the player is also able to modify the roll after he has actually rolled the dice but this costs 10 gold per point.
It's a lovely example of risk vs reward coupled with a nice little soft fail buffer.
Actually, another feature I like in Kings & Things is the Bluff. All of the creatures in the game belong to a particular type of land. So long as you have that land type in your empire, all is well. If you don't, however, that creature is a Bluff and, as soon as another player points that out, it is removed from the game. The thing is, they have to point it out. If they don't notice, it acts just like a normal creature and can be used to slay your enemies and conquer territories and the like.
Something similar exists in Chaos - the Julian Gollop tactics game from way back****. In that, you could summon creatures to do your bidding. Attempting to summon a creature would only be successful a percentage of the time, depending on the strength of said creature. More energy could be spent to increase this chance or you could elect to make that creature an Illusion with a 100% chance of success.
Illusory creatures work in exactly the same way as regular ones but if a player ever elects to use a Disbelieve spell on them, they vanish. 


BGG Rank: 27

I don't think I've ever talked about Dominion before, but it's a neat little deck-builder game where the deck-building takes place simultaneously over the course of the game itself. Broadly speaking, there are three types of cards - Currency, Action and Victory. Currency is used to buy new cards for the deck, Action cards are played during your turn and the winner is decided by the value of the Victory cards come the end of the game.
So whilst Victory cards are ultimately the most important ones to have, they have no value during the game itself. In fact, an abundance of Victory cards during gameplay will actively hamper your efforts to improve your deck. This means that players will tend to ignore them until the first player decides to make his move and start pushing for the win. You can liken it to a cycle sprint event when, for the first bit, both riders just cruise around the track, waiting for the other to make a move then go balls to the wall for the line in the last couple of laps.

Risk Legacy

BGG Rank: 111
Risk is a tried and tested formula that has been around for ages. Legacy just adds an interesting Meta to it.
The basic game is pretty much vanilla Risk. But each time you play it, someone will get to alter either the board or the ruleset. The more you play, the more the game morphs into something new. It's like you progress through your own tech tree with each game.
The thing is, each decision you make is final. Every town you place on the map alters the strategy or value of territories. You can also name them. Or name the continents. Or change the value of the continents. Or... well, there's a whole bunch of stuff that you can do that will make your version of Risk Legacy that little bit different from every other copy out there.
It's a brilliant system and really highlights the draw of a decent ownership / authorship system. If you've got a regular gaming group, I can certainly recommend it, even if you think Risk is a bit tired these days.

* Including Willow. Now her body clock thinks that 8pm is merely nap time and she needs to get up and play around midnight.
** Largely because we have yet to paint all of the miniatures that come with it...
*** Hurry Up Ghost - a thing that appears behind you and chases you across the world if you take too long.
**** And a re-vamped version that is currently on Steam's Early Access.


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