Last week I talked about the importance of the mechanisms of a game. In case you missed it, or perhaps fell asleep halfway through it while reading, I will give a quick recap. Basically there are dozens of games out there that have little to no art or a boring or non-existent theme yet gain the admiration of gamers all around the world. On the other hand, I can think of numerous games though that feature some of the best art, complete with original themes, that never gain any traction and become irrelevant less than a year later. Art and graphics may sell a game, but the mechanics are what turn it into a classic.
With this in mind I thought I would take a chance to dive into my favorite mechanics in the form of a top ten list. This week I am kicking the countdown off with my number nine and ten. Following each I will highlight two or three of my favorite games that highlight the given game mechanism. My hope is that you may find some new games to seek out and in so doing you can experience a little more of the variety that the hobby has to offer.
So without further ado….
#10 – Dice Rolling
Deep down I’m a euro gamer at heart. Euro games and luck just don’t get a long too well. Unfortunately the work “dice” is latin for “luck cubes”. But, when I need a little excitement in my life I can usually count on a good dice rolling game. My favorite use of dice to to resolve combat. It represents the uncertainty of war. Stepping in to battle you should have some sort of idea of the outcome and that alone should be enough to guide your decisions. There is nothing better than feeling like the underdog, betting it all on a single dice roll and coming out on top.
Odds are you’ve heard of Zombicide. It’s by far CMON’s largest franchise and has seen numerous reimplementations. The latest release in this zombie infested universe takes us to the furthest limits of the known universe, because this go around we are in SPAAAAACE! Yep, those things charging this weight aren’t just your neighbor foaming at the mouth, but rather some unknown Xeno species. The good news is that you’re not only armed with baseball bats or some dinky bow and arrow. You have access to some of the coolest tech and weaponry around…if you can find it.
Your actions each turn are simple as you decide to either spend your turn moving, searching, or attacking. This keeps the game moving at a rather “lively” pace. The best moments definitely come when a horde of zombies moves into your space and you’ve got three dice rolls to successfully kill everything or it’s all over for you. Tension becomes palpable as everyone leans around the table for the big reveal that only a roll of dice can provide. It feels cinematic and will without doubt create some memorable gaming experiences for you and everyone else playing.
Xia: Legends of a Drift System
You know what they say. No one can hear your die roll in Space. It just so happens that the other game I’m going to recommend is in space as well. Xia is one of the most thematic games I’ve ever played. It is known within the hobby as being one of, if not the best, sandbox game out there. Players will literally choose how they approach each and every game. They may choose to be a space pirate, shooting down other players and steal their cargo, or maybe a peaceful merchant seeking out the most profitable trade routes, but maybe they just want to explore the furthest reaches of space attempting death defying shows of their true talent. Either way, there will always be a new story to be told.
One of the few complaints toward the game is actually the dice. Wanna attempt to navigate this debris field? Roll a die. Wanna try and mine some valuable resources? Roll a die. Sick or planetary shields? No worries you can try and sneak through, just roll a die. You catch my drift? Not many high-level hobby games utilize any of the same mechanisms as Monopoly. Xia does. Each turn players will literally roll a die to see how far they can move their ship. What cool is that depending on how you outfit your ship you may be able to roll a better die, or possible add +2 to your roll. You get to decide how you approach the game.
#9 – Point to Point Movement
This mechanic is actually as simple as it sounds. You are at point A on a map and you need to get to point B. How well it do it will determine wether you come out victorious or not. I’m a sucker for games with well designed maps, especially variable ones that will change from one play to the next. Unfotunatley this mechanism is one that doesn’t stand very well on it’s own and usually needs another mechanism or two to rally make it shine. Both of my following examples utilize cards to elevate the game.
Great Western Trail
Welcome to the wild West. You are responsible for getting a herd of cattle to Kansas City. The path you take and how many stops you take is up to you. You’ll need to build up the ideal hand of cattle to yield the greatest pay out. Stopping at various locations along the way will allow you to discard cattle you don’t need, in an effort to draw ones you do need. Some locations will allow you to move your train forward, granting more bonuses and avoiding paying out your hard earned cash upon delivery of your cattle. Or maybe you just want to throw down more building tiles, giving you more possibilities and slowing down your opponents. It may sound like a simple, carefree stroll from one side of the board to the other, but there’s definitely a crunchy puzzle hidden in there. Let’s walk through a possible turn.
You have three movement. The next stop along the trail is one of your opponents buildings. Passing through it will cast you 2 coins you have to pay him. Alternatively you can take the hazardous route to the side paying 2 coins as well but it will eat up two of your movements instead of just one. You really have your eye on buying a new cow card to add to your deck and that’s going to cost you 3 coins and you currently have only 4. If you pay your opponent you can stop immediately after that at your building where you can discard one of your brown cattle for 2 coins, earning your money back. But that would mean you no longer have an ideal hand of cards. Drawing anything but another brown cattle card will mean you don’t get to the next delivery town, which will cause you to place one of your delivery disks where it will score you negative points at the end of the game… See how this can get a little tricky.
Ever wanted to be a thief sneaking into a dungeon to steal treasure from a dragon? Me neither. At first glance one might just claim that Clank! is the amerithrash version of Great Western Trail. You have a deck of cards that will determine the actions available to you each turn. You are moving point by point across a map rather than collecting cattle you’re collecting loot. Both are rated very highly on Board Game Geek. But that’s about the extent of the comparison.
While Great Western Trail utilizes deck building, Clank! definitely is traditional in that aspect. Players have the opportunity to buy new cards each turn rather than at only a specific location. Movement is less restrictive as players are free to venture this way and that. But what ultimately sets these games apart is the chance players have to press their luck. The “clank” mechanic will allow players to buy better cards but increase the odds they are targeted by the dragon. But the real action happens when either player gets killed or successful escapes. At this point all other players have 3 turns to escape completely earning a bonus, or at least make it above ground. If you don’t, the dungeon collapses and you’re disqualified from winning despite however good your score may have been.
Check back in next week to see what are mechanisms 7 and 8 as well as my favorite games that feature those mechanisms.