Anatomy of a Genre: Role Civilization, Part Two: The Empires

Glory to Rome I.VA few weeks ago I kicked off an investigation of a small genre of games that I call “role civilization” games. These are “role selection” card games that were inspired by San Juan. My initial article defined the genre through four mechanics that all debuted in San Juan: phase (role) selection; card building; multipurpose cards; and card economies. 

This week I’m going to continue my look at the genre by seeing how it’s evolved since the advent of San Juan and by investigating two Imperial successors to the game. 

A History of Role Civilization: 2004-Present

Andreas Seyfarth’s San Juan (2004) could have dramatically changed the board gaming field. Not only did it make the very popular mechanics of Puerto Rico (2002) more accessible, but it also introduced a new style of dense filler that played quickly in a short period of time while still allowing for real strategic decisions. Unfortunately, San Juan was held back by the fact that Alea games tend to be somewhat underproduced and until very recently didn’t get supplements. The best San Juan ever managed was a few mini-supplements in Treasure Chest (2009), one of which reappeared in the second edition San Juan (2014).

Despite that, a few related games trickled out. Continue reading

Anatomy of a Genre: Role Civilization, Part One: An Introduction

San Juan CoverThe evolution of board game mechanics fascinates me. That’s the main reason that I’ve written a long series on deckbuilding games: to assess new ideas and tropes as they enter the design space of a genre. With 25 such articles under my belt, I should really write a summary some time!

This week (and over a few more weeks in the future), I’m going to be examining another genre of games — one that’s much smaller. In the main, it contains just four games, plus a number of supplements and spin-offs. However, those games constitute a strong design style that’s full of innovation.

The releases that I call “role civilization” games started with San Juan (2004), but are actually part of a rich stream of game design that’s produced many of the most notable games of the 21st century. Continue reading

A Deckbuilding Look at Cthulhu Realms

Cthulhu Realms BoxThe brand-new Darwin Kastle deckbuilding game Cthulhu Realms is a new iteration of his Star Realms system, which means that it’s another classic deckbuilder with a focus on interpersonal combat. Despite its origin as an iteration of an existing design, it still offers new innovation to the field.

With its Lovecraftian basis, it’s also a great game for the Halloween season!

The Game

The gameplay of Cthulhu Realms (2015) follows closely on the design of its predecessor, Star Realms (2014). This means that the deckbuilding play is pretty basic: you play cards that give you money (conjuration points), then you use that money to buy cards from a row of randomly selected cards. The cards then go into your discard pile, for use on future turns. This also means that the other play focuses player conflict: you play cards that do damage to your opponents, with the ultimate goal of killing everyone else off (well, driving them insane; it is a Cthulhu game, after all).

However, the cards of Cthulhu Realms are also heavily interdependent. Many have powers that only activate when you play a card of a certain color or a card of a certain type. Others only activate when you force a discard of a card or trash (abjure) a card. The result is both increased tactical play and increased emphasis on the deckbuilding. Continue reading

New to Me: Summer 2015 — A Lot of Good

I played a lot of new games during the Summer — almost 20. And for the longest time, most of them were good but not better. Fortunately, toward the end of the season things improved and move games appeared in my Very Good to Great range. As always, this is a listing of games that I’d never played previously, and it’s my personal take on the games, as a medium-serious game player.

The Great

KeyflowerKeyflower (2012). This Richard Breese game is a couple of years old, but I played it for the first time a few weeks ago, so it makes the list. All of the Breese games I’ve played to date are dense combinations of classic Euromechanics, and this one’s no exception. In fact, it’s an auction/worker-placement/tile-placement game. (Seriously!)

I found the combination of auction and worker placement to be both innovative and interesting. Each turn you either place meeples as workers (to take advantage of a tile’s action) or else you place them as bids (to try and purchase a tile for future usage and/or victory points). The balance is a really tricky one because you might want to grab an action before anyone else, or you might try to make an all-important first bid; doing either also allows you to determine the color of meeple (currency) that must be used for all future bidding on working on that tile.

Continue reading

A Deckbuilding Look at Don’t Turn Your Back

Don't Turn Your BackI haven’t talked about a new deckbuilder all year. As I’ve previously written, I think that’s because the genre has peaked. So I was happy to get my Kickstarted copy of Don’t Turn Your Back (2015), by Eric B. Vogel, because it gives me a chance to return to a topic that has often filled this blog in recent years.

I talked with Eric about the game in February, but now that it’s out I can talk more about my own experience with the game — about how it expands the field and where it has troubles. I should note that Eric is a friend of mine, and I playtested the game several times in 2014, so take what I write with the appropriate amount of salt!

The Game

Don’t Turn Your Back is a deckbuilding/worker-placement game. You buy cards and filter cards like you’d expect, making the best deck that you can. However, the game’s use of those cards is unusual. Instead of just playing them and taking their effects, you instead place cards on specific areas of a game board, each of which has limited spaces. Doing so produces specific results: Continue reading

Anatomy of a Game: Catan

Catan 5e Box CoverMayfair Games recently released their fifth edition of the Settlers of Catan (1995) — now just called “Catan”. Even if you aren’t impressed by the fact that Mayfair has produced five major iterations of the core game, you have to be impressed that Catan Gmbh reports that over 18 million units of Catan have been sold. That’s a lot of games!

To celebrate the newest edition of the game, its 20th anniversary, and perhaps most importantly its continued success, I’ve decided this week to take an extended look at what makes Catan great. I’ll be examine the game’s major systems, the rules underlying them, and the emotions they create. Continue reading

Deckbuilding Expansion: Ascension, Part Two — From Vigil to Champions

Ascension Core GameTwo weeks ago I took a look at the first four Ascension sets, examining the mechanics of each.

In this article, I’m continuing that journey by looking at the most recent four sets — from Rise of Vigil through Dawn of the Champions. I’ll be examining how they influenced the Ascension game and deckbuilding in general. In doing so, I’ll be bringing Ascension up to date — and perhaps I can repeat this exercise in another 2-3 years.

Block Three: Vigil & Darkness (2013)

Ascension: Rise of VigilAscension fell into its scheduling stride with the release of the large-box Rise of Vigil (2013) and the small-box Darkness Unleashed (2013) which together form Block Three of the game.

These two sets also used a simple model for introducing new mechanics: a major mechanic appeared in Rise of Vigil (Energize), and then was ever-so-slightly adjusted in Darkness Unleashed, which also saw a new and related mechanic (Transformation). Continue reading