The Voting Game

Today in the United States is voting day. If you’re a US citizen, I encourage you to get out in vote — even though the presidential election is a broken game, as I wrote four years ago. But, before you do, I want to more generally discuss voting as a game mechanic, because it’s a pretty good one, and one that I think should be used in more game.

First I’m going to touch upon the design of three notable voting games, and then I’m going to expand upon that by breaking down the elements of voting design and examining how they could be incorporated into gameplay.


If I didn’t include a game in here, it’s probably because it has the facade of being a voting game, but without an actual voting mechanic. Liberté (2001) is a fine example; it’s theoretically a voting game, but it’s based on a majority control mechanic — because to a certain extent auctions, voting, and majority-control all devolve into the same gameplay. Similarly Die Macher (1986) is obviously a game about elections, but it’s based on complex economic play. Finally, 1960: The Making of a President (2007) is about card play and (once more) majority control. So just remember that the focus here is voting, not politics or the facade of voting. Continue reading

The Fear Factor

scary-jackolantern-300pxSome years ago I wrote an article called The Problem with Horror Games where I talked about how horror-themed games don’t tend to be scary at all. I offered one potential exception, the second edition of Fury of Dracula (2005), and said that cooperative games might generally offer a solution for the problem of fear-free gaming.

Almost a decade later, the cooperative field has grown considerably, and I think it continues to have the closest thing you’ll find to genuine fear in tabletop games. So, in honor of Halloween, I wanted to offer some thoughts on game mechanics that are great for horror games because of their introduction of genuine fear — with many of them drawn from cooperative play. Continue reading

New to Me: Summer 2016

Summer was a nice quarter for gaming, with a number of releases really excelling. Here’s a look. Remember as always that these are “new to me”, which means that they might be brand-new releases or something a bit older that I hadn’t yet seen.


The Great

Agricola Revised Edition (2016). Yep, this is a pretty old game by now. The new edition has better rules and cleans up the cards a considerable amount, producing a more balanced game. I recommended Agricola before, and it’s only better now. Continue reading

The Love Letter Legacy

Love Letter BoxSan Juan (2004) marked a pivot point in game design. It was the first of the super fillers, which supported serious gameplay in a short period of time. Race for the Galaxy (2007) improved upon the design with its simultaneous play, truly fulfilling the promise of playing a full, dense strategy game in an hour or less.

And then deckbuilders came along, and the whole industry shifted in a different direction. But now, a few more years have come and gone, and Love Letter (2012) is offering another opportunity to revamp the way we think about traditional “fillers”.

A Love Letter to Love Letter

The most popular name for the category of games created by Love Letter seems to be the “microgame”. This denotes a game played with an extremely small set of cards and with a very simple set of rules. In fact, most of the rules tend to appear on the cards, not in the rulebook.

Continue reading

A Deckbuilding Look at Tyrants of the Underdark

Tyrants CoverClearly, deckbuilding games are still a going concern, as I’ve been able to write about two new designs this month: first Mystic Vale (2016) and now Tyrants of the Underdark (2016).

With that said, deckbuilders are growing more outré too. Both of this month’s designs have basic mechanics that you could have found in second-generation deckbuilders following Dominion (2008), but they also incorporate much weirder elements, like the plastic cards of Mystic Vale … and the plastic armies of Tyrants.

The Game

Tyrants of the Underdark (2016) is a game in two parts.

On the one hand, some cards give you Influence. That’s used to buy cards from a central tableau. The default cards can be used to generate influence or power, while a random array of six market cards can provide players with more varied powers.

On the other hand, some cards give you Power. That’s used to affect the game board. You can use your influence to deploy troops or to assassinate troops, slowly expanding across the Underdark and taking control of central locations, which are worth victory points.

Continue reading

A Deckbuilding Look at Mystic Vale

Mystic Vale CoverIt’s now been almost eight years since Dominion changed the face of gaming by introducing a dominant new style of play. Long gone is the day when a semi-clone could be released that just moved Dominion into the dungeons or the scullery. Instead new deck builders must have dramatically different styles of gameplay … or even dramatically different styles of components.

And that’s an intro to Mystic Vale (2016) which features transparent cards made of plastic!

The Game

In many ways, Mystic Vale is a pretty traditional deckbuilding game. You buy cards that can generate money (mana), then use that money to buy new cards. The most valuable cards are worth victory points, while some cards also generate victory points when played.

The big innovation of the game is that the “cards” are actually plastic card sleeves that are used to hold transparent cards. You can slide up to three transparent cards into each sleeve, provided one shows its powers at the top, one at the middle, and one at the bottom. So, you’re not exactly “deck building”, but you’re “card crafting”, since you’re improving the cards already in your deck. But, it really amounts to the same thing — especially when you consider that some card sleeves are empty at the start of the game. Continue reading

New To Me: Spring 2016

It’s been a weak quarter for new gaming for me. Because of a business trip and a vacation, I missed out on about a month of my normal gaming. Still, I managed to get in plays of almost a dozen new games, expansions, and variants — just barely enough to people a new New to Me article. 

As usual, this listing is games new and old that I’d never played before, rated according to how much liked them. Continue reading