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