A Legion of Legacies, Part Two: Legacy Venn

In “A Legion of Legacies, Part One”, I wrote about the general tropes of Legacy games like Risk Legacy (2011), Pandemic Legacy (2015, 2017), and SeaFall (2016): what they are, why they’re controversial, and what makes them great.

Though Legacy games are quite innovative, they’re not something that emerged fully formed from designer Rob Daviau’s brow. Instead. they’re part of a larger stream of game design that goes back many years. In fact, I’d more specifically define them as a combination of three major game design elements: campaign play, hidden secrets, and modifiable components.

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A Legion of Legacies, Part One: Legacy Play

Six years ago, Rob Daviau come up with an interesting new idea that would form the basis of RIsk Legacy (2011). Imagine a game that can be played multiple times, forming a campaign; but also imagine that game changing over time, with secrets being revealed from game to game, while the game itself is irrevocably changing. Cards are destroyed and stickers are applied to various components; the board, the cards, and the player roles all mutate, both improving and degenerating over multiple plays. It turns out that this second element, of dramatically changing game elements, bolsters the first element, of multiple plays, creating a real gaming innovation.

Risk Legacy was immediately a hit, but it took several years (and a few more outings) for the “Legacy” idea to catch on more broadly. It’s only recently that it’s blossomed, with multiple Legacy games coming out in 2017-2018. Continue reading

Deck Management is the New Roundel

It’s been over a decade now since Mac Gerdts produced Antike (2005). Its core mechanic was simple but innovative: allow players to take actions for their turns, but place all of those actions in a circle (on a rondel). Then, limit how far a player can advance on the rondel each turn. In Antike, you usually move just 1-3 spaces on the 8-space roundel, but you can spend resources for more advancement.

This limits players how often players can take specific actions. The result is an interesting puzzle of play. How can you successfully combine together several disparate actions to make a winning strategy? Do you streak around the rondel to get to the “good” actions more quickly, or you do slowly edge around to get a little of everything?

A designer can also have a lot of fun with the rondel, choosing whether to put the same action on multiple spaces (such as the duplication of the “maneuver” action in Antike) and choosing how to arrange all of the spaces to maximize efficiency, to maximize player frustration, or toward some other goal.

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The Design and Care of a Tile-Based City Builder

Tile-based city building games are among my favorites. That’s in large part due to the creativity that they introduce. I mean, I’m one of the generation that grew up with SimCity (1989), obliviously building until the sun began to flood into my college dorm room, suggesting that it was time to be off to bed. I love being able to put together the puzzle pieces of a city, and a good tile-based city builder lets you do that.

City TycoonThe General Shape of the Game

When I’m talking about tile-based city builders, I’m specifically limiting my consideration to game designs that meet several criteria:

  1. Obviously, they allow you to build cities out of tiles: usually square tiles, but occasionally hexes.
  2. Often, you’ll have your own city that you’re working on … but quite a few games instead have you contributing to to a joint city.
  3. The tiles that you place are complete and coherent buildings, businesses, residences, or other structures within a city. They’re not just parts of a whole.

There are probably hundreds of tile-based city games that I could have picked from in writing this article. I opted for the ones that I know the best, because I’ve played them. I’ve mostly focused on recent ones. My complete list for this article includes: Acquire (1964), Alhambra (2003), Between Two Cities (2015), Big City (1999)Carcassonne: The City (2004), Chinatown (1999), City Tycoon (2011), Key to the City: London (2016), Quadropolis (2016), Saint Malo (2012), Suburbia (2012), and Urbania (2012). Obviously I could have picked others (and I may expand this article in the future).  Continue reading

The Design of a Resource-Efficiency Game

A resource-efficiency game focuses on turning resources into victory points through a chain of actions. It’s a very common design style for euro games, but also one with considerable room for variety.

The recently released Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction (2016) shows the style at its simplest. You start out with worker resources. You turn those into yellow cake, which you turn into uranium, which becomes victory-point bombs. There’s a single development path for a four-link chain. The game is all in how fast you can walk that path.

Catan ConflictThe ever-popular Catan (1995) shows a different methodology. A variety of resources become roads, settlements, and cities. You can also look at this as a four-link chain: resources are necessary to create roads, which are necessary to build settlements, which in turn upgrade to cities. However, as with many more complex resource-efficiency games, there’s a feedback loop: settlements and cities can create more resources. Thus the game becomes not just about maximizing efficiency but also maximizing opportunities. Continue reading

Anatomy of a Genre: Role Civilization, Part Three: The Galaxy

Race for the GalaxyIn November, I took a look at a smallest of mini-genres: what I call the Role Civilization genre, which originated with San Juan and which also grew to include games such as Glory for Rome and Eminent Domain. My previous articles covered the origins of the field in role selection and those three games. In this latest article, I’ll be looking at the final major  entry in the category, Roll for the Galaxy, discussing how it simultaneously invented and reinvented the field.

The Shared History of San Juan and Roll for the Galaxy: 2002-2007

Puerto Rico (2002) was the game that brought role selection to the field of serious, dense eurogames. It ruled the gaming table for a few years and was considered the top game in the field. Alea production manager Stefan Brück asked Puerto Rico designer Andreas Seyfarth for a card version of the game, and the result was San Juan (2003), which kicked off the whole role civilization subgenre.

But that’s not the whole story.

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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