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

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

Six Designs of Real-Time Games

Real-time games are one of my favorite genres. Sadly, they’re pretty rare too, with a game of real note only showing up every year or two. In this article, I’m discussing several of the most interesting real-time games, to highlight what each does great (or not). Rather than trying to rank these games, I’ve listed them in order of publication … but if you want to know my favorite real-time game, it’s Galaxy Trucker (2007), hands-down.


Ubongo (2003)

UbongoUbongo isn’t exactly a real-time game by my definition. Instead it’s a game that you win by engaging in a task (the placement of puzzle pieces within a grid) faster than everyone else. However, Ubongo shows off the most important element of real-time gaming: adrenaline.

When I first played Ubongo, I was amazed by how jazzed I felt afterward and by how much I wanted to play again. That’s because it does a good job of making you want to play fast and rewarding you for doing so.

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