The Alea Analysis, Part Nine: The Castles of Burgundy (#14), Artus (M#7), Las Vegas (M#8)

This article is the eighth in a continuing series that analyzes the entire Alea line of games. For past articles you can read about: Ra, Chinatown, and Taj Mahal in Part One; or Princes of Florence, Adel Verpflichtet, and Traders of Genoa in Part Two; or Wyatt Earp, Royal Turf, and Puerto Rico in Part Three; or Die Sieben Weisen, Edel, Stein & Reich, and Mammoth Hunters in Part Four; or San Juan, Fifth Avenue, and Louis XIV in Part Five; or Palazzo, Augsburg 1520, and Rum & Pirates in Part SixNotre Dame, In The Year of the Dragon, and Witch’s Brew in Part Seven; or Macao, Alea Iacta Est, and Glen More in Part Eight.

By 2011 and 2012, Alea was deep in Stefan Feld land, but that was only the big box series. The medium boxes proved that they were still publishing very interesting games from other designers. Continue reading

New to Me: Fall 2016 — A Key Quarter

Personally, Fall 2016 was the quarter when I started actively seeking out Richard Breese’s Key games, because of how much I liked Keyflower (2012). You’ll see a few of them on this list. More generally, it was a pretty OK quarter. Nothing stuck out as Great, though The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire (2016) was close, but there was also a lot of stuff that was Very Good. And, nothing was absolutely horrible.

As usual this is a list of games that are new to me, and and as usual this listing ranks them by how much I personally like them, as a medium-weight eurogamer.

The Very Good

The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire (2016). One of my playing group asked me if we’d hit peak worker placement and my knee-jerk response was, “yes”. But honestly I’m not sure. We’re a long way out from Caylus (2005), but worker placement has become an almost defining element of eurogaming. I’d swear there were more eurgames with worker placement than not; if so, we may not have hit the peak yet.

Anywho, Energy Empire is a worker-placement game of energy production and resource management. It’s got several elements that set it aside as a unique design. First, you can use a global action space that someone else is occupying, you just have to spend extra energy to do so. Second, after you use a global action space, you can also use personal action spaces (which is the biggest similarity to the original Manhattan Project), as long as their categories match. Third, everyone refreshes their workers at different times (another similarity to the original game); now, it creates even more interesting dynamics for the global spaces, since you’re constantly stacking up more energy than what’s there already.

Continue reading

Support Mechanics & Meeples in 2017!

Over the years, my board game writing has very much been a labor of love. So, once a year I like to remind readers that they can help to support this writing, and ensure that Mechanics & Meeples continues into the distant future.

If you’re interested in supporting the publication of Mechanics & Meeples articles, I encourage you to become a patron at Patreon. You can choose to contribute as little as $1 per new article I write (or even $1 per month), and in doing so you’ll work together with (hopefully) lots of other patrons to support this site.

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Even if you personally can’t become a patron,thanks for your readership and your thoughtful comments. That’s just as important as a little bit of patronage to keep me writing!

Anatomy of a Line: The Manhattan Project

Brands can be important. They tell consumers to expect the expected — that the gum they like has come back into style. But in the board game world, gaming lines have usually focused on expansions and slight variants. Carcassonne offers one of the best examples: there are lots of different games, but they’re all close enough to the original game that you still  pretty much know what you’re getting.

But a few publishers have gone further, using branding to tie together similar games that support the same themes and use some of the same ideas, but aren’t just copies of the same mechanics with slight tweaks. Richard Breese’s Key-series is one of the most long-lived brands of this sort. He’s written a very nice explanation of the points he requires in Key games, which makes it obvious that they can have great variety while still focusing on the same fundamentals.

In the last few years, this sort of branding seems to have become more popular. Eminent Domain now includes a deckbuilder, a two-player micro-deckbuilder, and a totally unrelated microgame. Similarly, The Manhattan Project has encompassed three different games in the last few years: a serious strategy game, a card game conversion, and a second serious strategy game. And that’s the brand I want to look at today, to talk about how the line has evolved. Continue reading

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