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.
One of the Holy Grails of modern game design seems to be “Civ Light”, a game that inexplicably is like Francis Tresham’s 1980 masterpiece Civilization, yet at the same time is not. Every year lately one or two games come out that are proclaimed — by designers, fans, or both — to be this Grail, and every year each and every one fails to live up to the standard — potentially because it sets an impossible bar.
In this article I want to look at first Civilization itself, then the many contenders for the “Civ Light” throne. In the process I’ll give each game a “Civ Score”, which is a 4-point score based on how well the game mimics the four core Civilization gameplay elements of civilization advance, resource management, trade, and warfare and measure the “Weight” of the game, based on BGG stats. Though both stats are clearly somewhat arbitrary, I think they offer relatively analytical measures of how each game approaches the Civ Light ideal.
There are, over the gaming year, five different major awards. The first two are the German awards, the SdJ and the DSP. Then there’s the RPG industry award (the Origins) and finally the American mass-market award (the Games 100). It’s pretty easy to pigeon-hole each of these:
The SdJ is a German award for a casual or family game.
The DSP is likewise a German award for more serious games, though the results have been getting more casual as they’ve started to let the masses vote.
The Origins board & card game awards are, first of all, more beauty contests than anything else — where people vote on companies as much as products. In addition they tend to award American take-that style play. If you’re looking for a new Munchkin, look here. (Since splitting into the Origins award & Choice awards, Origins proper has gotten somewhat better, while the Choice awards continue to be about what you’d expect.)
The Games 100 are a very eclectic mix, centering on ultra-casual strategy-light games that’ll appeal to the (American) mass market, but extending somewhat to more gamist games, thanks primarily to the fact that they get to name 100 picks.
… and then there’s the IGA, the International Gamer Awards.
Last October I wrote up a list of my top ten games from Essen ’05. In the six months since I’ve dutifully waited for those games to make their sometimes long, arduous trip from Europe, and have finally gotten to play all of them — or at least the nine that were actually released.
This is the second part of my review of those games, talking about what I liked and what I didn’t. In my first article in this series I covered the top five, a set of games that I thought were entirely worth playing. Here I’m going to cover a few more above average games, but also a few that I was in the end disappointed by. Continue reading →