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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Not Necessarily a Deckbuilding Design

DominionOver the last few years, I’ve written about deckbuilding games pretty extensively. However, in that time I’ve never actually stopped and defined what the term means. After all, in the genre’s earliest years, you knew a deckbuilder when you saw it. Thunderstone (2009), Ascension (2010) and (especially) Tanto Cuore (2009) were all obviously Dominion (2008), with some different rules and a different facade — so they were de facto deck builder games.

However in recent years that visceral definition has become less clear because deckbuilders have both proliferated and become more varied. It’s part of what I see as a four-step process.

  1. A game with an innovative mechanic appears and knock-offs mostly copy the game; they’re similar enough to feel unoriginal, but different enough to not seem like a total rip-off. Examples: AscensionThunderstone.
  2. Games continue to use the original, innovative mechanic, but vary more widely, and as a result a genre appears. Examples: Eminent Domain, Quarriors.
  3. The genre matures and the innovative mechanic becomes old hat. At this point this mechanic infiltrates other sorts of game as one part of a larger whole. Examples: A Few Acres of Snow, Copycat.
  4. Further variations appear that are so different that it now feels like the original mechanic was largely an inspiration. Some of them may vary enough that they actually are a brand-new mechanic, which might create knock-offs, genres, mechanics, and inspirations of its own.

And so the evolution of eurogames continues. Continue reading

New to Me: Spring 2014

It’s been a light quarter for my gaming, with me missing something like 6-9 of my regular gaming sessions. Still, I’ve got eight “new” games to talk about, running the gamut from awesome to (too much) meh.


The Great

PathfinderPathfinder Adventure Card Game (2013). The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is an astonishingly innovative deckbuilding game, primarily for the complex ecosystem of cards that it creates — one that carries on from one game to the next. The idea of a cooperative game that continues from session to session is also pretty rare, and it’s done quite well here: the whittled down deck of cards that you carry from game to game is very meaningful.

The rest of the gameplay is a bit more pedestrian, with random card draws and random dice rolls allowing you to accomplish tasks via a simple task resolution system. Still, it’s nicely put together and it’s just dripping with evocative theme. I was jazzed to continue playing it after my first adventure, primarily to see my character grow over numerous sessions of play. I racked up a total of six games over the quarter. Continue reading