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

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

The Alea Analysis, Part Five: San Juan (S#5), Fifth Avenue (#9), Louis XIV (M#1)

Over the last few years I’ve slowly been updating, expanding, and revising my series of articles on Alea games. If you’d like to catch up, 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.

This article brings Alea into the mid ’00s with a look at the transition from their old Small Box series to their new Medium Box series. It covers San Juan, Fifth Avenue, and Louis XIV.

Small Box #5: San Juan (A+)

Author: Andreas Seyfarth
Publisher: Rio Grande (2004)
Alea Difficulty Scale: 3
Other Articles: Alea Treasures #1: Louis XIV & San Juan (9/10), San Juan Review (7/04)
My Plays: 37

San JuanSan Juan returned to the gameplay of Alea’s prize-winner, Puerto Rico. On your turn, you pick a role that everyone benefits from, and you try and use the benefits of that role to build production buildings and special-power buildings that will ultimately earn you the most victory points. 

Strengths: Innovative Cards

San Juan’s biggest innovation and its biggest strength lies in the the idea that cards can be used either for what’s printed on them or just as a resource. Generally, I find it an amazing idea. First, it notably decreases the effect of luck in a card game, because you only care about what’s printed on about a quarter of your cards, meaning that you have a lot more choice than you would if you used every card. Second, it introduces a lot of variety to the game, because on a given play you’ll only see a small number of the cards in actual use; it may be many, many games before you’ve played everything.

San Juan built upon this strong basis by adapting the basic roles of Puerto Rico to its new card paradigm. Now, many of the roles focus on different ways to draw cards: through selfishness (the Prospector), through overdrawing and discarding (the Councillor, who also includes another mechanism for reducing the luck of card draws), and through a more complex production-sales mechanism (the Producer and the Trader). It’s an excellent example of simultaneously innovating and holding onto classic play. Continue reading

Alea Treasures #1: Louis XIV & San Juan

Several months ago — like many of us I suspect — I picked up alea’s Treasure Chest. I love alea and have all the games represented in the Chest, so purchasing it was a no-brainer. Since then — like many of us I suspect — I’ve had a hard time getting any of those newly supplemented games to the table. They’re just not in my normal rotation.

Over the last few months I’ve finally played two of the Treasure Chest expansions, and so I’ve decided to write about them here: saying what the expansions are, how they change their games, and what they say about game design.

Louis XIV

The expansion to Louis XIV comes in two parts: a favorite figure and four favorite action tablets.

The Figure. The favorite figure has a pretty minor effect. It’s always placed opposite Louis XIV. The top player on that space gets two of his influence markers from the general supply, everyone else gets one. These can go into their personal supply or onto the favorite actions tablet (see below).

Effect. Minor. It’s a slight consideration when you’re placing your influence markers.

Game Design. I suspect that it helps to keep the Louis XIV space from always being a position of maximal conflict. Instead some players lagging in influence markers might reasonably decide to compete over the favorite, who is of course exactly opposite Louey.
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A Wife’s Perspective

This week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I asked my wife to write an article for Boardgame News. Though Kimberly enjoys the occasional game, she’s by no means a serious gamer. Thus she offers a unique perspective on what games your loved one might enjoy. So, consider this a guide to games you might play with your non-gaming-spouse-or-girlfriend this Valentine’s Day, and an insight into why those or other games might be enjoyable. You might even print it out and give to them, so that they can decide for themselves if any of the games sound fun.

As for us, maybe we’ll play some Carcassonne or Lost Cities after a nice dinner out tonight at our favorite Cajun restaurant.

I’ll now turn things over to my wife, Kimberly Appelcline —SA Continue reading