I am of what has turned into a bi-annual pilgrimage to Spieltage in Essen, Germany, the largest board games festival in the world. The Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) awards are presented there and their importance to a game designers career cannot be overstated.
As I intend to write about some of the games being released there I thought it would be a good idea to give Nerd Followers a quick primer on board games.
Board gaming is quite a diverse hobby, millions of people play them and there are many categories of board game from intense strategy games to games like Poo, where you play as monkeys flinging Poo at each other in stinky combat.
Most people just have a couple of board games they like, such as chess or Risk or My Little Pony Hide & Seek. However, when you get deeper into the hobby, you discover that a truly massive range of board games exist.
There are four main types of board game, dice based, tile laying, deck building and non-dice based games, commonly referred to Euro games, as they are mainly produced in Europe or worker placement games after the common game mechanic
Euro games typically revolve around resource management, you have a limited number of workers/tokens and on the board there are a selection of actions which generate either more workers or resources which can be used to purchase whatever the objective of the game is, usually victory points in one guise or another.
Each turn players place their workers on the actions they want until no one has any workers left. Then points are calculated, resources distributed, the board gets cleared and players begin again.
This continues until a fixed point, usually first to a certain score or a limit placed on the number rounds that can be played, is reached.
There are usually a limited number of times a particular action can be taken in a turn, once someone places a worker on an action it is blocked for other players, this is where strategy comes into it, do you go for the action you want or block other players from accessing an action you believe they need to get ahead of you in the game?
Some actions will have more than one space available, the action is then generated first for the person who was first in queue or first on an imitative track. This can get confusing for inexperienced players.
The most well know of these games is Agricola, pronounced Ah-Gric-Oh-La, if you want to see a board game nerd twitch call it agri-cola, seriously, works every time.
For people who want a simple introduction to this game type I recommend The Village.
In most dice based games the dice are usually the decision mechanism, snakes and ladders is the most obvious example where everything is dictated by the dice and board.
The older player may prefer a war game like Axis & Allies, which centres on strategic troop movements but the outcome of battles are decided by dice rolls.
The strategy in this game type revolves around tilting the odds of success in your favour; however outcomes are never 100% certain. This element of uncertainty is disliked by fans of Euro games and is generally a bone of contention among board game loving nerds. In my view the term “fortunes of war” exists for a reason, not having that element of chance in combat removes a certain excitement from a game for me and detracts from what little realism these games have.
Everyone is, of course, entitled to their own opinion however, no matter how wrong they are.
Tile laying games are just that, games in which players select and place tiles on a table, creating the board for themselves. Usually players then move markers onto those tiles either representing themselves or a minion.
The tiles are generally drawn at random, different tiles have different effects, for example in the game Drakon it is possible to lay down a tile that will give whichever player is placed on it a gold coin or one that can pull other players of their chosen tiles. The strategy in these games is in placing the tiles to maximise your advantage or the disadvantage caused to other players.
The random drawing element can cause some griping from euro game fans but they are general fast and simple games, usually quite fun.
Check out road building game TSURO for a simple introduction to the concept
The final type of game is the deck builder, a fairly recent addition to the board gaming world, the deck building game is about putting together a deck of cards to win a game. There are normally different types of cards that have different uses, such as gold to buy things or attack cards to disrupt your opponent’s game.
Usually players start with a predetermined deck of cards, a small number of which they can draw each turn. There are selections of different cards on display in a common area that can be bought using some types of cards; there is also usually a limit on how many actions you can take in your turn.
In the fantasy adventure themed deck builder Thunderstone, for example, you can either fight a monster in the nearby dungeon or visit the local village in order to buy cards to help your hero for the next time they do battle.
At the end of each turn players discard their cards and draw a new hand, the cards that have been bought generally go into a discard pile. When the deck runs out the discard pile is then shuffled and a new deck is created.
This means players can’t be sure when they are going to access their new cards and in what order, managing this random element is part of the strategy involved in these games and it can be dealt with quite effectively if the game design works.
The games usually end when a certain type of card is exhausted or a specific objective is achieved, such as claiming the Thunderstone.
Check out Dominion if you’d like to try the game type out. It was primarily responsible for bringing Deck Builders into the gaming mainstream.
I am drawing some extremely broad brush strokes here and there many games that utilise more than one of these mechanics or have a hybridisation of them. Hopefully I’ve intrigued some of the uninitiated among you enough to get you to try some of these game types out.
To the board gamers out there hope I wasn’t too generic for your tastes.
Update of my Essen adventures will be coming soon…
Thanks to Dice Games, Euro Games, Tile Games and Deck builders for the images