Monday, December 13, 2010

Variety is the Spice of Life

My Favorite Game Mechanic

I've been thinking about board game mechanics and what makes a game "fun". One thing I've realized (after staring at my game shelf for a long time and thinking about which games I like to play most often) is that I really enjoy games with variable player powers. I'm not even sure if that officially counts as a mechanic, but it sure does make a game more interesting and replayable for me. What I mean by variable player powers is that I like it when each player has something special in a game that only he/she is allowed to do.

Many games have this feature/mechanic, so I am just going to highlight a couple examples from our frequently played games shelf. These are games we pull out time and time again from our collection.

The Big Daddy

One of the first games to really showcase variable player powers in a big way is Cosmic Encounter. In this game, each player plays a unique race with a special power that lets them break the rules of the game in a different way. This game helped inspire many later games (including Magic: The Gathering) and is different and fun each time largely due to the combinations of powers and the fact that players can not all do the same thing, or the same strategy they used last time.

That Farming Game (No, Not Farmville!)

Another great example of variable player powers in present in one of my all time favorite games, Agricola. In Agricola, each player starts with 7 occupations and 7 minor improvements that they can choose to use or not use during the course of the game. This allows players to each have special abilities or points that no one else has, and creates a dynamic game that is never the same twice. Players don't inherently have a special power, but they can choose to create a strategy based around their available options.

Working Together For the Common Good

As I thought about games and game mechanics, one striking revelation occurred to me... variable player powers are one of the main features of most popular cooperative games as well. Ghost Stories, Pandemic, Shadows Over Camelot, and many other cooperative board games (games in which everyone works together to "defeat" the challenges the game presents) includes giving each player a unique power or ability. One of the main considerations of these games is trying to figure out how to coordinate various special powers to be most effective. It provides a way for each player to do something special and be part of the team, and also keeps things interesting and challenging from game to game. This stands out even more for me in cooperative games because they inherently don't have the "thinking opponent" on the other end to push your strategies in new directions. The inclusion of special powers, and sometimes the exclusion of certain powers, requires you to think differently and work out new solutions to familiar problems.

Challenge Link:

Read about another favorite game mechanic at Cool Factor 5. And of course feel free to share yours here or there!

1 comment:

  1. Special powers for players is one my favorite game elements as well. It can make things get unbalanced at times, but it also makes it fun to try playing the game in different ways. It can be very empowering to know that you possess a particular gift in the game that no one else has. Figuring out how best to apply that gift is both satisfying and fun.

    Cosmic Encounters is an awesome example of a game that makes this type of thing fun. Illuminati is another one that I enjoy. It gives each player not only a special power but a special way to win.