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5 First Steps Into Unfamiliar Mechanics

Unfamiliar Mechanics Feature Image

We totally recommend Nathan Coombs’ excellent series of features on Board Games Mechanics, and it got us thinking about how you might introduce players to a new genre.

We got our thinking caps on and below are 5 of our suggestions on how to try out unfamiliar mechanics, with amusing, accessible and lighter implementations of some key mechanics, which we hope you will enjoy.

Push Your Luck – King of TokyoJames Bruton

Raarrgrgh, it’s time to Rampage! The entry for light push your luck game is King of Tokyo, the fantastic Kaiju battler by famed designer Richard Garfield. Though, the theme of this game owes more to images of two grown adults in rubber suits punching each other than the modern Godzilla films though.

The gameplay in King of Tokyo is simple, quick and fun. Those familiar with the classic game Yahtzee will feel right at home. Each turn, roll a handful of, beautiful, chunky dice and choose any of them to re-roll up to two times. The results of the dice can earn you points, energy to spend on upgrades, damage to deal to your opponents or give you victory points. The main push your luck element – beyond the dice rolling - is being king of the hill, that is, staying in control of Tokyo.

Only one Kaiju can sit in Tokyo at any time and doing so rewards them with points for each turn they can stay there. The wrinkle is that the King of Tokyo’s attacks hurt everyone else but everyone else’s attacks hurt you. Whenever you take damage, you can choose to relinquish your hold over the capital and pass it to another monster. How long will you weather the blows from your jealous rivals? Do you re-roll that heart in the hope of getting more points to snatch victory?

There is some additional complexity in using energy to purchase upgrade card’s from a rotating selection of three using energy. These cards are often swingy, fun and a little unpredictable.

King of Tokyo then is a great game that plays well for many ages. The risks that you run are always clear and there’s always the temptation to push things a little further. If you don’t mind a bit of player elimination (though it is a short game) this is a great introduction to the genre.

Deck Building - Star RealmsHannah Blacknell

Deck Building is by far and away one of my favourite game mechanisms. You all start off with the same basic deck of cards, this is called your starter deck. After shuffling you draw a hand of cards, usually five and you use these cards to usually attack your opponent and also to buy bigger better cards from the market. Any cards you bought, and your hand from this round go into your discard pile and you redraw a new hand of five. Once your draw deck runs out, you shuffle the discard pile to make a new draw deck. So all those brilliant cards you bought will now be drawn into your hand.

As your deck becomes more powerful, it will also become more different from your opponents. Your strategy will be really different to your opponents and that will show in the cards you choose to buy from the market. The sheer volume of combinations really means there is no way you can play two games that are the same.

For me, the best example of a pure deck builder game is Star Realms by Wise Wizard Games. This is a space-themed deck builder where you are in a head-to-head duel against your opponent. There are four factions contained in the game and a whole slew of expansions available. If you need to try and accommodate more players, for this price point you could either buy two copies or alternatively the Colony Wars expansion adds the ability to expand the game to 3 or 4 players. If you want a pure deck builder with a fast-paced playstyle and endless replayability then check out Star Realms. And if space ain’t your thing, there is a fantasy-themed version too; Hero Realms (which is actually my favourite)!

Abstract Strategy – PatchworkFavourite Foe

Abstract strategy games can get a bad rap. Accused of being dull, themeless, or worse, dry, they are often overlooked for the newest shiny thing. Having said that, there are some beautiful abstract strategy games on the market today. And not only that but accessible ones that act as a gateway into the genre itself. Less intimidating than a plain board and two monochromatic armies, these games draw you in with their kaleidoscopic colours. Granted, it is quite unusual to find an abstract strategy game that is heavily thematic. But the fun settings in these particular games often conceal some very thinky gameplay that draws you in without even realising it!

Patchwork, a two-player tile-laying game by Uwe Rosenburg, is one excellent example. Using colourful polyominoes illustrated to look like haberdashery patches, your task is to create a quilt with as many point-scoring buttons sewn onto it as possible. The pool of patches is visible to both parties, and the one you can choose to add to your player board on your turn is determined partly by the rules, but also by your opponent’s own choices in their previous go. With buttons acting as currency in Patchwork, you will be deciding between buying patches that best serve your own design, and taking tiles to frustrate your opponent’s plans. Not only that but you will be managing your economic resources to try to ensure that you have enough buttons to buy the patches you want in future turns (unless of course your opponent has got to them first!).

While this game will never feel like you are actually sewing a quilt, the setting really makes you feel like you are creating something, and how you do that is through tactical tile-laying and strategic patch pinching! On that basis, if you feel like dipping a toe into abstract games, but aren’t ready for the pared-down duels of old, Patchwork is a great place to start!

Worker Placement – Little TownJohn H

Little Town is quick, easy to teach, cute to look at and surprisingly bitey at times (if the urge takes you). While it combines light rules on worker placement, resource management and a bit of engine building, it has enough decision space to keep everyone at the table engaged throughout.

Your 3-5 workers (depending on player count) will be doing one of two things when you place them. Either they’ll be gathering resources from the shared central board: wood, stone, fish and later wheat, and activating any adjacent buildings already laid. Or they’ll be in the construction yard, building one of the 12 buildings randomly dealt out to the common array, and placing them on a free board space with your coloured control marker. Building takes wood/stone/both. Once laid a building gives an instant hit of victory points and then access (usually) to an activable power such as gathering more resources; converting resources to money/VP/other resources, or spending money for resources/VP. There are some other interesting specials on some buildings too.

So where is the magic, I hear you say? Well, it’s a shared board that all the buildings and workers are being placed on. Also, when you place a worker you have to decide if you want to activate opponents buildings for your benefit – at a penny a go – as well as your own.

The net result of these two factors makes for plenty of crunchy decisions and player interaction. There is the opportunity for blocking throughout both worker placement and building placement. Equally, you’ll be working out where to place your own buildings so that you get to use them and they aren’t too frequently nabbed by your opponents. Cue much laughter mixed with wailing and gnashing of teeth – all in a good way. So the bar is low for learning and playing Little Town, but there is far more than meets the eye and it offers plenty to a varied audience.

Bag Building – Quacks of QuedlinburgSeb Hawden

So, fancy a bit of bag-building do you? Quacks of Quedlinburg is both a good entry to this genre (as well as a bit of push your luck). Bag building is a term referring to all players having a bag full of tokens, initially all identical, then throughout the game adding tokens to your bag to make it both unique from other players and targeted towards your own, in-game strategy. Push your luck, you will now be familiar with – do you gamble to push forward may and risk losing everything. Stick or twist? It is up to you.

In Quacks you are a charlatan alchemist, trying to create magical brews while not having them blow up in your face. The bag building aspect comes from adding a growing number of varied ingredients into your bag, which you will draw from to make your uncanny concoctions. These will not only help you progress 1, 2 or 4 spaces along the cauldron track towards a more valuable brew but will trigger certain effects which offer further boons. The push your luck part comes from how long you keep adding ingredients from your bag into your cauldron before it blows up in your face.

Quacks is overall, a very simple game that takes these two mechanics and intertwines them in a game that fits all age groups. I have played with my kids, with oldies and even with non-gamers and everyone has laughed as cauldrons erupt, shout as they pull off a massively point-scoring potion and giggle at other players pushing their luck a bit too far. What makes Quacks a great intro is how simple the game is, how welcoming it is and how it can be easily adopted by anyone. So fill your bag with wonder, throw ingredients into your cauldron like a looney and if it blows up in your face, just laugh it off. It's a right hoot!