Over the last few months, a group of Instagrammers have been showcasing games associated with specific gaming mechanics. It is called Mechanisms Monday. For those who do not follow IG, let me take you on a whistle-stop tour of some gaming mechanisms. The well-known tried and tested ones have already been aired by Carl, so do look at his blogs from last year. This feature will examine the fun antics associated with real-time mechanic and all-play as a mechanic.
Most games have a structure. Players understand whose turn it is. This might convey an advantage if one player is always the first player. Some designers avoid this bias with an auction or variable first player order. However, real-time or all-play mechanisms dispense with such formalities completely. It is the equivalent of exchanging the politeness of the British queue for the melee of purchasing a ticket at Delhi Junction Railway Station. Games without a formal turn order do not have to be simple such as Snap – although this may be the best-known example. Players can choose to play and interrupt whenever it is convenient and legal to do so. Similarly, not all of these games have to be competitive or loud. However, many of the all-play games do better with four or more players but this is not an absolute rule.
What these games all have in common is the need to remain completely focused throughout the entire game. A few seconds of allowing one’s mind to wander and your options might be limited and opportunities will be squandered. The need for constant attention means most of these games have a series of rounds and each of these may take only a few minutes. Often a whole game will be completed within 20 minutes. Any longer and players will be distracted.
Don’t get stressed
Real-time mechanic games will always generate tension. There is anxiety not to miss an opportunity or nervousness about keeping up with what others are doing. You certainly do not want to be left behind. This constant pressure is what can enhance the gameplay. Some people thrive in high adrenaline situations. These people can zone out from all of the chaos and noise around them and focus solely on the matter in hand. It is a bit like a bomb disposal expert diffusing unexploded shell whilst sniper bullets are flying over his head. So perhaps the games with personal pressure may not suit everyone. However, even those who prefer a more structured approach can find something in this genre.
If you fancy a step into the slightly frantic world of real-time mechanic games but are not sure where to start then read on for a short synopsis of some cracking, quick games.
Pit is a loud and raucous game for three to eight players. Believe it or not, it is over 120 years old and first played in Victorian times. It recreates the atmosphere of the trading floor. Players are aiming to complete a set of nine commodity cards; gold, wheat, wool, corn etc. Each has its own intrinsic value. Simultaneously players can swap cards between each other. However, all cards must be of the same type and the trades are made without knowing what is being offered- only the number of cards on offer. This means people are calling out “one, one, one”, or “three, three, three” as they try to acquire a complete set of one commodity.
Pit is definitely an ice breaker game. It is perfect for adults and children alike. The challenge is trying to predict which commodity might be less desired and therefore more likely to be passed around. It helps to have a flexible strategy which would allow you to pick up the cards that seemed to be “doing the rounds”.
This game has a sweet spot of five or six players. Pit is very easy to teach and play and being a card game is extremely portable. It crosses generations and, when international travel is allowed, crosses language barriers as well.
This is a family card and party game that can easily play with up to 12 gamers (although not in the present Covid situation). Each player has their own deck of 40 cards - four colours numbered one through ten. The aim is to get rid of your cards as quickly as possible by building stacks of cards in numerical order in the centre of the table. Your personal deck is arranged in a stack (of 10 cards that need to be played out), a draw deck and three temporary stacks. During the game, you can see all of your opponent’s cards so you know what they will be hoping to play. This allows you to anticipate what might be advantageous for yourself.
The gameplay is made more fun in that only one hand is allowed to place cards onto the number stacks in the middle of the table. This gives opportunities for other players to jump in front of you with their cards and scupper your play. A typical round will take 5 minutes and points are scored depending on the total number of cards played in the centre.
Ligretto does require you to keep your eyes on what is happening around the whole table. It is fast-paced but can be played in complete silent if desired.
This is a cooperative game for two to four players. Each takes a specific role of one of four safe crackers who are trying to break into a bank vault containing gold bars. The bank is an electronic game that sits in the middle of the table. This gives instructions that must be followed by each of the players. This involves moving equipment between each other or using this equipment (pushing a specific button within a short time frame). These instructions must be followed to the letter. Any mistakes and the vault may not open. This, coupled with the fact that the instructions become faster and more complicated, make this a highly addictive challenge. During play, there is an alarm beeping throughout, which becomes faster and more intense. This just adds to the pressure. This game is tough. I have completed it just once at the hardest level.
Captain sonar from Matagot games is the antithesis of Ligretto. This is a real-time mechanic version of battleships played by up to 8 players in two teams. It is a cat and mouse, underwater chase around the islands. Like submariners hunting foreign vessels, so captain sonar and the crew have similar roles. Up to four players per team are responsible for the safety, movement and weapons of their sub. All this happens at the same time as trying to track the other team’s craft.
Both teams play at the same time. Each captain is charting a course and stating out loud their bearing (North, East, South, West). This information is used by their crew two prime weapons- but go too far or too fast and your sub needs to come to the surface for repairs. All of the time you are stating your movements, the other team's radio operator is listening. They are charting your pathway through certain positions in the archipelago (submarines cannot travel through the land) and marking a possible zone where you might be located. Now the weapons master is ready to launch the torpedo or mine to cause damage.
Traditional games of battleships are always a little dry. “E7 hit, E 8 miss” etc. But in Captain Sonar everyone has a role all of the time. The radio operator must be attuned to the opposing captain’s directions. Your captain must chart a path to avoid obstacles and previous routes, get close enough to fire torpedoes, yet not get identified. The engineer must keep the sub running and weapons expert ensure the torpedoes and search equipment is ready for deployment. This is a tense game. You cannot relax for one minute and it is almost like the film “The Hunt for Red October”.
Here is the scenario - make of it what you will. Four characters, probably extras from the Lord of the Rings, stumble into a shopping mall. Each needs to retrieve a specific weapon or item (ie get to a specific point). They then need to reach their own exit. However, their movements are limited in that each player may perform just a handful of actions (This might be to move any character North or move a pawn up the stairs]. Rather than each player having their own piece, all of the pawns can be moved all of the time but only in the direction specified by a player’s card. This is also limited by the fact that there is a timer. A character needs to reach other areas in the shopping mall to refresh the timer otherwise the game is lost.
The game board is modular – a series of interconnecting tiles drawn randomly. As the game progresses, so the distance to the exit becomes more challenging.
The crazy thing about magic maze is that it is played in complete silence. There can be no communicating to the others so although it is a cooperative game, players need to be on the same wavelength for this strategy. Rather than being called magic maze, perhaps manic maze is a better description. It takes a certain mindset to enjoy it, but with up to 8 players at a time this is sure to make a showing once lockdown is over.
These five games showcase some of the titles available with a real-time mechanic and or play mechanic. They are not all loud and raucous, but one thing they do have in common is no downtime or chance to relax during the game. So if you do fancy a bit of adrenaline to spice up your game playing, do have a look at these.