Over the previous months this blog has unpacked a number of gaming mechanics; engine builders, semi-cooperative, and asymmetric to name a few. One mechanism that gets very little airtime is “all-play” or simultaneous action. Perhaps this is because most games like order and structure. With a sense of British politeness we prefer “please, you go next! After you!” Young children, however, may not have the patience to wait their turn. So many of their games, especially party games, are full-on, with each participating at the same time.
This blog points the spotlight on a number of “all-play” games. They are not all shouty, frantic children’s games. The beauty of them is that every player will feel fully engaged all of the time. In simultaneous action games, there is no downtime. A momentary lapse of concentration can spell disaster. Fed up with your brother-in-law’s slow thought processes and his analysis paralysis? Some of these games might at least move the action on at a reasonable pace. The selection is broad so there is certain to be at least one simultaneous action board game that will be suitable, whatever the situation.
Fast And Furious - Pit
Pit is one of those games you should not start if you have a headache. It is over 100 years old and based on the stock market trading floor. Each player is a trader of commodities, collecting various goods. It is a card game, and everyone starts with a hand of nine cards depicting items to exchange; sugar, gold, wool, oil, etc.
You trade by exchanging groups of cards of the same typeface down and swapping with the player’s cards. Neither knows what is being offered, only the number of cards available. To make the swap, players will shout out “one, one, one”, or perhaps “three, three, three” to find others also wanting to exchange that number of cards. With a large group [Pit plays from 3 to 8] there is plenty of loud shouting and frantic card swaps. Each item has an individual value [gold is worth the most] and each player may choose to collect high-value goods to increase their points. After a defined time or number of rounds, you count the final total scores and declare the best trader. For some added fun, there are bull and bear cards. These act as wild cards. But a bear in the hand can limit your trading opportunities. These add a little twist to the simple card swapping melee.
A More Measured Approach - 7 Wonders
This card drafting game feels as though it has been around for years. In gaming terms, a release date of 2010 makes 7 Wonders almost as ancient as the civilizations you are building. This Antoine Bauza classic has players drafting cards to build the seven wonders of the world. There is no “downtime”. Everyone selects one card, plays it, pays the costs, and simultaneously passes the remaining cards to the next player.
The game plays out over three ages [starting with seven cards in each]. Some cards will provide immediate resources, others might be useful for the later development of your city. Some will enable endgame bonuses. There are so many different strategies to consider. Alternative pathways are determined by the initial wonder built, and the cards dealt. There is plenty of interaction, as warfare occurs at the end of each age. You fight campaigns against your immediate neighbours, with bonus conflict points awarded for military supremacy. Players might choose to avoid an “arms race,” and invest instead in civic buildings or scientific advancements.
On each turn, players will know what cards their neighbour will be receiving. They can use the drafting mechanic to take advantageous cards to hinder others. With numerous expansions [Armada, Cities, Leaders], extra mechanics [Babel], or new wonders [Wonder pack] this game will keep players entertained for as long as the wonders you are constructing.
All For One And One For All - Railroad Ink
Much has been written about this little gem from Horrible Guild. The Roll and Write genre has seen a renaissance, especially with lockdowns affecting gaming opportunities. Thus far, there have been four variants of this game released [red, blue, green, and yellow], along with a few dice expansions. Over the last months, it has been played remotely, online, and in real-time. The beauty of many Roll and Write games are that they are often great levellers. In Railroad Ink, players use four dice to develop the road and tracks on a 7 x 7 grid. They aim to connect many “starting points” and develop the central square. Avoid leaving any disconnected pathways.
By everyone playing off the same dice no one can complain that they had an unfair roll of the dice. In the base game, after seven rounds, the scores are awarded based on the length of the longest roads and rails and the number of fixed points connected, but also any dead ends remaining.
The expansion dice add much more thought and a little complexity. My family especially enjoy the trees and forest expansion of Railroad Ink green. For those who like to game on the go, the Horrible Guild site has an excellent Railroad Ink app to occupy your time.
Cooperation Is What You Need - Bank Attack
If Railroad Ink and 7 Wonders were slower, quieter affairs, then Bank Attack adds pressure and stress to your shared gaming experience. In this simultaneous action board game, up to four players are aiming to crack the code and break into a bank vault. Each takes a role; the money man, lookout, explosives expert, and hacker. It is an electronic cooperative game where players take instructions and need to complete the tasks. There are eight items that will be passed between players quickly. For a quick, reaction-driven challenge this is a fun family game. It is like Bop-it but everyone plays and contributes equally.
With a number of difficulty levels, it starts getting quite a challenge to push the correct buttons [using equipment] in the time available. All of this is while there is an incessant beeping that intensifies the action. We have completed Bank Attack on the highest level just once. This game raises your blood pressure and is certain to make you jump if you inadvertently trip the alarm. It is not for those of an anxious or nervous disposition, but a real ice breaker at the start of an evening. It is in the Zatu sale at the moment so is even better value for a Christmas present for any hyperactive niece or nephew!
Sink Or Swim Together - Captain Sonar
If you have ever played battleships as a child you will know how it can be. “A4.. miss, B7.. miss”. Forget the frustration with each miss in Captain Sonar. This is a team-based, real-time game for two to eight players. With two teams playing a cat and mouse game, this is just like the Hunt for Red October - except it is best played on a large dining room table rather than in the North Atlantic. Each team of up to four players has a submarine captain, radio operator, weapons expert, and engineer.
Both teams play at the same time. The captain gives instructions to his engineer on what course to take. However, with each movement, there are problems that will develop. The engineer might advise the captain to avoid certain bearings or perhaps steer towards a different path. After a certain distance, the torpedoes might be primed or a depth charge made ready. Like the old video game snake, a submarine’s route cannot go back over its previous path. Otherwise, it is forced to the surface. Whilst these instructions are being given the opposing team’s radio operator will listen. Whilst they do not know the starting point of the enemy they can at least work out its journey. By plotting its route they might calculate where it is.
“I think the enemy is at D6 captain”, they would whisper. The captain changes course. They make ready to fire the torpedoes. But knowing the same conversation could be occurring on the other side of the table. Will they be able to fire first? Will your torpedoes hit the target? This simultaneous action board game is a lot of fun but really needs six or eight players to do it justice.
Head To Head- Rubik’s Race
As a child, I was given a tile sliding puzzle with the numbers one to fifteen on a 4 x 4 plastic grid. These pieces needed to be rearranged to display the numbers in sequence. Now imagine racing a friend to recreate a random collection of coloured tiles. Rubik’s Race is a simple game. Using a series of coloured tiles [24 tiles of six colours on a 5 x 5 grid] players move them around to get the centre nine tiles to match a new set of colours.
I always find that it is the last tile that is the most difficult. As you get that colour correct so you disrupt the remainder of the pattern. When you have completed your grid you slap the lid down to claim the win. Each game will take a few seconds. This is a fun filler for all ages but loved by children. It has been renamed over the years with the Rubik moniker to give it some credence. That said, it is a good option for a quick game of fun at Christmas. Whether the players are eight, or 80.
All Play Together
Not every simultaneous action board game is a raucous affair. Some give players the chance to think and plan. Others will be more team or cooperative based. I think this mechanic does enhance the player interaction as there is no chance to go off and make a cup of tea between rounds. These games are just a few of the huge number of all play options available. Don’t dismiss them as child’s play.