The 10 Best Game Mechanisms You Aren’t Using, Part 2

Last time, I addressed the best ways to employ memory in a game. Astute comments pointed to some other interesting minis games, among them SdJ winner Hanabi.  Any one of these would be a good investment of your gaming time.

Now we move on.  Today, we look at two more underused mechanisms–evolving card decks and simultaneous action selection.

9.   Evolving Card Decks

Dominion  wasn’t the first game to incorporate deckbuilding but Dominion did it biggest and Dominion did it best.  Following its 2008 release from Rio Grande Games, every publisher in sight scrambled to get their own version of Vaccarino’s breakaway hit to market.  Most of these games include plenty of ways to put cards into your deck but relatively few ways to pare it down.

Fantasy Flight threw their hat in the ring with Corey Konieczka’s Rune Age and brought with it the least-utilized mechanism in the genre–an evolving card deck.   Cards in Rune Age are purchased much as they might in any other deckbuilding game.  Since cards represent soldiers and creatures in your army, they remain in play.  Furthermore, injured units return to the purchase supply.  This means that the play of Rune Age feels correct for its setting–cards continuously coming into and out of play like freshly conscripted soldiers reinforcing their veteran brethren.

This constant expansion and constriction requires much more of the player than most other deckbuilding games.  Card counting, resource management, strategic planning and tactical response each have their importance in the game experience. Konieczka has a great deal to be proud of here.

It is my understanding that the core of this concept comes from Konieczka’s own Starcraft board game.  I cannot say for certain having not yet had the pleasure of trying Starcraft. If someone could respond to this point in the comments, it would be greatly appreciated.

Sadly, the Rune Age product line seems to have concluded.  With luck, that another designer will pick up where this game left off and take the evolving deck mechanism further.

8.   Simultaneous Action Selection

Much like memory, simultaneous action selection is a polarizing game mechanism.  This has led to an on again/off again relationship with gamers and game designers.  This bipolar relationship is due to the implications of its use and misuse.  Simultaneous selection can muddy a design when used clumsily but empowers a design when properly applied.

Unlike memory, simultaneous selection can serve a game near the center of a design or at its periphery.  What is essential is that the mechanism be used in service of playing the players.  

Nobody But Us Chickens–my first published work–was built entirely around simultaneous selection.  duck! duck! GO!—my most popular design–strongly features simultaneous selection.  Some of my favorite games–Die Glucksritter, 6 Nimmt!, Autoscooter, Jump!–also feature simultaneous selection.  Clearly there’s a fondness there.  What do these games have in common? They require that you play the players.

In games that play the players, success depends on correctly reading the mindset of your opponents. Many games require you to read the state of the game but simultaneous selection games require that you go one step further by reading the state of your opponents.  The best among these games provide a major edge to the player who can consistently anticipate each of her opponent’s moves.

Although I personally am terrible at it, the best of the games with simultaneous selection at their core is Race for the Galaxy by Tom Lehmann published by Rio Grande Games.  Had anyone asked me in 2005 if Puerto Rico could be rewritten with a simultaneous mechanism, I would have insisted that it could not.  Fortunately, Tom wasn’t listening to me and created this little gem.  If you’re playing, you’ll select your action at the beginning of each round.  The key wrinkle is that you get to do every action that every other player chose as well.  By playing the players, you can ride their proverbial coattails to victory.  Let them pick the minor action you would like to do while you concentrate on the action you need to do.  But while you’re at it, make sure someone else isn’t doing the same thing to you.  In fact, you will occasionally find that making a worse move is the better play.  Create a game that does that and you will have my eternal envy.

Now it’s your turn.  What games have you played which feature simultaneous action selection? Have you seen another gem out there which features evolving card decks?  If you’ve incorporated these elements into your own designs, what were the results? If you’re developing a turn-based game, could it be rewritten to utilize simultaneous selection?  Add your comments below.

I’ll be back to you on Tuesday with our next two mechanisms–Dutch Auctions and Subgames!


12 thoughts on “The 10 Best Game Mechanisms You Aren’t Using, Part 2

  1. Hmmm. I thought simultaneous selection was a hot trend, but perhaps I’m just biased to see it everywhere since it’s a “go to” mechanism for me. I like to try it out with various designs since it can lower a game’s play time and I really like the Vizzini effect it creates. But I have to agree that it’s not right for every game.

  2. sirvalence says:

    Simultaneous action selection makes Incan Gold move really fast, even with eight players, and I greatly respect that. I recently had an opportunity to try Fantasy Flight’s Infiltration, which I didn’t expect to like, but the simultaneous action selection in that game won me over as well.

  3. City of Horror also employ simultaneous action for movement in each turn. As the game only last 4 turns and each player can effectively move up to 4 person throughout the game, reading other players can be quite critical.

  4. Agreed on both counts.

    Many deck builders reuse the core elements of Dominion (for good reason), but it’s nice to see a few designers trying out other ways of doing deck evolving. I’d be interested in seeing this engine used with more typically LCG-ish gameplay. The marriage could be really good.

    Simultaneous action selection and its kissing cousin, blind bidding, get bum raps. Many complain of the Vizzini effect, which is often warranted. However, in addition to the reduction of playing time, these mechanisms can introduce their own positive gameplay elements. The BGG forums of the game Container have an interesting discussion in which a particularly well-known user comes full circle on his opinion of blind biding in the game. In his conclusion, the blind bidding actually passed additional information about player desires, that would not have been gained by way of any other traditional auction mechanisms.

  5. Simultanerous action selection is a great mechanism. The real problem is not that it’s it’s not used – it’s used over and over in Eurogames – but that it’s often misunderstood as a variety of a luck, and a very despicable one which is disguised as psychology, when it’s just psychology with a very little amount of luck. Count me a designer who use it quite often – Democrazy, Incan Gold, Key Largo and probably other ones….

  6. holyphoenix says:

    I believe that the pathfinder adventure card game is an interesting take on the evolving card deck mechanic. Your deck gets better and better as you acquire and replace card in your deck. From what it seems, its a commercial and critical success.

  7. Starcraft does have an evolving deck mechanic. As with many FFG games, cards determine combat results, with each player playing a card for each unit in the fight – different cards can be played on different units. New technologies are represented by buying new cards which are added to your discard pile to be reshuffled once your deck runs out. So if you upgrade the weapons on your tanks you’ll get a set of cards with higher attack values for your tanks.

  8. John H says:

    Simultaneous action is at the heart of “Robo Rally” since the fun comes when best laid plans are knocked off course. When all players have a full hand of cards to play, planned collision seems less likely and comes more out of happenstance as players try to make the most out of the actions they are dealt, but when you see your opponents actions locked down due to malfunctions, that can be capitalized on for further attack opportunities. I also found the simultaneous 3-card movement of “Broadsides and Boarding Parties” interesting as the players attempt to predict and out maneuver their opponent to get optimal firing with minimal exposure.

  9. Steven says:

    This is also important in “7 Wonders” — and it’s great because it means that the game can scale very nicely from 3-7 players without really adding to the length of the game.

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