The 10 Best Mechanisms You Aren’t Using, Part 6

And here we are.  Today, we consider the most neglected of my top 10 underused mechanisms–roll and move.

1.   Roll and Move

File:Snakes and Ladders.jpgThe quickest way to get a gamer to disregard your work is to tell him that it utilizes a roll and move mechanism.  You can hardly blame him.  Roll and move conjures up the worst childhood memories from endless games of Monopoly or completely decision-free racing games like Snakes and Ladders.  Hours of his life he will never get back.

It is the sense of having no meaningful decisions which so sours players to roll and move games. We designers can rescue this mechanism by ensuring that meaningful decisions remain.

I have so far identified two different ways this can be achieved.  I continue to seek others.

Single Die, Multiple Pawns

File:Pachisi-real.jpgIn a multiple pawn roll and move game, the player first rolls the die and then decides among multiple pawns which should move on the roll.  All games in the Pachisi family share this trait–Trouble, Sorry!, Tuchulcha.  This approach also makes an appearance in Werner Schöppner’s Malefiz/Barricade.  By giving the player multiple uses for the movement roll, decisions are still present and the player remains engaged.

The most impressive application of the multiple pawn approach is found in Michael Keisling and Wolfgang Kramer’s Verflixxt!/That’s Life!  This fine game puts itself away as you play.  The track is made of cards.  Each card is valued anywhere from -10 to +8.  If your move takes the last pawn from a card, you also claim that card.  In this way, you score points and also shorten the track for any pawns which follow.  This simple gameplay leads to an impressive number of decisions.  Should you rush one of your pawns ahead, hoping to land on and quickly claim a high-valued card?  Should you keep them in a pack? How long can you afford to leave a pawn on a positive card, shortening your options but hoping that you’ll get to claim the card?  Can you afford to drop your pawn on a negative card, hoping to jump off before you can be abandoned there? Should you jump from one negative card to another negative card if doing so abandons another player on the first card?  Great stuff.

Single Pawn, Multiple Dice

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, I encountered several designs that allowed players to roll multiple dice and then decide how to allocate them.  As a quick simple example, your character might be a gladiator and roll 3 dice, then assign those three dice to attack, move, defend.

In 2008, I set out to apply this concept to racing games.

In addition to the multiple pawns mechanism discussed in the previous section, VeloCity also utilized a multiple dice mechanism.  Players could freely choose which mechanism to use each turn.  If you chose the multiple dice mechanism, you were required to announce which bicycle you’d be moving.   You then rolled a die for every player with a bicycle in that space.  You then had your choice to move with any of those dice. As an added wrinkle, if you chose another player’s die, their bicycle made a free move along with yours.  In this way, the player has multiple choices about where to move after the dice fall.  Player choice was preserved.  I cannot claim that the game was perfect but I do feel it brought something new to the roll-and-move toolkit.

Closing Thoughts

Response to this series has been extremely rewarding.  Several spirited debates have appeared on Facebook and BoardGameGeek.  Some readers agreed with my assessments while some thought I was a fool. It is easy to welcome the praise, of course.  I also welcome the dissent.

“If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.”

–Benjamin Franklin

The goal of this blog has never been to impose assent but rather to get folks actively talking and thinking. In that, these columns have been a complete success.  Thank you for being a part of this journey.

Please continue to add your thoughts and comments.  I will be back on Tuesday with our next topic: finding a game’s core engagement.

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11 thoughts on “The 10 Best Mechanisms You Aren’t Using, Part 6

  1. You just gave me a great idea. What if there was a board in a roll and move game that had no end. Instead, the whole board was a grid of worker placement effects, and you had to roll and move to get to the spaces you wanted/needed to complete receipes, gain resources and so on…?!

    I have an idea for this!

  2. lambolt says:

    You missed a fantastic roll and move in the abstract “Street Soccer” which can be played as a “whoever rolls best” lucky filler, but is actually nothing of the sort, and is much closer to a chess like game where the rules for moving the ball give a huge advantage to the player that understands geometric patterns and positioning, as well as intertwining that with the simple probabilities of the dice. Plays quickly, captures the atmosphere of the sport it represents AND is a deep, and very rewarding game that is one of the most underrated games I’ve ever played. A true underappreciated classic.

  3. playnoevil says:

    Formula De’s choose dice to roll (representing car gears), then move is a variant that hasn’t been used elsewhere that I can think of.

    • The gear dice in Formula De are a nice innovation but the game still falls short IMO because players have no significant decisions to make after the dice are rolled.

      By comparison, das Motorsportspiel allows player to decide how many dice to roll AND represents gear shifting by allowing players to flip their dice over after they’ve been rolled. This is a more effective mechanism, I think.

  4. lambolt says:

    yes I think the dice mechanic in Rallyman is also a fairly innovative dice roll and move racing game, but I think you will be very happy with Street Soccer. Its easy to PNP a home made one as its now OOP I think but theres an ios app as well as free online play at mastermoves and littegolem (where the stats will tell you its very much a game that rewards skill not luck)

  5. lambolt says:

    PS. Nice set of articles, keep up the good work. Love the WordPress theme too, am thinking about plonking down a few dollars to use it myself

  6. Ryan Hennesy says:

    I never could find part five in the “10 best mechs” series. Tried searching your site for it to no avail. Any ideas?

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