Monday, May 21, 2012

DeckBuilding- Innovative Game Mechanisms

Some years ago, Wargames took on a new subgenre as designer Mark Hermon presented "We the People" (originally published by Avalon Hill). This subgenre is the Card Driven Wargame. Following this innovative game came a number of game titles. These games rely on cards to provide the ability to move units, build units, construct defenses, or introduce historical events into a game. Now we're seeing a new type of design that may become "the next big thing" in wargames. It is the deck building mechanism. (I say mechanism because the phrase "game mechanic" would technically refer to one who repairs broken games, while a "game mechanism" would be a design concept that allows a game to function). This game mechanism is becoming popular in Euro stle games, and probably saw its genesis in the Rio Grande Publication "Dominion." Now, there are a number of titles out there that utilitze similar mechanisms to drive the game. I suppose it would be best to describe such a game for those who are unaware of them. In a deck building game, players obtain cards from a pool of cards by purchase or selection and gradually build a deck of cards that they have in their own personal deck. Such cards may provide particular benefits, victory points, or at times have more than one use. The first wargame example that I've seen of this style of game is "A Few Acres of Snow" designed by Martin Wallace and published by Treefrog games (apparently distributed in U.S. by Mayfair games). This game (for two players) allows players to play what is commonly called "The French and Indian War" between the British and the French in North America during the period shortly prior to the American Revolution. I've been trying to get my hands on a copy for some time, but online retailers seem to be sold out and the prices on Ebay have seemed exorbitant to me. In other words, it seems to be fairly highly sought after. Players either buy, draft (obtain at no cost) cards that allow them to produce income, increase defense, or permit movement to other areas. The French player makes his money primarily through trading fur while the British player collects cards that can later produce gold. Once a player takes over a village, city, or named space, he can add the card for that area into his deck. Those cards allow movement to other areas. A player has to have the right sort of movement card in order to move units into a new area. He might need a card which provides boat movement or a card which provides trail movement, etc. Some cards simply provide an attack or defense. A siege mechanism allows a player to being a siege and try to keep it going for multiple turns. Such a siege can be broken by play of militia defense cards. While I only had a limited introductory experience with "A Few Acres of Snow" I can easily see the mechanisms utilized in this non-traditional wargame becoming a new sub-genre of wargame. I don't know if this is really a good or bad thing, but I do know I want to see more of this game. Whether I want to see a World War II era game attempting to use these mechanisms or not, well, such a design I think would have to be genius. A Few Acres of Snow may serve one really strong purpose, however. It may whet player's appetite for meatier, more traditional wargames. I've heard that neumber of players who started out with this game quickly moved on to try GMT's "Wilderness War" which is an awesome card driven wargame. So, perhaps the greatest innovation is the ability to move Euro-favoring players into grognard type games.

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