Tabletop Tuesday — Replayability (Or, “Second Verse, oh, hey wait, this is different…”)

I realize I’m late with this post today, but in my defence, I had a bunch of my face torn out (on purpose, part of my bionic jaw went “sproing!”) and I’m not eating solid foods yet and I also trucked my butt across the city to give a writing class a chat—via OC Transpo, which is not-so-affectionately called “No-See Transpo” by many locals, and lived up to its nickname by making me almost late via two buses that just didn’t show up. By the time I got home, I crashed, and honestly, as much as I know I’ll be fine in a few weeks, I’m not sure I can put a checkmark in the “enjoyed having part of my face ripped out” experience, really. Who knew?

On the one hand, I’ve learned I still like Jell-O and yoghurt. On the other hand, there are only so many flavours of Jell-O and yoghurt. And that got me to thinking about how the-same-thing-but-different also happens in games, and how sometimes, that’s one of the best parts of playing games.

So, let’s talk flavours of Jell-O. Or, wait, that’s not right. I mean replayability. Yeah. That.

Whatcha Buildin’ This Time?

Kingdom Builder cover.

One of the first games to occur to me when I started thinking about this was Kingdom Builder. It’s a placement game where you drop little monopoly-style houses as Settlements onto hexes depending on which card you draw each turn, and grow a Kingdom. The basic game-play is simple: you check your card, and you have to build three of those settlements on that terrain type. The terrain types are desert, flowers, grassland, forest, and chasm—and you can’t build on water or mountains—and the most important rule is how the Kingdom you’ve building has to spread to adjacent terrain types before you’re allowed to hop somewhere else.

What that means is if you’ve placed a Settlement somewhere on the board that’s beside a desert hex, and you draw the desert card, you have to fill in the desert hexes that touch where you’ve already placed a previous Settlement. Sometimes, the connected hexes don’t number a whole lot of one terrain type, sometimes they’re much larger in size, and this makes placing your initial Settlements something of a tactical move: you don’t want to be “trapped” into specific choices right away.

You also gain tokens that let you then choose to place (or move) Settlements if you place one beside a particular hex on the board—an Oasis, for example, lets you play one bonus Settlement on a dessert tile every turn—and the game goes until someone runs out of Settlements, and then that round completes.

Two things give the game its remarkable replayability: the boards, and the goals. The game map you play on is made up of four of the eight game boards—making for 8x7x6x5 (I’m not doing the math) possibilities of how the map is laid out—and then you draw three goals from the deck of goals to find out what scores—and all three things score. For example, in one game, every Settlement beside a mountain might earn you points (because Miners), as well as Settlements beside rivers (because Fishermen), and also you get points for each horizontal row in which you have a Settlement (because Explorers). There are ten different goal cards, meaning each game, you’ve got 10x9x8 (I’m still not doing the math) possibilities of how the game will be scored, and thus how you’ll want to change what it is you’re trying to do.

And there are also expansions, which add more maps, more ability tokens, and more goals. We really like playing this one, though it doesn’t quite land being as much fun in a two-player game, especially with certain goals.

How Much for that Barrel of Whisky?

Cover of the box of Isle of Skye

Next up, there’s Isle of Skye. Isle of Skye has two major things going for it: speed and replayability, and while the former is done through a six round system, the latter is thanks to a similar mechanic as Kingdom Builder: shifting goals. The game itself has two sides to it: there’s a bidding/selling aspect, and a tile placement aspect. Each turn you get three tiles from the bag, choose one you’ll be tossing away, and then set prices on the two others. You have to manage your money carefully, because you both use it to set the price on what the tiles in front of you cost, but also how you buy tiles from others—so you can also attempt to set them out of the price range of what anyone else can afford by putting a lot of money down on your own tiles. If people buy your tiles, you get the money you set the price with and their purchase amount (doubling it, basically). If your for-sale tiles are particularly good, it’s possible to sell all your tiles, which means you’ll only the single tile you bought, with none of your own leftover, but at least you’ll have cash for next round, right?

The goals are all about placing the tiles in certain ways, or collecting the symbols on them. Most boats connected to anchors in the same body of water, or the most sheep, or the most barrels of whisky, or, or, or, but even more, the goals shift each round, and each of the four goals is counted twice throughout the game: one of them in the first round, then another the second, then two in the third and fourth rounds, then three in the fifth and sixth rounds. It builds, but it also means you’re looking at future round goals and a current round goals same time, and weighing your best options. You might focus on sheep, knowing you’ve got a great shot at maximizing the scoring from the little fellas, and then next game? You won’t care about sheep at all.

Once again, Isle of Skye doesn’t really land well as a two player game, even with a pretty clever built-in rubber-banding system whereby whoever is in the rear gets extra coins as the rounds go by, but for three to six players, we’ve really always enjoyed it.

Wait, I’m the Monster?

Cover of Betrayal at House on the Hill

Betrayal at House on the Hill is a horror-survival game where a group of typical horror movie folk (the jock, the little girl who plays with dolls, that creepy priest, etc.) are all wandering around a house that won’t let them out, looking for a way to escape. As they explore the house, they pick up stuff, discover weird omens, and then—eventually—someone is revealed as being a traitor all along! (And, since you all start the game completely unaware of what’s going to happen, it could be you.)

The major replayability of the game comes from its many, many scenarios, which are activated depending on which order the Omens are discovered. One game might turn out to be the players against the jock—revealed to be a serial killer; the next it turns out the little girl who plays will dolls has hidden voodoo doll versions of the rest of the players in the house and they’ll all die in horrible ways if they can’t find them; and then the next game after that that creepy priest is actually a vampire, and as he bites the others, the survivors shrink one by one, hoping to make it to sunrise in time…

There’s also the character cards, each one can flip, so the miniatures represent not just one character but one of two choices. The creepy priest is also a scientist, there are two little girls, two little boys, etcetera. Their stats are a wee bit different, and often play into who the traitor is revealed to be in a given scenario. The bookstore owner found the evil book, for example, or the little boy who likes insects found the monster when it was in an egg and decided to keep his new “friend” well fed. We’ve played this one quite a few times, but have yet to repeat it. Oh, and if you do end up starting to repeat scenarios after a lot of play? There’s already an expansion out there.

The downside is, once again, the game needs at least three players—and honestly is best with four or more.

What about you? What are your go-to replayable games that don’t feel like the same game over and over?

3 thoughts on “Tabletop Tuesday — Replayability (Or, “Second Verse, oh, hey wait, this is different…”)

  1. Oh my god, where to start on Betrayal. We have the game and LOVE it, including the expansion. There’s also “Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate,” which my one friend likes a little better. It’s (unsurprisingly) D&D themed but at the core, plays the same way. Uncover rooms, find stuff, make checks. The thing we like about BaBG vs BaHotH is that the traitor isn’t “as bad” in BG. In HotH, it’s “you lured your friends here for the sole purpose of feeding them to the house” whereas in BG it’s “It turns out Red Daddy was a doppleganger all along!” (In-joke. The wizard is Dadius the Red.) There are also slight ‘role play’ elements, like the ranger being able to use Hunter’s Mark or the Wizard getting Magic Missile and various references like the Apparatus of Kwalish and the BG pantheon, things like that. There’s still the “traitor vs heroes” element to it but, again, it feels more organic than mustache-twirly. That said, I *love* being the traitor in these games but so far, have only managed, like, twice. Could be because my friend (who *hates* being the traitor) is also the one that runs around and collects all the things. Of course you’re going to wind up the traitor if you HAVE ALL THE OMENS. *ahem* It’s definitely a group game, though, but very easy to pick up and learn. Not to say we haven’t had a few hiccups (like the one Haunt where it’s virtually impossible for the heroes to win but at the same time, incredibly difficult for the traitor to kill them.) but we’ve also had some great moments, too, like when my friend rolled, like, 9 dice for an attack and they all came up blank. Or when we were playing poker with Death and his minion could only move one square at a time due to having a faulty flashlight (hey, the game didn’t say the effect ended when the Haunt begins…)
    Another one that’s great for replayability is Call of Cthulhu. Every time you play, it’s a different experience, pending on what cards you get, what characters you choose to play as, what Eldritch Horror you’re facing off against, what cards get drawn, etc etc. It can actually be played solo but it’s much, much better with a group. That said, this is *not* a short game. I mean, it can be, if luck is either with you or against you, but expect to be playing this for at least an hour or two. Maybe three. I think we went four one time. The game is as much strategy as it is luck. Do you risk taking a turn shopping, hoping to get an Elder Sign, so you can automatically seal a gate or do you jump in, brave the various planes of existence, and be content with just closing the gate so it will stop spewing monsters into the Arkham streets? Do we give the enchanted blade to the nun so she can take out the vampire running loose in the streets or do we just let it continue to roam around, focusing on clearing out cultists and witches to keep the town from descending into a fear-induced panic? And for as “cosmic horror” as the game is, we have a lot of fun with it. We have lots of in-jokes. We have our favorite characters. We have war stories, both fun and epic. It’s definitely an investment, especially with the myriad of expansions that are out there, but you wholeheartedly get your money’s worth! That said, it has a lot of smaller spin-offs (Elder Sign comes to mind off the top of my head) that are less epic (like I said, a game of Arkham is often a commitment of one to two hours, minimum), though I can’t speak for those, as I haven’t played them yet.

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