The Innovators: Mechanical Innovations, Part 2

Yesterday, we began our look at innovative mechanisms that have been introduced in gaming over the years and which designers first created them.  Today, we finish our look at these familiar concepts, beginning with the early 90’s and continuing up to the present day.

Innovation:  Multiple Trump Types

Karl-Heinz Schmiel – Was Sticht? (1993)

Most trick-taking games include trumps and traditionally, it’s cards from one suit (either a set suit or one chosen by the player or team winning the bid for the hand).  In Karl-Heinz Schmiel’s Was Sticht?, though, one of the ranks of cards (4’s, for example) can be trumps, in addition to there being a trump suit.  This was the first game to extend the idea of trumps like that. This led to games like Doris & Frank’s Mu (1995), which includes multiple trump suits (one of which ranks over the other), and other trump complications.

Innovation:  One-way Tracks

Reiner Knizia – Tutankhamen (1993)
Virginio Gigli/Flaminia Brasini/Stefano Luperto/Antonio Tinto [Acchittocca] – Egizia (2009)

In a game with a one-way track, the players are able to advance their marker forwards on the track as many spaces as they wish.  But they are forbidden from moving backwards. The tension comes from deciding whether to jump ahead by a large number of spaces, to obtain something valuable before your opponents can grab it, at the cost of missing out on the stuff available on the spaces you skipped over, or moving slowly, allowing you to visit more spaces, but possibly losing out on the goodies on far-away spaces.  The first game to feature this was Reiner Knizia’s Tutankhamen, a fast-playing set collection game of perfect information from 1993.  This was well regarded enough to snag a couple of Game of the Year nominations.  Probably the most popular implementation of this innovation is in 2009’s Egizia, which, coincidentally, is also themed around Ancient Egypt.  It was created by four Italian designers who go by the group name of Acchittocca.  Heaven & Ale, one of the leading titles of 2017, also uses this mechanism.


Innovation:  Area Control

Wolfgang Kramer/Richard Ulrich – El Grande (1995)

You see a lot of different kinds of games described as “area control” (which is also sometimes referred to as “area majority”) and in many cases, the classification is inappropriate.  To clarify things, we’ve defined “area control” to be a game in which awards are given based on having the most pieces in an area, but in which there is also a spatial aspect and the adjacencies of those areas matter (for example, in shifting pieces from one area to an adjacent one).  According to this definition, games without that geographic aspect are just simple majorities game. It seems likely that there was an area control game prior to El Grande’s publication in 1995, but we can’t find an example of one.  Certainly, the Kramer/Ulrich classic made the concept very popular and there have been many examples of such games over the past 20 years.

Innovation:  Variable Turn Order – Action Based

Francis Tresham – Civilization (1980)
Wolfgang Kramer/Richard Ulrich – El Grande (1995)

Back in simpler times, players took their turns in clockwise order, with no changes in turn order throughout the game.  Francis Tresham’s iconic Civilization played with that concept, as the player order for different phases depended on where they stood on the scoreboard, how many cities they had, and some other factors, and the players could often take advantage of that.  But the first game to make this a central part of its design was El Grande.  In one of its many innovations, the Power Card the player plays each turn determines when in the turn they go, with an earlier turn order coinciding with fewer units to work with.  These days, there are many variations on this idea, with some games simply changing the start player each turn, to having turn order determined by which actions players choose, or which they win in an auction.  But the breakaway from a simple clockwise turn order all began with El Grande.

Innovation:  Variable Cost Card Display

Dirk Henn – Premiere, 1996
Dirk Henn – Showmanager, 1997

In this innovation, players select cards from an open display.  But the cost of a card is based on where in the display the card is.  The most recently exposed card is the most expensive, while cards which have been in the display for a while cost the least.  This reduces the luck of the draw (so that if the newly exposed card is a really good one, at least it will cost the active player a lot to grab it) and encourages the purchase of less popular cards, which keeps such cards from clogging up the display.  This has proven to be a very popular and important innovation and is found in many games. It was first used by Dirk Henn in 1996 for Premiere, a self-published game in which the players try to do the best job of casting their theater productions.  The following year, the game was reprinted and released by Queen as Showmanager (with improved artwork) and the latter game is much better known.


Innovation:  Unchanged Hand Order

Uwe Rosenberg – Bohnanza (1997)

Uwe Rosenberg was a totally unknown designer when his Bohnanza burst upon the scene, over 20 years ago.  It has gone on to become one of the best selling games of all time.  The game’s most noticeable, and audacious, feature is that the players aren’t allowed to sort their hand of cards.  This was a mind-blowing concept back in 1997. Instead, the players must use trades or other kinds of actions to manipulate their hands in a way that lets them optimize their score.  This innovation is occasionally seen in other games, but it will probably take a very long while before it isn’t totally identified with Bohnanza.

Innovation:  Worker Placement

Richard Breese – Keydom (1998)
Jeroen Doumen/Joris Wiersinga – Bus (1999)
Martin Wallace – Way Out West (2000)
William Attia – Caylus (2005)

Like “area control”, “worker placement” is a much overused term in gaming, with many applying it to any title that features pieces called “workers” in any form.  We define a Worker Placement game as one in which players place pieces (workers) on spaces to reserve or carry out actions, and where there is either a limit on the number of times these spaces can be used per turn (most often, only once), or where selecting a space hinders future placements there (for example, making them more expensive).  This gives players access to a wide variety of actions, while increasing the amount of player interaction in the game. The history of worker placement games actually precedes the usage of the term. The general consensus is that Richard Breese’s 1998 design Keydom (the second of his “Key” games) was the first example of what would eventually be called worker placement, even though the workers placed often served as bids in a multiple item auction, rather than the more typical WP usage.  (Keydom was redesigned as Aladdin’s Dragons two years later, and that version had a much larger print run than the self-published original.)  Splotter’s Bus and Martin Wallace’s Way Out West, released closely together soon after Keydom made its appearance, are somewhat more traditional WP games.  However, the design that really popularized the mechanism (and led to some unknown individual coining the term “worker placement” to describe games of this sort) was William Attia’s Caylus, a smash hit from 2005, whose massive success led many more designers to explore this concept.  Today, worker placement (even when more narrowly defined as we have done) is among the most popular mechanisms to be found in new designs.

Innovation:  “On the Fly” Trumps

Uwe Rosenberg – Schnäppchen Jagd – 1998

In Uwe Rosenberg’s Schnäppchen Jagd, rather than there being a set trump suit, any card that is not of the led suit can be declared to be a trump or not, at the playing player’s discretion.  This is one of several innovations that mark Rosenberg’s design and was part of a general renaissance in trick-taking games during the nineties, in which many of the standard notions behind these games were altered.  (The game can be more easily found as Bargain Hunter, a virtually identical reprint first released in 2010).


Innovation:  Sweetening Leftover Items

Philippe Keyaerts – Vinci (1999)
Andreas Seyfarth – Puerto Rico (2002)

This innovation involves adding money, VPs, or some other desirable to an item or a role not selected in an earlier turn, to make it more attractive.  Basically, it’s an extension and
generalization of the concept behind Dirk Henn’s variable cost card display. Philippe Keyaerts’
Vinci, a game of conquest that was his first design (and which served as the basis for his very popular Small World a decade later) was the first game to use this idea.  Puerto Rico‘s system of adding coins to unchosen roles is probably the best known early usage of this concept and, according to designer Andreas Seyfarth, was inspired by Vinci.

Innovation:  Communal Buildings

Jeroen Doumen/Joris Wiersinga – Roads & Boats (1999)

Normally, when a player constructs a building in a game, they are the only ones who can utilize the abilities of that building.  However, in Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga’s Civ-like game of Roads & Boats, buildings are truly communal and anyone can use one, no matter who built it—provided they can transport the required resources to its location.  Other games have used this concept, although in some of them, such as Caylus or Le Havre, the non-owning players have to pay a fee to use another player’s building.  Still, it’s often first come, first served, and the owner has no greater chance of getting to use the building they constructed than any other player.

Innovation:  Pie Splitting

Alan Moon/Aaron Weissblum – San Marco (2001)
Jeff Allers – …aber bitte mit Sahne/Piece o’ Cake (2008)

“Pie splitting” comes from an inspired method of dividing a treasured item (like a yummy piece of pie) between two greedy children.  Make the first child divide the item into two parts and allow the second child to have first choice. This ensures Child 1 will take pains to make the division as fair as possible.  Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum decided to make this the central mechanism of their area control game San Marco.  Players divide cards into two or three stacks, with other players taking the one they want and leaving the last for the dividing player.  It was a very original application of a well-known, non-gaming algorithm. An even more popular usage of Pie Splitting came from Jeff Allers, whose set collection game …aber bitte mit Sahne (which was the name of a popular song in Germany—it translates to “But with whipped cream, please”) had the players literally dividing pies into pieces.  Later editions of the game switched the food to be divided to cake (Piece o’ Cake) and pizza (NY Slice).

Innovation:  Simultaneous Auctions

Philippe Keyaerts – Evo (2001)
Reiner Knizia – Amun-Re (2003)

Typically, this means that one item is available per player (sometimes, there is one less item than the number of players) and each player bids for exactly one of them at a time.  Players can shift their bids between items, by raising the current high bid at the new item, and this continues until each item has only one bidder. This system saves a lot of time when multiple items are auctioned each turn and, consequently, it has become a very popular feature in auction games.  The first game to introduce the idea was Philippe Keyaerts’ Evo, an evolution-based design in which the players are bidding for upgrades to their dinosaurs.  In fact, for a while, these were called “Evo-style” auctions. The concept was later refined in the Egyptian-themed Amun-Re by Reiner Knizia (who has stated that he developed the idea independently of Keyaerts) and other designers have put their own spin on it.  But the basics of these auctions remain unchanged since Evo introduced them in 2001.


Innovation:  Magic-style Drafting

Satoshi Nakamura – Fairy Tale (2004)
Antoine Bauza – 7 Wonders (2010)

The name comes from the booster drafts used in a popular kind of Magic: The Gathering tournament.  Each player would open a booster pack, pick a card, and pass the remaining cards to the left, a process which continued until all the cards were drafted.  This way, decks could be built on the fly, rather than using pre-constructed decks, which added spontaneity and excitement to the tournaments. Passing the decks around eliminated much of the luck of getting an unusually juicy booster pack, as well as rewarding players for having a good memory and planning ahead.  Satoshi Nakamura, one of the first Japanese designers to have a game available in the West, created the short, but punchy, set collection design Fairy Tale, the first non-CCG game to be built around this concept and it excited quite a lot of people when it was released.  Since then, this has become a standard way of drafting cards; not only does it lessen the luck factor, but it allows the players to see a large percentage of the cards used, so that there can be a good number of choices without requiring an enormous deck size.  The game that’s best known for using Magic-style drafting is Antoine Bauza’s multi-award winning 7 Wonders, so much so that the process is often referred to as a “7 Wonders draft”.

Innovation:  Variable Turn Order – Time-Based

Tobias Stapelfeldt/Peter Eggert – Neuland (2004)
Peter Prinz – Jenseits von Theben (2004)
Peter Prinz – Thebes (2007)

With this innovation, each of a player’s actions has a certain amount of time associated with it.  The total time used by each player is tracked.  The player who has used the least amount of time takes the next turn.  This player continues taking turns until their total time surpasses that of another player, at which point this other player takes the next turn.  The introduction of this concept is an excellent example of parallel development. In 2004, two games appeared, at practically the same time, both of which featured this advance.  In Stapelfeldt and Eggert’s logistically-oriented Neuland, transferring resources and constructing buildings cost time.  In Peter Prinz’s archaeology-themed game of Jenseits von Theben, it takes time to dig for artifacts and to travel between cities.  The two games have an entirely different feel, but the time-based turn order works identically in both.  Theben was a self-published game with only a tiny print run; it was redesigned as Thebes, by Queen in 2007, and this is the version that truly popularized the concept.

Innovation:  Cards as Currency

Andreas Seyfarth/Tom Lehmann/Richard Borg – San Juan (2004)
Tom Lehmann – Race for the Galaxy (2007)

Traditional card games have the players forming melds and creating sets from their cards.  Then, more ambitious games came along, which included cards that conferred abilities to the owning player; for them to be activated, these usually had to be paid for with resources, cash, and the like.  In San Juan, though, the cards themselves are the currency—you can either use a card for its ability or use it to help pay the price of another card.  The game is billed as the card game version of Puerto Rico, even though they play quite differently.  PR’s designer, Andreas Seyfarth, is credited with San Juan, but the cards-as-currency innovation came from two other designers, Tom Lehmann and Richard Borg.  That pair did the original design work on San Juan, before Seyfarth, who had said he had no interest in working on the game, changed his mind and took over from them.  (The rules to San Juan acknowledge the efforts of both Lehmann and Borg.)  The story has a happy ending, though, at least for Tom.  He took the design work he had done on San Juan, including the cards-as-currency concept, combined it with a CCG he had worked on previously, and took it in another direction.  The result was Race for the Galaxy, a smash hit, which cemented the innovation in the minds of the gaming public, as well as providing Lehmann with a nice amount of paper currency of his own.


Innovation:  The Rondel

Mac Gerdts – Antike (2005)
Mac Gerdts – Imperial (2006)

There are few innovations so associated with one designer as the rondel.  There is no question that it was invented by Mac Gerdts and the majority of his games (and all of his early titles) utilize it.  In a rondel game, all of the possible actions the players can take are arranged in a circle. Each player on their turn advances their marker from its previous position on the rondel to the new action they wish to take.  The number of spaces that the marker can be advanced is limited (although longer moves can sometimes be made at a cost). Thus, all the actions are available over the course of the game, but only a subset of them can be used on any given turn and the players have to plan how they wish to carry them out.  According to Gerdts, he created the rondel around 1982. His game of Imperial was first designed not long after that, so it’s possible that it, and not Antike, was the first of his designs to feature the concept, at least in prototype form.  However, Antike was the first published game to include the rondel and so it gets credit as the true innovator.

Innovation:  Traitors in Cooperative Games

Bruno Cathala/Serge Laget – Shadows Over Camelot (2005)

Interest in cooperative games starting blossoming around the turn of the century, with designers seeing how far they could push the envelope on this “new” concept in gaming.  One of the more dramatic additions to the co-op designer’s toolbox came when Bruno Cathala and Serge Laget introduced the concept of a traitor in their popular Arthurian-themed game Shadows Over Camelot.  With this innovation, rather than having all the players working together to achieve a goal, there is now the possibility that one or more players might be secretly working against the others.  Often the number of traitors is unknown and it’s possible that there may be none. The traitor is the principal innovation in Shadows and was considered a major addition to cooperative (or rather, semi-cooperative) gaming, greatly increasing the number of things that could be achieved in such games.


Innovation:  Dice as Action Selectors

Stefan Feld – Roma (2005)
Sebastien Pauchon – Yspahan (2006)

The last ten years could be called the Decade of the Dice, as our love affair with those cubic randomizers continues.  A major recent trend has been using dice to determine which actions are available for the players to use on their turn.  The first game to do this was Stefan Feld’s first published game, Roma, which appeared in 2005.  This requires the players to figure out the best way to use their personally rolled dice each turn.  It was an auspicious beginning, since over the years, Feld may have created more innovative dice mechanisms than any other designer.  However, the game that really established the dice as action selectors concept was Yspahan, by Sebastien Pauchon, which came out a year later.  Here, there is a pool of rolled dice and the players, in turn, choose a pip value that determines the nature and strength of their action.  Despite the randomness that the dice add to these games, there is paradoxically often greater skill required, since the players need to adjust to a changing and unpredictable environment.

Innovation:  Specialized Workers

Acchittocca – Leonardo da Vinci (2006)
Glenn Drover – Age of Empires III (2007)

In the first worker placement games, all the workers were identical and could accomplish the same things.  This innovation introduces the concept of different kinds of workers, with differing abilities or individual specialties.  In Leonardo da Vinci, created by the Acchittocca quartet of designers, each player’s workforce consists of several apprentices and a single maestro piece.  Maestros are worth two apprentices when determining majorities at action spaces. In addition, maestros can be added to an existing group of that player’s workers at an action space, but apprentices cannot.  Players can also build mechanical men, which count as two apprentices when carrying out work in a lab. So some specialization, but not much. The game that really embraced this concept was Glenn Drover’s Age of Empires III, which came out the year after Leonardo.  This design has four types of specialized workers (missionaries, soldiers, merchants, and captains), as well as the boring generic workers.  Each specialist has additional abilities when used to carry out their tailored actions, making them more powerful when used in this way. Specialists have to be acquired and not every player will have the same collection of workers; coming up with the appropriate mix is often the foundation of a player’s strategy.  These concepts can be found in quite a few modern WP games, making AoE III the true trailblazer for this innovation.

Innovation:  Dice as Workers

Andrea Chiarvesio/Luca Iennaco – Kingsburg (2007)
Tory Niemann – Alien Frontiers (2010)
Stefan Feld – Bora Bora (2013)
Nuno Sentieiro/Paulo Soledade – Madeira (2013)

Worker placement continues to be very popular in the games of today and one recent innovation is using dice as workers.  The first game to utilize dice in a WP setting was 2007’s Kingsburg, by Chiarvesio and Iennaco, in which the players rolled three dice and used the sum of one or more of them to claim action spaces.  This idea got quite a bit of attention following the game’s release. The next step came from Tory Niemann’s Alien Frontiers, in which the dice are allocated a little bit more like workers, but the players still have to meet requirements at the action spaces (such as two dice of equal value or a minimum sum) which are more dice-like than worker-like.  The first games in which each individual die served as a worker came out in 2013: Stefan Feld’s Bora Bora and Sentiero and Soledade’s Madeira.  The former was released in February, while the latter came out in October of that year, so the Feld game has precedence, but given the concentrated time frame, this is probably a case of parallel development.


Innovation:  Deckbuilding

Donald X. Vaccarino – Dominion (2008)

In deckbuilding, the players purchase or draft cards to add to their personalized decks.  Each card has its own attributes, such as conferring an action or providing VPs. The players cycle through their decks multiple times during the game, so that cards added to the decks form the central part of the players’ strategy.  Essentially, the players are designing their own action set. According to this concept’s innovator, Donald X. Vaccarino, the first prototype for Dominion was created in 2006 and was based around the kinds of deck-building carried out by fans of Magic: The Gathering, and other collectible card games.  This on-the-fly deckbuilding was a radical new idea.  Dominion created an entirely new genre of games when it was released and the concept remains extremely popular.

That takes us to the end of our list of mechanical innovations.  If you can think of any we’ve omitted, or can think of earlier appearances than the games we’ve listed, please leave a comment to let us know.  Tomorrow, we’ll finish the series off with the designers whose innovations were so impactful that they led to entire new genres of games.

This entry was posted in Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

48 Responses to The Innovators: Mechanical Innovations, Part 2

  1. Aldo Nepore says:

    Distance among players at the table as a feature in the game (Bang! 2002)

    • huzonfirst says:

      That is a distinctive feature of Bang!, Aldo, but can you think of another game that uses it? Obviously, there are games where adjacent players are treated differently (such as 7 Wonders), but I suspect you’re thinking of something that goes beyond that. Offhand, I can’t think of another game that features that mechanism, so the innovation, though interesting, may not be that influential.

      • Aldo Nepore says:

        Well, the same could apply for the “unchanged hand order” of Bohnanza…
        By the way, “Samurai Sword” and “Sake & Samurai” use the same concept, FWIK.

        • huzonfirst says:

          There are a few non-Bohnanza titles where the hand order isn’t changed (Oltremare being one of them), but I’ll grant you there aren’t many. I’m not familiar with the two other games you cited, but it’s interesting that “player distance” is used in those games as well. Thanks for bringing this up.

          • Dan Blum says:

            Samurai Sword is a revamp of Bang, so not too surprising.

            • Aldo Nepore says:

              Well, that depends on what you mean with “revamp”. Samurai Sword shares several similar mechanics with Bang! (distance, semi-hidden roles, attack and defense), but there are clear differences and the strategy involved is completely different. How many “german” games are “revamp” of other similar games, or “The Sixth Sense” is a revamp of “Dixit”?

              • Well, Samurai Sword is more of a sequel/spin-off of BANG!, being both games created by Emiliano Sciarra; they both use the “BANG! System” which includes the distance between players between its features. BANG! The Dice Game also uses this innovation, with different authors (Michael Palm, Lukas Zach).

  2. Oliver Kinne says:

    Thank you for the in-depth article. I think you covered it all. It’s a really good reference to game mechanics. Brilliant!

  3. David says:

    Very much enjoying this series!

    I wonder if the different meeples in Carcassonne – the big meeple, the pig, the builder, etc would count as “specialized workers”? Obviously not a worker placement game but still.

    • huzonfirst says:

      That’s an interesting point, David. Not the same thing, since, as you point out, Carc isn’t a WP game, but it may have influenced some designers.

  4. Should “real-time manipulation” be added as a mechanic? Icehouse, Tamsk, Space Dealer, Escape, Magic Maze…

    Early uses of real-time manipulation could also be considered to be real-time card games (e.g., Spit), possibly making it difficult to identify an original inventor.
    (+ Dutch Blitz, Wheedle, Blink)

    Somehow, the simple timing mechanism used in Boggle feels different (as there is no piece manipulation), but perhaps it isn’t, really.

    One might also need to determine whether to consider chess when a clock is added as using the mechanic.

    • huzonfirst says:

      The different aspects of real time mechanisms could definitely be one or more categories. It requires some research, but you’ve already cited some interesting examples (and I know there’s quite a few more). Thanks!

  5. Jeroen says:

    Variable/differentiated victory conditions?

    And how about cooperative games themselves?

    • huzonfirst says:

      Jeroen, we didn’t include variable victory conditions because there didn’t seem to be that many games that use it, but now that you’ve brought it up, I think we may have underestimated the number, particularly if you take a broad view of the concept. The granddaddy has to be Careers (’55), where the players secretly set their winning conditions at the start of the game. Wallace has had fun creating titles which can end in variable ways (with very different winning conditions for each), including Mordred in ’99 and Liberte in ’01. There were also a couple of fellows who let the players come up with their own victory conditions midgame, in a little design called Antiquity. :-) So I guess there were more of these than we thought. Thanks for the suggestion.

      We’ll be looking at cooperative games tomorrow, when we check out innovations that led to entire genres of games.

      • Ze says:

        So I guess the legacy concept will also be addressed tomorrow, right?
        Very interesting article by the way, thanks!

  6. Fraser says:

    Possibly less relevant to modern Euros, but a huge innovation was the discovery and use of the back of the counter which was credited (in a book or an article I read years ago) to Remond A.Simonsen at SPI.

    Taking Le Havre as a more modern example, converting/processing Iron to Steel you just need to flip the Iron counter. In the old days it would have been two separate counters.

    (Yes I should have commented on these articles previously!).

  7. dbvanderark says:

    Besides Schnäppchen Jagd, which other games feature what you called “on the fly” trumps? Bargain Hunter doesn’t count, since it’s virtually a straight reprint.

  8. dbvanderark says:

    Another suggestion for an innovative mechanism would be drawing on the board. Was Railway Rivals or Empire Builder first? Or something else entirely?

    • Dan Blum says:

      Depends on where you draw the line, as it were. Lots of paper-and-pencil games predated Railway Rivals (which in turn predates Empire Builder), and while many of them weren’t “really” drawing games in the sense that they were standard abstracts where the pieces didn’t move, there are certainly exceptions such as Racetrack. (Racetrack goes back to at least the 1950s and probably earlier.)

      • Dan Blum says:

        Sorry, misremembered Racetrack. It only verifiably dates to 1971 but I suspect it is older. This still predates Railway Rivals by two years.

  9. Friedemanns says:

    Innovation: Multiple Trump Types

    I do not think it was an innovation there. As it came out it was clear the trump system from “Doppelkopf” where you have the Queens over the Jack over the Diamonds as trump. This is traditional to me.

    I think it was an innovative use of this well known trump system.

    • huzonfirst says:

      Friedemann, there was a lot of discussion within the group about some of the trick-taking innovations. Some were removed, at the behest of others, but many remain, possibly due to my love of trick-takers in general. Based on my greater exposure to the trick-taking games that were popular in the *U.S.* during my youth, I was fascinated by the new group of trick-takers that appeared in Germany during the 90s. They appeared very innovative to my eyes, but it seems that many of these concepts that were new to me could be found in some of the traditional games that were popular in Europe. So while these published titles are excellent games. I may have gone a bit overboard with regards to their innovations. And some of the things that truly were innovative, like the drafting of hands in Was Sticht and the on the fly trumps of Schappchen Jagd, aren’t found in many other games. So apologies for my over-enthusiasm!

      • Michael W. says:

        Was Sticheln considered in those discussions of “on the fly” trumps? It predated SJ by 5 years or so. In it, *every* card of a different suit than the led card is trump.

        • huzonfirst says:

          Yes, but there’s no choice involved, is there Michael? If you don’t follow suit, you have to trump. In SJ, you get to choose if the card that isn’t of the led suit is trump or not.

  10. Felix Rodriguez says:

    Starcraft the Board game was released before Dominion and did the deck building thing as well.

    • huzonfirst says:

      Hmm. I’ve never played Starcraft, Felix, but having just read a few reviews, it does look like the game has a classic deckbuilding element. Now Dominion is *purely* deckbuilding and it was the game that popularized the concept (to put it mildly), but it does seem as if Starcraft got there first. Very interesting. Thanks for posting this!

  11. Mark Maner says:


    You’ve neglected 1981 AHs Amoeba Wars in here.
    I have to assume somewhere in the design process of El Grande someone was familiar with the variable turn order in Amoeba Wars, as it is, almost a straight lifting of it. (Higher numbers give you earlier turn order but less powers)

    AWs also offers some basic variable player powers, not on the scale of a CE but certainly different player options at the start of each game.

    Finally it offers an external enemy, which players can influence but not control.

    I suggest you take a look at it as it offers some pretty interesting innovation for a 1981 game

    • huzonfirst says:

      I know Amoeba Wars by title, Mark, but I’ve never played it. After checking it out, you’re absolutely correct–the turn order mechanism is pretty much identical to El Grande’s. The only difference I can see is that in EG, everyone starts with the same deck of cards, while in AW, you don’t know what cards your opponent has. That reduces the control a bit, but it’s still pretty much the same concept. And I agree, it does have some other interesting ideas for the early 80’s. Thanks for setting the record straight for variable turn order!

  12. Wonderful series of articles! War of the Ring already used dice as action selectors. Both players roll their dice at the beginning of the turn and then resolve one die and its action in alternating fashion. As the game was published in 2004, it is slightly older than both Roma and Yspahan.
    Looking forward to your third post!

    • huzonfirst says:

      That looks absolutely correct. War of the Ring was also a very popular game, so I have to assume that such a distinctive concept would have been quite influential. I agree, WotR should be considered the first game to use dice as action selectors.

  13. Tucker Taylor says:

    Tutankhamen (1993, which I only know because it’s up under “one-way tracks”) would seem to me to be the pioneer of the time-based track as well.

    • huzonfirst says:

      Tucker, in One Way Track games, the player trailing on the track doesn’t necessarily go next. So in Tutankhamen, players go in a clockwise order, regardless of where they are on the track. Even if it does determine turn order, as it does in Glen More, for example, it’s not really time, it’s just where you are on the track and you keep taking tiles until you catch up to the other players. Whereas in a Time-based game, like Patchwork, each action consumes time and the actions you take involve more than just the time track. That might be a subtle point and you could argue that Glen More could easily be converted to a Time-based game, but we still view the two mechanisms as somewhat different.

  14. Rodolfo says:

    Euphoria is also from 2013 and has dice as workers. I don’t know which one came first…

    • huzonfirst says:

      You are correct, Rodolfo. And it doesn’t really matter which game came first, as I’m sure they were released so closely together that it had to represent parallel development. So I’m willing to say that Bora Bora, Madeira, and Euphoria all share the distinction of the first games that had dice as workers. Thanks!

  15. Unchanged Hand Order is always presente in Michael Schacht’s BLINDES HUHN (, also from 1997. I do not know if the idea was in the air, or if one game inspired the other.

    • huzonfirst says:

      In Blindes Huhn, the players get to order their hands as they wish after they are dealt them. For the rest of the hand, they can’t change that order (although they can play cards from either the front or back of their hand). So not the same as Bohnanza, Silvano, but certainly worth mentioning. And yes, it seems as if there was something in the air in 1997.

  16. dbvanderark says:

    Wouldn’t Notre Dame be a card drafting game? That predates 7 Wonders by 2-3 years.

  17. dbvanderark says:

    And Fairy Tale is even earlier. 2004, according to BGG

    • huzonfirst says:

      Yes it is, Dave. And the entry cites Fairy Tale as the first game with Magic-style drafting. Maybe the large picture of 7 Wonders was confusing! :-)

      • dbvanderark says:

        You’re right. I read the article a few days ago. Then when I came back here for the comments I only saw the pic. It’s too hard for old people like me to have to remember what I read days ago!

  18. Peter C. Hayward says:

    Would Risk not be the first area control game? Vying to control continents is a huge part of the strategy in that game.

  19. huzonfirst says:

    Peter, the usual meaning of “area control” is that multiple players are putting their pieces in the same area, and the one with the most pieces controls it, earning its VPs or benefits. In Risk, each area can only be controlled by one player (since if there are pieces from multiple players there, combat ensues until only one player remains), so it’s not an area control game. You gain benefits from controlling all the areas that make up a continent, but that’s not the same as area control. It does make Risk an Area Movement game–the first one, as it turns out, as we explained in the first article of the series.

    There’s lots of terms like these that, in many cases, aren’t as well known as they used to be. They’re of interest to people who like to categorize games, but the rest of the gaming fraternity gets by just fine without them, so it’s understandable if confusion over them exists.

  20. Pingback: Review of Hanamikoji (Deep Water Games) | The Opinionated Gamers

  21. Alan Singh says:

    Industrial Waste (Jurgen Strohm) also is a pie splitting game, and also was published in 2001 according to the Geek. Not sure whether it beat San Marco to market.

  22. huzonfirst says:

    Alan, I assume that you’re talking about the draft of the Action cards that takes place each turn in Industrial Waste. This involves cards being dealt out randomly into groups and each player then choosing one group to use that turn. In San Marco, one of the players actively splits the cards into groups prior to everyone selecting them. The fact that the splitting into groups is done by one of the players is what makes this “pie splitting”. The player tries to split the cards so that her opponents get as little benefit as possilbe, while also maximizing the chances that she gets a good group of cards to use.

  23. Phil Bauer says:

    For the “Innovation: Variable Turn Order – Time-Based” I always think of Tinners’ Trail, which also came out in 2007, though I’m not sure if it beat Thebes to market. Curiously BGG says “2008” under “year published” whereas my JL&KM copy says “2007.”

Leave a Reply