One of the best things about board games is that, unlike other forms of entertainment, they give you new experiences every time. That book or movie is always going to be the same. And a puzzle is good only until you solve it the first time. But a board game can be played again and again with tons of variety. At least, that’s the theory. But how do you measure the replay value of a game?
Too often, players (and publishers) get suckered into the trap of variable setup. “This game is set up so differently every time! Tons of replay value!” Well, it may have a different start, but if the game is no fun – or plays super similar every time despite the variety – then replay value will be low regardless. So when you’re looking at a game and trying to judge its replayability, here are three key factors to look for.
Some games are more or less on rails. You go down the same path, build the same engine, or conquer the same territory. But the titles with the best replay value often don’t send you on a predefined avenue, but instead simply provide a framework for you to pursue your own strategies.
Economic games tend to be very good at this. Chicago Express, for example, has no randomness or variable setup at all. You get the same four companies and start investing right away. But each game plays out entirely differently. In some games, it’s a mad dash toward Chicago as the players try to reach that goal for the extra payout. In others, no one makes it to their Midwest destination because the players sabotage one another. The replay value is huge on this one with every play feeling very different.
But it isn’t just economic games. Strategy games can also allow free-form play. Tash-Kalar is a great example. The players are simply placing tiles on the board and trying to build patterns. But the give and take nature of the play keeps the strategies shifting and every time it hits the table it’s a unique experience.
Focus on the Players
One of the surest ways to have near infinite replay value is where the game focuses more on the players and their interaction than it does on the particular rules or mechanisms of the game. If you can accurately say that it’s best to “play the players, not the game” then this is the type of title likely to have huge replay value.
The easiest examples of this type of game are the social deduction titles. Werewolf or Resistance are hugely entertaining and incredibly interesting. But not because werewolves or dystopian governments are inherently engaging. No, it’s because in each play, you’re trying to sift through the actions and motives of the other players at the table to determine whether they are part of the faithful or the traitors. That focus on your fellows keeps every game interesting as players try all sorts of tactics to give or hide information.
Larger traitor style games have this effect, too. Dead of Winter and Battlestar Galactica both feature traitor elements. You’ll have to decide whether launching a viper was the action of a hidden cylon or whether Joe over there really doesn’t have any fuel in his hand to help you make it to the Grocery Store safely. Even some of the meanest “take that” games, like Diplomacy or Intrigue, are replayable precisely because you’re dancing around the motives of other players. And for similar reasons, negotiation games, such as Modern Art, tend to feel fresh and enjoyable with every play.
Includes Something Unique
Every game feels new and exciting on that first play. Your first crack at Dominion might have seemed like a completely unique experience. But in the years following its release, every game had deckbuilding shoe-horned into it somehow. So that unique element is lost and you can get that same experience any number of different ways.
But finding something unique is a great way to add replay value. Take the movement from Istanbul. As you move around the market, you can take an action only if you drop off or pick up an apprentice. So you have to continually circle back to previous locations, which requires careful planning to make the best use of your actions. This is a really interesting mechanism that is rarely replicated outside of the title. So if I want to play that type of game, I really only have one choice.
But it isn’t just about mechanisms. Sometimes its about the overall feel of the game. Perhaps the best example is War of the Ring. This epic affair is hands down the most faithful recreation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy you’ll find in the board game world. Not only do you have a map with army units, but you have the ringbearers trying to go toward Mordor. The Free Peoples reluctance to go to war is demonstrated by a separate Political Track and significant events from the books are often represented in card play. If you want to feel like you’re in the midst of Middle-Earth, there is no better title than War of the Ring. And that means added replay value since you’ll want to return there again and again.
What do you look for with replayability? Tell us about it in the comments.
Image Credits: Queen Games, Bezier Games, and Alderac Entertainment Group
Featured Image Credit: Plaid Hat Games