Mechanically Speaking: Action Point Allowance and Area Control/Influence

Continuing my journey through the list of mechanisms identified by BGG.

image from blogs.warwick.ac.uk

The Action Point Allowance System is defined on BGG as follows:

In Action Point (AP) Allowance System games, each player is alloted a certain amount of points per round. These points can be spent on available actions, until the player does not have enough remaining to “purchase” any more actions. This method grants the player greater freedom over how to execute his or her options.

This category is extremely broad and encompasses a lot of different types of games.  Most notably, I’d like to highlight Tikal (1999, Wolfgang Kramer/Michael Kiesling) as an archetype in this category.  In that one, you are exploring a jungle and have ten action points to spend.  These are divided among different actions – excavating a temple, digging for treasure, exchanging treasure, moving, establishing base camp, or guarding a temple.  Each action type will cause you to spend a different number of action points, so you have to be careful.

The Action Point Allowance System takes randomness out of games by forcing players to decide what it is they want to do rather than rolling a die or drawing a card and following instructions.  The big problem with that, of course, is that you run the risk of inciting Analysis Paralysis.  It may be a coincidence that Analysis Paralysis and Action Points are both abbreviated to AP, but it’s an appropriate comparison.  That’s not to say that EVERY Action Point game has as many Action Points as Tikal – in Takenoko, you only get two – but still, decisions lead to slow play in people prone to Analysis Paralysis.  I do like this mechanism in games, but I tend to prefer it more streamlined down.

Let’s take a look at some of the top Action Point games on BGG.  You’ll see that it’s a very popular mechanism – every one of the games I’ll mention here is in the Top 100:

  1. Pandemic/Pandemic Legacy: The Pandemic system, first introduced with 2008’s Pandemic, has players using four actions on their turn.  This can be divided among moving, curing disease, treating disease, exchanging cards, or building research stations.  It was later adapted into a number of different games by the same designer, including Pandemic Legacy, Pandemic: The Cure, Forbidden Island, and Forbidden Desert.
  2. Through the Ages: In this 2006 civilization building game, players have a number of civil and military actions they can use on a turn.  These actions can include taking new cards, playing cards, increasing population, building mines or farms, constructing buildings, developing technology, and so on.  It was re-released in 2015 as Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization.  I enjoyed my only play of the original game, but I didn’t really get too in depth with it as we foolishly attempted it with four players in a coffee shop.  It’s one I really would like to play again.
  3. Blood Rage: In this very popular 2015 Viking game, players are taking turns taking actions, paying for them with Rage.  You start the game with 6 Rage, and can use it to invade, march, upgrade, quest, pillage, or pass (which costs all of your remaining Rage).  This is one I haven’t had the opportunity to try, but I’ve heard good things, so I probably should someday.
  4. Android: Netrunner: This 2012 LCG from Fantasy Flight is a reissue of the 1995 Richard Garfield classic CCG Netrunner.  It’s an asymmetric game, where one player is the Corporation, and the other is a hacker (known as the Runner) trying to get into their database.  The Corporation has three actions (known as clicks) to spend on his turn, while the Runner has four.  Each player has different things they can do, and both has the object of outwitting the other.  It seems like an interesting game, and yet another I should try.
  5. Dead of Winter: In this 2014 cooperative zombie avoidance game, players roll dice at the beginning of their turn.  The value rolled determines what you can do, and you can do one action per die you have rolled.  So you can attack, search, barricade, clean, attract, or use an ability.  It’s a different take on action points – you have as many actions as you have survivors plus one, but the values you roll may limit what you can do.  It’s a very fun game.
  6. Twilight Imperium (Third Edition): Fantasy Flight’s 2005 epic space 4X game is one that I have not played, nor do I know much about.  From my understanding, players first draft strategy cards, then take turns taking one action each until everyone has passed.  Since APAS is listed as a mechanism, I assume there’s only so many each player can take, but again, I really don’t know.  I should really play it sometime, but I’m a little scared off by the eight-hour play time.
  7. Descent: In this 2005 game (plus its 2012 second edition), players are playing out a fantasy adventure through fighting lots of nasty creatures.  On your turn, you get two actions – move, attack, use a skill, rest, search, stand up, revive someone else, open a door, close a door, or other special actions.  The heroes have these options, but one player is the Overlord, and has two actions for each monster – move, attack, open a door, close a door, or special actions.  Figuring out how to distribute your actions is a key part of the game, and makes it pretty tense.
  8. War of the Ring: This 2004 tribute to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien is quite epic in scope.  Each round, you’ll roll some action dice, and these tell you what actions are available each round – character actions, army actions, mustering, or events.  There are choices within these categories, but you only get one action per die (hence the inclusion in APAS).  This is another one I have yet to play.
  9. Kemet: This 2012 game is set in ancient Egypt, and you are basically just trying to expand your influence through conflict and invasion.  Each round, you get five action points to spend on buying power tiles, upgrading pyramids, praying, moving, attacking, or recruiting.  The game plays to 8 or 10 victory points.  It gets a lot of praise, but is one I’ve not tried and am not really eager to.
  10. Alchemists: This 2014 release is all about mixing ingredients and finding out what happens.  In each of the six rounds, players first bid on play order before distributing cubes out to the actions they want to take.  Possible actions include forging for ingredients, transmuting ingredients, buying artifacts, testing potions, selling potions, publishing theories, and debunking theories.  Finding the right combinations of ingredients is essential for success in the game, and an app assists with collecting information.  This is another I haven’t played but really want to.
  11. Railways of the World: Originally published as Railroad Tycoon in 2005 (and later retitled when the licensing rights were lost in 2009), this is a different version of Martin Wallace’s Age of Steam system.  On each turn, there are three actions rounds where players take turns building track, urbanizing, upgrading, delivering a goods cube, or taking a railroad operations card.  Through these, you are building your network of rails to try to earn the most money and points.  It’s a massive game.  I’ve played Railroad Tycoon once, but I really prefer Steam if you’re looking at different versions of Age of Steam.  It’s just a tighter game.
image from pinterest.com

Area Control/Influence is defined this way on BGG:

The Area Control mechanic typically awards control of an area to the player that has the majority of units or influence in that area. As such, it can be viewed as a sub-category of Auction/Bidding in that players can up their “bids” for specific areas through the placement of units or meeples.

For the archetype of this mechanism, we’ll look at El Grande.  This 1995 game from Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich pretty much defines the genre.  Over the course of nine rounds, players are spreading their caballeros around a map of Spain, attempting to have the most in a region at scoring time so they may score the most points.  Second and third place will often score as well, just not as many points.  There’s also a castillo you can score points for if you have the most there, but when it is empty, the caballeros there go to another spot on the board, so you have to be careful that someone doesn’t swipe control from you.

The area control mechanism is a good one as it forces people to prioritize.  The BGG definition makes the comparison to auction/bidding, and I think that is apt, but I tend to prefer area control as a whole because you get a very good visual representation of what you should be going for, as well as what others are going for.  It’s not always about having first or second place points, as in El Grande, but sometimes it’s all about just controlling the most regions in an area.  I will say that a lot of games have area control listed as a mechanism where I think it’s a stretch to include them, or it’s just a small part of the game.

With that said, here are some of the top games at BGG with the mechanism.  This is another one where all eleven I mention are in the BGG Top 100, and two of them have already been mentioned in this post (with another listed last time).

  1. Twilight Struggle: This 2005 Cold War inspired design from Jason Matthews and Ananda Gupta is all about trying to spread your influence around the world.  It’s a card-driven game where players are trying to gain control of different countries by having the most influence there.  Control enough countries, control the continent, control the world.  This is formerly the number one game on BGG, and it’s a very well-themed and mechanically strong historical game.
  2. Star Wars Rebellion: This 2016 Star Wars game from Fantasy Flight is a representation of the hide-and-seek game played by the Imperial and Rebel forces.  One player is the Rebellion, who has hidden their base somewhere on the board.  The Imperial player is trying to find it.  Having not played this one, I’m a bit unclear as to why it’s area control – the Imperials are hunting, but I don’t think it’s necessarily about controlling the different areas.  I could be wrong.
  3. Scythe: In this 2016 title from Stonemaier Games, players are trying to control 1920s Europe in the wake of the first world war.  It’s a kind of alternate history game, where huge mechs still dominate the skyline and can be used to help you.  The game is about trying to build an economic engine, and to do that, you have to spread your influence across the map.  Owning different territories makes you stronger and able to do more.  It’s a large and beautiful game, and I need to play sometime.
  4. War of the Ring: Our first cross-categorized game is War of the Ring.  In addition to rolling dice for actions, Sauron is trying to conquer enough cities of the Free Peoples to gain a military victory, whereas the Free Peoples are trying to conquer Sauron’s stuff.  While the Free Peoples are really trying to get the Ring to Mount Doom, and Sauron is trying to stop them, the area control element is there as a secondary way to gain victory – completely ignore one, and you can expect to lose.
  5. Blood Rage: Our second cross-categorized game is Blood Rage.  The main goal of the game is to gain glory, which can be gain through many different means, including pillaging areas and combat.  These are much easier when you have the most units in an area.
  6. Eclipse: This 2011 game by Touko Tahkokallio is a sprawling 4X game where you are trying to build the dominant galactic civilization.  There are a number of ways to accomplish this, one of which is through controlling a lot of colonies around the board.  I’m not sure it is really area control, but then, I’ve only played once and it’s been a while.
  7. Dominant Species: In this 2010 design by Chad Jensen, players are one of six species trying to evolve and dominate the food chain.  Terrain tiles come out every round, and players want to achieve dominance on each one in order to score the most points.  I still need to play it sometime.
  8. Five Tribes: This 2014 title from Bruno Cathala has lots of meeples on the map, and has players moving them around using a mancala mechanism.  Pick up all meeples from a tile and drop them on an adjacent tile.  Keep doing this until you drop the last meeple on a tile, then take all meeples of the color you placed (there must be more than one of that color and the final tile can’t be empty) and take the action associated with that color.  If a tile empties out, you now control it, which is where I suppose the area control aspect comes from.  I think calling this game an “area control” game is a little weak.
  9. Tigris & Euphrates: Reiner Knizia’s 1997 game is widely considered to be his masterpiece.  You are trying to build a civilization using farming, trading, religion, and government.  When two civilizations meet on the board, there is a conflict and the winner takes control of the losing civilization.  In the end, you’re going for points based on the color of cubes you have the fewest of, so while there is an area control aspect, I wouldn’t necessarily call this one an area control game either.
  10. Mombasa: This game was previously on the programming list.  From my understanding, you’re trying to gain control of trading posts around Africa, which I guess is area control.  I haven’t played and don’t know a lot about it, so I’m not sure about that.
  11. Troyes: In this 2010 dice allocation game, players are putting dice out in various areas to try to score the most points.  There are various cards and buildings you can place on, but the area control mostly comes from fighting the enemies, where the player who has contributed the most gets a bonus.

That will do it for today.  Thanks for reading!

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2 comments

  1. Similar to Pandemic, I always think of Flash Point when i think of using action points.

    Also, El Grande is still king of area control. Granted Ive never been clear on what area control is and isnt. Yet I still dont think Five Tribes counts.
    Anyway, have you tried Antarctica? Its sort of got an El Grande thing going with trying to dominate areas, but has an interesting turn order aspect.

    • Flash Point is an excellent example of action points, as are many of the cooperative games in the Pandemic vein – Burgle Bros, Defenders of the Realm, and Yggdrasil also come to mind.

      I think I concur that Five Tribes is not area control, especially if you use El Grande as the standard.

      I have not played, nor do I think I have heard of Antarctica. I’ll have to check that out. Thanks for the recommendation!

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