Recently, I learned the ins and outs of a game called Kanban, designed by Vinhos creator Vital Lacerda (I was also going to add that we’re both Portuguese, but I’m guessing he was born on the mainland; I was born in Canada, and my parents were from the Azores, so the connection is thin). To say the game melted my brain is an understatement. There is so much to do, so much too learn. After playing the game twice, I am still unclear on specific elements (like end-of-week scoring), but despite that, I was still able to win on both occasions. By the second, I realized that someone proficient in the game’s mechanics could annihilate inexperienced opposition around the table, no matter how studied they were regarding the rules. And with a game like Kanban, it is vital that at least one person know the rules well enough to explain them to the rest (heh, vital in a Vital game, and yes, they are pronounced differently).
So, I got to thinking of the solution to this, and I realized it was the forming of teams.
Now, team-based board games are not rare, though they are not as common as you may think. Of course, there are party games like Codenames, but let’s ignore those for now. Let’s also eliminate the one-versus-all and traitor-mechanic games because for a team game to be a team game, there would have to be multiple players on both sides. Once you instigate those caveats, the number of titles remaining drops significantly. And no, I am not counting Dungeons & Dragons, because like I said previously, one player is not a team, and the GM doesn’t count as a “side” (despite players claiming otherwise).
Trust me, there aren’t many…well, maybe a few but most you probably haven’t heard about. The Phantom Society. Road Kill Rally. Even I haven’t heard of those. I’ve heard of X-Wing and Memoir ’44, so those are good examples. And of course, we’ve all played Axis and Allies at one point. Captain Sonar has recently grown in popularity. And…umm…Space Cadets: Dice Duel? 1812: Invasion of Canada? Trust me, there aren’t many, especially if you don’t want to get into miniature tabletop combat games like Warmachine or Warhammer (which you don’t, trust me).
Thankfully, any game with a disconnected point system (one where points are just points and not currency), can be made into a team game by simply eliminating half the point trackers. Players can still work on strategies to help one another, and when they are up on the turn order, decide amongst themselves who goes first, but beyond that, they do not share resources or achievements. They do share one point tracker—this a great suggestion when bringing in new players into tabletop. Instead of intimidating them or having their inexperience be the reason for their inevitable dreadful defeat, pair them with an experienced gamer, one that knows the rules.
However, and this is critically important, alpha gamers are not welcome here…unless that alpha player is the newcomer. This is about bringing people into gaming, not pushing them out.
With Kanban, this idea worked perfectly as its format (employees in an auto manufacturing plant) permits thematic justification for teamwork. A pair of friends get hired and wish to work together to impress the boss. We see it all the time. In fact, outside of direct combat games, virtually any euro game can be made to work with teams if employing single point trackers.
There are other examples, as well. Obviously, any one-versus-one game can be made into a two-versus-two game by having two players discuss strategy over a single player’s resources. I once had a two-versus-two game of Star Realms between two men against their two wives (that sounds weird, but…just…you know what I really meant). Each side shares a single authority pool, but each player operates their own decks.
The key is ensuring that there are ways on the board for one player to do something that assists the other player on the team. If two players on the same team can in no way assist the other, even in indirect ways, it’s not much of a team game. It also helps that, like in Kanban, there is a thematic justification for it. Talking about another Vital Lacerda game, Vinhos involves players running numerous wineries across the mainland of Portugal. Obviously, one pair of players can be partners owning several wineries across the country. It works even better with another wine game, Viticulture, where each player runs a single winery. Now players operate two owned by a single family, once again sharing a single point tracker.
Sticking with Stonemaier Games, there could be an argument made for teams in Scythe, but generally, its avoided. This changed, however, with the latest expansion, The Rise of Fenris, where forging an alliance and benefiting from team play is a critical component.
We all have players we wish we could get into board games, but most of the time, unless the game features massive random chance, that player is unlikely to feel the joy of victory. Employing teams may be the solution you are looking for.