Nothing says gaming like putting down your dudes on a map and using them to take over space from your opponents’ dudes on a map. The area control genre is exciting and tense precisely because it puts the competition so directly in your face. While not all are zero-sum in the academic definition, it is certainly true that every parcel of land you take is a parcel denied your opponents. And vice versa. Here are three great games about conquest.
STARTER COURSE: EIGHT MINUTE EMPIRE
First up, let’s start with something light. A bit of an appetizer. And that is clearly Eight Minute Empire. While it takes a little longer than its name implies, it does pack a great area control experience into a short time table.
In 8ME, your goal is to control as much territory as possible. Each turn, there are several cards displayed. Some cost you nothing, while others cost some of your precious and rare coins. Each card gives you an action – they might add dudes to the board or move them into new territories. But each card also provides you with a particular good. And at game end, you get points for having goods of various types.
The result is an extremely interesting experience. From turn to turn, you want to take the cards that will give you the best mobility and the most dudes on the map. But you also need to think long term and take cards that will give you the best scoring goods. You also need to figure out when to play it safe and when to splurge on a high cost card. Those coins are hard to come by and heaven help you if you run out.
In all, you get a great area control experience with only about a twenty-minute time investment.
MAIN DISH: SCYTHE
Time for the main course. Scythe takes place in an alternative history where the post-World War I era has giant mechs dotting the countryside. In this title, you not only attack others and take land, but you have to manage your empire’s economy, ensure that you have enough laborers, and have adventures with your hero.
Each player starts with their own faction and each has a unique power. They also start with their own little territory. From there, though, the players must branch out and conquer oil fields, population centers, and mining areas in order to get the raw goods necessary to enhance their capabilities.
Scythe is a fantastic game where you take and hold territory. But that’s not all it’s about. Managing your economy so that you can build all of your mechs is critical. Meeting game ending conditions – like winning battles, fully upgrading, and completing quests – is critical to just about every strategy. In many ways, Scythe provides a similar feel to much longer civilization games. Making it an ideal candidate for Tabletop Day.
DESSERT: FIVE TRIBE
With the main course completed, it’s time for dessert. And when it comes to area control, that means Five Tribes. It isn’t area control in the traditional sense of conquering lands and fighting wars. Instead, it’s about managing various tiles and controlling which meeples will be on those spaces at all.
In this somewhat abstract title, you get a five by six area of various tiles, each seeded with different colors of meeples. On a turn, you pick up the dudes from a tile and drop them one at a time in a straight line. The place that you end provides you with an action. And the color of the last meeple you place also gives you a bonus ability.
It’s a little bit like mancala with special powers. You’ll move here and there, trying to accumulate various points. You’ll use your assassins to get rid of the other players’ viziers. And you’ll cleverly maneuver your way onto spots to grab the useful Djinn.
Five Tribes can be a little overwhelming at first. The rules are simple enough, but at the beginning of the game it can be hard to look through all the available options and figure out what helps you the most. Seemingly every tile can be used to go to a bunch of other tiles. But as the play progresses, you’ll see your opportunities narrow into something more manageable. And as players empty tiles and claim them for themselves, you’ll see your options become confined narrowly – where every move you take is calculated to deprive your opponents as much as benefit yourself.
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Feature Image: Stonemaier Games
Image Credits: Red Raven Games, Stonemaier Games, and Days of Wonder