Hello guys, Pedro here! I have been itching to write about modular games for a while and finally got the chance to do it.
So, I bet some of you are wondering what modular board games are. According to BGG, “play occurs upon a modular board that is composed of multiple pieces, often tiles or cards. In many games, board placement is randomised, leading to different possibilities for strategy and exploration. Some games in this category have multiple boards which are not used simultaneously, preserving table space. Unused boards remain out of play until they are required.”
The first games that come to mind for this are Catan and Carcassone, and they belong to 2 different sub-categories of modular board games:
- Those that start with all tiles in place, like Catan, Forbidden Stars or Five Tribes.
- Those that start with very few or zero tiles in place and grow as the game progresses, like Xia, Lagoon, Takenoko, Tsuro or Carcassone.
Both sub-categories have their charms, but what I really like about them both is that the playground is never the same every time you play, and sometimes the initial tile placement changes over time (Forbidden Stars, Lagoon, Elder Sign). This calls for players to adapt to the new circumstances and use previous experiences in the game in a more heuristic way rather than memorising exactly what to do to win the game every time. Additionally it brings almost unlimited replayability to the game. Few non-modular board games can achieve this. Some may say that some games achieve this through “global event cards” but these, although very fun to have, are far more abstract than board tiles that represent where you move during the game.
Some modular board games can be long, like Xia, but they are very rewarding, and depict a different story every time. I remember one time playing Forbidden Stars with Dylan, when I moved the warp in what looked like a defensive position and he basically ignored it for the turn, but I used that change in the board to my advantage and jumped the warp storm with my Chaos units and surprised him. I used a change in the terrain to my advantage, and it could happen again, but here is the thing: Not in the same way, because the playground will be different. He still won though }:-[
Some modular board games are also cooperative. Like Ghost Stories, Elder Sign or Forbidden Desert. Here you all have to work together and use previous experiences to try to use the terrain or board to your advantage and cooperation on this fact is key.
If you are looking for a short and sweet type of modular board games, try Saboteur, Bullfrogs or Tsuro. And if you are looking for longer and epic ones, try Descent, Imperial Assault, Xia, or Mice and Mystics. For a more comprehensive list of modular board games go here.
So tell us, what modular board games do you like? What awesome experiences come to mind? If you are a game designer, what difficulties do you see in making a game like this?