Friday Night Shots – Asymmetry in Games

We’re back to Canadian Club after some Crown Royal over the last week or two.

That’s not bad, of course. It’s a mainstay!

But maybe that’s why I’m thinking about asymmetry in boardgames for this Friday Night Shot.

Or maybe not.

Actually, the reason I’m thinking of it is because of a post from fellow blogger No Rerolls, who did a Throwback Thursday to an old post about asymmetric games.

I haven’t read the old post yet. I didn’t want it to influence what I’m going to say and look like I was copying (but really, you should check out that blog. It’s a good one).

I got to thinking, with the brain cells that are left, what is it that we like so much about asymmetric games?

Or, if you hate them, why do you hate them?

Of course, the best example I can think of just off the top of my head is the wonderful Root by Leder Games and Cole Wehrle.

Lots of lizards out there…

Root (and its many expansions) is a game about control of the Woodland map (but the expansions have offered different maps!) with every faction having its own way of doing things and its own way of getting points.

The game is a race to 30 points (unless somebody starts going for a Domination victory, but that’s different) and each faction does its own thing.

Nasty birds!

The Eyrie is trying to build roosts in a bunch of clearings but its restricted by its “decree,” where you have to play cards to it and then do those actions each turn. If you are unable to, you go into Turmoil, lose a bunch of points, and have to begin again (though your roosts remain).

The Cats are just basically trying to take over everything and build its own buildings. The Lizards are trying to put out gardens and they can also go on crusades.

The Lizard zealots – interesting to play, but hard to master

This can make the game a bit hard to teach because each player has to understand what their own faction does. If you’re teaching the game, you have to understand all of them and be able to communicate it.

That’s actually kind of the nature of asymmetry, when it’s taken to its broadest extreme.

Root is often considered a wargame/COIN game in regular boardgame clothing, and I can see that.

COIN games are “counter-insurgency” games, which brings me to the next part of the topic.

COIN games (all published by GMT Games, I believe) have the same thing where each faction has its own ability and goals, and way to score victory points.

I’ve only been able to play two COIN games so far, and neither one was really done right, so I can’t comment too much on them.

Except that they were fun, and I really wish I could go to Buckeye Game Fest and learn from the masters at The Players’ Aid.

But Cube Libre is one of the more basic ones, with four factions dealing with revolution in Cuba.

COIN games are the epitome of asymmetric games because each faction is completely different.

As I mentioned, I’ve played two and I own two more that I haven’t gotten played yet (we really need to rectify that) but they are what I truly think of when I think of asymmetry in games.

Then there are little touches of asymmetry which aren’t enough to offend eurogamers but still offer a bit of difference and replayability.

A recent example of that, in a minor sense anyway, is Corrosion, where everything you do is the same for each player, but each player starts with a small deck of engineers that are slightly different than everybody else.

There’s not a lot of difference, but the “suits” (colours) for each engineer are different in each starting hand, so maybe you won’t be able to follow an action as well as you would otherwise.

This is a minor case of asymmetry.

A bit more of a case is made in Garphill GamesArchitects of the West Kingdom.

If you are not playing the “everybody starts the same” method (which kind of sucks in my opinion, but that may be the Canadian Club talking), then each player starts with a character that has different abilities and starting resources.

Clotilde can spend a virtue to get a Clay (I’m not sure why you would want a Clay, as that is the most useless resource in the game? I tease…I don’t necessarily agree with the BGG thread that I’m linking to) while Arnulf can count the Princess as a worker when going to an action space if you are using the Works of Wonder expansion.

These abilities make for an interesting game because they can guide you into a path of how you want to play the game.

If you are playing Clotilde, then maybe you want to build a lot of buildings that require Clay?

I don’t know.

The different starting resources and position are actually more interesting. Arnulf has three workers in prison already but also has 6 Virtue and 3 Clay. Clotilde starts with 13 virtue! But has a debt already that must be taken care of.

This is the kind of asymmetry that I really love.

Minor starting differences that just kind of guide you.

Not that I don’t love COIN. I have enjoyed the plays I have and I want to play more.

But this kind of asymmetry is my jam.

What if you don’t like asymmetry? If you find it boring and pointless?

Many classic board games have no asymmetry at all.

Chess, the only difference at the start is that White goes first.

Othello doesn’t have any starting differences other than first player (I don’t actually know what that is, since that would require….what is that word….oh yeah, research).

Many people say that a touch of asymmetry, like mentioned for Architects of the West Kingdom or even Viscounts of the West Kingdom (seriously, I’m not in love with Garphill Games or anything…don’t read too much into that), is the perfect way to ensure replayability.

Others say that you don’t need asymmetry to keep playing games again and again.

I know Chess players would say that they don’t need asymmetry at all! Though I think it would be cool if maybe the white pawns had different abilities than the black pawns.

Or maybe not.

To summarize (I should probably do that since I’m kind of rambling), I think a bit of asymmetry is cool and makes for a highly replayable game. It’s nice to have different starting abilities and resources.

Even highly-asymmetrical games are pretty cool, but they are hard to teach.

For me, I don’t know how often I would play a game where nothing changes at the beginning.

Ok, I should amend that.

7 Wonders Duel actually doesn’t have any asymmetry at all and I love that two-player game.

So I would play games that don’t have that at the beginning. But adding a touch of asymmetry does add that bit of spice that makes games really appealing.

How much is too much?

I don’t know if I have a limit yet. I haven’t had much experience with the highly asymmetrical games like the COIN ones to say whether or not its too much.

I don’t think so, as I have loved the COIN games I’ve played so far.

But the sweet spot for me is the “everybody gets something different at the beginning” thing.

And so many of my favourite games have that (like Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition and its corporations).

What’s your limit on asymmetry? Do you like highly asymmetric games? Do you hate them? What’s your limit?

Let me know in the comments (and also let me know what your favourite whiskey or other spirit is).

9 Comments on “Friday Night Shots – Asymmetry in Games

  1. I think you know what I am going to say!
    I would differ that Root is “COIN with fursonas”, as someone once referred to it (I’ve forgotten where).
    Both are asymmetric games, but cards are used in a completely different way in COIN games; also the sequence of play is such that only 2 of 4 factions get to go each turn, while in Root everyone gets a turn every time.
    And I don’t drink anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is true, and yes I did know what you were going to say 🙂

      It’s more “inspired by”, I think. I wouldn’t call them the same.

      Thanks for stopping by! I always enjoy your comments


  2. If I were re-writing the older post today, Root would feature heavily in it. I’m really loving Root and am keen to start exploring the expansions.

    I have a couple of COIN games but I just cannae get them to the table.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did go back and read the post once I was done. It was good! But yeah, can definitely tell it was written before Root came out 🙂

      Thanks for the inspiration!


    • Oh yeah, Caesar vs Gaul! I’d forgotten that one. I need to get it to the table one of these days.

      And thanks for the kind words. It’s one reason I’ve been doing these regularly again.


  3. Pingback: Expansion Review – Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition – Discovery & Foundations – Dude! Take Your Turn!

  4. Asymmetry in board games… the rare thing I like as much as the Friday Night Shots series!
    It makes things a little more complex, but as you say, by providing guidance it also makes them easier.
    And you kinda get several games in one box – saves money and shelf space!
    Anyway, before I repeat more of your excellent points: My spirit of choice is rum. A solid and affordable option (both for mixing and for drinking on the rocks/neat) is the 7-year old Havana Club – not available in the US for embargo reasons, but Canada should be fine 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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