51 Mechanics: Variable Player Powers


BoardGameGeek (BGG) is a singular repository of gaming information, knowledge and wisdom that has been serving the modern board game hobby since 2000. I consult it regularly and have used its database to manage my own game collection. I also used it when I was writing my 2016 book on gamified instruction, particularly with regard to the game mechanics that BGG identified and organized content into. While there are more than 85,000 games, even now, there are just 51 mechanics. Since every mechanic offers something to the teacher who wants to use games in the classroom, I'm going to use this section of Game Level Learn and my own contributions to it to assess games from each of these 51 mechanics. Next up?


I'm not going to lie. Variable Player Powers is one of my top 5 mechanics. First, I love that there's the deep connection to roleplaying games that this mechanic represents with each player having a unique character or perspective. Second, the variability of each game is maximized in this mechanic because you've got so many characters to choose from generally that no games play the same. Last of all, these games give players different angles of attack when coming up with strategies and perspectives to achieve victory. Each of the games on this list is a classic in many ways (the lowest ranked, at 184, is Small World, one of the top 50 games of the past twenty years without question, at least in my perspective). They are great for the gamifying teacher because they give you an example of how to create perspective in the context of game play.

7 Wonders (BGG Rank: 42)

In 7 Wonders, each player is trying to construct one of the great ancient wonders like the Pyramids or the Colossus. Each of these wonders is looking for a particular combination of materials for successful construction. As a result, players direct their building along certain lines that are different than other wonders. This helps create a productive balance in the game and to give each player a plausible pathway to victory that is uniquely theirs. 7 Wonders is one of the great classics of modern gaming and keeps paying dividends the more you play.

Battlestar Galactica (BGG Rank: 62)

Baked into the perverse DNA of this classic game is the idea that different characters have different unique or specialized powers. Every character, from the Admiral to the lowliest pilot, can have a game-changing impact on this game. Because this game is based on a television program that was uniquely excellent at creating meaningful characters, the gameplay is exciting and believable right from the start. The social dynamics of this game make it rather different from the others on this list as well.

Dead of Winter (BGG Rank: 64)

The most "Galactica-like" of the other games on this list, Dead of Winter is a sort of cross between Galactica and a story like The Walking Dead with a bit of 28 Days Later thrown in for good measure. You are trying to survive the zombie apocalypse in a snow-bound settlement with just a few too few resources for anyone's good. Aaand, begin...

Small World (BGG Rank: 184)

In Small World, you represent a particular civilization during your turn composed of two identities - an adjective (Bivouacking, Forest-Dwelling) and a noun, representing some kind of fantasy race (Halflings, Skeletons). The way these two identities interact with each other and how each player's unique perspective interacts with each other is at the heart of game play. Players are obligated to take on a variety of identities throughout the game, which makes the interactions and relationships that much more fun...or insane, depending on your point of view.

The Grizzled (BGG Rank: 292)

One of the most challenging of all cooperative games, in The Grizzled, you take on roles associated with a French combat team in World War I. The object is to endure and survive while dealing with being bombed and starved and scared out of your wits. With a unique artistic style and a compelling, simple narrative, this game is worth even more attention than it gets.

Cover image from: [https://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/2371549/grizzled