A mod for a large class of board games

Have you noticed how there’s an external factor that is largely decided for social rather than tactical reasons and massively influences the tactics and strategy of a large number of games you play?

No? Are you sure? You probably have. Most people who play board games regularly will have commented on it at least once.

This factor is of course where you’re sitting. More accurately, the order in which you’re sitting.

We noticed this most recently playing citadels – I was acting as a spoiler between two players who are normally more evenly matched but one was now consistently winning by a large margin. We’re not sure this is a seating order effect (though we were sitting in the same order each time), but it seems a plausible culprit. I’ve definitely noticed a strong seating order effect in the past when playing scrabble – what the player before you is willing to pass on makes a massive difference. If you have two equally matched players and one inexperienced player, the one who comes after the inexperienced player gets a huge advantage.

I have an idea for how to offset this. I don’t know how well it would work, but it should be pretty easy to try: You randomize the order of play each turn.

The exact mechanism of doing this depends a bit on the game in question. e.g. citadels has a different turn structure from scrabble. Most games are more like scrabble than citadels and can use that variant unmodified.

The basic tool is the same though: A set of cards, one for each player. When you need to decide turn order, you shuffle them and deal them out face up. Play proceeds in that order.

(For Citadels, play starts with the King as usual, but the characters are then passed around in player-card order rather than seating order).

For something like scrabble where people are actually taking turns you’d instead want to deal out the cards, play in that order, then when you get to the end shuffle and deal again.

The scrabble one does change the character of the game somewhat because you no longer have a fixed number of plays occurring between each of your turns (though it averages out) – potentially you can even get to play twice in a row. For Citadels I think this should matter much less.

Other variants:

  • Play the cards face down so you don’t know who comes after you
  • (For the scrabble version) Play with two sets of player cards. Deal both out face up, one after the other. When you complete the first one, shuffle it and deal it on the end of the other one. This means that you always know when your next turn is going to be so it’s a little more predictable.
  • (Also for the scrabble version) Have a deck with multiple copies of each player card. Shuffle these all together and draw from the top to determine whose turn it is. This changes the game a lot more, and makes it much more random. It might be interesting but it’s probably not going to be that good (see also Richman Scrabble).

I haven’t tried any of these yet. I’ll report back on if they’re any good if I do.

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