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E14 | Games | Dude, You're On My Map

After covering Nelson's favorite genre in Episode 12 it is time to cover Dalton's favorite: COMBAT. Specifically in the form of Area Control and Dudes on a Map games. We talk through the politics of combat-heavy games and offer some excellent recommendations for this tricky genre. As always we sample some tasty drinks this episode and share our experience with a personal GenCon. We hope you enjoy!


What's on our Flight (00:56)

  • Dalton’s drinking: Basil Hayden. A bourbon distributed by Beam, aged 8 years. A dark-fruit nose, smokey taste, and spicy rye finish. This is a great bourbon to explore if you are willing to push in to the ~$45 price point.

  • Nelson's drinking: Creature Comforts Brewing Co's Tropicália. This fruity IPA has brewed in Athens, GA is becoming one of Nelson's favorite beers. It is also one of Thor's favorites from Avengers: Endgame!


What's On Our Table (05:21)

The answer to the question what's been on our table is, A LOT. Specifically because Nelson hosted a local "GenCon" for family and friends since everyone's favorite convention was canceled this year. In the episode we talk through several of our favorites that hit the table, all of which you should try if you get a chance! Nelson personaly played about 27 hours of games from Thursday through Sunday. Here is a list of the games we talked through in the episode in case there is a specific game you are wanting to look in to:


The icebreaker question for this episode was submitted by Tucker (20:16)

What makes a good set of instructions? What are the games with the best instructions and/or with the worst?

  • The Worst: Spirit Island, Great Western Trail

  • The Best: Twilight Imperium, Through the Ages

A rule book needs to describe how to play the game and provide reference when playing the game to help resolve confusion. Instructions and wording need to be consistent to prevent misinterpretation. A reference card or summary is always helpful, but the community has made player aides available online for download that are far better than what comes in stock in most games.

Tucker, thank you so much for the submission! If you are looking for us to answer a question, submit your question here.


Discussion starts at 29:23 in the episode

This topic was difficult to put a boundary around, but at its core we are exploring in this episode games with defined areas where the goal of the game is to control these areas, specifically more than the other players. This often provides you with the income, power, or victory points to win out over the other players. There are 3 types of games that vaguely fit this description, 2 of which we are including in our discussion here:

  1. Area Control, where players apply influence to territories on the board and are rewarded when they carry more influence than other players. In these games, players are often allowed to "share" territory, with rewards or benefits going to the player or players with the most influence in the area.

  2. Dudes on a Map (DoaM), which sounds funny but is actually not a term we made up. This category is very similar to Area Control, but is distinguished by players being unable to "share" territory. These games are easily identified by the presence of a combat mechanic.

  3. Wargames, a highly tactical category that mimics combat between players, often with the objective being elimination of the opponent(s). Wargames are distinct from the previous two categories in that there are no or few mechanics outside the combat mechanic. The point of the game is to fight, and that's what you do!

We are including Area Control and Dudes on a Map in our discussion for this episode since Wargames are primarily designed for 2 players and we want to include complex player interactions in our analysis.

Some of our favorite Area Control / DoaM games are highly rewarding for the political dramas that unfold over the course of the game. These games are epic, often spanning several hours and huge power swings. They are memorable and pit players wits against each other, each struggling to survive and come out on top as the victor. For that reason they can be well worth the effort of owning, teaching, and organizing games with multiple players.

On the downside, the complex player interactions can lead to messy and confusing rule sets, so these games are often a heavy teach. This can significantly decrease the experience of a new player, especially if they get bullied out of the game early on. Many of these games contain the possibility of either total or functional player elimination, which can create an difficult atmosphere and experience for some players. Finally, with high player counts, long playtimes, and difficult rule sets, these games are often hard to schedule with a game group.

All that said, we find the genre highly rewarding and one of Dalton's personal favorites! Many of the downsides can be avoided with careful design, and the high barrier to entry can be combated by owning only a few of these games and committing multiple plays. So with that, here are our recommendations to meet your desired complexity level!

Recommendations start at 44:26 in the episode

Low Complexity

  • Nelson: Shogun. This is one of the few DoaM games that you do not feel bad losing! It is random enough to be fun, lighthearted, and exciting, while being predictable enough to encourage strategy. The game strikes a delicate balance in randomness that is rewarding to play. One of the best parts of the game is the combat mechanic! It is quick to play, easy to explain, and inherently fair while maintaining unpredictability. We highly encourage this game as an introduction to DoaM games for yourself or new players. MEC: M - 7.5, E - 7, C - 6.5, Overall: 7.2.

  • Dalton: El Grande. Also known as, "The Big." This is one of the grandfathers of Area Control and is Area Control at its core, so it makes a great introduction to the genre. El Grande is very easy to learn and become engaged in, with most of the rules centralized in a stack of action cards that can be explained as they come up. An excellent pick if you can find it for sale! MEC: M - 8, E - 6.5, C - 4.5, Overall: 6.9.

Medium Complexity

  • Dalton: Smallworld. One of my first picks for a game I would love to play more of! Smallworld is a lighthearted bloodbath, dropping players in a fantasy world where races continually fight over limited territory. The races are up for draft throughout the game and are paired with an ability, creating hundreds of unique combinations for varied play. Best of all, if you do not like the race you are playing, you can send your current race in to "decline" and pick a new one! In fact, you will end up doing this several times throughout the game, creating turmoil on the board that offers a truly unique experience. MEC: M - 7.5, E - 7, C - 8.5, Overall 7.5.

  • Nelson: Bloodrage. This game has absolutely excellent theming and components, set as a conflict between viking clans. Bloodrage mates DoaM with card drafting, allowing players to draft powers to further their quest for glory! Unfortunately the game feels like it requires 4 players, so think through who your play group might be before making the investment. MEC: M - 8, E - 8, C - 9.5, Overall 8.2.

High Complexity

  • Nelson: Dune. One of our newest played games and one we both agree needs to be played much more! Dune is based on the novel of the same name by Frank Hubert, so it gets a STRONG win in the "theme" category. This game feels like Cosmic Encounters meets a DoaM game, with completely asymmetric experiences in the player factions and a strong political presence due to a prevalent Alliance mechanic. The game does a great job of helping players never feel like they are out of the game, with quick power swings and an ever-changing landscape. Definitely check this game out if you are looking to up your game in this genre! MEC: M - 8, E - 7.5, C - 8.5, Overall 7.8

  • Dalton: A Game of Thrones: The Board Game. How could I not recommend this game? Phenomenal theming, action programming, and a non-random combat mechanic, this game checks almost all of my boxes. There is a strong political aspect to this game, especially when played with tradable power tokens (which we highly recommend). There is player elimination and the play time can be long, so this game works best when players know what they are getting in to. It is incredibly rewarding when played well so the game time and barrier to entry is entirely worth the effort! MEC: M - 8.5, E - 9.5, C - 7, Overall 8.7.

Thanks for reading! Let us know what your favorite Area Control / Dudes on a Map game is in the comments!


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