Gone are the days where every game gave every player the same starting setup and the same actions or abilities. More and more games these days come with factions who all have different powers, or if they all have the same, then they at least have a different starting setup. In this article, I want to look at those types of games where every player around the table basically plays a different game.
Some games use different starting conditions for different players as a way to counter the benefits players get due to turn order. The first player advantage is a generally accepted term that describes games where the first player will have a benefit over the second player, who will have a benefit over the third and so on, purely based on turn order. It's nothing to do with a player's experience of the game, but purely by going first, they will do better.
Often that has to do with having a wider choice, allowing the first player to pick the best card, the most resources or something else that's most beneficial, leaving the second player a lesser choice, who in turn will leave the third player an even lesser choice, and so on.
To counter that, some games give the second, third and later players a benefit that increases as you go around in turn order. So the first player gets nothing, the second player gets a small benefit, the third a bigger benefit and so on. Often this is extra money or some other resource that is used in the game.
However, it's not always about first player advantage. Some games let players start with different starting resources that are randomly chosen, but carefully balanced, so that nobody gets an advantage over other players. The difference in starting resources merely steers players down a certain strategic route, maybe making it more appealing to one player to go into sheep farming, while another player's starting resources make it easier for them to focus on building buildings.
Starting resources aren't necessarily coins, wood, energy or anything like that, but could also be cards or workers or maybe upgrades to a player character's abilities. In fact, many card games give players a starting hand, that's dealt from a shuffled deck, giving every player a different setup.
There is another way of creating some sort of asymmetry in a game and that is having factions or player characters that all have different abilities. These abilities aren't randomly assigned, but pre-defined to create a well-balanced set of options for players to choose from - or sometimes players are randomly assigned a faction or player character.
Suddenly, you don't just have different starting resources that can help you decide what to do at the beginning of the game, but you have something that's different to other players throughout the game. You might be better at building buildings than everyone else, but are worse at mining ore. You have to try and formulate a strategy around the abilities you've been given and, if your abilities cannot be changed during the game, you need to follow that strategy throughout.
That's different to starting resources, which can be used during the game, but still allow you to get whatever resources you need later in the game. Faction abilities are fixed, so if you're good at one thing, you need to focus on that.
Some games take this even further. Not only do you have a different starting setup and a faction that has different abilities to everyone else, but you also have different victory conditions. Suddenly you have to work out how you can use your advantages to get to the victory condition first, before everyone else.
Yet, the whole thing can be ratcheted up another level. There are games where every player follows different rules. You all play on the same board and maybe share the same resources, cards, etc., but what you can do on your turn is different, to a larger or smaller extent, to everyone else. Your victory condition may still be the same, such as being the first to reach 15 points, but how you score those points is different for everyone.
It sounds mad, but Leder Games are known for games like this. Root is probably one of the more famous examples of this type of game, where everyone plays on the same map, uses the same deck of cards and everyone tries to get to 15 points first, but every faction works really very differently. At the same time, you do interact a lot and you need to try and work together to stop whoever is in the lead from gaining any more points, but you still play your own game within the main game.
I definitely enjoy games where every player character is slightly different, be it just because of different starting resources or something else. It is almost like there are mini-expansions in the game, where each player chooses one for themselves, but we all still play together. It means that every game can be different, not because you try a different strategy or play with different people, but because of your starting resources, your faction or because something else changes each game.
What about you? Do you like games where every player is slightly different? Or do you prefer games where everyone is the same and you directly pit your wits against the other players? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I'd love to hear from you.