Variant: It’s the [Card/Dice] Version!
It’s not too common, but every so often a successful property goes through a reorganization. I’m not talking about re-themes, which seem to happen much more frequently (especially among the Munchkin series). Instead, I’m thinking about when a board game becomes a dice game or a card game. Sometimes all you get is “Ra: the Dice Game“, but usually titles are a little more interesting.
In the past, I’ve seen these versions be very hit or miss. Changing an epic, board-driven narrative game like Arkham Horror into a short, dice-driven game like Elder Sign really changes the feel of it. The dice mean that player choice is reduced as game time speeds up, and that’s really the trade off. Elder Sign is one of my preferred reorganized games, because I’m willing to play a somewhat less interesting game if it means I can finish it in a reasonable period. Arkham Horror is awesome, but it just takes a long time and I don’t always have or want to commit that much time.
A little bit different is San Juan. This card game version of Puerto Rico does an excellent job of keeping the feel of the original game. The role selection is appropriate to the cards and provides a lot of the same consideration as in Puerto Rico (i.e. – you need to be careful what you leave available for an opponent).
But somehow converting the relatively developed and choice-laden Puerto Rico into a card game lost something. It isn’t immediately apparent. In fact, I loved San Juan for many, many plays. But after about two dozen games, two really dominant strategies started to emerge. In my games, the winner always adopted one of the two strategies and – as we were all essentially equal skill – it really came down to who got the cards they needed and could play them quickly. I wouldn’t call it a “broken” game, just one that I ultimately felt had been “figured out.”
This is not a problem with Puerto Rico. There may be a few dominant strategies, but the methods of implementing them are varied and there is more opportunity for players to damage their opponents (by, for example, loading up ships with goods and forcing opponents to discard goods). So the change over to a card game ultimately introduced mechanical problems not present in the board game.
And, of course, there are games like Roll Through the Ages, which are so far divorced from the source material that it is really just trading on the name. Like a “brought to you by Quentin Tarantino” movie. RTTA is a great game, but it is so unlike Through the Ages that it isn’t even comparable.
So, in my own humble experience, the reorganized dice/card version of a great board game always have problems. Knowing this, what did I do? Why, I put Tournay, the card game version of Troyes, on my b-day list. Even though I may find faults when comparing these games to their progenitors, ultimately I enjoy them enough to keep coming back. As long as they are named something creative. I’m not buying anything that puts “: the dice game” at the end. That’s just lazy.