Some thoughts on Card Drafting

I decided to get back into board gaming, and ended up getting or playing the following games recently:

Last time I tried a board game was 2012. My girlfriend set up a surprise birthday for me over where we played a new game I had bought on a whim, Lords of Waterdeep (BGG Rank #51).

I am mentioning these games because all of those games happen to use a game mechanic I hadn’t seen when I was a serious board gamer in the 1980’s: card drafting. However, card drafting is a very popular mechanic today. In fact, over one third of the top 100 games on Board Game Geek use it!

The first time I had even seen this mechanic was when I ran across an early euro game known as Web of Power from 2000. Someone corrected me and said that, “there’s quite a number of earlier examples of drawing from a pool of face-up cards than WoP.” Well it was new to me in 2000!

Indeed almost 7600 games have been categorized as using the mechanic, and there are some examples in the early 1900’s using it, but nobody has heard of those games. This got me curious as to what are the earliest examples that might have influenced game designers?

Using the top 1000 as the cutoff, it looks like the first game to have this mechanic was El Grande in 1994. The next year, it won the Spiel des Jahres which must be what got people adding it to eurogames. That same year it looks like Wizards of the Coast modified Magic: The Gathering to create their smash hit Pokémon. Soon we find Elfenland, the Spiel des Jahres winner in 1998, Kahuna, a Spiel des Jahres recommended title in 1999. and Union Pacific, a Spiel des Jahres nominee also in 1999. This is followed by the aforementioned Web of Power which shares its birth year with Taj Mahal, Citadels, and  La Città, all four became Spiel des Jahres recommendations. Wow! Thanks, El Grande, and I guess, Pokémon!

Card Drafting, where have you been all these years?

My guess is if Illuminati (1982), a game I played as a kid, were made today, it would have that mechanic in it. But instead it has card drawing and then playing from the hand. In fact, Fog of Love has that same mechanic, and this is not actually card-drafting. And I think this explains is why the card-drafting mechanic is so popular: it adds an element of strategy through public information (you can choose to draft a card instead of drawing by luck). Games have moved into euro mechanics that want more public-facing strategy and less private hand-holding random draws, so we see more and more card-drafting.

Web of Power actually allows a choice/tradeoff: public drafting of a known card or private drawing of a random card. That’s something to keep in mind because I happen to think that balance between random ameritrash and dry eurogame mechanics are needed to make a good game today.

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