In my last post, I kicked off my first blog series analyzing various board game mechanics. Specifically, the last post took a closer look at Dice Rolling and Card Drafting. There is no rhyme or reason by which I choose the mechanics to discuss, other than me thinking that they are worth writing about and taking suggestions submitted by you, the reader. For the next installment in this series, I’m going to examine the game characteristics of Press Your Luck and Acting.
Press Your Luck:
Whether you are rolling that extra turn in Zombie Dice, or signaling the dealer for a “hit” in Blackjack, the Press Your Luck mechanic brings out one of our most basic human challenges we face regularly – risk management. This is something we do every day in our lives, though we seldom notice it. How fast over the speed limit can I get away with? How many times can I hit snooze without being late to work? Some of us are risk averse, while some of us like to see how close to the line we can get. There’s a feeling you get when having to weigh the risk of the great reward versus the agony of losing everything, all hinging on that additional dice rolled or card drawn.
It is the risk management element of this mechanic that is so interesting to me. How well you know your opponents influence your game play. In the case of the Dealer in Blackjack (assuming you don’t know the dealer), you may have to focus on your hand much more than anything else. Conversely, a game like Zombie Dice can change your game strategy considerably based on how risk averse your friends are. We all have a line of risk we have to decide whether or not to cross when it comes to pressing our luck, and these games are always a safer way to get that out of our system than in a Las Vegas. How many casino movies have there been with a large group huddled around the Craps table cheering for that one person who is good at nothing but rolling sevens? While my appetite for risk typically ends on game night, casinos have thrived by using this mechanic for many years.
Although the Press Your Luck mechanic is a simple way to add fun to any game, I’ve found that it is most prevalent in filler games. Players who like game nights filled with more strategy and longer game play development might not enjoy the quick “high risk, high reward” that this mechanic adds. In games where the marquee feature is Press Your Luck, more often than not you are playing your opponent more than anything. We all have that one friend who always goes for the gold. Every turn, no matter what, they will roll and roll because they’re “feeling it” as they assure you that the last four turns were just a fluke. On the other hand, we have all experienced a friend or foe who always plays it safe, even in the face of ultimate defeat. I think that is why I enjoy these games so much. Every player is faced with the same simple decision, yet our differences influence that one decision on every turn. Because this mechanic is typically found in filler games, I’ve found that it yields the highest amount of excitement relative to the amount of playing time.
Acting is another mechanic that uses player psychology within a game’s structure. This mechanic can be defined as the act of pretending or even deceiving through the use of body language, speech, or hand signage as a means of communication in order to influence the outcome of a game. Acting can most clearly be seen in the game of Charades. While not technically a “board game”, the basic premise of Charades is entirely based off of this mechanic. It would be a travesty not to mention such an obvious example.
This mechanic also takes form on a different level. While most board games don’t have acting specifically included in gameplay, a lot of people seem to use this mechanic to gain advantages. Just like reading your opponent in poker, we can all think of times we have made strategy adjustments based off of seeing people’s emotions play out around the gaming table. We know this to be true, and at times we have taken advantage of this by throwing people off with our body language.
On a more direct note, murder mystery games are great examples that showcase the acting mechanic. Everyone plays a different role, and the more people get into character, the more fun the night ends up being. While these games are definitely more social than others, I’ve found that they cater to groups, couples, and people with diverse backgrounds (e.g. people who usually don’t like playing board games). You’d be surprised how much you get to know your in-laws by sitting around a dinner table pretending to be mobsters from Italy trying to solve a murder (not even kidding). I think this mechanic is great for people trying to break out of their gaming shell. So many times people get caught up in the strategy of gaming and winning at all costs. This mechanic is perfect for getting people to relax and focus more on having fun than winning.
What are your favorite Press Your Luck games? Are you a fan of games that feature the Acting mechanic? My next blog in this series will go over Voting and the use of Modular Boards.