One of the great villains of Marvel Comics is the Kingpin. He is an humble import/export businessman…who behind closed doors likes to dabble in controlling New York City’s crime scene. There are many who want their piece of the mob pie, but the Kingpin was always the best at controlling the biggest slice.
With Wilson Fisk in mind, this week’s top 10 list is going to focus on area control games. This is a mechanism that I’m pleased to have discovered shows up in many different ways beyond the old Risk-style method.
Before I “control” this intro with too many words…let’s get into the list –>
#10 – Notre Dame
In Notre Dame, the area control is focused in on the center of the board — Notre Dame itself, which is a minor part of the overall gameplay. That said, players can’t simply ignore this small aspect of the game, because it could cause a huge swing in points if a player donates to the cathedral all alone.
#9 – Noxford
Noxford is a small card game with its core focus on area control. The theme is fun — rival “gangs” trying to gain control of the city. You will need to creatively position your cards and time your special abilities well…staying aware of who your opponents still have available that could counteract your plans. Small footprint, but solid area control fun!
#8 – New York Slice
In New York Slice, I love that the area control mechanism is essentially “toppings control” You don’t want to end rounds in this game as a casual buffet participant, mingling with a variety of pizza toppings. You need to focus on some favorites and ensure that you garner their points — proving your love of said topping is greater than any other.
#7 – Haven
Nature vs. Machine is the over-arching theme in Haven. The goal is to control as much of the land on behalf of your side as possible. In Haven, though, when you win a battle, you aren’t simply taking control of one area of the board. Instead, you are claiming a spot in Haven that may actually build towards your area control of two or three different segments. Careful timing of when battles take place (in strategic locations that will provide area control) make a huge difference. A pretty cool twist on the mechanism.
#6 – Smash Up
With multiple locations to potentially control and score, Smash Up is another great take on the area control concept. When do you let a location go…when is 2nd good enough…where do you need to put extra focus to complete and score in 1st? And all of this tag-teamed with a game in which you will be working to figure out the best way to utilize your smash-up of factions.
#5 – Pizza Theory
There’s something about Pizza Theory that makes my brain happy. In this game (of ideally three players), each of you will secretly choose a cut to make in the pizza. Then reveal, and all three cuts get made. The slices that form from these cuts will each get scored for pizza topping area control (white vs. red vs. green). The winner in each area will expand their toppings-dominance of the pizza. I love the puzzle of deciding where to cut that will allow you to gain more toppings than you lose….you can’t win them all each round. Stay focused and execute a solid strategy, though, and you will find all of your color’s toppings on the pie before too long.
#4 – BOO
BOO may be one of the smallest games I own, but I find it to be one of the most fun area control games I’ve played. One player is the white ghosts and one the black ghosts. Each turn, play a card from your hand in the location that will most effectively create scares that flip other cards — ideally turning those cards from mostly the ghosts of your enemy, to yours! A wonderful puzzle and very cute art.
#3 – City of Iron (Second Edition)
In City of Iron, area control is not about having more of the land, but being a better producer of the various elements in the game. Specifically, can you time your actions to be in control of gold…or fabric…etc…when scoring opportunities trigger? City of Iron is extremely tight and a huge brain burner, but the game itself is brilliant!
#2 – Root
Root is a wonderful blend of area control and asymmetry. Each faction in this game is vying for control, but not utilizing the same methods — not for the same purposes. In fact, some factions just want to sneak in and prosper from the fight, inserting themselves more directly just to keep any one side from becoming too powerful. I obtain a lot of joy from learning each faction — how to make it function at its best — and how to interact with the other factions and their goals. Great game!
#1 – The Rose King
And here we are…my #1 area control game. The Rose King is a simple game with a solid focus in area control. A 2-player game that is all about the back-and-forth of increasing one kingdom’s control of the land. Thematically, the goal in The Rose King is not to simply have the most quantity of land in control, but the best-connected territories. The idea is that power and control comes from controlling a unified territory.
A territory linked together by 12 districts will be more valuable, more powerful than three territories linked together by 6 districts each (executed via a “squared” scoring rule, i.e. 2×2, 3×3, 4×4, etc…) One of the strategic moments of this game is figuring out key moments to utilize your special ability cards, allowing you to flip control of a square from your opponent’s side to yours. Effectively done, you can cut up the opposing kingdom’s largest territory into smaller bites, while bringing two of yours together to make a single powerhouse.
Every once and awhile, I play an abstract game that is so tactically enjoyable that I love coming back to it again and again. The Rose King is just that.
There are plenty of great area control games that I have yet to play — if you have any suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments or send me a message on Twitter. Thanks, all!