The Mechanics: I Split, You Choose

Welcome to the first instalment of The Mechanics, a new monthly feature where I will look at an interesting boardgame mechanic and see how it can be used/re-purposed for video games. The idea is to see what is available out there for the plundering and see if we can come up with something quite cool.

While I will focus on specific mechanic, I might take small detours every once in a while into families of games and shift the focus a little bit in those, by looking at how some principles of video games can be applied to them.

Stick around, hopefully this will be a very interesting series. I know it will be for me!

Core Idea

In its simplest form, the “I Split, You Choose” mechanic is simply one where one player takes goods (be they cards, actions, resources, whatever), splits them into several piles (usually equal to the number of players) however they wish and then offers the choice to take one pile to the other players, keeping the last pile for themselves.

This very simple mechanics offers some interesting choices: if you make the two piles too lopsided, then the other player will take it from you, leaving you with the worst of the two (or more) pile. If you make them too even, you won’t get what you need/want. It’s all about reading what the other player wants/need and what they are likely to do.

The first game in which I saw this mechanic was in San Marco (Ravensburger – by Alan R. Moon and Aaron Weissblum), in which the player who’s turn it was took two types of cards (actions and limits) and divided them in several piles. The players would then use the cards to take several actions following the limit cards that they had (for example, with a 3 limit card and a Place card, the player would be able to Place 3 cubes in a single location), in an effort to gain majorities in various district. It is an excellent game that is unfortunately out of print.

The pair of designers then re-took the mechanics and created a deck of card version, Canal Grande (Adlung Spiele). Although the game was a 2 player affair this time, it was perhaps more cut-throat (and not less) than the original and it held its own against the original game.

This core mechanic has been explored by a few other games, such as Die Pyramiden des Jaguar (which had one player selecting two number cards, so that the other player would select one of them to build a pyramid in increasing numerical order), Dragon Valley (divide units and buildings to defend against an oncoming horde, kind of like a tower defense game) and Piece o’ Cake (where the players build a cake by using cards as slices and then take turns taking pieces). I haven’t had a chance to play these games so all I can really say about them is that they use a variation of the San Marco mechanics.

There is certainly some room to improve/tweak the core formula, perhaps by introducing a “poison pill” along the lines of the Calamity cards of the original Civilization, which would be put into one of the pile, making an attractive offer perhaps less inviting. This would be especially powerful if the other players did not know what was in the piles, just the size of the piles. Another variation on this would be to show only one card/resource and simply telling how many other elements but not their content.

The objects can be anything, including actions (instead of having a fixed list of actions the players can do, use cards to dictate what they can do), resources or even victory points. Depending on the game, having piles of goods being a mix of straight up victory point and resources would cause some pause for the player who chooses first

From paper bits to digital bits

The most obvious application of this game mechanic is actually about the end of a “mission” or the loot distribution. Instead of having either all players getting the same loot from a fallen enemy/as a mission reward, or have the players arrange distribution themselves by having people pick stuff in a first-come-first-served basis, have a random player/player with the lowest level/did the least damage/etc. divide up the loot, with another player being the first one to pick on portion of the loot. This little tweak would help with coop aspect of a game, allowing the players to make whatever deal they want.

This method is not necessarily limited to looting in coop/multi games. It can also be used in CCG-type games where the players win a pack of new cards at the end of a game. Instead of having each player win a pack, split open a pack and have the loser divide up the cards however they see fit, with the winner having first pick.

Less of a video game adaptation and more of using this mechanic with another known mechanic, this could be used in a deck-building game, with players adding to their deck through this mechanic instead of buying/picking specific cards. Would still allow for picking a direction, but would be a little more challenging. 

Happy Gaming!

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