I love tableau building games. I find the idea of growing my own little creation from next to nothing to a sprawling interstellar empire, a city, or a whole civilization absolutely irresistible. This love is probably why I suffer through hardships I would otherwise find insufferable.
There’s something deeply satisfying in the whole process of building your own tableau in a game. You build a large engine – or a set of smaller ones – and then watch in satisfied glee how this creation of yours produces a specific effect, be it resources for even greater growth, or victory points. The problem is that all this usually comes with a price.
If you know me as a gamer, then you probably know that Through the Ages is my all-time number one game, and with its new edition it seems that TTA will remain my favourite for life. However, this does not change the fact, that only under a gun would I play it with four players, and I’d propose at least ten other games before sitting down over TTA with three.
The problem is that after a few turns, Through the Ages becomes insufferably long, even if you use all of the tricks proposed in its rulebook. And it’s only natural, as the game could almost be a poster child for a problem plaguing other tableau builders, albeit to varying extents.
You’ll notice it after some time of playing, two turns into Imperial Settlers, three to four turns into Deus, four to five in Glory to Rome. You’ve already added a few cards; you are producing more stuff, making more points, gaining new ground and… waiting longer and longer for your next turn. Few games will test your patience as much as Through the Ages will, but you’ll still have counted all of the bricks in the pub wall before the game end in Imperial Settlers, even if you won’t have the time to name them all.
All that seems natural: the more you build into your tableau, the more options you will have. With new additions to your tableau, you will have more gears turning, more engines producing whatever they were built to produce. You’ll get more actions and more resources – more stuff to manage – so it’s only natural, that you’ll spend more time over your personal gaming space each turn.
Still, there are games that allow you to both build a tableau, and not spend more and more time managing it every turn. To find them, you can look to the classics like Puerto Rico or San Juan, to the fabulous 7 Wonders – or to more recent productions like Roll for the Galaxy and Tiny Epic Galaxies.
The games mentioned above manage to do away with the downtime bloating Through the Ages, Imperial Settlers or London seem to suffer, by making sure that as much of the decision making process is done at the same time. This way, although your turn will probably be longer, you’ll be performing it simultaneously with other players, which will make waiting periods shorter.
Now, I’m not saying that I won’t pay any of the more traditional tableau builders. In fact some of them will remain high – or on the very top – of my personal list. However, I will be taking the simple feature allowing me to have the same amount of fun in a shorter time into consideration while choosing my future gaming purchases. And I will definitely remember them while designing or developing new games.