Sunday, March 27, 2011


Originality is as hard to come by in boardgames as it is in any other realm. Antike was the first game to feature a “rondel”:

Mac Gerdts: Father of the Rondel
…and the designer, Mac Gerdts, has taken this one aspect of Antike and used it again and again in a series of games (Imperial, Hamburgum, Imperial 2030, and most recently Navegador), all very different settings. Obviously he feels the rondel is robust (and refreshing) enough to belong in games about ancient civilizations, 19th (and 21st) century geopolitics, medieval cathedral building, and exploration.

What made the rondel original? It was a different way of forcing players to make Interesting Choices each turn. In your typical “Euro”, a player has a limited choice (or number) of actions to take each turn—and they are the same choices every turn.

By forcing players to move around a circular track where only the next three possibilities are costless (and moving beyond those three costs more and more extra resources), Gerdts imposed further fascinating (if unrealistic) limitations.

Notice in particular the sequencing of the “wedges” was done so that production actions (Gold, Iron, Marble) were purposefully placed opposite from their corresponding “Do” Actions (Gold <-> Know-How, Iron <-> Arming, Marble <-> Temple) which meant that moving from one to the other in successive turns cost an extra resource. The choice then becomes “efficiency” (or speed) of actions versus cost.

This could all have been done without a rondel—but the visual layout of a circle is far more effective (for most people) than a whole series of rules with exceptions, caveats, and so on.

I have played Imperial and Hamburgum and enjoyed them both. I know some people who are quite devoted to Imperial in particular; it adds share-buying and Diplomacy-style army conquest to the stew. Hamburgum is particularly beautiful to look at and features interesting twists using shipping and area-control. But neither appeals to me as much thematically as Antike. The question in my mind is, however innovative it was, does the rondel really belong in every game? Or does Gerdts feel obligated to keep it out of loyalty to his one original idea?

* * *
Now I want to talk about turtles—or specifically “turtling up”. This is because in our game of Antike this week one of the players (I’ll call him Jim) was a turtle—he never took any aggressive action, even when one of the other players (I’ll call her Donna) took a commanding lead, and in fact it dawned on all of us that Donna would win unless her neighbours took action against her.

Disclosure: I was guilty of turtling a bit myself, but was not in a position to take Donna down in the endgame, whereas Jim was (but resolutely didn’t).
Earliest turtling reference on BGG.

Originally, I was going to talk about the whole strategic aspect of turtling in games, but I started to wonder when the actual term “turtling” started to be used in a gaming sense. There’s even a Wikipedia article about it.

I did searches on the BGG forums for “turtle” and “turtling”. The earliest reference there is this one from 2005 which is about Twilight Imperium.

That seemed awfully recent, so I dug a bit further:

Earliest turtling reference ever?
  • Here is a thread from the Age of Mythology forums from 2002
  • Here is a thread posting from 2001 about Tekken 3
  • Here is Dead or Alive review from Gamespot from 2000 (this is the earliest reference I could get from Google)
  • Here is a Wikipedia article about an infamous 1997 hockey brawl in which one of the players adopts a “turtling” strategy to avoid getting clobbered
  • here is an article about a Turtle strategy about stock market trading in the early 1980’s.

So the earliest gaming reference I could find was from 2000. If anyone can find an earlier citation, let me know and I’ll add it in!


ADDENDUM: I got a Geekmail from a Helpful Reader who sent this link to a posting from 1995 about a session of (irony of ironies) Civilization which includes a reference to turtling. CAN WE DO BETTER?

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