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I am trying to develop a physical board game with the following features (among others):

  1. The map is randomly/procedurally generated (square/hex tiles, does not matter)
  2. The map is not revealed at the beginning of the game. It needs to be explored (generated).
  3. The players are physically located within the map (units or buildings or whatever) and need to get towards some objectives

These 3 conditions combined pose a problem that games having only two of them don't present. For example:

  • Catan has 1 and 3, where the map is random and the player placement is important, but it is fair in the sense that the whole map is revealed at the beginning of the game, so the players know what the best spots are.
  • Saboteur has 1 and 2, in the sense that even when the map is procedurally generated and not revealed at first, the WHOLE map affects all the players (there is no player placement within the map), so it is also fair.

But if you have 1,2,3, I feel it is too random. Since the players need to explore the map and find some objects, but they don't know what they are going to find or the difficulties/enemies, I feel it reduces the strategic value and it is leaning too much on luck (the feeling of "you are not playing the game, the game is playing you"). I tried mitigating this by revealing adjacent map tiles when entering a specific tile.

My question would be, are there other board games that contain the 3 conditions mentioned above, and how do they mitigate this problem and shift the balance more towards strategy and less towards luck? Home-brewed suggestions not taken from existing games are also welcome.

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    Catan Seafarers adds the “reveal as you play” element. Eclipse is similar; though players have some say over how the map is generated, it’s still largely random.
    – GendoIkari
    Apr 10, 2023 at 12:41
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    The betrayal at house on the hill has what you are looking for as the map is random and expands based on players exploration.
    – Joe W
    Apr 10, 2023 at 12:48
  • if you look at 504, in particular the 'exploration module' I believe that does what you ask. Apr 10, 2023 at 15:12
  • I think Zomibicide also does the same thing, and it is definitely criticised by some as being too random. I don't know if any of its many expansions or spin-offs does anything to curtail the randomness.
    – ConMan
    Apr 10, 2023 at 23:51

6 Answers 6

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I believe Mage Knight Board Game does what you are asking, if I can understand the question.

The game uses tiles with 7 hexes on them. You can explore to reveal additional tiles and place them next to where you are. The hexes on those tiles may have certain points of interest (towns, battles, objectives etc.) but because the tiles are the random element, you won't have all of your towns clustered in one area, for example. It also makes sure that terrain types are more spread out.

The initial configuration of the tiles is determined by the scenario being played. It may act to make sure that cities are a certain number of tiles apart, or that end game objectives are shuffled in the bottom 3 tiles. In general, "better" stuff is further out. But in theory a scenario could do the opposite.

The game can feel very "lucky" in that not only are these tiles random, but the actions you can take are defined by a random draw from your deck. The game mitigates luck by providing players with a ton of options. Dealing with what you've been given is the whole game, and better, more experienced players will find the right path more often. (The game is also often played solo where you can spend hours just figuring out a single turn if you'd like.) A lot of this comes from having multiple points of interest on a given tile. You don't just flip a tile, see that it wasn't what you wanted, and give up. Instead, now you have 4 more choices of what to do with your turn and surely one of them advances your win condition.

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You can reduce the random factor by not having one tile but a cluster of them that are physical connected. This solves the balancing problem of adding too much random in a single tile. Depending of the size of the game, you can have 3x3 single tiles as one big tile (players need to visit them one by one), but you as a designer have it easier to get the important elements spaced out.

To add more to the variance and randomness, the big tiles are in group pools. (Let's use the numbers 1, 2 and 3). Number 1 would be around the start area, around those the 2 and around those number 3. This ensures that the game progress is paced out and balanced (no high level Monster or events in the start zone). Of course it does not need to be simple 1, 2, 3 ring, the tiles themself can have a linked number which pile should be next. If you have more piles than you have to place, each game would result in an unique layout and players don't know what is added or missing. The piles are only flipped around once you visit them.

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  • I thought about the tier group pools, for instance the last group would have more dead end tiles and objective tiles, and the first group would have none. But that combined with the tile clusters, amazing idea.
    – Silverman
    Apr 10, 2023 at 11:19
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Forbidden Desert uses all 3 of these mechanics. Players start on a grid of randomly dealt tiles which are placed face down, and players need to move to unexplored tiles and reveal them. Among the 24 tiles, there are 8 particular "clue" tiles which must be uncovered before the game can be won.

There is randomness involved in how quickly the players uncover the necessary tiles, but it is mitigated somewhat by the unnecessary tiles still yielding bonuses - even if you don't uncover a tile that you actually needed, you'll get an equipment card that can come in handy later. Other unnecessary tiles give a bonus for ending your turn there, so you'll always find something that's useful in some way, even if it's not what you were looking for.

Additionally, the fact that there are 8 of 24 tiles that are necessary means that in practice, you usually wind up uncovering most of the tiles. If hidden items are more sparse, the game can be a lot more "swingy" in how fast they get found. If you needed only 1 tile, for example, the game could end after uncovering a single tile, or not until all have been uncovered. But since you need 8, you must uncover at least a third of the board, and very likely considerably more than that.

The game is also played cooperatively, so luck swings for the entire table as a whole rather than individual players - it may be easier to stomach if everyone gets unlucky and suffers an ignominious failure together, rather than being the only player to get unlucky.

The mechanics of this game also make it so that the board tiles shift over time, so the board isn't in a static configuration. The game is in a way about exploring as many tiles as you can as efficiently as you can to maximize your odds, rather than heading toward a specific objective with perfect knowledge of how it can be achieved.

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Magic Maze meets all three of your requirements, and manages to do so on a time limit. Some of the things it does to mitigate the randomness of generating the map are:

  1. It's a co-operative game, so players are incentivised to take actions that are to the benefit of the whole group.

  2. Opening up a map tile is an action that only one player can perform, so there is an element of control.

  3. When the player uses the "Explore" action to place a new map tile, they draw the tile and then can place it on any open arrow which has a pawn of matching colour standing on it. This means that there can be up to four choices of where to place the tile, providing additional control.

  4. The tiles themselves are not single spaces but a small section of map with multiple features.

  5. There are multiple objectives the players must achieve in order to win - they have to get the four pawns to the matching shops, then navigate those pawns to their corresponding exits. This means that players will need to place most of the tiles down over the course of the game, and in fact it's likely that the entire stack of tiles will need to be placed (maybe minus one or two) before all of the necessary objectives are available.

Now Magic Maze is also a game that embraces its chaos so it's not a perfect example of how to minimise randomness, but it clearly gives players a certain amount of agency with which to manage that chaos as well.

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Living planet meets all 3 criteria. It is an economic, exploration game. While there is luck involved, I believe that the randomness of the tiles increases replayability and does not cause any balance issues. The skill lies in adapting your strategy to the tiles that come up.

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Clank! Catacombs is an exploration deckbuilder where players explore the catacombs, searching for artifacts (and other goodies). Players must explore deep into the catacombs, but also must race back to the entryway at the end of the game.

The game meets all 3 criteria. Players start in a central tile, with pathways leading off the edge of the tile. As they move, other tiles are revealed.

The first several tiles from the random deck will always be "easier" tiles with less useful destinations on them. This forces players to "move out" and explore.

Randomness is a factor, as the tile selection is from a shuffled deck.

But, the element of strategic decision making is still important. Much of that comes from the fact that most tiles have several locations ("rooms") on them. By orienting the tile in different orientations, the player's entry onto the tile can be chosen from the available rooms.

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