As I look at my game collection I certainly have fond memories of the many engaging hours spent with the various titles. And I also notice that many of my favorites have one common characteristic: they all have maps as their main board. I’m going to call it a “map-board”. To take this to a finer point, I want to discuss games where the map-board is more than just an abstract layout for component placement. I’m talking more about map-boards that represent real or imaginary places that have a significant influence on game play.
In another life, and maybe another century, my ideal job would have been a cartographer. I have a deep rooted love of maps and I have no idea where it came from. Maybe it was the endless hours spent in my youth drawing elaborate orc mines and vampire castles on graph paper for role-playing games. Or possibly it’s related to the fact that I am a visual learner, and prefer taking in new information visually. Whatever the reason, most of my favorites games use a map-board.
If I tried to list all the games where the map-board is a critical component, you’d be here reading for a long, long (did I say long) time. But maybe a better way to consider it is to try to put categories around the way games use and present their map-boards. None of these categories is exclusive as most games that use a map-board combine these elements to create the game experience.
- Control areas of the map – Many of you will know one of the long-time leaders of FallCon, Steve Zanini. What you may not know is that one of his favorite games is an area control map-board game called El Grande.Played on a map of Spain, this game involves moving game pieces around the board to try to gain control of regions through majority. Other games in my collection that make use of maps in this way are Midgard and China.
- Create the map - I enjoy games where tiles or cards are placed on the table to create the map. A classic example of this is Carcassonne where players lay tiles to build up the French countryside.Other games that I have in my collection where the map is created by laying down components (tiles or cards) include Saboteur, Taluva, Castle Ravenloft (and others in the series) and one of my all-time favorites, Tikal.
- Maps that define movement, building and actions – There are a huge number of games where the map-board influences building, movement or actions in some way or another. A great example would be the game Steam (and most ‘train games’ ranging from the lighter Ticket to Ride series to the more heavier 18XX games) where the map terrain influences where and how players can build their rail lines. Other well-known games in this category would include the Settlers of Catan series, Power Grid and the Mac Gerdts’ rondel games like Antike.
- Maps that teach me history – Here is the category that I find most compelling: games where the map-boards allow the game to teach me something historical.I suspect every wargame would fall into this category, and though I’m not a heavy wargamer there are certainly games in my favorites list that would be considered light wargames. For example, I love the way some of the Columbia Games like Hammer of the Scots, Athens and Sparta and Richard III teach me history through some historic military conflict. Others that I love in this category that teach me history, but aren’t necessarily wargames, would include Martin Wallace’s Tinners Trail and Brass.
- Look’n good - The other thing that attracts me about games with maps is how they look.Thanks to the advances in graphic designand production, many board game boards are becoming works of art. I remember the first time I saw the board for the game Cuba, and my first urge was to frame it and put it on my wall. I had a similar experience recently when I added the game Merchants and Marauders to my collection as I admired its beautiful map of the Caribbean.
Are you a map-board junkie like me? How would you categorize the way maps are used in games? And what games would you add to this list?
Let me know your thoughts!
Stay young – keep playing games!