Most of the time, board and card game players like decisions. We like the feeling of power that comes from choosing how we play the game and feeling like we have a say in the outcome of the game. We like to use our agency to solve problems and make important decisions. One very common way of giving players additional decisions during a game is through component drafting.
Component drafting in tabletop games is a lot like investing. Players decide what to invest in, and hope that the game pans out in a way that maximizes their return. From a designer’s point of view, component drafting can help us design games that players will become personally invested in as they play, creating real highlights of satisfaction, triumph, and insight.
As we look at examples of how some games utilize component drafting to increase player involvement, think about other ways that component drafting might be used, and consider sharing your thoughts below!
Overview of Component Drafting
Component drafting, as we use it here, refers to physical components, such as cards, dice, or resources that are consciously chosen from a supply, whether personally or generally available. For our purposes, random selection such as is used in Scrabble does not qualify as component drafting.
Component drafting usually includes removal of physical components from a supply as a player takes possession of those components. Components are often free to draft, but frequently come with an opportunity cost as available options may change rapidly. There are exceptions to this rule, especially when resources are used for component drafting; such as in Settlers of Catan, where players’ resources are exchanged to draft building and cards for points or additional benefits.
Examples of component drafting in board games are quite varied. In Trekking the National Parks, for example, players make decisions about which colored stones they will collect, and gain points at the end if they have a majority in those colors. In addition, players draft resource cards based on their plan for moving around the board and acquiring park cards. In this case component drafting is less central to the game, while in Sushi Go, component drafting plays a main role as players draft a card from individual hands, pass the remaining cards to a neighbor, and make another selection from their new hand of cards. Treasure Hunter and 7 Wonders both employ a similar card-drafting mechanic, but incorporate other components to complicate decision making and add more complex objectives.
Important Considerations with Component Drafting
Though distinct from action drafting and worker placement, component drafting has similar functions and can sometimes be combined with them to create unique ways to play. Kingdomino is a good example of this, as players take turns placing workers to reserve blocks of land, which they then draft to place in their own personal kingdom grid. There is frequently a tradeoff between selecting the best tile and taking the first turn the next round.
When using component drafting as a key part of a game, providing a variety of drafting options is usually a good choice as it can enable multiple winning strategies and complex decisions. Wingspan is one example of this as players collect resources, then birds, which provide various abilities and options throughout the game. As players draft resources and birds they must consider future needs, how cards interact, where to put eggs, and player-specific goals. The more variety there is in drafting options, the more players will be able to take into consideration as they decide what to draft.
In games where component drafting is more of a peripheral mechanic, keeping drafting options simple is usually a good idea, so that players can focus on the main mechanic and how it relates to the theme. For example, Fun Employed is a game about selling your resume (a hand of cards) to the hiring manager, and component drafting only comes into play when trading out cards for your resume. In this case, all players simultaneously access a shared pool of attribute cards, from which they may freely select or draft cards to exchange with those in their hands. This continues until all players are ready to move forward to their job interview, which is the main portion of the game. Card drafting is a useful aspect, but the game does a good job of simplifying the drafting process so that players can focus on the most important parts of the game.
Cautions and Tips for Using Component Drafting
When designing component drafting as a core mechanic in a game, care should be taken to avoid giving the first player an undue advantage. Some games do this by balancing cards and available options, while other games randomly distribute a selection of options to each player as they simultaneously draft cards and other components.
When cards are well-balanced or seeing all available options is important, open drafting can be useful, where all players see all available options and select from a common pool. Where cards are unbalanced or when players should have limited knowledge about available options, a closed draft is usually more useful, where players only see a portion of what is available or privately select what cards or components to draft. Good examples of an open draft include Alhambra and Dominion, while good examples of a closed draft are Sushi Go and Treasure Hunter.
Component drafting may be used either to gain immediate abilities and advantages, or with an engine-building component to prepare for the rest of the game. In whatever way component drafting is used, however, care should be taken to contribute to the core purpose of the game rather than to detract from it with either too much or too little decision making.
What are some interesting ways you have seen component drafting be used as a part of a game? How else can component drafting be used to enhance decision making? Please comment below with your thoughts and insights!
Examples of Games with Component Drafting
- 7 Wonders
- Fun Employed
- Settlers of Catan
- Sushi Go
- Treasure Hunter
- Trekking the National Parks
Are there other game mechanics or topics you would like to see explored further? Please comment below with any requests.