Mechanic Monday – Simultaneous Action Selection

Friday I looked at 7 Wonders which uses the mechanics of Card Drafting, Set Collection, Variable Player Powers, and Simultaneous Action Selection. Today we will take a look at the last of those mechanics; I will state first that I feel the name is slightly misleading as the simultaneous aspect of these games is not always action related; I will also refer to the mechanic as SAS as Simultaneous Action Selection.

Simultaneous Action Selection is an interesting mechanic as it serves multiple purposes from forcing players to plan ahead, increasing a game’s pace, to minimizing downtime between turns. The mechanic is is one that can be utilized in a variety of ways when partnered with other mechanics. Often SAS will be used as a part of a turn round in which players manage minor upkeep, turn planning, or round scoring. All these aspects will be looked at but let us begin by glancing at the mechanic’s history.

The oldest dated game on BoardGameGeek with SAS as a listed mechanic is the 1866 children’s game Snap. BGG describes the game following the 1905 rules in which player’s deal the game’s 40 cards evenly then starting with the first player go in clockwise order flipping the top card of their deck face up. Each player has their own pile of cards revealed this way; anytime a player sees two matching cards they can call “SNAP”, the first player to call snap takes all the face up cards from the two piles that have a matching top card and place them under their face down pile. The game continues until one player has accumulated all the cards. In Snap the simultaneous aspect comes in watching the cards being revealed and calling “SNAP”, any player can call snap and take the twin piles and thus they are all sharing a constant ‘calling’ phase while the card revelation phase rotates around the table. Many games follow this interpretation of the mechanic, Spot it, Slapjack, and Set to name a few.

War; which was likely created before Snap, though has no listed release date, has another variation on Simultaneous Action Selection. In war players do everything in unison. they draw and reveal cards at the same time then analyze the victor. Whether War is a game or not is a debate for another time, but it uses the SAS in a fashion that the entire game is done simultaneously (if playing with more than 2 players this is not always the case). Games that use the mechanic in this manner are much more rare than most of SAS variations but it can also be seen in games such as Pit, Dutch Blitz, and 7 Wonders.

The most common use of Simultaneous Action Selection that I have seen as of recent games is a shared phase followed by individual turns. The amount of impact this phase has on the game can vary from game to game while some designers have experimented with it more than others. In some games such as Arkham Horror players have a shared upkeep phase in which they can rearrange their character stat blocks, make upkeep rolls, collect or pay upkeep cash and refresh spells and tomes. While in other games such as the recently shipped AquaSphere use a round end scoring that can be handled Simultaneously (if you don’t trust your playmates you may still wanna do this scoring per player).

My favorite experience of Simultaneous Action Selection is in the indie game Zombie House; I will look at the game in depth in the mechanics follow up post tomorrow, but for now let us look at how the game uses SAS. Players act in rounds, phases, and turns. In Zombie House players have 4 action cards; each card a hexagon with up to 6 possible actions. Each round starts with a setup phase in which each player simultaneously selects one action on three of their 4 cards placing them in the order they wish their actions to resolve, they align the cards so the action they are implementing will be on the top of each card then place their unused action card, arrow up, on top of the others so as to hide their actions; this phase is done simultaneously each player planning all their actions before any actions have been taken representing the split second presumption based choices survivors must make during a zombie apocalypse. The players will then go in turn order resolving their topmost action; once all players have done so they go turn by turn resolving their second action, and then finally their third action.

As players reveal their actions they may find they erred in their attempts to guess their opponent’s actions so actions may fizzle; you may have planned to shoot a zombie presuming they were coming through the door; but the zombie went into a different room; so your planned action has no effect. The effect of this forced pre-planning leads to a great element of anticipation in the game. The use of simultaneously planning the entire round before anything happens is a less common seen interpretation of the Simultaneous Action Selection mechanic; as often players would decide their action in turn order; I have found, however, this is currently my favorite implementation of the mechanic and one I hope to see used more often soon and one I plan to play with in future designs of my own.

Simultaneous Action Selection works quite well with a variety of mechanics though card drafting and action selection tend to be one of the most common mechanics paired with SAS. The future of the mechanic is promising as in 2014 alone over 300 games, expansions, and additions were released that are marked with this mechanic on BGG showing the mechanic is a strong and popular one (note that does include card game expansion, fleet expansions, and the like).

Tomorrow we will take a deeper look into Zombie House, but let me leave you with this question what are your favorite games that use Simultaneous Action Selection? Let us know on Social Media;

Come back Monday when look at the mechanic of Simultaneous Action Selection! Until then you can find us on social media;
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