Tableau Building: A Love Letter

I love the tableau building mechanism. In short, you can describe this as building an array of objects (generally cards) over the course of a game which grant you improved actions, abilities, or scoring opportunities. Usually this comes together slowly, and, ideally, the objects will have synergy. Finding the synergies is what makes this so much fun to me, and seeing your tableau grow over the course of the game is satisfying (as opposed to deck building, where you only see snippets of your deck at once). Creating a tableau that is greater than the sum of its parts is extremely rewarding, and finding previously unseen combinations that work well together is what keeps these kinds of games fresh.

Games I've played that do this particularly well:

  • #Everdell - there are a lot of cards in Everdell, even just the base game, and usually only a few of each type, so it's generally not a good strategy to base your strategy around the hope that you'll draw a specific card type or combination of cards. Some online say that this makes the game too random, and I disagree. There are so many cool ways you can combine cards to score big points. Now that I've played quite a few times, I'll often make a point of playing a card I haven't used before just to see how it can combo with everything else I've got set up.
  • #Wingspan - there's an argument to be made that Wingspan is, in fact, too random, and I won't argue either way. The fact is that to me, this game is just pleasant to play. Building up your tableau and seeing your turns become more powerful over the course of the game is enjoyable, even if someone else is building theirs more efficiently due to better card draws.
  • #Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North - this game allows you to build a tableau pretty quickly, putting out multiple cards each round, and activating as many as you can each round as well. That makes it pretty satsifying, but honestly a bit overwhelming at times if your cards aren't organized well or you don't have a strategy.
  • #Oceans - it wouldn't be a post by me if I didn't mention this one. The combinations of species you can build feel endless, and the tableau building makes me feel super creative. Even when I'm not getting a card type that I want, it's fun to stretch your brain muscle to find an alternate strategy. And when the Deep cards start coming out, OH BOY. This is kind of a game of two halves, with the first half playing more slowly, but being just as important, as you are really setting up your tableau and your engine to really take off once you start adding Deep traits to your species.

Honorable mentions:

  • #Evolution: Climate - a lot of similar thoughts as with Oceans, but to a lesser degree in this department
  • #Terraforming Mars - I've only played once so far, but it does seem like you should be able to set up a pretty neat, synergistic tableau.

What are your favorite tableau builders? What do you like or dislike about tableau building?

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Owner3 months ago

Tableau builders are very hit or miss for me so I'm very careful about getting into them:

  • I actively avoid ones with very little interaction
  • I find it unfortunate when a tableau builder has great card art but has a rather shallow theme. It ends up being a double negative despite being a looker because it feels souless
  • I don't like tableau builders that aren't organized and leave you with tons of cards on your play area. It takes too much focus away from implementing your strategy and also makes it tough to be observant of others at the table
  • I like the satisfying combo potential, but the game needs to have good pacing. I don't like tableau builders where you do one part of a combo, then it gets back to the others, then you carry out the next part of the combo, then wait for others, and then continue. This forces you to keep on remembering what you're going for and again makes it harder to pay attention to others

Tableau builders that worked for me:

  • #Wingspan - I really like how it's organized into three different engines you can focus on. It's also very satisfying to take an action that triggers a chain of other actions
  • #Pax Pamir (Second Edition) - Complex tableau where a card serves multiple purposes. Cards grant immediate benefits upon placing on your tableau, give you access to more actions, different suits give you different benefits, and the tableau (court) also serves as a "physical location" on which spies around all of the players' courts can move around

In the end, I think I just prefer tableau builders where you can actually develop a sense of ownership for your tableau instead of just using it as a means to an end.

Supporter3 months ago

Can you give an example or two of the types of tableau with those traits you dislike?

Owner3 months ago

Sure thing! I've only had one game that was somewhat of a major miss. #Imperial Settlers: Empires of the North didn't work for me.

  • The overall pace of the game with my wife felt too much like... me: "boop. Now it's your turn!" wife: "boop. Ok I'm done!" and then repeating that for an hour. Of course, there's a bit of exaggeration there and while there were some good moments with great combos, we were mostly paying attention to our own tableau 99% of the time with our heads down. And the game seems to do very little to encourage paying attention to others
  • Because I was busy keeping track of the different powers of the cards, it also made it feel like the nice and cute art completely gets lost in the picture
  • It was only more disappointing because Empires (and Imperial Settlers) is a very popular game and highly rated by other reviewers out there

Supporter3 months ago

I really like this game. #Race for the Galaxy continues to be my favorite "pure" tableau builder.

One unsung tableau builder that I absolutely love is #Innovation. This is a wild, wooly, and very chaotic seeming tableau builder that take a few plays for it to start feeling manageable.

Another sort of tableau builder is where you start with a tableau and changing it as you play. I think of games like #Scythe and its player boards. These are tableaus that are, to a certain extant fixed, but you can really really improve them as you go on.

3 months ago

Race is pretty cool, and I have played it so I should have remembered it add it to the post! Lol oh well.

Supporter3 months ago

Yes you should have remembered that one....LOL

3 months ago

I really enjoy building a tableau when the elements of the tableau are very active components of my gameplay each turn.  #Anachrony has a tableau of buildling tiles that are mostly worker placement slots, and I really like the way that feels as I expand my options and actions with each buildling tile, many of which combo with other buildings.  It's also thematically significant as my faction is building out its capital to become independent of relying on the world council's resources that are available to everyone.  It adds to my gameplay every turn and has great thematic ties.

Games that have a tableau where most of it does not affect each turn tend to feel dull to me, Everdell being one example.  I like all the critters but they feel so inactive most of the game, and it makes me sad that they don't feel more like busy little critters.  It's like they're hibernating the majority of every season of the year, and it doesn't make for a very active feeling tableau.  It feels more like I'm set-collecting rather than building options for frequent gameplay decisions. They're mostly just markers for abilities that you've acquired, which is fine but at that point you could put any card art on it and it wouldn't change much.

All in all, very active tableaus with thematic significance make for the best feeling tableau building games to me.

3 months ago

I see what you mean about Everdell and I can see how that style of tableau could feel less engaging than the first kind you described. I still find it fun, since most of the cards still have some function during the game, but you're right that most don't come into play each turn.

On Anachrony, how difficult would you say that it is to learn?

3 months ago

I definitely still find Everdell fun, but there are some sticking points for me with it.  I still can't believe Spirecrest lets you mount a meeple saddle to a big meeple animal, then put your critter meeple in the saddle.  That's one of the coolest, toy-like things.

Anachrony was the hardest game I tried to learn at the time when I was getting more into modern board gaming, so I don't know how helpful my answer will be because now it doesn't seem difficult to learn, but it took me a couple games until I felt comfortable with it at first.  It has a great rulebook though, and in the back it describes what every tile and faction leader power in the game does for reference, while accounting for odd scoring cases. For the rare edge-case stuff there are readily accessible answers on BGG that address anything that falls between the cracks. 

It sounded like most people had a hard time conceptualizing how the time travel mechanic works, and the most helpful thing I found was to think of using the power plants to reset the era your time machine is targeting.  You're more warping things in from the future and sending things back to the past to seal up potential paradoxes in the timeline rather than time travelling yourself, and that thematic explanation made all of the timeline mechanics make a lot more sense to play.

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3 months ago

Interesting. Thanks for the response!

Yeah the Spirecrest big critter meeples are awesome!

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