The Rondel

Board game designer Mac Gerdts is known for his beloved mechanism more than anything. Unlike deck building, or worker placement, or the card-driven wargame, the rondel has never really taken off in modern game design.

It’s a shame, really. It’s a flexible action-selection mechanism that rewards planning ahead without punishing players that don’t, and provides a great schema for what the player will be able to do in the game.

The rondel is a wheel of available actions. Players have a pawn on one action, and may move it clockwise a variable number of spaces. The action landed on is the action that player performs. Moving farther generally has some cost in game resources.

Crucially, the actions on the rondel are the core of gameplay. In Antike Duellum, three actions harvest resources (ferrum, aurum, marmor), three use resources (templum, militia, scientia), and one moves your units around the board (duellum).

Using the rondel to map out available actions helps give players a schema for what they can do in the game, and provides a skeleton to hang explanations on. Any explanation of a rondel game, immediately after discussing victory conditions, will give a short overview of each action on the rondel.

Action locations generally follow a pattern. In Antike, the resource harvesting actions are directly opposite from the actions that use those resources. As the rondel has eight spaces, this means you’ll need to start paying a tax to enter a quick harvest-spend loop.

Imperial 2030

In Imperial 2030, it’s the Taxation/Investor loop that is important (one collects money from controlled locations, the other pays out investors, like yourself).

Note that while four spaces does tax the loop, it doesn’t restrict it altogether. It’d be easy enough to move the actions next to each other, which would make it prohibitively expensive to take them in rapid succession. To use the rondel well, you need to understand what strategies players will want to loop.

There are always eight actions in a rondel, which sets the pace of the game: as it costs resources to move more than three spaces, most actions will be taken only once every three turns or more. If there were fewer spaces, actions would become more flexible, and the cost (in both time and resources) of looping would drop dramatically. If there were more spaces, the number of actions would either grow past working memory or become duplicated to the point of redundancy.

The mechanism has several hooks for additional mechanics, as well. In Antike, players may build cities (and score victory points) after any action. The turn stays simple, but players understand the importance of city building immediately.

In Imperial, there’s a red-line threshold that triggers a game event whenever a player’s pawn crosses it. This means it gets triggered slowly in the early game (when players are taking a variety of actions), and quickly in the late game (when players are generally in a tight loop). As this particular event allows investment, it actually provides more opportunities as the tension rises, which causes the tension to rise even faster.

Navegador’s rondel. Photo courtesy Tony Bosca.

Navegador gives players a temporary action bonus, tracked with an orange ship. The ship is placed on the player’s current action, and if they’ve completed a circuit without using the bonus, it’s lost.

Distill the system. Find the loops. Use the hooks.

When building a game with a rondel, distill the system down into a handful of player actions, perhaps five to seven. Find the loops players might want to enter, and place those actions opposite each other. Duplicate actions that players might want to take twice in a row, or that need to be taken more than most actions. If any actions are crucial, consider pulling them outside the rondel, either as an Imperial trigger or an Antike “every turn” option.

Comments appreciated if you find (or design) any games with a rondel. There are some interesting variants out there (Vital Lacerda’s Vinhos uses a two-dimensional pseudo-rondel), but I’m not sure if anyone other than Gerdts is using it straight.

Initial request for a rondel article came from G+; follow me there if you can handle a barrage of game design posts.

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