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Down But Not Out >> Games With 'Catch Up' Mechanics
Jay Little
United States
Eden Prairie
Minnesota
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Many games I've played are incredibly difficult to win once you're no longer in the lead by a certain part of the game. Others reward the current leaders making it more difficult for stragglers to catch up (Condottiere grants more cards to the players in the lead, Risk 2210 grants more energy and armies to the leaders, etc).

I've only discovered a few games that have a built in "catch up" mechanic, where players in last place are given a chance to have a more pronounced impact on the game. These games tend to go over well with my gaming group, and I am eager to find more.

What games have you played that offer a "catch up" mechanic for players out of the lead? Please detail how the mechanic is represented and what impact it has on the game.
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26. Board Game: Liberté [Average Rating:7.19 Overall Rank:456]
Eric Poolman
United States
Portland
Oregon
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Way behind in points? Time to try for the Radical Landslide. Or the Counterrevolution... suddenly the player in first has her hands full fending off the Loyalists and Radicals in Paris while also claiming points to stay in the lead.
 
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27. Board Game: Eschnapur [Average Rating:5.77 Overall Rank:6467]
Gláucio Reis
Brazil
Rio de Janeiro
RJ
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The ultimate catch-up mechanic: last player in score track gets double points in the current turn.
 
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28. Board Game: Chronology [Average Rating:6.44 Overall Rank:2133]
Jody Morgan
United States
Fancy Gap
Virginia
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This game is a collection of cards that each list some historic event, and when it took place. Everyone starts with one card, which is the first card in their timeline; the object of the game is to have a timeline of 10 cards, in chronological order from oldest to most recent. Players take turns having the event on the card read aloud to them, and trying to place that card in their personal timeline based on when they think the event took place. If they're correct, they place the card in their timeline; hence, the closer they get to winning, the more cards are in their timeline, making it more challenging to correctly place the next card.
 
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29. Board Game: Canasta Caliente [Average Rating:6.35 Overall Rank:2315]
Jody Morgan
United States
Fancy Gap
Virginia
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The more points one team accumulates, the greater their initial meld must be. I've seen this in quite a few standard card games.
 
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30. Board Game: 6 Billion [Average Rating:5.31 Overall Rank:9907]
David Coutts
Australia
Melbourne
Victoria
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In 6 Billion the player in last place gets to control one or more Neutral factions (depending on the number of players). Each Neutral faction can send out migrants to one previously colonised population track (Mercury, Venus, Mars etc) to try and deny victory points to the players already on that track, or those that might follow.
 
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31. Board Game: Revolution: The Dutch Revolt 1568-1648 [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:751]
Alexander Schmalz
Germany
Köln
Nordrhein Westfalen
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Players can choose their game turn order according to their victory points in the previous turn. Player with most vp's can't choose at all. Next player chooses his/her position according to first player...
 
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32. Board Game: Ave Caesar [Average Rating:6.64 Overall Rank:826]
Mikko Karvonen
Finland
Tampere
Tampere
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In Ave Caesar players move their chariots by playing cards that are numbered from 1 to 6 (or rather from I to VI). The leader, however, is not allowed to play any sixes. This can even lead to situations, where the leader cannot move at all until someone has passed him or her.

Of course, there are lots of other elements in Ave Caesar, that help the leader stay in the lead. But still, it's a valid entry, I think.
 
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33. Board Game: Angus: Batalhas Medievais [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:5228]
Paulo Limp
Brazil
Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
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Angus has an interesting 'catch up' mechanic, the weaker player being able to choose where the Vikings will strike by the end of the turn.
 
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34. Board Game: En Garde! [Average Rating:6.51 Overall Rank:4654]
Camo Coffey
United Kingdom
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne & Wear
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This is really a roleplaying game, to be honest -- but it's here, so I'll include it. The aim of this game is to earn Status Levels but they cost more Status Points to earn the higher Status you are. This logarithmic experience point mechanic is a feature of almost all RPGs, from the very first incarnations of Dungeons & Dragons in the early '70s until the present day. Unlike D&D, etc, this game does have a competitive element (after a number of game years, the player whose character has advanced the most Status Levels wins), so I think this qualifies here.
 
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35. Board Game: Munchkin [Average Rating:6.03 Overall Rank:2276] [Average Rating:6.03 Unranked]
Camo Coffey
United Kingdom
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne & Wear
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If player has too many cards at the end of her turn, she has to hand any excess cards to the lowest level player(s) in the game ("giving to charity").
 
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36. Board Game: Bootleggers [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:820]
Simon Robinson
England
Bewdley
Confusion
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Passed a certain round in the game, the police turn up to watch the Still with the highest production. Nice touch.
 
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37. Board Game: Peloponnesian War [Average Rating:6.67 Overall Rank:2325]
rod humble

san francisco
Earth
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Peloponnesian War - VG

Solo game with a catch up mechanic.

If one side starts to get ahead you have to play the other side.
 
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38. Board Game: Primordial Soup: Freshly Spiced [Average Rating:7.25 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.25 Unranked]
Brian Eves
Canada
Ottawa
Ontario
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There is a card in the expansion set for Ursuppe called the 'Social Gene' and it requires people to give 1 BP to every player who is 6 points ahead of them. The card can only be bought by people in last place.
 
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39. Board Game: Dune [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:131]
Ron Kittle
United States
Ozark
Missouri
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Dune allows players with no spice to collect two units as “CHOAM charity”. This involves a bit of humility, as the poor player must, per the rules, ‘call out’ for such a donation. This isn’t neccesarily a catch-up mechanic, but it does allow players to at least not just sit there completely broke. And the Bene Gesserit, being the leeching witches that they are, get automatic CHOAM charity throughout the game, so claiming it brings you to their treacherous, parasitic ways.
 
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40. Board Game: Im Auftrag des Königs [Average Rating:6.10 Overall Rank:3980]
Peter R.
Italy
Bozen
Italy
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This games has a nice "catch up" mechanic: It favors the ones with less victory points, as they get to choose their cards for the next round first. So they can plan their moves better and have the best choices available for the new round.
 
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41. Board Game: Europe Engulfed [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:487]
Tom Grant
United States
Washington
DC
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Just when you think no one can stop the German panzers from rolling over all of Europe...The Americans intervene! (Or Hitler is dumb enough to attack the USSR. Or both.)
 
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42. Board Game: Amun-Re [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:173]
Juha Kerätär
Finland
Oulu
Unspecified
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Here's a borderline case.

I've always considered that Amun-Re has a kind of "catch up" mechanism. The game is divided into two phases: after the first phase all players lose the provinces they have bought in auctions, all farms on the provinces are removed, and only the pyramids - main source of victory points - remain. In the second phase the provinces, with their pyramids, are auctioned off again.

This gives a player who has been unfortunate or made a blunder during the first phase a chance for a comeback during the second phase. Perhaps hoard money, settle for a modest victory point count from the first phase, and then use the money and maybe that bidding block power card you got during the first phase, to buy a province that someone has built four pyramids in during the first phase. Our playing group has seen some scary comebacks in Amun-Re during the second phase of the game, from the player stuck on the last place.

The question really is, is this really a "catch up" mechanic? I'd divide them into two groups:
1) The game helps losing player, irrespective of his skill, in some at certain phases of the game, giving i.e. first pick on some tiles and cards
2) The game mechanics themselves are forgiving and allow a comeback with skillful and/or lucky playing

Both ways definitely have their merits, and especially in longer (2+ hour) games I really want to see some amount of either. Example of a game tha IMO is a total opposite of the second group - make a mistake with your economy in St. Petersburg, and you're screwed.

-Juha
 
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43. Board Game: Mammoth Hunters [Average Rating:6.15 Overall Rank:2270]
Bryan Johnson
United States
Salem
Massachusetts
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Each round, the player in last place gets to place a glacier tile on the board that can have truly devastating effects. A nasty little device to help beat up on the leader. Ouch.
 
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44. Board Game: Civilization [Average Rating:7.53 Overall Rank:134]
Edward Kendrick
United Kingdom
Redditch
Worcestershire
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Two mechanisms exist in Civilisation:
1) Players move in order of largest empire first, giving an advantage to the smaller empires.
2) The beneficiary of a civil war is the player with most tokens in stock (who will have fewest on the board/in treasury).

The first is a braking effect and the second a catch-up for the loser. It seems to me that the first can be justified by reference to reality, in as far as that's relevant here: it could be argued that smaller empires are more agile. The second is less justifiable, but works in practice, just as the first does.

It's true, however, that players who find themselves being in these situations rarely win the game, so these are mechanisms more to keep players feeling that they are still competitive than to leap-frog them over the leader - which seems reasonable. In fact as I recall the original designer said that one of his objectives was to design a long game in which all the players felt an interest in continuing to play even when they weren't winning.

Incidentally, this is a game I have often used to introduce novices to strategy games (no, really). I have invariably found that they enjoyed it and when, inevitably, the game had to be curtailed for lack of time, they were eager to arrange another session. I think this is partly because the complexity builds up gradually as empires expand, and partly because there is the opportunity to be constructive as well as or instead of being competitive.
 
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45. Board Game: Torres [Average Rating:7.19 Overall Rank:281]
Chester
United States
Temple
Texas
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In Torres, the player in last place each round gets to place the King (and one would hope have the best chance to benefit from the King Bonus).
 
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46. Board Game: Hoity Toity [Average Rating:6.56 Overall Rank:895]
Kieron Mitchell
United States
Indianapolis
IN
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If you catch a thief, you move forward the number of spaces on the track equal to your position. So, if you are in fifth place, you'd move forward five spaces, and so on.
 
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47. Board Game: Gulo Gulo [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:630]
David G.
United States
Moorpark
California
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First game I thought of, I'm surprised it's not on the list.

The farther back you are on the path, the more choices you have of what color to go for, and the more likely you are to advance multiple spaces. Since the distribution of tiles is random, there's always a good chance that at least one color occurs far ahead of the trailing player's current position.
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48. Board Game: The Reef [Average Rating:5.72 Overall Rank:4965]
VETRHUS of Rogaland
United States
Milwaukee
Wisconsin
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An ash I know, Yggdrasil its name. With water white is the great tree wet; thence come the dews that fall in the dales. Green by Urth's well does it ever grow.
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In this game, the male to female fish ratio is the factor which most enables someone to close the gap. Unlike the summary, there is not a simple 2:1 ratio(male to female, or vice-versa).

Sometimes the offspring combination is 1:1 or 2:2, which can mean that a player who has memorized the ratios would have an advantage. I doubt that anyone would go to that trouble for a game of this genre.

Otherwise, the person with three offspring options will benefit from the narrow focus of their opponent, and the resulting lack of competition for available mates.

Additionally, the person with one mate to find will "go fishing" in the center two rows of the board, attempting to win the game. If they do not find the mate, they will inevitably dredge up a fish or two which their opponent needs.

It is up to that person whether to leave that fish face up or turn it back over at that point, making the price to acuire it twice that of what it would be if exposed, and making a side game of "concentration" for their opponent.

Frankly, the ability for a competitor to make a last dash to the finish is really what makes this game interesting, but at the same time disconcerting. No matter what my lead, I can be beaten, undoubtedly, by my wife...
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49. Board Game: Nexus Ops [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:225]
Donald Walsh
United States
Columbia
Maryland
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Defeated defenders get an Energize card, potentially making them stronger for future attacks/defenses.
 
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50. Board Game: Master Labyrinth [Average Rating:6.31 Overall Rank:1626]
Rob
United States
30° 12′ 38″ N, 95° 45′ 2″ W
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You can't rob Peter, Paul and Mary to pay yourself.
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This game has "ingredients", numbered 1 - 20, and then 25, that the players have to collect in numerical order. Each one is worth the number of points on it. So, someone who is far behind can catch up quickly (or even win), by grabbing most of the remaining ingredients - 18, 19, 20, 25. This happens in probably half of the games we play.
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