Game Spotlights

June 10, 2022

Devin

Rondel Games: Playing a Round

Cycles and seasons are all around us. Spring turns to summer. Summer turns to fall and winter before returning to spring as the Earth rotates around the sun. The rotation of the moon about the earth affects the tides. And Monday continues to follow Sunday week in and week out.

Each season and each day of the week offers different opportunities and challenges. If life were a board game, it would be a rondel.

aerial view of trees with changing leaves

A rondel is a looping, one-way action-selection mechanic in some board games. The word shares a root with our English word “round,” which gives some clue to its shape. The classic rondel is a wheel or pie-shaped figure with action spaces arranged in a circle.

A rondel is usually shared by all players, and each player has a pawn on the circle. Players move their pawns around the rondel and perform the action indicated by the space where they stop.

play piece on the gameboard of rondel game viscounts of the west kingdom
Viscounts of the West Kingdom

Rondels prohibit players from taking the same action they took last round. In most rondels, there is a penalty to taking actions that are further along the path. Either taking a more distant action will cost the player more resources or it will allow opponents to take additional turns.

In some games, moving around the rondel represents the passage of time. Moving quickly will limit the number of actions available in the future or hasten the end of the game.

A rondel is different from worker placement mechanics. Worker placement games usually grant players multiple workers with which to take actions on each turn. And there is competition for those actions. On a rondel, taking an action usually does not prevent other players from taking the same action. And seldom does a player have more than one pawn in play.


Variations on the Rondel

Board game designers have implemented many variations on the rondel. Some of these variants are so innovative that they might not be recognized as rondels at first glance.

player ship token on the game board of rondel games maracaibo from capstone games
Maracaibo, from Capstone Games

The classic rondel has six to ten spaces on it. But some rondels can be much longer. Alexander Pfister games Great Western Trail and Maracaibo could be considered rondels even though they don’t look like it. The paths do not look like little pies, but players do move along a looping action-selection path. That path just happens to be long, branching, and twisting rather than circular. But it does loop, bringing players back to the beginning once they reach Kansas City or Havana.

While a rondel is usually a mechanism to select actions, they are sometimes used more like a market. In Glen More II: Chronicles, players move their pawns around a circular path to choose tiles they can add to their clans. The last player on the circuit takes the next turn. If you move your pawn a long distance to take a particularly desirable tile, you might give your opponents multiple turns in a row. They will continue to take tiles until their pawns pass yours.

player tokens on gameboard of rondel games patchwork from lookout games
Patchwork, from Lookout Games

Similarly, Patchwork and New York Zoo both use one neutral pawn that players alternate moving around a loop to select a new piece for their quilts or an enclosure for their zoo.

There are many variations on the rondel, but for the sake of this article, we are going to highlight games that implement the classic rondel. Here are some of the best examples of board games that use a looping one-way action selection mechanic—the rondel.


Imperial

It’s impossible to talk about board games that use a rondel without mentioning German designer Mac Gerdts. Gerdts has designed several games that use the rondel including Antike, Navegador, and Hamburgum.

rondel games imperial from rio grande games
Imperial, from Rio Grande Games

One of his most popular rondel games is Imperial. Players represent wealthy investors controlling the European imperial powers. Players build armies, buy bonds, and collect interest. The wealthiest player at the end of the game is the winner.

Actions are selected from one of the eight spaces on the rondel. A player can move his pawn one to three spaces to select from actions such as Production, Maneuver, Taxation, or Import. To move beyond three spaces, they must pay $2 Million per space.

This system ensures that a different action must be taken each turn. The actions available are limited. Taking actions in the right order is essential to a winning strategy.

antike board game from rio grande games
Antike, from Rio Grande Games

Other Mac Gerdts games use the rondel in a similar manner. Navegador, set during the Portuguese age of exploration and colonization, uses actions such as Building buildings or ships, Sailing, or Workers.

For a modern version with similar gameplay, fast forward to the near future in Imperial 2030.


Merlin

In Merlin, from Queen Games and designer Stefan Feld, King Arthur is assessing the Knights of the Round Table in search of a worthy successor. He is advised in this task by his wizard Merlin.

merlin board game box from queen games
Merlin, from Queen Games

The mythical Round Table serves as the action selection rondel. Each player rolls three dice of his or her color and one die for Merlin. These dice results are used to move the knight pawns of a player’s color around the rondel, taking the action on which the knight pawn lands.

A player can also choose to move Merlin. While the knights can only move clockwise, the wizard, unbound by natural law, can also move counterclockwise. Since Merlin can be moved by other players, it is difficult to plan with the wizard.

The use of dice adds randomness to the action selection. This rondel has 24 spaces on it, which seems to give players many options, but the dice available severely limits which of those spaces a player’s pawn can reach.

overhead view of the game board for merlin, from queen games
Merlin game board

Merlin is a Euro game that offers many ways to accumulate victory points. You will need to plan your actions efficiently to take advantage of the opportunities the Round Table offers your knight.


Scorpius Freighter

Featuring not one, but three rondels, Scorpius Freighter—from Alderac Entertainment Group—is the overachiever on this list.

scorpius freighter board game from alderac entertainment group
Scorpius Freighter, from Alderac Entertainment Group

Take command as the captain of a space freighter. You work for the government, but you aren’t above a little smuggling if it puts some extra credits in your pocket. You’ll need a crew. And you’ll need cargo. The rondels in Scorpius Freighter represent planets. Orbit the space freighter tokens clockwise around those planets to get what you need.

The three rondels share some action spaces, but one has more options for upgrading your ship, one is better for loading cargo, and the third will help you sell that cargo.

When ships complete an orbit, they take on a cargo cube. When one ship has six cubes, the game ends. Repeatedly choosing one action or one rondel to activate will hasten the end of the game. That could fit into your strategy. But if you need more time to stock up on points, you will be more limited in the actions you can take.

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If you love Firefly and Star Wars—stories of roguish smugglers eking out a precarious living under the scrutiny of a totalitarian government—then Scorpius Freighter might be the wretched hive of scum and villainy you’ve been looking for.


Viscounts of the West Kingdom

viscounts of the west kingdom board game from renegade game studios
Viscounts of the West Kingdoms, from Renegade Game Studios

Garphill Games expands the borders of its West Kingdom series with Viscounts of the West Kingdom. As a noble, you travel the kingdom building, writing manuscripts, and exerting your influence at court. The kingdom itself is a rondel of sorts.

Moving your meeple around the countryside allows you to take actions such as constructing buildings and trading. This rondel offers some selection of routes, which is a departure from the standard rondel. Take the inner path for castle intrigue. Follow the outer route to build.

red wooden token sitting on the game board of the Viscount of the West Kingdoms board game from Renegade Game Studios
Viscounts of the West Kingdom

Viscounts of the West Kingdom implements several game mechanics, including deckbuilding. You will need to coordinate your movement on the rondel with the cards you have in play to maximize the effect of your actions.

This game is a little more complex than other titles from designer Shem Phillips. If you enjoy his other games and appreciate a creative use of the rondel, then take a spin around the kingdom in Viscounts of the West Kingdom.


Teotihuacan: City of Gods

rondel games board game teotihuacan: city of gods, from Board & Dice
Teotihuacan: City of Gods, from Board & Dice Games

In Teotihuacan: City of Gods, players compete for the most fame as they worship Aztec gods, develop technologies, and build the Pyramid of the Sun.

They do so by managing workers, represented by dice. Move one of your dice one to three spaces clockwise around the board and then select one of the actions available at that spot. The benefits of that action will depend on the dice already present at that space. It is also possible to power up your workers by increasing the value of the die representing that worker. Higher level workers will benefit more from each action they take.

There is a lot going on in Teotihuacan, but it all revolves around the rondel. Optimize your dice movement to get the biggest benefits from your turns and ascend the ranks of the nobility in Teotihuacan.

teotihuacan: city of gods board game from Board & Dice Games
Teotihuacan: City of Gods

Play a Round on a Rondel

The seasons of life are reflected in the rondel and its cyclical approach to selecting actions in board games. Play around with any of these popular games that feature a rondel and experience the evolution of the rondel from the humble “wheel of eight actions” to the Great Western Trail.


Written by John David Thacker

John David is a freelance writer specializing in board games and the board game industry.


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