Mac Gerdts is a prolific board game designer who is most known for his invention of the Rondel. This simple mechanism is one of the most inventive uses of a circle to come to the hobby since the infamous Game of Life spinner. Essentially, there is a circle with player markers on it. Each turn players select their action from any of the next three in the circle. Anything skipped over cannot be chosen again until a that marker makes it’s way around the circle again. Think of it kind of like a Merry-Go-Round of actions. This simple use of an action selection circle makes for wonderfully complex decisions. On the one hand, players want to do actions in the most efficient order as they go around and around. On the other hand, what you REALLY want to do on a given turn may require you to skip the other actions.
The Rondel Merry-Go-Round of choice is a really brilliant way of giving the players important choices to make each turn, but not overwhelming them with too many choices at once. It also makes the timing of choices matter more than ever before. This solves the “Goldilocks Problem” of board game choice. If you give players too few choices on their turn, it can feel like the game is playing them. If you give them a giant menu of choices, play can bog down as players need to decide from a large array of possible actions. With the Rondel, players can make one of three choices, but these choices then inform what choices they have on their next turn.
Up until recently, every one of Mac Gerdts games featured this familiar circle of actions, with the actions themselves, the theme, and the ultimate goal of the game changing around that central mechanism. Imperial and Imperial 2030 take a chilling look at countries warring and conquering each other, while the players play investors that can control countries that they have a majority share in. Despite looking on the surface like Risk, this game is more about the manipulation and politics that happens behind the front lines. Navegador has players controlling trade ships navigating around Africa, and colonizing and trading on their way. Antike takes on the familiar Greco-Roman Civilization them and has players warring and building structure throughout the ancient world. At the heart of all of these is that strategic Merry-Go-Round, the brilliance of the Rondel.
Gerdts branched out recently with a big hit Concordia, his first game that did not feature a Rondel. Instead in this game Gerdts adopts the popular deck building mechanism. Players add action cards to their deck which dictate their future action choices. While it is a fantastic implementation of deck building, it is missing a little bit of that strategic timing that game with the Rondel. Still, here too Gerdts limits the choices a player has on their turn in order to keep the game moving and allow for on your toes thinking wrapped inside a strategic whole.
While he is German and in no way eligible to run for the US Presidency, he is most certainly my candidate for the Cardboard party. Perhaps politics, and the world in general could use a bit more clockwork thinking, one choice at a time around the Merry Go Round.