Is it drafty in here?

by jimphd

Card drafting is an interesting mechanic that has a lot of variation. It’s a strong enough mechanic to be the basis of an entire game like 7 Wonders.  Many deck building games such as Dominion, Ascension, Star Realms, etc. could even be thought of as variations of card drafting. There’s just this added step of playing the cards.  Worker placements games or role-choosing games, such as Agricola or Puerto Rico, can function like drafting games as well, although typically drafting occurs without replacement.  The grand-daddy of drafting games is probably the limited format of Magic: The Gathering.  Although many of the drafting methods described here were developed for drafting Magic cards, they may be adapted to other games.

Drafting is a great game mechanic because it’s fundamentally interactive, but allows for interesting limitations on interaction.  By using hidden information or differing incentives, it is often resistant to problems such as kingmaking and lame-ducks.  It may be possible that players are in kingmaking or lame-duck roles, but in many drafting games, players are unaware of their relative positions.  Even though they may be a kingmaker or a lame-duck, since they don’t know it, the game doesn’t have the same feel-bad consequences.

Although one could theoretically draft any game object, for example, Chess pieces, cards have a number of interesting properties that make them great for drafting.  First, because they have a front and back, they elegantly allow for hidden information.  Second, they can have text or symbols on them that convey game rules or information, and so the rule book can be smaller and you don’t have to define how game objects work ahead of time (e.g., how a Chess piece moves).  I mentioned before that there are games with draft-like elements that don’t use cards, like worker placement games such as Agricola.  In that game, players take turns placing their marker on an action, which allows them to take that action and block other players from taking it.  The next player then chooses from the remaining actions.  Although this functions a lot like a draft, I’m going to be focusing on card drafting.  Many mechanics here could be adapted for worker placement or other types of games, drafting is much more common in card games.

Please note that I’ve maintained and collected this information for a while before I even thought of posting it here.  Most of it comes from other sources, such as various Magic: The Gathering  and card game rules websites, Wikipedia, or people I’ve met.  I don’t remember where I found many of these ideas, but most of them are not original.

One last note: I try to edit and expand this list to make it as comprehensive as possible, and so I view this as a living document.  If you know of a drafting format, for cards, sports teams, or anything that you think think would be a good fit here, add it in the comments or message me.

Pack
Each player is given some number of individual “packs” of cards to draft. To begin, each player takes his or her first pack, selects a card, and then passes the pack to the next player. Players continue picking and passing the pack until it is depleted and then proceed to the next pack. The draft concludes when all packs have been drafted.

Solomon
Decide who will be “Player A” and who will be “Player B.” Player A drafts first, Player B may get some other advantage later, e.g., to play first in the game. A communal stack of cards is used to draft. To draft, Player A flips over some number of cards from the stack and then divides them into two piles. They can be divided evenly or disproportionately into two piles.

Once Player A has split the cards, Player B picks one of those piles and adds it to his or her drafted cards. The other pile goes to Player A. The process is then repeated, this time with Player B separating cards from the stack into two piles and Player A selecting a pile.

Solomon n
As a variant, more than two players can play, with each player splitting into n piles, where n is the number of players. Crucially, the player who splits always takes the last pile, which helps to prevent unfair splits.

Rochester
Reveal four cards. Player A picks one card first, player B picks two, and then player A picks the last one. Next, reverse the order with player B picking first. Keep drafting, alternating order until all cards have been selected.

Winston
Decide who will be “Player A” and who will be “Player B.” Player A drafts first, Player B may get some other advantage later, e.g., to play first in the game. A communal stack of cards is used to draft. To begin drafting, Player A sets the top three cards from the main pile in three stacks face down on the table, without looking at them.
Player A then looks at the card in the first small pile—without showing it to Player B—and chooses to either draft it or leave it. If Player A drafts the pile, it’s replaced with the top card of the main stack (also face down). If Player A leaves the card, the top card of the main stack is put on top of it, creating a two-card pile. Player A repeats the process with the second pile and then moves on to the third pile. If Player A didn’t choose any of the three piles, that player must take the top card from the main stack, no matter what it is. Once Player A drafts any pile or the top card of the main stack, it’s Player B’s turn to go through the whole thing again.

Remember: Each time a player takes a pile, it’s replaced by the top card of the main stack to form a new one-card pile. And each time a player puts a pile back, the top card of the main stack is added to it. There’s no limit to how large a pile can get!

Rotisserie Draft
All cards in the draft are laid out face up in front of the players. The players then roll dice to determine who will get to pick first, second, third, and so forth. The first drafter selects a card and places it face down in front of his or her seat. Picks continue until the last player has picked a card. The draft order then reverses: the last player selects a second card, then the second-to-last player, and so on. When it gets back to the first player, that player takes two cards, and so on. For example, if there were four players (A, B, C, and D) in the draft, the pick order would be A, B, C, D, then D, C, B, A, then A, B, C, D.

Winchester Draft
A combination of Winston and Rotisserie or Rochester Draft. Each player is given a random stack of cards. Determine a player A and B. Each player flips over two cards from his or her stack and creates two mini-piles. Player A selects one of these piles and adds it to his or her pool. Both players then add cards from their stack to each of their piles. Repeat this process for player B, and then alternate picks until all cards have been drafted.

Grid
Create some number of packs (commonly 16-20.) Each pack contains nine cards. Lay out one pack in a three-by-three grid. All the cards are placed face-up. Player A picks a row or column of three cards. Then, Player B picks a row or column from what is left. The remaining cards are set aside. Those cards are no longer part of the Draft. Repeat with all the remaining packs, switching the first-pick choice back and forth between players.

Glimpse/Burn
This is a variant of pack drafting that may work better for smaller numbers of players.  In this format, players begin with some number of packs.  Each pack has N cards in it.  In the draft, players will look at each card in a pack, choose one, and then eliminate (“burn”) a fixed number of cards from the pack.  For example, in a burn two draft, a player would select one card and then burn two.  Cards that were burned are removed face-down from the draft so that only the player who burned them knows what they were.  After a player has selected a card and burned others, they pass the pack to another player.  It may work best if the number of cards in a pack, N, is equal to the final number of cards you want a player to have per pack multiplied by the number that are burned.  For example, if you would like a player to draft five cards per pack and burn two, then each pack should have fifteen cards (each pick removes three cards from the pack).

Purchase
Players begin with some number of points or money. A row of cards is placed face up. Each card has a fixed cost to buy.

Optionally, after a player buys a card, a coin/money/points are placed on all remaining cards and then the empty slot is replaced with a new card. If a player drafts a card with coins on it, he or she adds them to his or her pool.

Communal cards
In any drafting variant where players alternate picks, communal cards can be added. These cards can be hidden or public information. Instead of picking their usual pick, a player may select one (or more) of the communal cards. Essentially, this just adds an extra pile to the draft.

Auctions
Similar to the purchase option, but without a fixed price.  Since there are many formats of auctions, I am working on a separate post that describes the various types and formats.

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