What is Open Drafting in Board Games?

24 June 2024
Definition: A game mechanic where you select from a visible, communal pool.

‘No, you can’t take that. That’s the one I needed!’ It’s the all too familiar catchphrase of open drafting. And yes, sometimes you did pick that piece on purpose because they wanted it. Sometimes it was just the one that fitted your own plans. On occasion, you were even trying to be nice. Not that anyone ever believes that. 

What is Open Drafting?

While drafting [picking from a selection on your turn] itself is a strategic mechanic, usually the pool of cards or resources you’re drawing from are populated by luck. To counter this, many games include balancing mechanics that complement open drafting. Maybe you get to go first next turn if you draft something usually less desirable, or maybe you have to draft last next time when you pick the most sought after piece on this turn. 

Often each player is concentrating on their own tableau or board in front of them, whilst drawing from the same resources. As everything is on show in open drafting, it allows for a higher level of player interaction in what tends otherwise to be quite individualistic games. The temptation for those of us less competitive is to barely look up from our own creation, taking only what we want from the pool regardless of what else is going on on the table. 

In reality, discerning your optimal move requires keeping an eye on your opponents’ boards, deducing their strategy and where possible pilfering the exact piece they were after. This is either mean or just part of the game, depending on which end of the interaction you were on. It’s been dubbed ‘hate drafting’, and can either be done playfully, or become a valid reason to dislike a game, or a player. 

Whether it’s cards, dice, tokens or tiles, closed drafting will have you eyeing up all the options and making your plans long before your turn. You’ll need to keep a straight face when the piece that cements your win comes up and no one else has noticed. Like a James Bond villain, if you’ve mapped out the path to victory and everything is going well for you, don’t start blabbing about your plans. You’ll quickly find things come unstuck and everyone is united in a mission to stop you. 

Related Article: What is Engine Building in Games?

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What are Open Drafting Board Games?


In Cascadia, open drafting means not only do you have to hope the land tile you want is paired with the wildlife token you’re looking for, you also have to hope none of your rivals take it first. You can use acorn tokens to counter some of this, but keeping an eye on what your opponent is waiting for will be important if you’re playing competitively.

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For such a beautiful, serene and cerebral game, there’s an awful lot of hate drafting in Sagrada. There are only enough dice each turn to have one leftover after players take two. Dice placement is strictly limited to certain colours or certain numbers and everyone can see what you are looking for. You spend everyone else’s turn with baited breath keeping an eye on the exact dice you need. 

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7 Wonders Duel

Open Drafting is the crux of this two-player version of 7 Wonders, with 7 Wonders Duel. The most sought after special action, available on a token and on some of the wonders, is the one that gives you an extra turn in a row. As much of the game you spend on figuring out what you want is spent on stopping your opponent from getting what they want. The setup is different in each round, meaning the cards available to draft come up in different orders. 

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