Ebb and Flow
I recently played a game of Jambo, and it occurred to me that this game has more of what I call Ebb and Flow than any other game I know.
In probably all games, you can be ahead one turn, then behind the next, then ahead the next. This is not what I mean.
In Jambo, you have 5 basic resources to manage: gold, market size, wares, cards in hand, and utilities in play. Although gold is the way you measure victory, it is not the way you measure your position during play.
You may be way behind in gold, but have 11 wares or a mitt-full of cards when your opponent has none. This is the Ebb and Flow of Jambo.
I was behind in gold 40 to 5, and was wondering how I could ever catch up. But then I noticed that I had a larger market, more wares, more cards, and more utilities in play. Several turns later, I had more gold, no cards, no utilities, and a smaller market. Although I was closer to victory in gold, I felt a little vulnerable.
I suppose you could say that, in this respect, that Ebb and Flow is simply an investment mechanic at work, ultimately paying off in gold. But it doesn't quite feel that way. I started think about other games in which this concept might apply.
Kahuna was the first game I considered--partially because we had just played that as well. The number of stones and bridges you have relative to your opponent can change dramatically in a single turn. But it surely never feels like having fewer components on the board is positionally better in any way, especially with the 5-card limit.
What about Carolus Magnus? Victory is measured by the towers you have in play. A single cube can cause all the towers in one combined region to change hands. That's a big swing, but again doesn't feel like Ebb and Flow.
Maybe St Petersburg then. Here you have 3 resources: cards, money, and victory points. As the game progresses, you ramp down on money and ramp up on VP. But you can't "spend" victory points.
That has to have something to do with it. What games allow you to spend your victory points (or whatever resource is counted for winning) in order to improve your position? Magna Grecia, Princes of Florence, Hansa, Magic: The Gathering (and probably other CCG's), and Traders of Genoa (and other games where cash wins). Of these, only Hansa comes close to that feeling for me. You can use a bunch of goods to build market booths rather than sell them. This can put you way behind in VP but set you up for later. But you are not spending VP; you are merely using what could be VP for something else.
What other games qualify? They have to have multiple resources being managed. The resource that counts for the win must be spendable. Is Jambo the king of Ebb and Flow?