If the draft is the meat of the game, the majority of the time spent playing the game should be spent during the draft. Resolving the draft -- i.e, determining which set of items is the best -- should be a relatively quick exercise. Ideally, multiple drafts would occur, and the winner of the game would be based on the outcomes of each competition that occurs between drafts.
The most obvious theme is drafting and managing a sports team. The obvious benefit to using this theme is that it closely mimics what happens in real life, and there are millions of people that play fantasy sports every year. The problem with sports is that most sports require fairly large teams. Of the major U.S. sports, basketball requires the least number of players with only 5 playing at a given time. Even then, 5 players for each team with 3 - 8 teams requires 15 - 40 players available for each draft. That's a lot of players to consider at once!
Sports do play well into the theme for other reasons. Players generally specialize in a position or skill that every team needs, and each team would need to have players that fill all of the needs of the team. Players can have synergy with other types of players that would enhance their value to the team. Using dice, players can be represented as providing consistent value, or they can be inconsistent but have high potential -- adding a bit of risk-reward to the situation.
Finally, the hidden attributes: each player could come with a randomly assigned card that slightly modifies their attributes, but the contents of the card are unknown to the teams. A team can hire a scout to allow them to look at the contents of the cards for a particular player. Teams with more money can hire more scouts. The teams that perform the best between drafts (in either head-to-head matches against other teams, or perhaps in some calculated ranking) earn more money to use for scouting in the next draft.
I could expand further on ideas I've had for doing a sports drafting game, but I want to focus on one other route that I've considered.
Instead of building a team, players are building a machine. Each machine requires certain parts to run, and each part affects the performance of the machine. Each machine also has a maintenance cost (again, randomly assigned) that is hidden from the player, but can be revealed to a player if that player sends one of his "experts" to examine the part. Each part has an initial cost that the player would have to pay when they pick the part in the draft. Before the next draft, they would have to pay the maintenance cost or trash the part. The game would flow something like this:
- Create pool of parts for drafting
- Send out experts to look at hidden maintenance costs
- Draft parts, pay cost, reveal maintenance costs
- Compete, earn payout based on performance
- Create new pool of parts for drafting
- Pay maintenance cost or trash each item (not sure when exactly this should happen)
- Send out experts, etc.
So what are these machines?
One idea is to make it an auto racing game. I know nothing about racing, and I haven't played any board games based on the theme. However, the advantage of a race is that the results are determine in one race! You don't have to have several head-to-head matches. No matter how simple the method used to determine the winner in head-to-head matches, that process will almost certainly take longer than running one race. Additionally, defining how the head-to-head matches should take place between drafts can be difficult with variable player numbers, unless you do a round-robin. And nobody wants to do an 8-player round-robin.
The other idea is robot combat. Yeah, you heard me. ROBOT. COMBAT. Now the head-to-head matches don't seem like such a bad idea, do they? An interesting aspect of this theme is that players could design their robots with a particular opponent in mind if they were only facing one or two other robots between each draft. The makeup of your opponent's robot becomes one more factor in the decision on which parts to draft.
Perhaps it should be a Robot Battle Royal.
So what sounds good? Sports? Auto Racing? Robot Combat? Robot Battle Royal?