Asymmetrical games are games where players play the game differently from one another. Some people has confused characters with Variable Player Powers as asymmetrical, but that is not the case. Even with Variable Player Powers, the players still play the same way and have the same objectives. It much more than having different abilities or powers to be considered an asymmetrical game.
In an asymmetrical game, each player has different abilities, starting conditions, gameplay, winning conditions, and objectives. So playing one character or faction would be very different from playing another one. It can be competitive or cooperative, but most of the time the game is competitive.
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase, I will earn a commission. I link these companies and their products because of their quality and not because of the commission I receive from your purchases. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.
Below are some examples of asymmetrical games and a little description what makes them asymmetrical.
Vast: The Crystal Caverns is a popular game and a prime example of a game of asymmetrical play. This game is about exploring the crystal cave and destroying the dragon or destroying the crystals in the cave. One player can play the Knight. This character who enters the cave at the entrance. She increase her skills, do side quests, and tries to kill the Dragon if a player is playing the dragon or destroys the 5 crystals of the cave if not.
Another player can play the multiple Goblin tribes that live in the cave. Their objective is to kill the Knight that enters their cave and/or to kill the Dragon that also lives in the cave. And if there is no dragon or knight, they have to destroy 5 crystals.
Another player can also play the dragon and starts the game asleep in the cave. The player has to wake the dragon up from its slumber first. Once the player wake up the dragon, it can kill goblins, hide treasures, and win by escaping the cave from the knight.
A player can play the cave itself. The cave places cave tiles on the outer edge and takes omen tokens from a bag to set up traps, rock slides, and other obstacles on the tiled map. And once the final cave tile has been placed, the cave player will start to collapse the cave by removing tiles from the table and try to destroy 5 crystals.
And there is a thief that sneaks into the cave and steals loot. They win by bringing 6 Dragon gems or treasures to the entrance. The thief can also steal from other characters and hurt them just to slow them down.
In Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right, Marquise de Cat has seized the woodlands with the intent of exploiting its riches. An Alliance of animals forms to take back the woodlands.
One player can play the Marquise de Cat and build up an engine by gathering resources and policing the woodlands to keep it under control. The cats win by building buildings and crafts.
The Eyrie player must muster their hawks to take over territory and build roosts before infighting brings them down.
The Alliance player hides in the shadows and must seek sympathy to start revolts in different territories.
And there is a vagabond character where a player can explore the board and can join any faction or betray them. The Vagabond will do what he can to accomplish his own goal.
The Fury of Dracula has some asymmetrical elements. One player plays the role of Dracula who tries to elude the hunters on his trail throughout Europe. He can only do actions during the night cycle. Throughout the game, he can make humans into vampires and lay traps for the hunters. He builds rumors tokens to reach 13 on his Influence track to win the game.
There are many different hunters like Van Helsing and Mina Harker who try to trap Dracula and defeat him. They can do actions during both night and day.
This is a simple game of trying to find your spies among cards with one word on each. Usually it is two teams playing to find all their spies first. On each team, one player known as Spymaster will know which cards has their spies, an assassin (the team loses if a player reveals this one), and other team's spies. He/she will give a one word clue for team members to try to guess using which card or cards with word clue is their spy.
XCOM is actually a cooperative game where you play elites who defend Earth from invading aliens. There is an accompanying app, that tells you the rules, indicates where the aliens strike, and to put you on a timer to complete your turn in real time.
There are 4 roles each player can play. Even though the objective is the same for all, each player plays each role very differently from one another.
The Commander manages the budget for all players, chooses crisis cards, and distributes interceptors on the world map.
The Squad Leader lays down the alien invaders, defends the base and does combat missions at locations. This is the busiest role who is on the clock during the turn.
The Chief Science Officer researches new technology and can advise the other players on what is best strategies and where the budget should be used.
The Central Officer is the player distributes satellites on the world map, operates the app and tells other players the app events.