Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Brit-like game in block format?

Has anyone played a "block game" with four sides? By block game I mean one that uses small stand-up wooden blocks with a sticker on one side, so that the owner can see what the block represents, but other players cannot. Each block can be turned on different sides to represent different strengths, as many as four.

Virtually all block games are two-sided--I don't know of one with three or four sides--but I'm told that four sides work. To me, there'd be less than a 90 degree angle to opposing pieces, at times, and inevitably other players would sometimes see the "secret identity" of the piece.

Someone suggested using the block game format for a Brit-like game. This not only means how do we solve the four-side problem, but also how do we make a Brit-like game with no more than 100 pieces (the practical limit for production purposes, evidently, owing to expense). The low piece limit calls for a Euro-like game. The "step" format means that one piece could represent several armies, but you'd have to have a map with relatively few areas or use an alternative method to indicate occupation of areas (small markers instead of the blocks).

Even with the alternative method, the area count would have to be quite low--20 to 25. The lowest piece count I have in a game I've played is 127 armies plus leaders plus capitals and forts (Caledonia). The average number of pieces on the board in Brit is about 55, but at times up into the 70s and 80s. Brit has 37 land areas--so the average count is about 1.5 per land area, even though some of the pieces will be at sea most of the time. Italia has 624 pieces, Brit 200-some (which may be the fewest of any Brit-like game).

Think also, four players gives 25 blocks per player. The number of nations would have to be about 3 per player, which would also fit the Euro aim. But in only one of the many Brit-like ideas I've been working with for years, have I got a set of only 12 nations. Usually I struggle to keep it to 16, and often don't.

Using the hidden-information blocks, there'd also be a potential problem identifying which blocks of a color belonged to which nations.

I'm not sure Euro-wargamers would want to mess with the hidden nature of the blocks, or even the steps. I'm told that it's possible to abandon the secret information (lay the blocks down--also avoiding the nation identification problem) but retain the steps by pointing the blocks correctly away from the player. Has anyone played a game of this sort? Sounds awkward to me.

With so few units a dice-based combat method might not work well. I'd prefer using my card-based method, but cards are pretty expensive, too.

Commmand and Colors:Ancients lays the blocks down, I'm told, and
gamers like to have blocks rather than cardboard counters. I bought a big bag of blocks (variable sizes) used for the game but I didn't buy the game!

I like to try to impose constraints on designs, because sometimes the result is interesting and different. But I'm not sure that anything on the scale of a Britlike game can fit a block game format. A more or less square map (if one is trying to use hidden identities) of a relatively limited area might work best. Any comments or experiences?


Ian Schreiber said...

Be careful not to confuse the mechanics and the interface.

If I understand the term "block games" correctly, the most familiar example would be Stratego, and you're asking if it's possible to have more than two "sides", as a way to record game state. Sure there is -- use face-down cards or tiles instead of blocks; to change state, replace the tile with a new one; or use additional chits to mark state.

I could also imagine a four-sided block in a four-player game, such that the block displays full information to the player who owns it, and a different set of partial information to the player to the left, right or across (perhaps showing other players unit type or strength but not both). There could be some interesting diplomatic mechanics added to a game like this, where players could share or exchange information. It would also require all players to sit at exact locations so they don't see any information they aren't supposed to. (You could alleviate this somewhat by making the pieces concave on each side instead of exactly square, similar to the use of player screens to conceal information in many eurogames.)

Giving asymmetric information of this sort would of course be trivial on a computer strategy game, as well.

That said, I've not played any game that uses multi-sided Stratego-like pieces as its interface, specifically.

Lewis said...

Once you use cards or tiles it's not a "block game" any more. And at that point you may as well go with whatever format works, rather than block format.

I'm sure some people manage it, but I cannot see my way to ask a group of four people to sit in exactly the same places for four or five hours.

Seems to me I've seen a Stratego-like game that uses curved-sided pieces. But in wargaming the "block format" is pretty set in its ways, so to speak. This would be a case of making the game conform to the format, not meeting it halfway.

Sure, computers would take care of this, but then it wouldn't be a "block game"...

Jeffrey Henning said...

Hey, Lewis, Ultimate Stratego can be considered as a type of four-player block wargame.

The pieces are plastic though and are recessed to obscure the view of the counter:

Best regards,