Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Having fun with a new game

Nowadays I often design games for other people to play, that I'm not so keen on playing myself. This is something that separates some experienced designers from novices, as novices usually only design the game(s) they would like to play. I tend to like games with some depth of strategy that might take several hours to play. I studied games to become a better player. I am not a fan of heavily complex rules, but neither do I naturally gravitate to simple games. Yet the market very much trends toward shorter, simpler games. And the market reflects "the cult of the new", as people don't expect to play a game more than a few times before they move on to another.

In particular, I tend to design more "filler" games and short games than I might play. Some I enjoy playing pretty well, some I'm not so keen on.

But there is one game amongst the new ones that I really enjoy playing solo or with others, though I'm not sure how marketable it is--not because people won't like PLAYing it, but it's a question of whether you can get people to BUY the game.

The game originated after a publisher talked about presenting Dragon Rage (which is in process of being republished from 1982) as an introductory hex wargame. This caused me to think about designing another introductory hex wargame, but this time with a science fiction rather than fantasy theme.

The standard scenario is brothers of a king who has died in suspicious circumstances, each proclaiming the other brother(s) to be a patricide. It's generally a two player game, but can be played in this version by more than two.

The ships set up face down, one at a time, then are revealed as they fight or move faster than one hex (revealed to prove that they can). So there's a considerable element of "fog of war". Normal forces vary with scenario, 15-25 inch-square pieces (with numbers usually going down as the game progresses). Each player has a prince and a non-movable asteroid stronghold. If either is lost, he loses the game. The prince gives a morale bonus in battle, but may have to expose himself to danger to do so.

The "board" is modular 5 by 5 large-hex sections with varying "terrain" which fit together in a great many ways ("geomorphic"). There's a separate 8" by 11" battle board for the battles, which usually involve fewer than five ships but have seen as many as 32 in one battle--nearly the entire forces during a two-player game. Combat uses the venerable "Valley of the Four Winds" method, a two-dice roll to hit, all or nothing, with defender firing first and then alternating individual ship firing (if you die before you shoot, you don't shoot). Better ships have better chances to hit, and better defense modifiers. Ships also have a range and a speed (strategic and tactical the same). Some can go into galactic dust clouds/nebulae, some cannot.

What's continued my interest in solo play is creating scenarios for the game. I have the "rebels vs. the empire" scenario (no, no Deathstar), the "Barbarians" scenario (light ships coming in uncoordinated bunches from the galactic rim), the "Annihilators" scenario (huge death-dealing machines that burn off planets), and the "Wormhole Invaders" scenario (aliens suddenly issue from Black Holes!). Most of these have a smaller version (two 5 by 5 hex boards) and a larger (four boards).

It's also interesting to watch people play, especially those who aren't used to board wargames. There's a tendency for players to sit around doing nothing, which is OK *if* they have the preponderance of economic value. It is not just a battle game, it is a war, so there is an economy, and if you control more of the valuable areas, you're likely to win in the long run.

1 comment:

ltmurnau said...

I look forward to the publication (and republication) of these games.

Nowadays almost all of my playing is limited to testing of games I've designed, before sending them off to blindtesters. Not much time for other things.