Memoir '44 is Richard Borg's landmark game of World War II tactics, notable both for excellent production quality, including a plethora of little plastic solders, armor, and artillery, and for a game system that, while fairly complex by Eurogame standards, is nonetheless extraordinarily simple by board wargame standards, while retaining the strategic complexity of far more rules-complex board wargames.
Tabletop Tuesdays: Simple, Tense, and Now Online
|Submitted by costik on Tue, 06/21/2011 - 05:24.|
Tabletop Tuesdays: Diplomacy Variant
|Submitted by costik on Tue, 03/22/2011 - 19:15.|
A vital lesson any aspiring game designer must learn is that relatively small tweaks to the rules of a game can produce major changes in the feeling of play. Diplomacy variants are one good way to see this quickly; since the game's publication in 1959, fans have designed a huge number of variants (or 'mods', if you will), and by exploring them, you can see a lot of ideas for how to change gameplay very quickly. Excellent places to explore them include The Variant Bank and The Diplomatic Pouch.
Diplomacy is, in many ways, a superb game, but it is not without flaws. Among them, two are prominent. First, it is fairly easy to be eliminated in the early game, which is a pain, since a complete game takes seven hours or so to play, and your friends are still having fun while you're looking at your watch. Second, because of the high ratio between supply center and non-supply center provinces, it is fairly easy to construct a "stalemate line" -- a continuous line of mutually supporting units such that no attack from the other side, however arranged, can break the front.
Duel of Ages
|Submitted by IanSchreiber on Tue, 09/28/2010 - 00:49.|
As gamers, we are often quick to chastise the industry for too much sameness and a "me too" risk-aversion mentality among publishers. At actual game development studios, of course, game designers often want to innovate, but are careful not to do too much differently, because everything new (and thus untested) carries some design risk. Unless you have an infinite budget, you simply can't take too many risks, because each one has a very real cost in testing and iteration time. We rarely see games that are too innovative, because those games generally run out of money before release.
In the boardgame world, costs are three orders of magnitude lower, so in theory we can see the occasional game that innovates a little too much for its own good. Duel of Ages is a case in point: a game with a lot of very interesting experiments going on, some of which succeed while others fall flat, resulting in a game that is worthy of study by game designers even if it's not necessarily worth playing purely for entertainment.
The premise of the game is that in the future, there is this Holodeck-inspired battle arena where anyone, real or imagined, past or present, can be brought to life. I suspect it is the inherent anachronisms that were the original seed for the idea, and the game carries it well: imagine Ghengis Khan with a rocket pack facing off against Annie Oakley with a laser pistol, and you get the idea.
On the surface, the mechanics look like a simplified chits-and-hexes wargame: You've got individual units with equipment on a hex, there's movement, terrain, a simple zone-of-control system, and attacks are handled through a color-coded stat system where you compare one of the attacker's stats to one of the defender's and this gives you a target number on 2d6. Most characters are hardy and can take a few hits before dying, but kills are possible. For the most part, the combat system takes a fairly intimidating set of math formulas and makes it a bit more accessible using a universal lookup table that you'll have memorized by the end of your first game anyway.
The object of the game, however, is not to kill the opposing team (well, in theory you could win that way, but combat is balanced in such a way that it is exceedingly unlikely). Rather, there are 5 potential victory points, and "having the most people alive at the end of the game" is one of them. The other four are these independent scoring tracks on the board that can only be advanced by maneuvering your characters to certain key locations, and then attempting a challenge (another die roll against a random stat, and win or lose, your character is teleported away so they have to walk all the way back to try again). Whoever is further ahead on each track gets one of the victory points. It is therefore control and advancement of these four strategic locations that has more of an effect on the game than the actual combat, making this play like a really strange military almost-non-combat game. While I appreciate a wargame with an alternate goal to "just shoot until everything around you is dead," the sheer amount of die-rolling (particularly against arbitrary stats) makes the game feel like the focus is more on luck than strategy.
Game length is not actually stated in the rules, other than that players should agree to a set length in advance. You can therefore play for half an hour or four hours or whatever, and when the timer reaches zero, you count up victory points and determine a winner... which again is different from most games that have a more explicitly-defined victory condition. (This also means a player could theoretically stall the game intentionally, so I preferred playing to a set number of turns rather than a set amount of time.) While this does let you tailor the length of the game to the amount of time you actually have to play, it feels a little awkward to be struggling towards a goal and knowing that no matter what, you can't possibly reach it until a timer runs out. It also means that unless the game is very close, the endgame feels like the game is already decided; victory points just don't transfer from one player to another that quickly or easily. This would be one of those new things that didn't quite work out.
The player structure is a stroke of brilliance that I hope to some day see in other games. Rather than the more typical free-for-all of tabletop board games, players are divided into exactly two teams, with each team given a set number of character tokens on the map. A team collectively wins or loses, and all players on the team work together; they can collaborate in deciding which characters move where (a "play-by-committee"), or more likely, they can assign specific characters to individual players and you each move your own. This has the side benefit of free entry and free exit to the game. Say a friend walks by and asks what you're playing; "here, let me give you one of my characters and we'll explain as we go" is a perfectly valid response. Likewise, if you have to leave early, it's not a game-killer; just hand off your characters to your teammates and they can continue where you left off. As another side effect, the two-team structure essentially means that Duel of Ages is one of the few games that could reasonably claim "number of players: 2 to infinity."
The last area of innovation is the business model. Apparently, the game that the designer really wanted to make would have retailed at around $200 or so... a steep price for any tabletop game that isn't owned by Wizards of the Coast or Games Workshop. Rather than scale down the gameplay or reduce the core rule set, however, the game was instead broken down into a single base set and a pile of expansions, all co-released from day one. As such, playing the core set only gives the feeling that something is lacking... largely because it is. On the other hand, playing the game the way the designer intended requires an expense that most gamers would only be likely to pay if the core set was sufficiently satisfying, so it becomes something of a catch-22. It's not unlike a board game equivalent of a "crippleware" video game, trying to find that fine line where you give the player enough to make them want to buy everything, without giving such an entertaining experience that the "demo" satisfies the player's need. Except that in this case, the demo still costs forty bucks. Oops. So... interesting business model, but a swing and a miss in perhaps the most critical area.
The big takeaway I get while playing this game, is the importance of only innovating in one or two key chosen areas when making a new game. Too many new things means some of them will not work the way you hoped they would, and the result is a game with a lot of potential, a gold mine for new ideas, but an unsatisfying overall experience because half of it just doesn't seem to work right.
Don Casimir Freschot's Map Game
Tabletop Tuesdays: Pushing Back the Designed Boardgame
|Submitted by costik on Tue, 08/25/2009 - 02:51.|
I have previously made much of A Journey Through Europe, published in 1759, and the first boardgame in the English language to which we can ascribe an individual designer; I called it "the first designed game," and Rob Rossney quite rightly pointed out that the card game of Cribbage was designed sometime around 1630 by Sir John Suckling. But at least until now, Journey was the first designed boardgame of which I know.
Tabletop Tuesdays: The Gateway Game
|Submitted by bbrathwaite on Tue, 07/22/2008 - 00:12.|
Somewhere out there, there is a list of tabletop games that everyone should play. On this list, I suspect, is Carcassonne. Themed after the French-walled city of the same name, this German-designed tile-laying game consists of just under 100 tiles and tasks players with building castles, roads, and farms. Players score points for staking a claim in and completing various things like castles or surrounding a cloister with tiles. At the end of the game, incomplete projects as well as farms -- tracts of land that serve one or more completed cities -- are scored, and a winner is crowned.
Tabletop Tuesdays: Excellent, Free Eurostyle Boardgame
|Submitted by costik on Tue, 06/17/2008 - 00:00.|
Höyük is a freely-downloadable boardgame, with nice graphics provided by Orlando Ramirez, a fan of the game, and inspired by murals at Catal Huyuk, the ancient Anatolian city, and the largest and best-preserved Neolithic settlement yet excavated.
(Assembling a playable set does take some work; I suggest printing the components onto full-sheet labels, mounting onto cardstock, and then cutting them apart carefully.)
During the game, you place houses in the central playing area, with a set of rules to determine when and how houses can be placed adjoining to each other; animal pens can be placed adjoining to houses, and ovens and shrines can be placed atop them. A group of connected houses belonging to one player is termed a "family," and a group of connected houses and pens is termed a "block" (a block can consist of multiple families owned by multiple players).
During a round of play, a player will construct four houses, and two other items -- additional houses, pens, ovens, and/or shrines. What "additional items" you can build is semi-random, and depends on how construction cards are dealt out during the round.
At the end of each round, each block is inspected, and up to three "aspect" cards are awarded to the players: one each for the player with the most pens, most ovens, and most shrines within the block. Ties are broken by house heights--basically, houses can be built atop the rubble of other houses, subject to certain restrictions. Aspect cards can later be used either to build additional items -- or cashed in for victory points.
In addition, on every turn except for the first, a catastrophe will occur. There are basically only two types: in one, half the houses in the largest block are ruined, and in the other, half the houses in the block with the smallest number of ovens, pens, and shrines are ruined. While the type of catastrophe is at random, there are only two types, and planning for catastrophes is therefore feasible.
When a player builds his 25th house, the last turn is in progress, though players may continue building through the end of the round.
Höyük is thus a fairly intricate strategy game, reminiscent in some ways of Alhambra and Carcassonne, which does what games of this type must do: require a handful of choices each turn, but make those choices difficult and interesting. In particular, the moment at which to switch from using aspect cards for construction and using them to garner victory points requires considerable thought.
Höyük is a game that could easily be professionally published successfully -- and despite its existence as a free download, perhaps someone should. I wouldn't mind paying for nicely-executed components.
Tabletop Tuesdays: Sid Sackson's Classic Back in Print
|Submitted by costik on Tue, 06/10/2008 - 00:02.|
Acquire is the best-known game by the immortal Sid Sackson, the preeminent American boardgame designer of the mid-20th century. First published in 1962 as part of the 3M line of games, it remained in print when 3M got out of the game business and sold their line to Avalon Hill. Unfortunately, as with most Avalon Hill games, it went out of print when Hasbro took over the company, though they republished a version in 1999, in a huge box with expensive plastic pieces (and changing the hotel theme of the original for an Internet corporation theme, which was somewhat irritating).
The new version reverts to the hotel theme, and also appears to use cardboard counters rather than plastic pieces, which may not be elegant, but means the new version is $24, a very reasonable price these days.
Tabletop Tuesdays: Asymmetric Dungeon Strategy
|Submitted by costik on Tue, 05/13/2008 - 12:23.|
Created by Iikka Keranen and Rich Carlson of Digital Eel) (developers of, among others, Strange Adventures in Infinite Space, Plasmaworm and Dr. Blob's Organism -- all computer games), Goblin Slayer is an asymmetric boardgame in which one player controls a dwarf entering a cavern infested with goblins to retrieve an artifact.
Settlers of Catan
|Submitted by IanSchreiber on Tue, 04/29/2008 - 02:44.|
If you were in one of a handful of places in 1995 in the United States, you knew that a revolution was starting. It's been going on quietly ever since, even though most people are still blissfully ignorant of it. This game, Settlers of Catan, was the opening shot.
|Submitted by IanSchreiber on Tue, 04/15/2008 - 00:12.|
The location: 14th century France. The objective: to develop the most valuable district of Paris. The story: irrelevant. This is a German game, after all, so it's all about the gameplay.
This is primarily a game of resource management. You have three resources: gold, cubes and rats. Cubes let you take your normal actions each turn, as long as you don't run out of them. Gold lets you take a special action at the end of each turn, as long as you don't run out of it. Rats accumulate each turn and do nothing, as long as you don't have too many... but if you collect more than 9 of them, really bad things start happening to you. Most game actions involve gaining more Gold, gaining more Cubes or reducing your Rat population. And if you concentrate entirely on managing your resources, you should have no problem keeping them all under control.
Naturally, the object of the game is to score Victory Points, and most actions that get you VP don't do jack squat for your Cubes, Gold or Rats. It's a constant balancing act of how far you can push your resources without everything breaking.
Player interaction comes in the form of a CCG-sealed-booster-like "draft" at the start of each round. You draw three cards (representing three of the nine possible actions in the game), keep one, and pass two to the left. You then receive your right-hand opponent's two passed cards, keep one, pass one to the left, and receive the discard from your right. Each turn you choose two of the three actions to take. So, you never know exactly what actions will be available, and much of the strategy comes from balancing your need to keep actions that are useful to you with your desire to not pass actions that the players to your left desperately need.
There are several more nuances to the game, but all in all it's a game where you have lots of good options at every decision point but you can't do everything, so every time you gain something you know you're also giving up something else. The level of complexity is similar to Puerto Rico, so if you like that game you'll probably enjoy Notre Dame as well.
This game does have one advantage over other games in its class. Most games of this complexity, due to their strategic depth, take about 90 minutes to play. Notre Dame takes half that, allowing it to fit in shorter play sessions.