Strategicon: Prototypes and Playtesting
One of the most awesome things about attending conventions is the opportunity to playtest and sample upcoming games. Sometimes the games eventually emerge in the same form that I played them. Sometimes, I get to see how feedback changed things around for the finished product. Most notable were Ars Victor, Crossbones, and Soveriegn Chess. Antoine Bauza was also there to playtest the next 7 Wonders Expansion as well as testing other designs.
Ars Victor. Ars Victor is a combat strategy game that provides a minis-like experience. It’s also a free downloadable print and play game available online. For Strategicon, however, the pieces were produced professionally. I was able to speak with designer Steve DeBaun who took great pride in saying that all of the copies available there (including artwork) were created by U.S. companies or artists.
The players build up their armies of by selecting from various unit options. Each unit has an attack for close combat (when adjacent), medium weapons (at a distance of 2), or long range (longer than that). The attack is listed as a number of dice of different colors so that it is easy to see which units are deadly close up, and which prefer to sit back and shell the enemy. Additionally, every unit is given a suit (hearts, clubs, spades, diamonds). Players draw cards that allow them to issue orders for units of the same suit – or units of the same color with a penalty. There are also tons of terrain modifiers and unit special abilities. Despite seeming completely overwhelming at first, it actually moves very fluidly and after just a turn or two, most players were able to grasp the basics.
An interesting twist is that players start with 80 glory. Composing an army costs some amount of initial glory. Then, the game is won when the other player is reduced to 0 glory. This can be done by killing units, or by keeping and controlling capture points. The race to knock your opponent out was very reminiscent of a CCG like Magic and contributed to the desire to destroy your opponent rather than merely achieve pre-printed objectives.
The reason for the great boards, though, was that Ars Victor created a tournament with cash prizes for the top two winners. The Ars Victor team did a tremendous job getting people to play and really showcased a lot of what the game had to offer. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And, because I’m terrible at printing and putting games together, I asked about future plans. While Steve is still trying to get publicity for this brand new game, he hopes to be able to bring it to Kickstarter at some future point. If he does, you’ll definitely read about it here.
Crossbones. Crossbones has been in development for some time. In fact, I was able to play it a little closer to its infancy at this same convention last year. Since that time, it has grown up a ton and I’m able to share.
In Crossbones, the players all try to successively complete a pirate’s tale. There is a hunt for treasure, several bottles of rum, and the potential for a lot of attacking. While the theme is strong, the game is very much on the lighter side of the spectrum. Mechanically, it’s very similar to progressive rummy with dice. At each level, the player must make a specific roll (roll a 6, roll three of a kind, roll only odd, etc.) in order to advance to the next level. As you advance, you get access to greater rewards, but also become a bigger target for trailing players to attack you and take your place.
One of the huge improvements from last year – and something I think takes the game from a mediocre dice game to a quick strategy game, is the inclusion of rum. Players start with rum tokens and gain a few more over the course of the game. They can be used to manipulate dice. But, because there is a very finite supply of rum, the players must carefully gauge when it is best to use it, and when to forgo.
Crossbones is a great light game, maybe a bit above a party game, but still far removed from a deep strategy game. While there is strategy in terms of movements and attacks, it’s mostly just a fun dice roller that keeps tension high enough for the game to be fun for its duration (about 20 minutes with two players – likely longer with more). It isn’t on Kickstarter yet, but when it makes its debut, you’ll hear about it here as well.
Sovereign Chess. There were a number of chess variants being played and tested at Strategicon, but none more interesting than Sovereign chess. Players have the traditional white and black pieces with each taking a side. But, the board is lined with tons of pieces of other colors as well. The usual board also has a smattering of colors in the center.
Instead of the traditional battle, a player can now land a piece on one of the colors on the board. As long as a piece he controls remains there, he also controls the pieces of that color. So if he can get onto the red square, he then can control the red pieces in addition to his usual color. However, if the other player takes the red square, the red pieces immediately switch loyalty. It’s an interesting mix that not only requires chess players to watch dozens of new lines of attack, but also to be wary of a piece grabbing a color that could be harmful. After all, there are colored pieces on either side of the players’ starting pieces.
Sovereign Chess was an intriguing idea and the power comes from its simplicity. It really is just a few alterations to the standard game, so any experienced chess player can pick up the basics almost immediately. From there, though, it’s like an entirely new game. One player grabbed the yellow pieces, then used a yellow piece to control the red pieces. Later on, the other player succeeding in winning over the yellow pieces – which meant he also received the red pieces immediately. The tide can turn quickly and it requires you to place different priorities on pieces based on what else they control.
Also Seen. Unfortunately, competition was high and I didn’t get to play Sindbad (Bauza’s new game in playtesting) or 7 Wonders: Armada. However, what I heard about both was very intriguing. Keep an eye out for those in the future.