Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Inspirations and a Game on the Cheap

Like a huge chunk of the English speaking world, I recently finished the final book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. While I won't go into any real criticisms of the book, I will say that is the conclusion of the series finishes it off fairly satisfactorily (with a few complaints). It's pacing and settings are refreshingly different than all of the other books in the series, and it goes to great lengths to make you rack your brain and remember elements and details which you've read many years ago in earlier books.

There is one part I found particularly interesting, which I will attempt to go into non-detail here as to provide as little spoilage as possible. For this is kind of required to explain before I go any further. So here we go...

Near the end of the book, the story unfolds with a large battle between the forces of evil attacking Hogwarts, which is being defended by the forces of good. It is a foolish defense, however, as most realize that it will not take long for Hogwarts to fall. However, they join this fight in order to allow the Potter Trio time to search for something hidden within Hogwarts itself.

However, like most of the series except for a very few chapters, we follow Harry around, seeing the action with his eyes. So, we are getting mere glimpses of the battle that is surrounding Hogwarts when Harry runs into it; there is the glorious doomed battle going on, but we are shown very few exacting details about it.

As an example, a few secondary characters die during the battle. We are never given the exact cause of death; who pulled off the fatal blow, what was being directly defended, or even where it occurred. We are merely treated to having the bodies being collected during a pause in the battle, and weeped over.

Which leads me wanting to see a very long, detailed, Ken Burns-ish documentary on all of the details that occurred during this great battle. I assume Rowling has notes on it as it appears that she has a ton of unused notes.

And, as sort of an inspiration, this got me to thinking about, "why not do a game that 'includes' all of these missing details."

The game becomes something fairly unique. It would have to be a wargame where the game's goal isn't about beating your enemy senseless, but more about fighting the attrition of war against overwhelming odds defending a castle trying to beat the clock. It's about how long can you keep the opposing forces at bay, without even knowing the length of time you need? When things DO collapse, did you give Harry enough time to find his object?

This got me into thinking about creating a simple system for handling Attrition Warfare. Ideally, in my mind's eye, you would be assigning various good guy factions to defend areas of the castle, such as The Grounds, The Grand Enterance, Ravenclaw and Gryffindor Towers, etc. A deck on Event cards would pseudo-randomly play out certain attacks from the bad guys, which would would come at a continuous place. But you only have a limited amount of defenders.

In addition, on the Event cards certain Potter Trio events of the search would "pop out," and there'd be a running total of those events. And, without giving away anymore elements of the book, certain events would happen based on if Hogwarts fell or not, and some kind of random check would be made to determine if your defense gave the Potter Trio enough time to find all the clues (the running total of Potter clues).

At least, that would be the general direction of the design. But the hard part in all of this, the unexplored territory, would be coming up with a simple Attrition Warfare mechanic. Which after some amount of thought while driving to and from work and during a fairly exhaustive day of lawn work, I think I have one.

And while at some point I may evolve it back into a heavily themed Hogwarts affair, to be able to play it currently and quickly, I've distilled the main system of the game down into a fairly simple, abstract affair playable by two players with a standard card deck and a few other components.

To get the game, click here.

One can see the many variations that can be developed off of this basic system. Instead of just having designated Battlefronts, each Battlefront could be a card that can give certain bonuses to type of other cards that are at that Battlefront ("All Battalions led by a diamond card gain +2 Strength). You could add some kind of production rule to uncontested Battlefronts, and let players re-gain discard cards. In my mind, each type of Battalion in the Hogwarts game becomes a different type of unit, such as Giants, who are more interested in damaging different parts of the castle, than damaging opposing Battalions themselves. The Werewolf Battalions are fast and can move to any weakened Battlefront. Reciprocally, Ravenclaw Battalions have greater strength when defending the Ravenclaw Tower Battlefront, while the Order Battalions are better for front line defense in the yards outside the castle.

But all this data sort of hangs on the main system. Which is important to work out first.

The system itself is fairly interesting in that it handles the randomness of a battle is a much different way that a wargame does. Typically, you simply roll dice against a few charts or numbers. Here, the changing value of the top card in a Battalion somewhat capture the ebb and flow of how a particular Battalion is doing; are they geared up and ready for a fight with a brutal attack? Have they fallen into a sullen, we can't win malaise? And these Battalion "emotions" switch during every Attrition of the Battalion.

Games on the Cheap:
Anyway, I've decided to start a new little heading of designed games entitled, Games on the Cheap. These are games where the rules are the only things that requires downloading; no assembly required. You just have to gather up the required, pieces that you might have laying around the house (or at least, easily purchasable at the local drugstore). Playing cards, poker chips, and 6 sided dice being the usual fare. Maybe a checkers board. No goofy polyhedral dice.

However, this does create an interesting issue in that these games may likely turn out to be a slightly poor quality cousin of a game with component design targeted at the game. But that's all part of the fun of the challenge.

Battlefronts provides a good example of this, most notably the card distribution that is natural to a regulation playing card deck. Ideally, the spread of 1 through 10 is quite ridiculous for causing damage with it's 10:1 ratio of highest to lowest; dividing the totals by five (with rounding up) solves this problem somewhat nicely (if rather in-elegantly) in that the damage caused by a ranking card of 10 has a strength that is only twice as strong as an Ace (a strength of 1).

But hey, you live within the confines of which you create, I suppose.

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