Boardgame Project – Case Studies


Whilst working on “Solstice”, I came upon several games that both inspired and informed my design. Sometimes it was a specific mechanic that intrigued me, other times it was an aspect of the aesthetic design of a game, or its architecture. In the following, I will be analysing and comparing the features I feel are relevant to my game.

Othello

This game inspired one of the final and most important changes I made to my game: allowing players to use their opponent’s stars on the board to complete constellations (before, players could only capture a zodiac sign by occupying every point in it with their own stars). Othello, an over 100 years old abstract strategy game, is about turning what seems like a hopeless situation into a success – and what’s more, using the opponent’s recourses to do so. The catchphrase printed on its box boasts that it takes “a minute to learn… a lifetime to master”, and indeed, the rules are incredibly simple. Consisting of “disks” with one white and one black side, the game requires players to flip their opponent’s disks (making them white instead of black, or vice versa) by “flanking” them, or in other words by placing their own disks on either side of an opposing disk in a straight line.

There are several reasons I found this game intriguing. Firstly, one consequence of the “capture” mechanic is that it is actually in a player’s best interest to have only a few, well-placed pieces on the board during the early stages of the game, despite the aim of “Othello” being to outnumber the opponent’s pieces on the board at the end. Beginners often fail to realise this, and attempt to dominate the board early in the game, thereby making themselves vulnerable to their opponent who now has more options to choose from. The importance of the strategic placement of pieces thus eclipses the necessity to continuously outnumber one’s opponent on the board, which I think teaches patience and long-sightedness – qualities I wanted my game to inspire as well.

Furthermore, the duality of the disks means that players can watch their own pieces quite literally turn against them, in the same way that Iago, originally Othello’s trusted ally, betrays Othello and causes his world (and with it his mental state) to slowly fall apart in Shakespeare’s eponymous play. I liked the idea that the player’s pieces do not reliably belong to any one player, but instead can “switch allegiance”, and work against their original owners, thus arguably enhancing the bitterness of defeat and the intensity of the winner’s victory. This – and the fact that players are encouraged to be more aware of where they place pieces for fear of aiding the opponent – inspired my decision to allow players to complete constellations using their opponent’s pieces.

“Shogi”, an early chess-variant, has a similar mechanic whereby captured pieces may return to the board rather than being completely eliminated. However, this may only be done one-by-one rather than en-masse, which makes the game considerably slower than “Othello” and thereby less relevant to “Solstice”.

Hansa Teutonica

Despite its tragically boring appearance, “Hansa Teutonica” offers players a huge amount of freedom, allowing them to cultivate skills on something akin to a tech-tree to pursue one of the many roads to victory. In order to acquire a higher number of action points in a category (each of which give the player different abilities), players must work to complete certain trade routes on the board. I experimented for a while with trying to implement a similar mechanic in “Solstice”, in which players received more action points for completed constellations, but this created a positive feedback loop that reinforced success and left the loser in the dust. I learned that it was precisely “Hansa’s” multifaceted nature that gives every player the opportunity to cultivate some aspect of their tech-tree and thus prevent such a feedback loop from occurring – something which I could not really add to my game because it had to be short and simple. Nevertheless, this game showed me that it is feasible to have a system with a rising action point allowance, so long as it is balanced in some way.

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Everdark and Centrix

After being inspired by the Mao Kun Map in “Pirates of the Caribbean”, I started researching whether such a design had already been implemented by a baordgame before. I stumbled upon “Everdark” and “Centrix”, both games with rotating boards. However, whilst “Everdark” is based on an action point system (or AP system) in which one AP equals one rotation, “Centrix” is a card based game where one card may allow several rotations at once. Both games involve lining up rings in a certain way to allow for pawns to travel between them, which is unlike “Solstice” where tokens – or “stars” – that cannot be moved around the board replace pawns.

I was already planning on integrating some sort of AP system into my game, but was unsure of whether to prescribe an order for rotating the board and placing stars or not. In “Centrix”, rotation must take place before pawns are moved, but “Everdark” allows players to do as they please within their four APs in any order. The disadvantage to prescribing an order is that it could lead to action paralysis – a state in which players are stuck trying to figure out what to do next. In “Everdark”, turns must be quick because players are racing against a timer, which suggested to me that allowing players more freedom is conducive to faster gameplay. “Solstice” therefore has no rules governing action order.

Constellations

This game is very similar in concept to “Solstice”, although in my defence I only stumbled across it after I had finished designing my game. It is also about completing various constellations using stars, although the stars are not physical pieces in “Consellations” but rather cards which must be collected and played in certain combinations to capture a constellation. In “Solstice”, the stars necessary to complete a zodiac sign are often readily available, but since constellations overlap, players must outmanoeuvre each other to be the first one to complete one. Although the two games are thematically similar, I aimed for a sleek, elegant, minimalist design, whereas “Constellations” is more colourful and child-friendly.

I admire the care “Constellations” put into cultivating a scientific air for the game by adding descriptions of the different types of stars that make up a constellation, and wish I had added some sort of description of the different zodiac signs and perhaps their effects to create more fleshed-out game. I also like that players can hide their intentions more easily by gathering cards for a certain constellation in secret, and the intrigue this brings with it. Nevertheless, I am glad I did not make my game more similar, as “Solstice” might not be judged on its own terms as a result.

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