A couple Thursdays ago was the 44th Secret Handshake meet-up, with that particular evening having a "game theme". Everyone was encouraged to bring a favourite card game, board game, iPad game, or whatever to the pub, to set up and play with some random creative folk. We were also encouraged to bring any game that we may be working or developing, to share and discuss and playtest, if so we wanted. At least one of my friends did exactly that, getting in some valuable testing on a competitive card game he was putting together...
This got me thinking about a hexagon-based tabletop game mechanic I was fiddling with last year. I put it aside as I had other projects that I wanted to work on, but with those other items wrapping up I was looking for something else to sink my teeth into. Now, I don't know that much about tabletop game development admittedly, but I've found that it has the same balance of creative design and logic problem solving that I enjoy playing around in. And the more I read up on the topic, the more I like the process involved; brainstorming and sketching and trying and failing and iterating and reiterating and polishing and making.
So, when we last left our hero, I had a basic game mechanic involving hexagon tiles. I thought had potential. Upon revisiting it this past week, I felt the main problem with the idea was the overall theme. Collaborating book authors, competitive subplots, word counts... it was just too high-level a concept. Instead, I changed the theme to something a little more literal, something a little easier for me to explain and others to get interested in. The hexagon patterns I was trying to encourage were looking like islands, with coastlines and bays and lagoons, so it was only a mental hop to deserted islands, buried treasure, and marooned pirates! Within a couple hours, I could tell this was a much better direction. A lot of the abstract game elements started meshing well with my chosen trope.
So, here's the new elevator pitch: you're a dastardly pirate aboard a dastardly pirate ship that finds itself in need of a captain. You've recently come across a treasure map and you promise the crew their weight in gold and/or riches if they make you captain. But, by amazing coincidence, some other crew members have also stepped forward for the position, and they too all have treasure maps! The pirate crew, being the stereotypically scoundrels that they are, decide that the best course of action is to dump the lot of you on a deserted island. They promise they'll return in a couple days time, and whomever brings them the most gold and/or riches then will be hailed as captain!
So my Ticket To Ride inspired "subplots" become classic treasure maps. What was once plot points and character development that the player had to navigate become landmarks that need to be literally paced off. And the abstract novel that was being written becomes a tropical island that maroon pirates that's being explored. I get a lot less glassy-eyed looks when I pitch it now.
I went back to the webkit-based draggable HTML card tool I was testing with and styled it up to match the new aesthetic. A blue background gave me "shark filled seas", beige hexagons became my "sandy shores", and blue borders turned into "crocodile infested rivers". I also found the Game-Icons.net website while searching for temporary graphics to play with. A big thanks to Lorc, Delapouite, John Colburn, Felbrigg, John Redman, Carl Olsen, and Sbed for their stuff! It made my life so much easier, and it spiced up my dumpy little testbed. Another online resource I'd like to thank is The Noun Project for similar graphic help, especially Simon Child and his fantastic character sets!
- Take two-thirds of the hexes and shuffle the landmark hexes into them. Then place the other third of the hexes on top of them. This is the deck that players will draw from.
- The basecamp hex is placed in centre of board. All players start in the basecamp hex.
- All players draw a single random map. All maps lead to treasure. All maps start t the basecamp hex, have three landmark hexes, and end at an "X Marks The Spot".
- Players take turns to move around the island, exploring. Each move across a hex costs the player one point. All movement costs points. If a player has no points, then they cannot move.
- Empty spaces represent crocodile infested lagoons and shark infested seas; players cannot move into these empty spaces. Players can only move from one hex onto another hex.
- Players can only move from one hex onto another hex through their connected matching blank edges. Players cannot cross blocked edges; these are crocodile-infested rivers that act as impassable barriers.
- At the beginning of each turn, the current player draws a hex and rolls 3 six-sided dice. The resulting individual values on the dice indicate which edges of the drawn hex are the blocked edges. Duplicate values on the rolled dice are ignored, so it is possible that any drawn hex will have one, two, or three blocked edges.
- After determining the blocked edges, the current player then places the tile, connecting it to the already played hexes on the table. In this way, the players explore their island.
- When placing the drawn hex at least one blank edge must connect to an existing blank edge of the hex the current player is on. If the player cannot connect the drawn hex to hex they are currently on, the player must move to any other existing hex that they can connect the drawn hex to.
- A legally placed hex gives the current player three points per connected matching blank edge, one point for each blocked edge that touches an existing hex, and zero points for any unconnected edges, regardless if they are blank or bordered.
- After legally placing the hex, the next player draws a new hex, and game continues in alternating turns.
- A landmark hex plays just like a normal hex, except with the extra rule that it cannot be placed touching any other landmark hex nor the basecamp hex.
- The ship hex is the last in the deck; it is the returning crew and starts the final phase of play. When it is drawn, the player with the least total points gets to place it, regardless of turn order. But that player must still move to a legal hex to place it, as normal. Also, the ship hex plays just like a landmark hexes, and cannot be placed so that its touching any other landmark hex nor the basecamp hex.
- When the ship hex has been played, its time for the players to collect their buried treasure. They do so by following the directions on their maps. Since all maps start at basecamp hex, each player must first move onto the basecamp hex, then they must move onto each landmark hex indicated on their map in the indicated order.
- Once the player are on their third landmark hex, they can start digging for treasure. Treasure is buried on every hex directly connected to the third landmark hex indicated on their map, regardless if it is connected by a blank or bordered egde. Players can only dig for their own map's treasure; they cannot "steal" another player's treasure. However, players may dig on the same hex so long as that hex is connected to the third landmark hex of their own map.
- Players must move to one of the hexes adjacent to their third landmark hex and begin digging. To dig, a player may risk to roll between one and three six-sided dice. When rolled, they expend the total value of all three dice in points, but only get the highest single value of one die worth of treasure.
- Players can expend as many points as they want in movement and digging as they want, for as many adjacent hexes as there are to his map's third landmark hex.
- After digging as much as they want, the player must still keep enough points to move onto the ship hex. If a player expends all their points and does not have enough to move onto the ship hex, the crew gets impatient and leaves without him. That player is marooned and loses the game.
- The players on the ship hex at the end of the game count up their treasure. The player with the most treasure becomes the new pirate captain and wins. If there is a tie in the amount of treasure, then the players count up any remaining unexpended points. The player with most left-over number of points is then the winner.
This is the basics. It ain't perfect, but at least I have it written down :) I'm at a point where I need to rope a couple of my more tolerant friends to help me out. I need to bounce ideas off others, I need them to try it out with me, I need to see if anything is fundamentally broken, and, most importantly, I need to see if its fun! From there, I'll have to rejigger and try again, naturally…
I'll let you know how it goes!