Hexagon Marks The Spot

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.

Earning points with connections

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!

Over the weekend, I used the tool to run a couple tests, fiddle with numbers, try out things. To speed up my tests, I let javascript and PHP handle some of the random aspects (like deck shuffling and dice rolling), and I didn't bother coding other pieces that I was regularly changing (like the treasure maps). But I got a rough set of rules that feels good. And 'cause I like doing this sort of thing in the open, I'm sharing what I got with you…

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!

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