Wizards, Warriors & Heroes, Oh My! (part 1)
Updated: Nov 22, 2018
Chess is great; pure strategy, no chance mechanics. My only gripe is that it's void of character. Even specialty chess sets with mini figures representing the classic pieces only go so far to give the game flavor. Thus, I set out to make a variation of one of my favorite games; keeping chance out but adding more strategic choices and injecting life into the faceless pieces.
I'd like to mention before I talk about Wizards, Warriors & Heroes (WWaH) that I love chess, I've played thousands of games both in-person and via a mobile app. I don't claim to be very good, but I've played a lot. I understand chess isn't about the character of the pieces, it's about the sacred strategy of the game. It was only after playing Chess nearly non-stop for a couple weeks that I grew tired of seeing the same opening moves and the same bland pieces. This inspired me to make another strategic game, but to add a dash of fantasy and some variance to the game to make it more exciting for someone who gets bored as easily as I.
From the beginning, I knew there were some things I wanted to keep, and some things I'd like to mix up to make back-to-back games fresh and exciting. After thinking on these things for a while, a few points emerged as important.
First, all information was public. There were no face-down cards, hidden resources or units. The only thing players didn't know was their opponent's long-term strategies. However, based on the pieces and their locations on the board, they could technically determine ALL their opponent's possible moves, however impractical that might be.
Second, one reason Chess might seem stale despite having billions of combinations of moves, is that each side always starts with the same pieces, in the same locations and each piece has only a two actions it can take: move or capture, with the exceptions being the pawn which can promote and en-passant, and the rook and king can castle. Thus, games can feel- and in fact are- exactly the same for the first few moves every game.
The area I desired to change the most was the immersion of the game. Both board games and video games employ strategies to make the players feel immersed in the game. In video games it's called User Experience and relates to an entire host of game areas such as fonts, colors, voices, User Interface, icons, etc. Board games also do this, think of Monopoly for example. The little houses and hotels could've easily been other, cheaper to produce tokens. Same goes for their decision to use paper money rather than other indicators. It's all in the name of making the players feel like they're in the game. Player's language and behavior even changes when you go from using meaningless tokens to throwing down wads of (fake) cash.
Chess often has black and white pieces on a black and white board. Rows of little, faceless pawns and smiling bishops? Don't get me wrong, there's something nice about the simplicity of the crenelation on the tops of the rooks and the details of the classic pieces. But I couldn't help but think, "Wouldn't it be cool if the pieces looked like fantasy characters, and their appearance hinted towards their movement style or actions they could take?"
Here's the basic list of things I came up with...
What to keep from Chess: deep strategy, no chance mechanics, pieces have different behaviors, certain pieces are more valuable than others (pawns, minor & major pieces), certain pieces require protection, all game information is public knowledge.
What to improve on from Chess: vary the starting roster of pieces, vary the starting positions of pieces, give pieces character, add abilities other than move and capture.
Before I share the design of my new chess-like game, it would be a good mental exercise for you to think about how you would change the game. Do you agree with the aspects I chose to keep and improve on? How would you change these features? I'll make another post later detailing my ideas, but I'd love to hear yours in the meantime! Leave a comment below or get in touch via email or LinkedIn.