An Idea

Posted by billk on April 11, 2021 10:55 pm

During the pandemic, I went deeper down the rabbit-hole of board games. I’ve always been into the hobby and had really started playing wargames in the past few years. It was something I tried to do as a kid but never got into (read: couldn’t find anyone to play with). So I started playing even more games in general and suddenly had all the time in the world for those hefty wargame rule books. After playing a couple of classic hex-and-counter games, the little voice in my head that always says, “I wonder if I could design and build a game like this” couldn’t be denied and I knew this was the starting point where I had to try.

GMT Games’ Men of Iron Tri-pack (one of the best values in wargaming right now)

Some background about me is that I’ve worked in some form of design for my entire career, going from traditional to web and finally user experience. All the while, since the days of playing on my Commodore 64, I had this interest in programming that finally became useful as Ye Olde Interwebz grew and grew. I learned how to make websites mainly to get my portfolio online, but it became more and more useful on the job and even today I take over the styling of web applications (normally outside my job description) when a design eye is needed…or when the whole app needs to be re-skinned. So over the years I’ve picked up among others, HTML, CSS, Javascript, and PHP/MySQL. I’ve tinkered with making Javascript games in the past so this is where I decided I’d make my first attempt at board game design.

The goal for this game and to get my feet wet was not to invent something completely new, but instead build something based on the hex-and-counter games I’ve played and to research some of the ones I haven’t. I wanted to create a classic game with all the familiar mechanics grognards know so well, while maybe putting some slight variations on them if necessary. I figured I’d pick and choose rules I like while modifying them or combining them with others where I felt they were close but not quite there. If a particular hex-and-counter game had some rule that was really unique, I’d consider it but more than likely avoid it.

For example, Decision Games’ very fun Fire & Movement series has you drawing fire support chits from a cup. While I have great fun playing, I probably wouldn’t use that mechanic as it’s very specific to a small genre of games and for this first attempt I wanted to make something that felt more ubiquitous.

World at War issue #62, The Spanish Civil War, by Decision Games

On the other side, rules around Zones of Control or Ranged Fire, I would consider since they’re more commonly used. My thinking here was to come up with a base system for this first game, then if I decided to make more games around this system I could be more adventurous with rules.

The great thing about this “generic” approach (or so I hope) is that after creating the first game, it’ll serve as a framework to create other games. So the secondary goal for the game, in addition to just being fun, is that the finished product should be flexible enough to be used for other time periods and themes.

Command & Colors: Napoleonics by GMT Games

Speaking of theme, as I thought more about it, I finally settled on the battles of Alexander the Great. I fell in love with Command & Colors and saw how well that system translated to representing other vastly different battles throughout history, from spears to gun powder. What I also noticed in playing those games was that Ancients felt the most basic. Not to say that Ancients doesn’t have its nuances, but if you were to pick one core game in that series that could be built upon and had the fewest time period-specific rules, that would be it. I also happen to be very interested in Ancient Greece so I had my theme.

With the definitive subject in hand, I’d start building. Let the journey begin!

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