About four years ago, I started working on a strategy boardgame design where players moved dice around a grid – each die was a unit in a player’s armada-like fleet of spaceships. The very first playtest took place between myself and game theorist Jesper Juul on my kitchen table in Brooklyn. The game was elegant but complex, approachably fun but satisfyingly deep. It evolved over the years, although many core aspects of the game design were there in that first game with Jesper.
With the help of designer John Sharp, it became the prototype Armada d6, which last year won the Game Design award at the IndieCade Festival of Independent Games. The game caught the eye of Philippe Nouhra at Paris-based boardgame publisher Funforge. And now I am happy to announce that Armada d6 is going to be published as Quantum, a strategy board game that will premiere at the Essen Game Fair this fall in Germany.
I’ve put up a page with images and information about the game on my website, and you can find out even more about Quantum at the Funforge site and at its BoardGameGeek page. Overall, I am extremely pleased with how the game turned out, in terms of game design, visual design, and even the somewhat perverse and philosophical narrative of the game world.
I expect I’ll be writing more about Quantum in weeks to come. But it was a tremendous amount of work to bring this design to fruition over four years and for now, I’m just happy and relieved to announce that the game is going to be available for everyone to play. For reals.
One of my favorite game review blogs, Greg Costilkyan’s PlayThisThing, has posted a review of the Armada d6 prototype. Perhaps because tabletop gamers can so analytical, boardgame reviews are notoriously picky. So I’m especially pleased with this extremely positive write-up about the game, which calls it an “incredibly balanced and smooth game — near perfection.”
Thanks, Sebastian Sohn! Now I just need to find a publisher.
Another IndieCade has come and gone. More than any other game event each year, IndieCade feels like a game version of a film festival, chock-full of smart lectures, exhibitions of top independent and experimental games, and a social scene that brings together the indie developer community. Read the rest of this entry »
As a lead-up to the IndieCade festival of Independent Games in Los Angeles, Robert Brown of Turnstyle News interviewed me about the unusual backstory of Armada d6, a boardgame that was accepted to the festival as a Finalist Nominee. The article, which focuses on the found artifacts on which I based the game, touching the connection between games, divination, and spirituality, was picked up by The Huffington Post. Read the entire article here.
The night before the Game Developers Conference started, I spent the evening at a board game night that Jeff Ward puts together every year. Not wanting to miss an opportunity for expert playtesting, John Sharp and I brought along a couple copies of Armada d6.
Among our playtesters was Paul Sottosanti, a game designer from Wizards of the Coast (the company that published Richard Garfield’s Magic: The Gathering and now owns D&D) who now works for Maxis on their Spore property. Paul (along with the rest of our playtesters that evening) offered amazing feedback, and the game design has taken some new directions as a result in the weeks following the conference.
In the meantime, however, Paul has written a great blog post about his experience playing the game and why he thinks Armada d6 is a prime example of elegant game design. It’s flattering to get such solid props from a colleague, of course, but it’s also just nice to know that some of the design intentions are actually coming through to players.
Note to Paul: many of the design questions you raise at the end of your article are actually being changed as a result of that night of playtesting. Stay tuned for the next iteration!
Among my personal projects at the moment is Armada d6, a board game I am working on with John Sharp. it’s a turn-based strategy game for two to four players. The project has a somewhat bizarre history (more on that below). I’m leading the game design, and John is doing all of the graphics. I can’t have an unbiased opinion about the project, but my playtesters love it. I’ve never before had a boardgame design that people request I bring to parties.
On its surface, Armada d6 is about battling spaceships. Dice are used to represent game units, with the face-up number on a die representing both the movement number of unit and its combat power (where lower numbers are more powerful). A six is a speedy but weak Scout – a two is a slow but powerful Flagship. Each kind of ship also has its own unique power. You win by placing colonists on planets, which you can do when you have ships adjacent to the planet that add up to the right number. There’s more to it than that – including an advanced game where you customize your stats, special powers for your fleet, and design your own maps, but those are the basics.
The core rules are simple, but the heterogeneity of the units and powers adds up to a game where you are constantly creating little puzzle-like engines. The possibility space is wide and games can play out very differently. Here’s an image from a recent playtest at the NYC Boardgame Designer’s group that Josh DeBonis organizes:
Armada d6 is a game with a strange history. About twenty years ago, I found some papers – incomplete fragments of a republished game design – in a bookstore in Bloomington, Indiana. The game they described, “Armada Dei Gratia VI,” had been revived in the 1930s from an earlier game. The whole thing was genuinely strange – it felt like a combination of religious ritual and strategic training exercise.
I recently rediscovered those papers, and they inspired my “reconstructed” design for Armada d6. The game design as I found it was woefully incomplete, so my design process has been part detective-anthropologist and part whole cloth invention. The result is a game that I would like to get published. I plan to start working my connections in the paper game industry after a little more testing and balancing.
If you happen to be at Jeff Ward’s pre-GDC boardgame night, John and I will be bringing a copy of the game there to play. In the meantime, I’ll post update about the progress of the game to my blog.