The topic for this post is how we’ve evolved the battlefield map. We’re making a tactics game, and in FF Tactics style, we need a good map for players to brawl on.
So to start, we thought about how tactics and tactical mechanics worked in games we liked. And we played many, many games. Tactics games like Tactics Arena Online, FF Tactics, Chess, Go, & PoxNora. Tactical mechanics as found in trading card games like Magic: The Gathering, Kings & Legends, & … PoxNora. There was much learning to be had. Some of the main take-aways centered on what aspects of tactical environments shine best in games and promote play and counter-play among players.
Thematically, we focused on position, maneuver, and space. Units in this game must be able to:
Meaningfully hold, take, and challenge positions on the board.
Change position, potentially rapidly, on the board and challenge units on the board.
Create areas on the map where an opponent feels that challenging the player in those areas may change the momentum or path of the game. (For more on path, choice, and luck in games, see this article. We will also have posts about these concepts and how they play out in our game.)
Manipulate the classic three centers of combat – the center of any unit or group of units controlled by an opponent, the center of any unit or group of units controlled by the player, and the center of a battle – which may, but is not guaranteed to be, the center of the board overall.
We started by defining the board’s shape.
A big choice was rectangular/square grid or hex grid. We chose a square grid because of its success in other tactics games, the simple nature of a square grid (where all spaces have clear left, right, forward and backward adjacent spaces), and our concept of square cards (more on that one in another post). Plus a square grid defines two opposing sides clearly; one on one end and another on the other.
We wanted to offer enough spaces on the board for there to be room to position groups of units (for shorthand, let’s say ‘squads’) as well as enough spaces between opposing sides. Then we wanted there to be a space that would be normally contested – a true center of the board.
And we started with 7 rows by 8 columns. The 7 rows divided the two opposing players and the battlefield was 8 spaces wide. After some rounds of playtesting (after we had change much about the units and other mechanics), we found that games were too long (90-95 minutes on average). And the action. was. too. slow. It was too far to cross and challenge an opponent for strategic spaces. The gameplay tended toward too much turtling. Seven rows had to go.
Ultimately, we found that using a standard deck (just creatures, commanders, and spells) or an expanded deck (including strategic structures) allowed for a reasonable game (35-55 minutes) on a board of 6 rows and 8 columns. Easily a couple dozen playtests were played to get to that conclusion. And we tried 5 rows for a while (that’s for another post), which generated a fast game, but no counter play.
So we feel that we’ve found a happy balance with 6 rows to allow enough space to react to an opponent’s push, but not too much space to enhance the defender’s advantage to an unreasonable level. 8 columns allow for nice flanking and maneuver areas. Combined with 6 rows, that width creates a good ‘middle field,’ where opponents can challenge each other – and even enough space to create counter pushes.
There’s always more to talk about, and soon we’ll have even more to discuss with you. Stay tuned.