It seems that the more Playups we hold, the more I run into board games and VR. When you think about it, board games and VR games are two sides of the same reality. Both involve that fleshy body of yours to make things happen, but only one of them requires you to be rendered sixty times a second. Still, both provide completely different avenues of expression for developers to explore, as evidenced by the fine games from the latest Playup!
Well and truly cemented in the world of bone and blood was Eeshwar Rajagopolan’s Thirtysix, a competitive board game about flipping dice and territorial dominance. The game is played on a 6×6 board of squares with 18 dice per player (three 1’s, three 2’s, etc). The idea is to fill areas of the board with your colour of dice, a bit like Go. The trick is that any dice placed adjacent to another dice with the same number (including your opponent’s) flips face, so a 6 goes to a 1, a 5 to a 2, and a 4 to a 3. This creates a ripple effect on any unflipped dice, but this mechanic led to a few issues.
While the game is simple to grasp, the crucial mechanic that needed to be finalised is how the dice flipping is resolved. Resolving dice by flipping lines was the original mechanic, but flipping adjacent die one by one was suggested to make tracking which ones already flipped easier. The thing is that these two methods make for very different outcomes, and flipping by adjacency caused more of a headache than flipping by line. However, the question of which method of flipping would be more suited for the game required factoring in the way territory is gained.
The main way of gaining points is through holding territories, areas of same-coloured dice that doubled their face value of at the end of the game. Flipping had no reward by itself, but you could wreck your opponents territory with a well placed die to flip them all to a lower face value. The thing is, there was no incentive to play aggressively because you just needed to make sure you weren’t flipped to ensure a decent score. Depending on if flipping was rewarded and how it was resolved would promote different strategies to be used. This comes down to the sort of game Eeshwar hopes to make, but he’s onto something good, it just needs the kinks worked out.
If you’d like to check out Thirtysix for yourself (which I’d recommend doing), you can check out the game’s website.
DrewFX Nanotek Gladiators
Hiding behind a cacophony of blackboards and wires was DrewFX’s Nanotek Gladiators, a game that brings everything ’80s games wanted to be to life. If you’ve ever seen Tron, you’ll know exactly what this game is about; Two players stand atop neon rings, blasting away at one another to knock the other off. The game is played with a Kinect and an Oculus Rift to really hammer home that you’re inside this awesome digital world. It’s definitely a cool concept, but it’s translation from the big screen could benefit from some tweaking.
Fundamentally, the game is about shooting at a stationary target. While that’s fine for a movie, it doesn’t do much in helping engage the player in an actual game. You can move your physical body, but your feet are firmly planted on your rings in the game world. The only significant movement you can make is adjusting your shield, so the game feels quite static. If there were multiple rings that the player could jump between or integrating movement in other ways, it might help to alleviate this feeling. However, the big issue was with regards to the game’s elaborate set up.
Before being able to hop into the game, it needed to be set up. This involved setting up both Kinects, Oculus Rifts, a server, and the two clients with the players. This not only involved a lot of wires but also a lot of places where the game’s system could fail. The design of the game required a lot of moving parts, but if there was anywhere that could be streamlined (making a client a server, only using one Kinect), it would remove hassle while setting up and when trying to test the game.
If you’d like to see more of drewFX’s work, you can drop by his website.
Wick RPG System
After coming back into reality, I snuck into Eeshwar’s Wick RPG system, a simple set of rules that only required two decks of cards and some poker chips to play. The system was designed for quick RPG sessions, like Fiasco or Paranoia without the character sheet. In lieu of niggly statistics, everyone is given a number of assets (ie., poker chips) to play cards that help them make actions. Everyone has their own mini decks, a hand of five cards for each challenge they face and that’s pretty much it.
The simplicity of the Wick system means that anyone can come in mid-game and get involved within a couple of minutes… Which is exactly what I did. After watching a challenge be overcome, I understood how the system worked. I didn’t need a rulebook or a cheat sheet, I could just sit down and play. If Eeshwar was out to make an easy system to grasp, he did, and it’d be a shame if future iterations sacrificed this simplicity for nuance. That said, the current mechanics didn’t give a lot of wiggle room for complications.
While the mechanics were easy to grasp, they were very one-offish. Challenges appeared, actions were taken and then resolved, but there was no room for the GM to deliver a multi-layered challenge. There were talks of implementing rules for competition between players, but the underlying mechanics would need some more elaboration before developing rules for in-fighting. Once the system is ready for providing interesting and varied challenges, then the focus should move into making everyone hate each other… In the most fun way, of course.
It was a small Playup, but it was filled with great feedback from all involved. Even without any ‘real’ video games on show, everyone got into what was on offer and helped out the devs. VR and board games are very different from our usual line up of controllers and mobile games, but it’s always good to see the variety of games that come through these events.
Playup After Dark #4 is already in the works, so make sure to stay tuned for when dates are announced!