I Made a Board Game!

I’ve wanted to make my own version of a strategy RPG (particularly, something like Final Fantasy Tactics) for at least 15 years. I had a few false starts making a programmed version using the battle mechanics guide but 3D graphics programming has never been a skill I was good at.

Last year I decided that I would instead make a tactical combat board game using similar but vastly simplified rules. My primary goals were:

  • A number of of unit classes with variable abilities would be available
  • The board would be a grid of squares of varying heights to form terrain
  • The game would have a way to track the passage of time so that unit turns and effects could be interspersed
  • Player turns would be tied to when their units got turns rather than alternating
  • Play time for a single game of less than 1.5 hours

Basics Rules

In the game (and many strategy RPG video games) a level is made of up a grid of squares of varying heights, like this:

Each player controls a group of units which are placed on the grid at starting squares, taking up one space each. Units have a class which determines their basic characteristics and abilities. The turn order is determined by how fast each unit is. Since turns are based on how fast each unit is several units from the same player could get a turn in a row.

During a unit’s turn it can move, attack, and use magic or special abilities. The unit’s class decides how far (horizontally and vertically) it can move, how durable it is to attack, how much damage it can do, and which particular special abilities it has.

The game features a “timeline” mechanic to show when each unit’s next turn is as well as when future effects. If you use a magic spell it takes time to cast. The variable amount of time abilities take to happen and between unit turns adds an extra layer of strategy to decision making beyond where the units are on the board. From the full rules, the timeline looks like this:

The two magic using classes have some unusual special abilities relating to temporal and spacial relationships between units and effects.

Because time is a first-class citizen in the game there are abilities which can affect it. For example, the Chronomage has an ability called “Chronomine” which damages enemy units whose turns are at a certain time regardless of where they are. A Chronomage can also remove spells from the timeline and change the position of units on it.

The terrain in the game is also open to modification. The Geomage class has a few basic damage attacks, but also has “Terraform” which temporarily raises or lowers the terrain and “Mud Slide” which spreads over the ground and makes it harder to move through.

Full Rules

The full rule set is available here. They’ve only been used when I was around to explain, so it’s definitely possible they aren’t clear.

The rules also include links to the materials needed for a print and play version of the game.

Lessons Learned from Play Testing

For the most part the units and rules haven’t changed that much. The thief got a double attack from the back and the knight got a passive defense ability, but generally the classes worked out pretty well. The path to having the Chronomage was much longer.

The Chronomage was formerly a generic healer class and was the only unit which could revive incapacitated units. This led to the game mostly being about who could incapacitate the healer of the other team first. Because of this the revive ability is available to all units.

With that taken care of the major issue, which turned the healer into the Chronomage, was that the unit had nothing to do most of the time. The fix was to widen the abilities of the class to add some timeline-affecting spells, which was a topic of interest from early play testing.

The HP restoring abilities were re-imagined as a reversal of time to exactly the where a wound was, making it not have happened. As a bonus this felt thematically like a much better mechanism for healing than abilities which repaired a unit’s wounds.

What’s Next?

I’ve found it hard to make the time to play test with people in person, so I’d like to try to make a web version that can be played asynchronously so that I can get more people playing. From that I’d like to refine the core mechanics and expand the available units and levels.

For in person play I’d like to make a higher quality board than the foam core version I have been using for testing. There are a lot of beautiful wooden blocks I could be using and I could 3D print the units.

Lastly, I’m interested in eventually developing a campaign that a group of people could play together where each person controls one or a few units and which progress over time.