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Good evening, afternoon, or whatever time it happens to be there, ladies and gents! I happen to be Andy, who happens to be a freelance web designer, musician, writer, and whatnot.

Roman Catholic, student of tabletop gaming, and someday soon I'll have my own designs in the field!

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pen and Paper...and Cardboard?

An interesting pairing of games came together in my head, and sort of fizzled around with all of the ideas that I've already been mulling over. Like an Alka-Seltzer tablet on caffeine or something. You get the picture. Anyhow, those two games were one called Shogun and one called Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, the most recent edition. The Warhammer RPG has been discredited in the eyes of some for incorporating a large number of physical materials, so much so that some claim that it's truly a board game masquerading as an RPG.

What Role Does Cardboard Have?
At the same time, others claim that, at its core, the game is still an RPG. Regardless of that entire debate, maybe it's better to examine the bigger question: do board games have anything to teach RPGs? I think that, though pen-and-paper RPGs are awesome, the idea of "board RPGs" is unexplored ground that can yield fantastic results. Using boardgame-styled props streamlines many aspects of gaming, especially for more casual RPGers who are more concerned with delving into the story than having granual and predictable control over their RPG.

This is where my observations from Shogun kick in. See, the game is absolutely filled with various mechanics which make good use of the boardgame medium to automatically and intuitively guide the game in certain directions. One interesting example is actions. You may assign one of ten actions to any of your provinces; a province may only perform one action, and each action may only be performed in one province. This is enforced by a board containing a symbol for each of the ten actions. Each player plays a province card, facedown, on the action spaces. Not only that, but the ten actions take place in a random order each turn: ten "indicator cards" (each one has the image of an action) are shuffled and placed facedown in a row. The first five actions are revealed faceup, before the players choose their actions.

Strategic But Interesting
These sorts of mechanics do two things. First, they provide the player with strategic decisions. Second, they steer the game away from a numbers game. They remove the tiny little details which can bog down gameplay, such as grid combat in D&D 4th Edition. It's a certain level of abstraction which removes fiddly little bits, but still leaves in detail enough to provide hooks for strategy.

These two things are geared towards a specific type of roleplayer, at least in my mind. They don't exclude other types, as long as those types are a bit flexible, but they're primarily intended for the storytelling roleplayers. Players who want to have strong control over their characters, who want to maximize character potential...they'll probably not take well to this. Someone who doesn't mind a few twists in the works to advance their character's story, who's interested in cinematic action...they might find something more in this, especially when abstraction enters.

A Few Ideas
This marks the start of a series I'm going to be running for the next few weeks. I'll take a basic mechanic from some boardgame (most likely a Eurogame mechanic; they seem to have the most interesting strategic options), and show you how it can be adapted as a houserule for a common RPG.

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