Although we’ve been quiet on the blog, there has been a lot of hard work behind the scenes. Play-testing and refactoring above all! We had some great games and each one brought new insights. We’ll be documenting these in a new set of blog posts and the first change is one of the biggest: switching from a Go style grid to a hexagonal grid!
Uff – big change! But an awesome one we think. Here’s what we did and why…
Although Mitropia is loosely based on the idea of a multiplayer version of Go, the idea was always to diverge from this as and when needed to make it a great game. The Go game grid came naturally at first and got everything started as you can see from the photos and screenshots here:
We also knew though, that we wanted the board to have a few other features:
- Be compose-able / adaptable so that it could be varied on each play through,
- Have special features (obstacles, hot spots and so on) at various locations to help players invent new strategies.
Our first attempt at doing this was using hexagonal board tiles to make a compose-able grid. The tiles each had different patterns on them which lined up to make the grid. This did work but as soon as we got the new prototypes we realized that it was going to be tricky to make this as good as we really wanted.
The tiles did make a variety of board shapes, but the need to make a grid severely limits the possible relative sizes and alignments that work. We tried different sizes and the smaller sizes were better (more variety) but … they were also more unstable since players would often have to play on the edges of individual hex tiles.
We also tried changing the play rules to have players play inside the squares rather than on the intersections. Less intuitive for Go players. More intuitive for Go novices.
In any case, while we could get decent combinations out of all these setups, the result remained fairly clunky.
As we worked through other rule changes though, we started to realize there was another solution. One which sacrificed one of the sacred cows of Go…
Make the playing locations themselves from individual hexagons – rather than using hexagons to build a Grid…
So the Mitropia hex-board was born! After a significant amount of play-testing we’re pretty convinced that this will now be the final form for the game. See one of the early prototypes below using hexagons stolen from Memoir’44 for testing!
At first, moving to hexagons as the unit of play might not seem much of a radical departure but it has several fairly important effects:
- With players playing in the centers of the hexagons, each location on the board now has six liberties – one for each side of the hexagon – instead of four. This makes individual stones harder to kill, but surprisingly does not have huge effects on groups of stones.
- Since each hexagon is a location it is much easier to produce a variety of tiles that can be mixed randomly into a game board: any tile can land next to any other tile in any orientation. This makes boards hugely more flexible.
- The board is much more resistant to knocks since the game pieces all sit on the middle of a board piece and not on the intersections between them.
- It becomes much easier to imagine boards of different sizes and shapes. Tiles which make up a grid tend to tesselate in certain ways and also require “edges” to included on the tiles, that always cut down the number of options radically.
There is even a possibility to create a game variant where players play on the instructions of the hexagons, not in the middle. This would knock out advantage #3 but could be interesting in it’s own right: giving individual stones only three liberties (instead of 4 or 6!).
The final effect is perhaps the biggest: Mitropia in this form ends up looking a lot less like Go. Even though the underlying game mechanic is still there, the move to hexagons definitely makes gameplay feel different. We wrestled with this for a while but in the end it seems to be a significant positive for most players:
- Those players unfamiliar with Go aren’t disturbed by it.
- Those players familiar with Go actually feel less confused and anxious about feeling they have to read out complex Go patterns on the board before playing.
We’re currently reworking the Tabletopia online version to include the hexagonal board. Updates to follow!
In the next post in the series we’ll cover some of the other upcoming changes: movement cards comes next!