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  • The Nine Structural Subsystems of Any Game

    [03.17.09]
    - Lewis Pulsipher

  • Let's use this framework to quickly make big changes in a game.  Examples here are for chess (none have been playtested...):

    1.  Theme.  Supposedly chess once represented real (Indian subcontinent) warfare.  But today it is an abstract game, and adding a story that actually makes a difference in the gamepkay is more than we have room for here.

    2.  Players.  There are commercial chess versions for three or four players.  The board is larger and not quite square; for three players the overall shape is triangular.  It would be quite difficult to change the player parameters without changing the board . . .

    3.  Victory/Objective.  First player to take at least X pieces and have two more than opponent wins the game.  Or simply, first to take X pieces.   (X to be determined by playtesting.)  Or even more unusual and less likely to degenerate into stalemate, first to take all opposing pawns wins.  In either case, checkmate of the king is still a way to win.

    4.  Data storage.  3D chess exists commercially.  Or make some squares safe havens, where pieces cannot be captured (king cannot go there).  Or add one "hyperspace" connected to all of the middle 16 squares of the board.   You can move to it from any of the 16, then must stop.  You can move out to any of the 16.   Perhaps the most practical change is to treat the board as a cylinder, that is, the left side and right side are connected to one another. 

    5.  Sequencing.  What would chess be like if you could move two pieces at once?  Probably white would move one, then movement would be two at a time thenceforth.

    6.  Movement/placement.  There are vast numbers of "fantasy chess" variants with new pieces (and even unusual captures).  What if you could move through your own pieces (the knight can do this already)?  Or through your own pieces of lesser power only?  Bobby Fischer advocated a variant of chess in which the back-row pieces are distributed randomly at the start of the game (and mirrored for the two players, I believe). This could be regarded as a board (data storage) change as much as a movement change.

    7.  Information.  The 19th century game "Kriegspiel" uses three chess sets, two players, and a referee.  Only the referee can see all the pieces, each player has a board showing only his own pieces.  The referee let a player know when one of his pieces disappears (is captured).  You can add rules for "sight distance", of course.  This is a natural for computerization (e.g. https://www.kriegspiel.co.uk/).

    8.  Conflict resolution.  When there's a conflict, each player rolls a die, high number wins, attacker wins ties.  Attacker also rolls one die type higher (or adds one point).  Pawns roll d4, bishop/knight d6, rook d8, queen d10 (or even d12).  Even the king has a d4, and there is no checkmate, you must actually capture, but still warn the opponent of check.

    Or make it one die per level, so a pawn rolls one d6, bishop and knight two, rook three, queen four, king one.  And the attacker gets an extra die, or one extra pip per die. This variation is more practical because unusual dice are not needed.

    9.  Economy.  Specify some squares on the board to be "supply centers".  If a player occupies such a square, he gets a "supply point" at intervals (every 5 moves?).  The points can be used to buy back dead pieces, using the standard point values for pieces (Queen 10 down to pawn 1).  Pieces return to play as a move, showing up in a vacant square that they would have started in.

    This can be done with other traditional video and non-electronic games as an interesting exercise in game transformation.  (We need more video games that let the user actually change some of these parameters to try out their own versions.)  Use this framework to help you see things in a different light, to notice things you might not otherwise notice in your games, whether you're in conception or playtesting or modding an existing game.

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