To hell with computers! All a designer needs is a pack of cards, a set of dice, or some basic art supplies. (Though computers are nice too.)
Below are basic descriptions of several fully playable analog games I’ve designed, along with photos of each in action. This is only meant to give a taste of these games; except for Swap Poker I have not made any complete rule sets available on my site.
A board game of Greek war for 2-4 players. 30-60 minutes playtime. Simple rules belie great strategic depth. My pride and joy.
Now an award winner! Art by Chris Hernandez.
The initial board setup.
Each city (i.e. color) is allied with the one on the opposite side. The goal is for you or your ally to get one of your pieces into the same-colored “victory area” on your ally’s side.
After some carnage on the left side, Thebes (red) has managed to get a piece through the defenses of Athens (white). Can Messene (blue) push through Sparta (black) and stop that Theban piece in time?
[Note: An old board is pictured. On the new version, Thebes is black and Sparta is red.]
Not quite. After making this move, the Messenian pieces are too far away. The Thebes/Sparta player(s) can now declare “Nika!”, meaning they are going to win. This marks the end of the game.
A 2-player tactical strategy game set in the Mediterranean world of 200 BC. 1-2 hours playtime. It owes a lot to games like Advance Wars and Fire Emblem. It’s also a good use of my undergraduate degree in ancient history.
An initial setup.
Here, the Carthaginians (left) have invaded Italy. The Romans (right) are defending their province of Umbria.
A closer look at part of the Carthaginian army. As attackers, they use the green and red pieces.
A core of tough but slow Sacred Band units are protected by agile Swordsmen. The Mounted Skirmisher on the right and the Balearic Slinger on the left provide ranged power, while the Horsemen in back and Raider on the far right act as a mobile strike force.
A section of the Roman force. As defenders, they use the blue and white pieces.
Hastatus, Princeps, and Skirmisher units stand in front, eager to join battle. The Slinger on the left can cover their advance. The Raider light cavalry unit in back may provide flanking support, or try to ford the river and get the drop on the Carthaginians. The three Triarius units form the veteran core of the army, ready to finish off enemies exhausted by the troops ahead of them.
A few rounds into the battle. (Colored stones mark each unit’s Hit Points.)
Here we find the Carthaginians occupying the central bridge, while the Romans have pushed into both forests on the banks. The lone unit near the top is the Roman Raider light cavalry, attempting a bold flanking maneuver. The Roman units in the lower forest are doing their best to keep the Carthaginian Balearic Slingers on their toes, but are themselves threatened by the troops on the bridge. Meanwhile, powerful Roman infantry lie in wait at the river bend.
The late stages of the battle. (Clear stones mark that a unit has moved this round.)
The Roman army has been reduced to three infantry, taking shelter in the forest from the dreaded Carthaginian Balearic Slingers. Carthage has left only one Swordsman, one critically wounded Horseman, and the two Balearic Slingers.
In the end, the Romans would be drawn out of the forest by a Balearic Slinger maneuvering to cross the river, and would fall to their deadly missiles. Had they held their ground, they might have won out… a lesson to remember for next time.
A dice game of political intrigue for 5 or more players. ~30 minutes playtime. As long as everyone has 2 dice and knows the rules, there’s no upper limit to the number of players!
Each player starts with 5 Strength, marked by the inner dice. Players will use the outer dice to show their moves each round.
Two rounds in.
Blue and Green have by now formed a powerful alliance. The other five players have sustained minor damage but remained independent. (Remember, the inner dice show Strength.)
A couple rounds later.
Green and Pink have now accepted vassals, leaving only Orange independent. (Vassals are like weaker, subservient allies. They must have at least 3 less Strength than their lords.) Purple has been eliminated.
The last round of this game.
An unsteady alliance of White/Black, Orange, and Pink faces the isolated White/Blue. A timely betrayal ends up bringing Orange the victory. Major swings can happen at any time, making for tense endgames.
A 1-player tower defense game using a standard deck of cards. ~20 minutes playtime. I invented it because I thought Solitaire had too much luck and too little strategy. Now this is how I kill time in airports.
The square formation at the bottom is my Tower, which I must guard. The face-up cards are my initial set of resources. The cards at the top are the waves of enemies, 4 sets of 3.
The start of the enemy’s first round.
I sent a spy, who revealed one enemy card, the face-up Jack of Hearts. The three horizontal face-down cards are my Wall, the first barrier to the enemy. To the left is a powerful, expensive Mercenary, while to the right is a cheaper, weaker Militia.
Further into the same enemy round.
The enemy broke down my wall, but had to leave behind a strong 10 of Diamonds. They must now get through my Mercenary and Militia. Being a Diamond, the 7 gets a bonus against Mercenaries, so they battle the Mercenary first.
The next round.
I sent my 7 of Hearts out to spy on the enemy, but the Ace of Diamonds bribed him into turning traitor! (This happens if a spy encounters a higher-numbered Diamond.) The Ace of Diamonds will tear through any Mercenaries, so I’ve toughened up my Militia.
Things don’t look good here, and I ended up getting crushed pretty badly. That’s okay though– my win rate is only about 50-60%. To me, that means the game is fair and exciting.
ART OF WAR
A 2-player territorial control game using a standard deck of cards. 1-2 hours playtime. Designed when I was 14 or so. Not as elegant as some of my more recent games, but deeply strategic.
Each player gets 10 cards (15 for a long game). The central card is the Objective. The game takes place on an imaginary grid. A player wins if, at the start of his turn, the enemy has no cards orthogonally adjacent to the Objective. (This does not apply to the first turn, of course.)
Two rounds in.
Each player marks which cards are his by orienting them horizontally (here, for the left player) or vertically (the right player).
Midgame. 11 cards are in play, creating a complex network of threatening and support.
The late game.
That Ace has the potential to break stalemates, having a strength of 11 while face cards all have 10. This makes it extremely potent, but also a high-value target, to be guarded carefully. They must watch out especially for 2′s, which act as Assassins and get a huge advantage vs. Aces.
A few turns before the finish.
The right player (vertical) is throwing everything he has at that Ace, hoping to at least force a stalemate. The left player has the Ace pinned down by the paired 9′s, whose +2 flanking bonus is doubled for being the same card. However, the King supporting the Ace prevents the 9′s from getting the kill.
The game’s end.
The right (vertical) player has been reduced to one Queen. The Queen cannot move or withdraw into the right player’s hand, since then he would have no cards adjacent to the Objective, making him lose. The Ace could maneuver down to kill the Queen given enough time, so the right player surrenders.