Changing the Grid

The latest build of our prototype runs on a 4×5 grid utilizing square zones. We’re going to be changing to a hex-based grid in the next build. In this post, I cover the design process that led to our newest grid setup.

Vertical Scrolls

The original grid design was very similar to the current setup of the Scrolls card game by Mojang, although we used square spaces instead of hexes.

First Zems UI wireframe.
First Zems UI wireframe. The arrow indicates how a diagonal attack would work.

You’ll notice we used shrines in the back row instead of crystals. In fact, it seems like we had a very similar concept to Scrolls in our initial design.

Crossing ‘The River’

In Chinese Chess, the middle of the board that separates the two players’ sides is supposed to be a river that certain pieces cannot cross. In our initial grid concept, much like Scrolls, the center of the board is an area of impassable terrain. In our initial playtesting in 2011 (before Scrolls was in development), we experimented with the idea of being able to move to the opponent’s half of the board and decided we liked it enough to scrap our initial game design entirely and create cards and rules that did not reference rows or columns but adjacent spaces and lines. This fully intersected grid is the concept we used when we developed our playable prototype for ludum dare.

A development screenshot showing our fully intersected grid.
A development screenshot showing our fully intersected grid. Please pardon our horrendous UI.

After the ludum dare, we took a break from development to analyze the feedback we received. We also played some other games during that time, and one of them was Faeria.

Six Degrees of Freedom

Faeria takes place in the sea, utilizing a hex-based grid. The player must build islands (hexes) until they connect with the opponent. The concept is very interesting and the game is quite fun, despite its learning curve.

A screenshot of Faeria's gameplay.
A screenshot of Faeria’s gameplay.

One of the things we really liked was the freedom creatures could move on the various islands because of the hex-based setup. Something about the hexagon design and the ability to move in six possible directions made the game feel much more interesting than our square-based design, so for our next build we’ve decided to scrap our current grid and implement a new one.

One of the initial problems we had with a hexagonal grid is making it so that the first player did not have an advantage. For example, consider a ranged Hero that can move one square and then immediately attack the enemy Hero. This gives the player going first an inherent advantage because he/she gets a free attack with virtually no counterplay unless we change the game rules.

First hex grid concept
First hex grid concept

The above design is fine, except for the fact that the first player has a weakness if the second player has a ranged Hero. For example, if on the first turn, the first player (located on the ‘SPAWN’ square on the far left) moves his/her Hero one space down, the second player’s ranged Hero can move one space up and immediately launch an attack on the first player’s Hero. Now, the first player is able to play a creature to block such an attack, but if that creature is not a ranged creature, then that creature will essentially take free damage at no cost to the second player’s Hero. This situation is a bit complicated, but it is quite common given the fact that ranged Heroes exist and that they will be going second a large number of the time.

Ultimately the problem is that there are a number of ‘weak’ squares the player going first can move to if the second player has a ranged Hero. With the first grid proposal, the number of weak squares was four – the player going first has no good square to move to on the first turn in such a situation.

Revised hex based grid
Revised hex based grid.

Our solution was to add a set of hexagonal spaces to each side as an extension. This increases the number of spaces on the board from 19 to 23. You’ll notice with the current setup, the first player’s Hero (located on the ‘SPAWN’ square on the far left) has only one ‘weak’ square to move to if the opponent’s Hero is ranged: moving down (and to the right). Every other square – up and up/right – is a safe square since it cannot be attacked by the opponent’s ranged Hero. While in an ideal world the player going first would have no weak squares, we want to intentionally limit the size of the board to prevent games from being too drawn out, so we’re hesitant to increase the board size even further.

Another advantage of this revised setup is that it could potentially support 2 vs 2 game modes since we have an extra possible spawn location on each side. However, this is thinking far into the future and 2vs2 is not a game mode we’re focusing on at the moment.

Besides the move to a hex-based grid, there are some other game changes we’re going to be making for the next build, but I will cover those in a future post.

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