Excalibur's Zone Gaming

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Re: Fostering an “Open” Game Culture (via subQuark)

Please visit the original article on subQuark’s blog here: http://blog.subquark.com/fostering-an-open-game-culture/ and visit him on Twitter here: http://www.twitter.com/subquark

In this article, game designer subQuark (David Miller) talks about expanding his upcoming game, Mint Tin Mini Apocalypse (MTMA), into a more open gaming framework in much the same way that a deck of cards can be used to create a multitude of different games. I believe this may have been sparked by some of the ideas I threw at him while we were chatting on twitter. David was displaying a map idea he had for using Google maps for the game’s deluxe playmat. I suggested he look at several spots around the world with run down and abandoned areas that look post-apocalyptic and make several mats. I then went on to suggest that these mats could have different missions tied to them, making them a new expansion where each mat has a different objective.

In this new blog article, David asks for opinions about how the components of MTMA could be used in an open framework for player-inspired scenarios. While the default game would be available, players could use the components to modify or create different ways to play the game or possibly new games altogether.

This is a slippery slope, to be sure, because you don’t want to make anything so abstract that players have a difficult time thinking of what to create. The goal is to provide a set of base rules that can be easily modified or substituted to provide a new game experience. Different playmats, layouts, missions, and other elements are a good way to go about this.

In his post, David suggests that you could play the game as is or you could use streets to split the map into zones where players’ meeples may start in different locations, provide alternate routes to the safe zone (through the sewers), or to rescue hostages. Different mats could provide different experiences or hazards to completing the set missions.

David then goes on to ask for opinions and ideas about this idea, if we have ideas, or questions about it. To me, this sounds like a fantastic idea! I have already suggested the multiple mat idea. These can be made into missions, for flavor, change of scenery, or a host of other game elements. What I’m going to do now is make a few (or more) suggestions that David can possibly use to benefit his game. Now I am an amateur game designer. I’ve only self-published print-n-play games on Board Game Geek through design challenges. But I do have a few decades worth of gaming experience under my belt…

Modular rules:

I think that if the rules for MTMA are modular, it will become much easier for players to add, substitute, modify, or ignore what they want to create the gaming experience they want. This might not be an easy task to accomplish, but I think that this would make things easier in the long run. The ability to take a specific element of the game and mutate it can change gameplay dramatically. Think of chess vs hnefatafl. Both are grid-based capture/control games. Except hnefatafl changes the number of pieces per side, the types of pieces, the starting location of the pieces, and the win conditions for each side. Those are a lot of changes, but fundamentally, the games are very similar.

For example: imagine MTMA that you could change those elements as well. You’re on an arena mat. The blue payer has 4 pieces and the green monster. The yellow player has all five pieces. The blue player must get the monster to one of the exits while the yellow must stop them. The pieces move like pawns in chess, moving one grid spot at a time and one piece per move. We’ve not only changed the mat, but we’ve changed the win conditions, we’ve changed the piece distribution, and we’ve changed how the pieces work. Instead of having to rewrite the game from scratch, we simply substitute the mechanical aspects (pieces, movement) and then we allow the mat to provide the setup and theme.

Mission cards:

An open game system might benefit from a deck of mission cards that can be hidden or visible to all players. A secret mission that will allow you to win the game (capture or eliminate 3 of the opponent’s meeples, unleash the monster from the cage, be the first/last to the fallout shelter) can provide a very exciting atmosphere for the players. The cool thing about this is that you do not need to have custom cards printed for this. A standard deck of cards (or a custom one that mimics it) with a chart can provide everything you need. The ability to change the chart is also a wonderful bonus! This way, you only have to print the chart for default missions! But why stop there?

Instead of providing just a mission deck, why not make the chart about equipment? Or items essential to survival? Or events? Or giving the monster different abilities? Or giving the meeples different abilities? Or all of these?

Cards, in general, would expand this game to explosive levels and make it even more expandable! A custom set of cards with stats, numbers, and pictures of weapons or equipment could easily provide most (if not all) of the suggestions in the previous paragraph. Even a plain deck of cards with charts that provide meaning to the cards could be done. And the awesome thing is that these charts could be online! A deluxe option with them printed in a booklet could be available, but not entirely necessary.

Meeple decals:

It is of my opinion that the meeples need to be numbered or uniquely identifiable in some manner that makes it easy to distinguish one meeple from another. This would make a lot of things easier. Players could refer to a specific meeple for effects, missions, or any other number of things. Labeling each meeple this way becomes tedious, yes, but if there is a sticker sheet that’s supplied with the game, put the option to uniquely identify the meeples in the players’ hands (saving a lot of work).


These are all the things I can think of right now. I do not have a copy of the game’s rules to make any further suggestions, and I haven’t played the game so I don’t know how it feels or what would need to be done to make it a more open system. Though, it’s not like I don’t already use game bits for other things in other games! But building a system from the components in MTMA is a bit trickier without added “stuff”.

Good luck with getting the game funded, David! I know that I will be backing it!

Updated: June 12, 2015 — 4:10 pm


  1. wow! Now my head is spinning to a specific modular system in a normal sized tin with many different colored meeples!

    You have 100% the credit for the game mat changing to be a game component and now you are helping me push my own limits, forcing me to think outside the proverbial tin.

    Thanks Excalibur, you are a generous (and insightful) person with a multitude of phenomenal ideas! =)

    1. You make it easy, man. 😉

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