The computer game concepts that most interest me, and most engage my computer game design time, are those that bridge the paper game world and the traditional computer game world. If you play a game like Scrabble, or Bridge, or Magic online your experience is vastly different than Starcraft or Counterstrike or World of Warcraft. Why are there so few games in the gulf between these designs?
There are a few, and one of my favorites is Quadradius. It feels like a board game, but is not at all a mere transliteration of a board game. It brings the strengths of the computer to more traditional game design without the burden of trying to be a simulation.
The game pits two players against each other on a gridded board with a bunch of checkers, or “quads” on it. Each turn a player can move a quad to an adjacent (orthogonal) square. If there is an enemy quad it is destroyed. The goal is to eliminate all the opponents quads.
Simple so far – you could play that much with a board and pieces, and it wouldn’t be much fun. The life of the game comes from the periodic spawning of power ups (“orbs”). These power ups can appear on any unoccupied square and a player doesn’t know what one is until one of their quads land on it. Then the quad will get a power from a set of over 70 powers – secret from the opponent until used. A player can (with one minor exception) use as many powers as desired during a turn. Examples of these power-ups include:
- One Time Effects – destroying all pieces in a column, or randomly teleporting the quad
- Permanent Power-ups - invisibility, or ability to move diagonal
- Permanent De-buffs – Enemy pieces in a row are unable to gain more orbs
- Board Changes - Creating higher or lower altitude squares, creating squares to which a player’s quads can teleport.
There is nothing else to it really – but you have to play it a few times to understand how wildly different the games play from one another based on what orbs spawn where. It is an excellent example of a game with an enormous amount of luck and skill – your first time playing you could beat the best player out there – but they will beat you over 95% of the time, at least until you get your basic strategy down. When you play them watch how they capitalize on their orbs by denying you more and more space till all your quads have been crushed. Or watch how they stall against your apparently unstoppable offense until they get the orb spawn that turns it all around. Or watch how they waste your time with piece exchanges in skirmishes simply slowing down your ability to pick up orbs while they wait for spawns they can get to.
One of the most interesting and addictive elements of the game is the ability to bluff. With many games, such as Magic, you have to be an excellent player – and your opponent must be good as well – before you can really bluff. With Quadradius I bet you will be bluffing within your first few games. Each move you make can betray what your power-ups are, and you will find it useful to make moves which hide their identity, or paint a picture of a non-existent threat in your opponents mind. I have chased my opponents pieces all over the board with a perfectly useless power-up, so convincing them the threat was real that they actually conceded when trapped. I have made moves which I realize the instant I have committed that I had just sprung a trap which my opponent lay for me and the threat I thought existed was completely different than I was playing for.
You can play as a guest or pay a subscription to be a member. The guest version is an excellent game, probably as good as the member version- which has a bunch of extra powers. Don’t worry – if you play a member the game is “fair”, the powers available to both players are restricted, the member powers are only enabled when both players are members. If you like the game I encourage you to subscribe, the extra powers are fun, and your game record will be kept on a month to month basis – but mostly I think the designer Jimmi Heiserman deserves a lot more than he will probably get from his excellent and original design.
Jimmi and I have spent some time talking about what I can do to help with Quadradius, or the next version “Qrimson”, or some other project. We will be getting together in the next month to talk more seriously about it. There are a number of things that could improve the traction of the game a lot; such as a single player version and a better metagame, but right now games like these are very hard to capitalize on – which is a shame. A shame not only for designers, but for the players because there are only so many designers who are willing or able to spend the amount of time necessary on what is ultimately just a labor of love.
In the meantime, if you try out Quadradius and see “Shmoo” say hi!