Creating MetaCheckers was a bit like taking chess and checkers and smashing them together. We broke both games, but then created something new.
At Mepacon in Scranton this weekend, we broke MetaCheckers again and again, each time creating something new.
After inventing this game, I had eventually realized there was no reason keep to the opening layout for a checkers game, even though that is how it started. Pieces could be set up as if for a chess game, or as if for checkers, but with the pieces offset from each other. Or setup with the pieces already engaged in battle.
With the basic idea of moving checkers like chess pieces, based on the roll of a pair of special dice, we discovered 4 alternate games, which are included in the original Stealth Checkers iOS app.
At UBCON last week, Jack and a player named Eric rotated 2 boards and overlapped them at a corner, creating a double diamond layout. They added an extra numbers die to give the pieces more mobility. Also, the rotated layout forced them to give the pawn 3 options for moving forward, letting it capture on any move.
Jack called the game “Valley” because the pieces must fight their way through the narrow strip that connects the two boards. As I played it at Mepacon, we realized it was very much like the legendary battle of Thermopylae between the Spartans and the Persians. But Thermopylae seems like too long a name. Perhaps “Spartan”?
On Saturday night at Mepacon, Alice Fawcett stopped by and played Rescue the King. Even though I had invented Rescue the King, it was a challenge to play. The kings start on the wrong side of the board and have to fight their way home. But the pawns still go in their original direction, so at first kings and pawns move opposite of each other.
To me, Rescue the King has become like playing MetaCheckers while hanging upside down. A challenge to keep everything straight. But it was after the game, that Alice came up with another alternate game called Spawn.
In her version, you begin the game with only the kings on the board in their standard positions. The board is split into two territories onto which each side can “spawn” a checker where you want. The players decide ahead of time how many checkers total each side can have in total. On each turn, you can either roll the dice to move a checker on the board or spawn a checker onto the board in any position on your side of the board.
As the game progresses, you may find an enemy checker threatening your king. Your king needs help. Can you spawn a checker on top of the enemy and destroy it? We decided you could, but only if you could predict odds or evens on a single roll of the numbers die. Win that roll and you can land on and destroy the threatening piece, lose and you had to land somewhere else that may protect the king.
However, the king would lose the ability to spawn pieces around it if it left its side of the board.
Spawn has a very different feeling to it. More like poker or a duel than standard MetaCheckers.
As we have for the past few conventions, we offered a free set of checkers and dice to whoever won the most games. By the end of Saturday at Mepacon, it seemed that Chris Fairchild of Hazleton Pa. was unreachable with 12 wins. But then Sunday morning, Westley Nottingham and Rene Coles of Watertown in NORTHERN New York showed up and played for several hours, eventually trying out every variation including Rescue the King with the Kangaroo Die!
I had never played Rescue the King with the Kangaroo Die because I figured it would just break the game. But it can work with a stipulation that you cannot use the Kangaroo on your king until after it has been rescued. But Westley discovered that the Princess roll can be devastating to the board as she flies over multiple squares, capturing any enemies below. “A little girl with a chainsaw,” as Jack says. But she has daddy issues, so she still cannot capture the king.
Alice came by Sunday and showed Spawn to Westley, and together they came up with a new variant called Pillars. They used pieces of index cards cut into squares to place immovable pillars on strategic – but fairly balanced – places on the board. No checker can pass through or over the pillars. They would have to go around them. This dampens the power of the Princess and accentuates the value of the Knights.
So, in Pillars, accounting for the terrain has become part of the game.
Our table at Mepacon had become a testing lab for many ideas, some of which also came from a conversation I had with Dan Hundycz of DPH Games. But I’ll hold off on some of those because I need to work out the mechanics first.
But this all led me to another idea. For future conventions, we may offer a Game Design event for kids. I’d be curious to see what variations in boards and gameplay kids will come up for checkers that can move like chess pieces.
Yes, I almost forgot. Westley and Rene each piled up a bunch of wins and had tied at around 11, but then Rene had to leave for another game. Westley went on to tie Chris in wins, and then did play against each other once. Then they went on to play more games against others. In the end, Chris won 16 and Westley 15. A very close contest. Again, the record for most games won in a weekend has been broken.
I look forward to bringing the game closer to Watertown so that Westley and Rene can play again.
Here are some of my favorite pics from the convention.