El Tiddly starts here

So here's a really stupid idea that got stuck in my head and I'm just going to have to try out in case it turns out to be fun.

The other day there was a comment on BoardGameGeek which mentioned grabbing a couple of game mechanics to mash together in a game.  If I remember correctly, there was a flippant comment about maybe combining area control with dexterity.  Over the next couple of days my brain started thinking of various things...

One of my all-time favourite games is El Grande, a game from the mid-90's by Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich that set the standard for area control games and still stands up (in my mind, at least) as one of the best games out there.  Or it is when you have four or five players -- fewer and it doesn't really work as well.  Anyway, the game involves sticking cubes on a map, bidding for use of action cards, and periodically scoring points for the players with the most cubes in each region on the map.  It probably doesn't sound it from that description, but this game is great!
Mashing up one of the best games there is with a bunch of tiddlywink flipping... What could possibly go wrong?

I have also recently been thinking of dexterity games.  You know, games that involve flicking, throwing, rolling, stacking and other skills as major elements of play.  Games like Pitch Car, Tiddlywinks, or Jenga.  I can have fun with many of these games, but they are outside of my comfort zone and I have certainly never designed anything of this type, so I have taken it as a personal challenge that I should design and play one as an exercise.

So that's two very different things: a game (and style of game) that I very much enjoy, and another that isn't really my "thing", but which I want to explore.

Right now I am picturing a game of El Grande, but instead of placing cubes on the board in the normal way (each turn you can place a number of cubes dictated by your action card on regions adjacent to the King's location), there is a dexterity challenge to place them.

At first I thought of some sort of catapult arrangement (see Coconuts).  This would be fun at first, but I was quickly picturing spending half of the play time spent picking cubes up off the floor or out of people's drinks if the launchers weren't calibrated exactly right.

A second thought was to use tiddlywinks instead of cubes and hop them on from the edge of the board.  I like this idea: it is using a skill that many children develop fairly early in their game playing career, the counters have limited range, and skill plays a definite part but it is always possible to play a bad (or good) shot by accident.

And then I had a more refined idea, of rolling discs (initially I thought of coins, but coloured wooden discs may be better) onto the board, probably using a ramp to roll them down.  This really appeals to me from the aiming point of view and the fact that it can be easy to control direction, but not distance of travel.  Plus wooden discs can look really nice.  One problem with wooden discs could be that they are quite likely to stay stood on their edge when they complete rolling, making their final position unstable, though there would be no such problem with coins.  Tiddlywink counters would probably be too light to roll properly.  One additional thought would be poker chips, but I think they would be far too large for the game.

If I wanted to stick with cubes, the natural approach would be to flick them.  This could make for an interesting snooker-like game where you could knock other players' pieces out of the way, but on balance I feel that controlling the flicking of cubes (particularly small ones, which I think would be necessary) could be too difficult, especially to start with.  Plus there are quite a few flicking games that are currently popular.

Of course, another way to get things onto the board, whether cubes, coins, discs, or whatever, would be simply to drop them.  This would have to be from a reasonable height (but not too high) to provide the right level of unpredictability.  My instinct says that I wouldn't want that to be the main part of a game, but perhaps it could be an option that comes in to play from time to time.

Thinking of that, El Grande has the action cards which allow you to place cubes in the "normal" way, alongside the special action. Some of those actions allow different ways of getting cubes onto (and off of) the board.  Working from that as a starting point for our new game, maybe the standard placements are by doing a tiddlywinks flip onto the board, but there are actions that allow you to drop additional counters on.  That could do it.

Now, with counters being dropped or flipped onto the board, some of them will inevitably land touching the lines between regions, so I need to consider what happens then.  I can think of a few options:
  • Counters touching lines are dead and removed from the board.  This seems a bit harsh and potentially unfun.
  • Counters touching lines can be moved by the owning player to sit wholly on one side or the other.  Or perhaps moved by an opponent for additional lulz.
  • Counters touching lines are considered to be in all adjoining regions, so counting towards multiple tallies, making the borders very valuable.
  • The lines are made into wide border zones, sufficiently wide that a counter cannot simultaneously touch the regions on both sides.
Anyway, all this is very theoretical.  I wanted to play.  Luckily, with this idea it is very easy to start testing.  I pulled out my El Grande board and a heap of tiddlywinks and got...  what's the correct word here?... tiddling.  I didn't try playing a game as such, just flipped counters about onto the board to see what it was like.

Some thoughts and discoveries...

  • Wheee!  Yep, this is actually quite fun.
  • It was also a bit frustrating at first as tiddling (!) on the board itself means that the counters don't get much off the surface, so they generally scoot across the board and fall off the table.
  • I tried launching off a quilted dinner mat, which made the counters fly off in all sorts of random directions.
  • Next off, I switched to a small towel for the launch surface, and this worked well.  I could get a little height and felt I had some control over the counters.  I suspect a piece of felt would do quite well too.
  • Once I had a decent launch surface I ended up having so much fun that I shot off all the rest of the counters that I had.
  • As it turns out, the El Grande board and the regions marked on it are a really good size for flipping these counters (which are about 22mm diameter).
  • I definitely want to progress this.
So what now?

I am planning to make some action cards to use with this as I think the original cards are probably too tricky to adapt to fit this new game, and I think that El Grande's bidding and action selection mechanics might not be right for us here, so I'll think about alternate ways of handling the actions.  Scoring will have to be handled separately as the score track around the board is bound to come to grief with all the flicking going on.  I like the idea of keeping El Grande's king and Grande pieces in somehow, so I'll also work on that.

Somewhere down the line, the game should get its own board (and maybe a theme), but for now we have something that works well.  I will report back again when something has happened.

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