Dirigible Derring Do

It's funny how ideas come along sometimes.  A few days ago I watched a video review of a game called Zephyr: Winds of Change, and when I managed to stop fixating on the game's cover art (is it just me, or is it absolutely dreadful?) I ended up thinking about airship combat.  Zephyr is a cooperative game, with what looks like pretty abstracted combat, but I was thinking about competitive games.

Then something ticked off in my head.  There is an old, classic game called Sopwith, originally published in the 1970's, and which appears to have been out of print for a very long time now.  This is a shame.  It's one of those games that I would love to get hold of one day, but when copies are available they tend to be really rather expensive.  Anyway, the core of Sopwith is simultaneous action programming by putting markers on action spots behind privacy screens, then resolving the programs when everyone is done.  This works brilliantly as a team game when everyone is trying to avoid shooting their team mates by accident.  Sopwith has been a popular game for postal play, and you can see a set of rules here if you are interested.

Anyway, airships and Sopwith-style action programming...  What's not to like?  Inspiration struck and I got to constructing a prototype...

A solo playtest of a one-on-one battle which didn't go quite as planned.

I seem to be going through a bit of a purple patch for creating initial prototypes when I should probably actually be refining existing games, but I haven't had many playtesting opportunities lately, so this is how I manage to keep myself in the game, as it were.

So the game that has the working title of 'Dirigible' has a hex board (no features on it as yet), little airship standees (I could have used something else as a proxy, but I fancied making these), a small board for each player on which to record speed, steering and damage withstood, a pile of cards for selecting manoeuvres. and a pile of cards for selecting attacks.  I have enough components for two players at the moment, though I'm planning to go up to six.  Each round, you choose three movement cards from a hand of five, and an attack card to go with each from a selection of attack and no-attack cards, then the whole lot gets resolved afterwards, going through the three moves in turn.

So far I have tested solo, playing two airships battling each other, and it turns out that it is really easy to screw up and fly off the board -- which I have decided is a way of being defeated.  I'm sure that if multiple players each controlled one airship they wouldn't make as many mistakes as I did, but even so, it is very easy to get things wrong.

As a result of my early testing, I have decided two major things.  The first is that the size of the board I was using was just not big enough for the necessary manoeuvring, so I have made an extra couple of board sections to improve on that.  The second thing is a bit more fundamental: it is pretty difficult to plan across three action phases, and while this may make for an interesting challenge for players, I would rather the game was more accessible, so future tests will involve selecting one move and attack at a time.  This does move things even further from the original inspiration of the Sopwith game, but that is not a bad thing: I can base a game on something else, but if I slavishly adhere to the original I am not really creating anything new, I need to just go where the playtest data takes me...

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