A.   Print & Play - Maybe

I found out about DeathMaze via the Ares Magazine which published a new version of it called Citadel of Blood. DeathMaze is perhaps slightly simpler, but has a number of expansions and house rules available. More information can be found over at BGG.

I prefer Drakborgen's aesthetics, but DeathMaze is significant as it's from 1979 and perhaps originated some of the maze building game mechanics. I decided to print it out just to see how it looks. The game has relatively few components... 200 1/2" chits and the instructions. However, the images at BGG were fairly blurry so I ran unsharp mask + threshold, producing a crisp 592 pixels per inch image. I didn't redo the text because it looks a bit fake and overly sharp with modern font rendering, and there's some charm to imperfect text. The original art perhaps had more definition and detail, but maybe not, judging by a few hirez images I've seen.

There's a Japanese port of the game デスマイズ (DesuMeizu), perhaps only published in RPGamer Vol.2, 2003. It features much of the original art but the counters have a different font (serif and a script) and an (S) mark on special rules monsters. There are weapons & health chits, additional art for wiz/thief/hero characters (2 each), and a maze entry tile. No dice chits. 214 pieces on a single sheet (but some might belong to a steampunk game published in the same magazine). 15 page manual. The game shows up on Yahoo auctions occasionally (6-8K Yen). The print looks very crisp. Maybe they had access to the source art.

Some sample pics I tried to clean up.

I made the sheet below from a so-so scan of the original version.

Click sheet above for 500 kilobyte 592ppi 8 colour version. It's 11x8", but maybe the printable area is smaller than that on letter paper (legal might work?). I print on A4 (11.69x8.27"). There original two "Counter Sections" (dupes) each had 100 pieces, of which 58 were maze tiles. The rest were adventurers, monsters and chit-dice (1-6). I put all 200 pieces on a single sheet and scaled up the maze tiles to 5/8". Pink/light-green tiles are extras I've added. The black lines and + marks are guides for cutting. With a corner cutter the + marks are lost but some people might prefer having sharp corners on the maze tiles.

First version had 1/2" maze tiles like the original, but I laminated and the plastic surface made them stick to fingers and easily nudged. Some suggest playing on a non-slip surface. I also hear people place a piece of glass (e.g. acrylic) over their playfields when they put a a game momentarily aside. I cut the corners with a nail-clipper. It was 800 corners. Should probably get one of those Oregon Laminations cutters.

Printout and materials. Floppy disk for scale (also, image easily fits on disk). The paper is actually sticky/label paper, which I stick onto a cardboard piece. Then I apply sticky plastic (lamination?). It's a good idea to cut the pieces with a few centimetres of margin to allow for inevitable application errors. I stick/tape the short edge to a table then slide in the non-sticky target piece in underneath and roll the sticky sheet onto it, perhaps using tissue rolled into a ball (this can prevent bubbles/wrinkles). Mistakes are made no matter what though. Laser toner is kinda powdery and tends to scrape off easily and lamination sticks poorly. I don't think ink-jet printouts have the same issue.

I cut the pieces using a guillotine paper cutter, first along the long edges, then I tape the strips together and cut into squares.

Second version of the tiles, this time at a 5/8" size instead of 4/8". It's x1.5625 the surface area. I actually made a few extra tiles using Citadel of Blood assets and a few of my own. These are needed by expansions and fan rules. There's an entry portal/gate tile, some staircases, new character classes (in pink/light-green so they separate), and a bunch of tiny (2/8") wound markers. Nothing for gems/gold though. You're supposed to keep track of the numbers on paper. Perhaps corridor chits should be a separate colour to help sorting but I wanted to stay true to the source original. Oh, I also used the Japanese line art from the Medusa, and the Gate.

Evicted some coils and inductors from this component box. When playing the room chits might need to go in a larger cup/urn though.

B.   Rule documents

The rules can be found over at BGG in the Files section, but may require BGG registration to access. They appear to be text files with some OCR errors... also missing some helpful illustrations here and there. There's the basic rules, advanced rules (includes wizard/spells), and an expansion published in Moves #51 (1980, nice scan, printable). Then there's the fan house rules and clarifications in BGG's Forum section which can be quite useful.

Lastly, there's this scan of Ares Magazine #05.

C.   Accessibility

Having read through the rules once... Hmmm. I think it's important to understand the era of these types of games. In 1979 home computers weren't competitors to board games, which meant board games would sometimes try to do things more suitable for computers and people had the patience to run simulations by hand. Modern boardgames tend to present rules when needed, using cards and helpful illustrations on the game board itself. DeathMaze just had the 100 counter sheet x2 so it was limited in what it could do there.

Now, DeathMaze is not very complex, but it still requires you to keep a lot of rules in your head just to get going, despite the attempt to divide rules into case-relevant sections. Then there's the manual book keeping. I started a game but it's hard to persist.

From what I've seen, the game plays a bit random. The player isn't often presented with interesting dilemmas, choices. Things just spring forth. There's the negotiation and bribery options to avoid combat I guess. The weapons are very basic, but I've seen some house rules for making maces more effective at smashing skeletons than stabbing weapons. Casting spells permanently lowers max wounds, meaning, a wizard can only cast 1-2 spells during a game... which is strange given how weak some spells are. Armour just adds wounds, so taking it off can result in a wounded adventurer dying. I think the lack of armour and mana values was a result of streamlining, but I'm sure card assets could solve this (e.g. Arcadia Quest style equipment cards). In terms of paper area for a print & play, I think it's possible to design a more fluid WYSIWYG game using decks, reference cards, counters, etc. Perhaps the rules could be just a few pages, with some covering special/edge cases.

D.   Design Diary

I wonder how DeathMaze would look style in a mid-late '80s manga style. I did some sketching in my (A6 format) sketchbook (with digital cleanup). Using cards for characters and enemies might work, with stat chits and smaller spell cards on the side. Part of the charm of this game for some is perhaps it's old style of play though, taking notes and such.

Skimpy Witch Hunter design using repeated shapes. The rules tend to use "He" as a pronoun, which is a bit odd given the 50-50 m/f adventurer lineup.

Character board layout test. Here I'm thinking about the immediacy of relevant game mechanics/rules and information. DeathMaze, being an old minimal game, has too much booklet referencing. Modern games often put rules on profiles and other cards which are visible when needed. Print & Play is limited to cardboard components of course.

Adding smaller number-chits together (3+2) is perhaps faster in play than having the user search for precise numbers, and it reduces the amount of components as 5 can be formed in many ways. There's no need to print and cut enough 5s for every possible situation.

The player actually controls up to 6 characters in DeathMaze, but I might make it 4. They are arranged in a battle formation à la Dungeon Master/EotB, with characters in the back being protected and limited to range attacks/spells.

In DeathMaze, you could basically keep track of the 6 characters in a small 6*10 array on a post-it note, and the tiles/counters were all 0.5" chits you could toss in a bag. Very easy to put away. I suppose I could do a "record" sheet just for that...

Maybe some dice roll modification points could be an interesting mechanic (a choice of when to spend). Use one stamina to +-1 a die/stat before rolling, or sacrifice several (into a "fate point") to modify with +-1 after rolling (clearly an advantage). Default max wound points for each class are written on the board. They can be turned (sacrificed) into mind points, but I think there should be another way of acquiring mind points (for spells).

DeathMaze doesn't have a game board, which makes wandering a bit aimless. Most rooms are blank with random monsters. Perhaps it could be interesting to have a big obstacle, and points of interest, as well as regions with higher difficulty giving the player some movement dilemmas.

It's an endless game, relaxing in a way, so I didn't want to come up with a linear turn counter that ends with a boss/death. Maybe a circular one could work. It escalates certain difficulty settings and increases the risk of a Wumpus appearing each 12 o'clock, and has some events triggering here and there. It's a fairly common design in board games.... and indeed, after doing some research I found that D100 Dungeon had used a similar circular design.

The goal is not necessarily to defeat the boss, but rather to collect treasure (the boss obviously sitting on some). Gold+Gems is a form of highscore. I remember in Drakborgen (similar to the less pretty Dungeonquest) we never actually killed the dragon and rarely got out alive.

E.   Forming Game Mechanics

I don't quite have the patience for actually playing games, so perhaps a simple BASIC program could be used to test survivability balancing? First I'll have to decide on a combat system however.


So, after some tests I decided to not go for my D12 system and instead try out a simplified D2 dice pool system where attacks is D2 count, and defence is rerolls. There's always a chance for damage and saves this way. After some BASIC tests I noticed that rerolls are pretty powerful however, so with 10 rerolls of 5 hits, there will likely be no hits at all. It means defence values have to be a bit lower in general.

Other systems I tried were opposing D12+stat rolls, which are nonlinear, but I ended up not being able to get the right damage output with those. I think I'll avoid CRT (Combat Result Tables) like used in DeathMaze.

If I put EXP on the back of HP/wound chits, it's possible to move and flip wounds directly into the party's pool. Nice. To urge the player on later in the game, there could be an EXP tax which increases as the game goes on.

Blunt weapons do more damage against certain enemies, like skeletons, but less damage against squishy slimes. Some monsters have vulnerabilities or resistances against magical fire and other spells. I'm not sure if these modifiers should be negative or positive, but an idea is that they alter the amount of D2s rolled by the attacker (rather than defence because then you no longer know which Hit came from where). Spells like Chain Lightning could get a bonus based on the size of the monster group.

All attacks will have to be simultaneous because the party acts as a group. If a party attacks twice, it's hard to say how the monsters would split up their defence values. In some cases, perhaps if the player is flanked, there could be two monster groups/cards and then the party could split their attacks (though this makes them easier to defend against due to how the re-roll math works). It might be hard to determine if certain Boolean effects trigger, like petrification/poison/confusion, due to how I blend attacks together now. I also assume that, aside from wounds, all monsters in a group are of the same species (like Ork). This means that taking out a few monsters makes the group weaker in terms of attack and defence as those stats are summed.

Royal Game of Ur D2s made from Greenstuff. Should probably clip the corners. This way coloured bottom corners won't visible to the eye. Only the top/up corner will. When rolling 15ish D2s, you're almost guaranteed an average roll... but maybe that's kinda natural in group combat where you deal with 6 vs 6 units and individual performances are blurred. As a player, maybe one can appreciate having a certain predictability to combat? There are tactical board games with no randomness at all, and also very swingy (little control) ones like Monopoly. My system might fall somewhere between. May or may not work.

Royal Game of Ur sketch. It's a 4500 year old board game which plays a bit like Ludo, but has more depth I think. Two players take turn to move their 7 pieces out in a... used-staple-bracket-like path, with a shared central knockout lane. Exit is down after the bottom curve. There's a safe spot and reroll spots. Because 4 binary dice (tetrahedral D2 with 0-1 range) are used, there's a likely range of motion (0-1111-222222-3333-4), and this combined with having several pieces waiting on the board (in ambush,aiming for a reroll, or to exit) creates strategical situations. It could be played in the sand, using rocks as pieces and flattened sticks as dice.

In DeathMaze only the front row (1-3) of characters can attack in melee. The ones in the back row (1-3) can if they have a ranged weapon. If only the enemy front row can be targeted (and defend) it's at a disadvantage... 3 against potentially 6 attackers. Might be ok though. One would probably want the player's party to have an advantage against enemies, so perhaps if 6 melee Orks attack a worn down 2 character player party, it's 2 vs 3 (front row) as the Orks in the back can't contribute attacks or defence. Shooty monsters might have lower Atk value to make them less nasty. Ranged attacks should be weaker in general.... maybe more-so in the front-row? I might go for 4 vs 4 groups.

Random things happening to the player can build a fascinating narrative, but I think there has to be some interesting choices and dilemmas for the player to deal with. Maybe the game needs some kind of card drafting/sifting. Maybe the enemies are not drawn from decks, but as chits from a cup, then placed in new room, allowing the player to take a detour around dangers, which has a turn/time cost. Perhaps the player can return later, equipped to easily dispatch the monsters. I like the idea of having a populated dungeon. It gives it life. And chit-creatures are cute. I really liked that aspect of DeathMaze, just looking at the chits. Yeah! It perhaps means that monster cards will have to be more a reference sheet.

Multiple endgame plays should probably be supported too... allowing investment into a certain style of play (start with blank characters, then some paths are mutually exclusive?).

Emergent character builds could be interesting, rather than having set classes from the start, though there could be a few initial bonuses which tilts some characters a certain way. I'm thinking the player draws growth cards for the whole party (on certain turns as indicated by the turn wheel). Those are distributed them amongst the characters, who can then buy the cards with their XP points. These cards have a synergy. Some are permanent stat effect cards (stat-up). Then there might be powerful ability cards that are discarded after 1 use. Cards which cost stamina or mind. Maybe once per turn/combat cards (turned sideways/flipped).

The initial character differences could be small, but still allow a player to plan out a party, adapting to the cards which are drawn.

Idea: Using sleeves for cards might make them sturdier and easier to handle if printed on thin paper.

Testing some ideas with the DeathMaze assets.

Maybe some of the components (player guide) could be of a convenient size for setting up the maze/dungeon bounds.

The player needs to be presented with dilemmas. I think Monsters should appear before the player enter a new tile, giving the player a choice (adapt & fight, or waste time going around). And they can spawn in randomly using coordinates, making the dungeon look lively/populated.

In DeathMaze, the player chooses party members from classes, but I think I might use blank characters instead. Occasionally the player gets to draw "growth cards", and these are drafted onto the characters, setting them on various synergetic trajectories.

These growth cards are limited in supply and have to be split up and permanently assigned to characters, sometimes not in ideal ways if a hand is bad, and they cost EXP to play so there will hopefully emerge "opportunity cost" and commit style play... maybe.

The growth cards probably need to be a bit expensive EXP-wise, so when the character can afford their first card there are already a few to choose from. If they are too cheap there's no choice other than how to split the cards up each draw.

The prices could vary between identical cards (cheap, normal, expensive), making some cards affordable later and perhaps steering the character development a little. Later on, EXP might be more (too) plentiful, though I don't think it will scale tremendously. Another option is to somehow reduce the gains/effects of a card as values increase, or to increase the price for every card bought (player level).

Gear has to be worn/equipped to be active, but characters can carry equipment in their backpacks and trade between themselves out of combat. Perhaps there's a general backpack pile for the entire party, decluttering the characters. Weapons can be one-handed or two-handed. A shield provides increased defence but limits the character to a one-handed weapon.

Because it might be print and play, doing a large game board is less feasible. Side guides for containment and coordinates require a lot less space than a full board. Could possibly feature player guides, or fun monster art? Creepy chaotic faces and bones? 11" still won't fit on letter though, unless it's "legal". Not sure if anyone actually prints on legal. A4 is fine.

Character exploration, loosely based on Drakborgen. They have to be a bit wishy-washy in terms of gear as that will be upgraded by cards in the game. The portraits should perhaps represent the entire trajectory of the character. I want the characters to feel like the player's, developing as a result of tactical choices rather than being a pre-made confinement (classes). Maybe the depicted weapon is what they get a minor bonus for. I think I'm going to do a set of super-generic characters for tabula rasa characters (robes, some leather armour, no weapon), then some slightly biased & charactery ones for when (if) that char building opportunity arises in the game, or just for themed play and replay variation.

Regarding the original Drakborgen character art, there's a sort of historical realness validating the designs, especially Aelfric and Bardhor. They feel like actual characters and not pictures of characters making exotic statements. These aren't grand heroes, but poor sods who will die 4 tiles in.

Cutting off the corners solves 3 problems with the Ur binary dice. Pips flat against the table can no longer be seen from a high angle. It's possible to make a well/dimple for the ink so it doesn't wear off and the dice can be finished using a tumbler if needed. Rolls better. Of course, it would work for a numbered D4 as well. It's extremely unlikely that it'll end up standing on a tip (especially if rounded in a tumbler). I find normal tetrahedral D4s pretty hard to read and they roll poorly.

Some of the designs from my Skeleton Lords setting.

World map from Skeleton Lords. Morgana's Fortress dungeon is located in the capital of Arubion.

Barbarian, Longswords soldiers and Morgana.

2:  Skeleton Fortress: Incomplete Rules

A:   Premise

The player controls a number of adventurous characters who trespassed the lands of the ruler Morgana and were taken prisoner. However, Morgana has given them a chance to regain their freedom, and perhaps return home richer than they came. They must complete one of her Herculean Tasks, deep down in a dungeon under her black fortress...

B:   Room Placement Rules

New maze/dungeon tiles are laid down when the party peeks into, or moves into a new room. Room tiles are drawn blindly from an urn corresponding to the colour of the section the room tile is placed in. The tile can be rotated in any way, but open corridors (and thier width) must match. If not, a new tile should be drawn until there is a match. Also, the maze can't terminate in a way which makes a corner inaccessible. If the player forgets and builds an impossible maze, it's allowed to breach a wall by working for 12 turns without turn wheel benefits, but making the appropriate Wumpus rolls. Corridors blocked by rubble don't have to match. The purpose of rubble is to make the maze a bit more winding whilst providing a few extra paths (weighted movement). Traversing rubble is dangerous and time consuming as it involves crawling in under heavy loose stone blocks.

C:   New Game Setup

First draw two quest/task cards and also reveal the current and next phase by revealing the two top cards of the Phase Deck. Also set up the empty dungeon as seen [picture] and populate each corner room with a randomly chosen Guardian and hidden holy treasure.

Choosing a Party

A party consists of up to four characters. A party of two characters would easily be outnumbered by larger monster groups in combat. The available characters vary in prowess, so choosing more powerful characters will result in an easier game. For a normal game, choose three normal characters and one special/leader character (which is a little bit more powerful and specialised). Next choose a basic equipment card for each. Also draw four growth cards and give one to each character. The characters will likely need EXP to activate the cards, but characters start with no EXP in a normal game. Some characters get to draw a few extra ability cards or have abilities listed in their profiles.

Set up the game according to the picture.

[WIP, a picture would be best here]

D:   Sequence of Play

New Turn (skip if first turn)

Party Actions

ENTRY: Room Entry Check


3.  The High Crusade

A.   Musings

Poul Anderson's work was probably quite influential. The High Crusade board game (published in Ares Magazine #16) is based on one of his novels with the same name, and it's quite faithful to the story and characters. I don't know how it plays. Printing the map is difficult as it's big and black and the scan is no good. I'd have to do a white version, but to get the numbered hexes right I probably need to generate it using a computer program. I did the chits anyways. They're double-sided (tricky to align), but I think only some need to be. The Wersgorix player can look at the hidden/flipped thrall race stat chits, so drawing them from an urn on demand might only work in solo play. Wound states could be made single side by 180 degree rotation, but then players need to sit at the same side of the table.

Counters/Chits Front, 600ppi

Counters/Chits Back, 600ppi ... both these sheet need counter separation to prevent colours spilling over edges.

Maybe? Hard to fit all on Crusader characters though, as they have large heraldics.

Art poo.

Many space games have black maps, which can be wasteful to print. Here I've inverted the map, turning the near black space to light grey, which I level'd to near white. Then I hue shifted 180 degrees to undo the inversion somewhat.

SVG Hex Grid Test

Generated by a program. Will need some editing, probably in Inkscape. The High Crusade uses a 48x30 grid I believe. At 600ppi the map might be 24Kx12K pixels so maybe a SVG is preferable. Unsure how to handle slicing into printable sheets & fonts.

Building Hex
0101 0102 0103 0104 0105 0106 0107 0108 0201 0202 0203 0204 0205 0206 0207 0208 0301 0302 0303 0304 0305 0306 0307 0308 0401 0402 0403 0404 0405 0406 0407 0408 0501 0502 0503 0504 0505 0506 0507 0508 0601 0602 0603 0604 0605 0606 0607 0608 0701 0702 0703 0704 0705 0706 0707 0708 0801 0802 0803 0804 0805 0806 0807 0808 0901 0902 0903 0904 0905 0906 0907 0908 1001 1002 1003 1004 1005 1006 1007 1008 1101 1102 1103 1104 1105 1106 1107 1108 1201 1202 1203 1204 1205 1206 1207 1208
Process complete

4.  Stellar Conquest

A.   More musings

Ships loosely based on Stellar Conquest -- a 1974 board game which is a bit obscure now but innovated the 4X genre. Master of Orion 1 /heavily/ referenced it. I believe the Atomic Rockets site guy (Chung) did some of the SC illustrations seen in early issues of The Space Gamer (1975) and these designs then ended up on some of the counters in silhouette form. He also did the Ogre design.

I've referenced the original designs a bit to come up with some variant (faction?) ships. The Metagaming editions had either text or silhouettes (with additional art elsewhere). Avalon Hill version confused things, renaming Dreadnoughts "Deathstars" (Star Wars had now appeared). The fighters were a higher tier than corvettes for some reason.

The older Metagaming version made more sense: SCT - Scout ship. ESC - Escort ship (Fighter plane, corvette?). ATK - Attack ship (Destroyer?). DN - Dreadnought.

Silhouette scaling was ok with only the SCT looking oversized. However, I think the silhouettes were too similar (two rice shaped and two sphere shaped ships). In the Avalon Hill version, the ships look about the same size but some of the designs are interesting.

I was thinking that because the (probably massive) 1 million people Colony Transport costs as much as a scout, maybe the scout counter represents a swarm (which could better explore star systems).

1 million people would actually fit in my 275 meter long Colony Transport if packed like sardines. (275 / squish to cube 1.5)^3 = 6.16M cu.m. - 50% ship stuff = 3 cu.m. pod space per person. But the CT counter could represent a convoy of several ships. Also, CT ships might be simpler to construct than advanced, armed and armoured warships.

The ship battles in Legend of Galactic Heroes with tens of thousands of ships feel like they're a fit for the Stellar Conquest feel. Master of Orion 1 ship stacks could get pretty large too. So maybe each ship counter represents a "strike group" of undefined size.

Perhaps PTs - Population Transports - could be added. This means a CT would be more expensive and so would colonization. It would of course change the balance, making rushes more difficult, promoting turtle play style. In the original game it's cheap to establish stepping-stone worlds with 1 pop (but they players are somewhat blind to the defences of enemy worlds). There's also a bonus to emigration in SC... which I'm not sure how it works. In-transit growth doesn't make sense if people spend their time in pods... unless they take turns stretching their legs I suppose.

Afaik, Stellar Conquest left the faction identities up to imagination, but I thought it would be amusing to use some of the random(?) creatures from The Space Gamer (#26) to cook something up. Metagaming released a game called Chitin which features some kind of proto Tyranids/Termagants (maybe inspired by Jack Vance's 1962 Dragon Masters?). But the spider-like Chitinoid in TSG#26 is likely not from the Chitin game.

Redrew a random alien spot illo from TSG #14.

Dragon Masters WIPs... which still needs some work. The descriptions were scattered about in the story so I'm sure I've missed a few things. I like having audiobooks on while I work and "read" many scores of books a year this way. Most I forget but this is one of those that sticks... or rather its basic idea does.

5.  OGRE

The War of the Worlds setting seems compatible with the Ogre game mechanics. 1-3 tripods come bearing down on towns and cities. Army units trickle in. Because the Martians inevitably die, the game could have a limited amount of turns. The role of the army is to mitigate damage to the congested refugees and facilitate their escape.

I'm using the tripod 1906 designs by Henrique Alvim Correa here, but prefer Charles Dudouyt's Octopus-like Martian designs from 1898 (afaik). It's referenced heavily in Japan.

Wells also wrote The Land Ironclads, imagining large, train-like tanks before World War 1. On top of this, he designed perhaps the first popular/known miniature wargame: Little Wars.

I'm thinking of this as a solo game. Because the Martians are aliens, maybe it won't matter much if they are AI controlled and a bit... mysterious in their ways. It would be cool if there was mechanics for production/repair of Martian units in their pits/craters, but maybe that's feature creep. Could still be fun to try to take them out early with demolition units since that's mentioned as a strategy in the book, but I it would likely make general play unstable. Perhaps best reserved for a scenario.

Thinking about feasible WW1-1.5 tank design. It was a different battlefield, with few antitank weapons and no mines.

Page by Arne of AndroidArts.