Each month, the Indie Spotlight highlights a new game that exemplifies the creativity, cleverness, and beauty of today’s independent games market.
This month’s Indie Spotlight is:
For centuries, if you wanted to play a board game, you were essentially limited to a very specific type of game. These were generally abstract in nature, designed for two players, and revolved – for the most part – around knowledge and skill of the game to be proficient. If there was randomness built into the system, it was almost entirely based around rolling a die, and that die was almost always used to determine movement. Which is why, even well into the 20th century, if you asked somebody how a board game worked, they’re either going to reference a skill-centric game like Chess or a pure roll-and-move game like Candy Land.
In more recent decades, game design has undergone monumental evolution, leading to a host of new ideas and concepts as to what a board game can be and what it can accomplish. Where there were once just a handful of game styles has now exploded into dozens, with mechanics, themes, and game effects never before conceived or thought easily possible for game made principally out of wood and cardboard.
In many ways, the explosion of creativity in board game design has run parallel to, or even in tandem with, the monumental rise of video games and the innovation and creativity they bring with them – to a point now where you’re even starting to see some games experiment with the blending of the two, including using mobile apps, website repositories, and even AR and VR functionality.
Over this illustrious growth period of new ideas, existing barriers of possibility are broken with respect to tabletop designers trying concepts hereto considered prohibitively difficult to unnecessary to accomplish. Faced with the prevailing notion that some aspects and functionality of the digital realm are simply better, more efficient, or are the only ones capable of handling it, board game designers have repeatedly in recent years tried to find ways of incorporating traditionally video game concepts into the analog world – to varying degrees of success.
One digital subgenre that has proved surprisingly sticky at adapting is that of the “tower defense” game. Tower defense games are based around a simple premise that you have some kind of space or territory that you’re tasked with defending against continual waves of attackers who get progressively more difficult to stop due to their power and/or volume. To combat that, you as the defender must gain resources from those kills and use them to construct even more potent defenses. Either you eventually succeed at stopping this insatiable horde, or your defenses are inevitably overrun. Tower defense games can be tense, challenging, and require a lot of focus, but they can also be incredibly rewarding. Thus, the question in recent years is how to translate a style of game that’s typically solitary in nature and has a lot of automation into a functional tabletop version while maintaining the feelings of anxiety and reward that players routinely bounce back and forth between from moment to moment.
That’s the precise question Anthony Hanses of Forged by Geeks attempts to solve with Defense Grid, a cooperative board game for 1-4 players using a mix of tower defense and deckbuilding mechanics. Based in part on a successful video game of the same name (and with input from the original game’s developers), this tabletop iteration attempts to bring all of the highs and los of what makes tower defense enjoyable to the kitchen table.
In this scenario-based game, players are tasked with defending their core location against waves and waves of marauding aliens. Each scenario presents you with specific goals, rewards, and restrictions they must contend with. Then, over the course of several rounds, you must pool your efforts and skills together to invest in defensive towers, upgrade your characters, and do whatever it takes to eliminate the alien attackers as they make their way down a winding path to the core.
Basically, you’re creating one long death trap for some AI-driven aliens and you’re hoping that your combined efforts can pick them all off before they reach your precious central hangout.
A handful of tower defense games have made similar attempts in the past, but Defense Grid appears to be one that has threaded the difficult needle that makes it approachable, replayable, and focused on the actions of the players without getting bogged down in the minutiae of maintenance and upkeep that a digital game handles automatically for you.
Defense Grid brings a highly popular video game style to the cardboard realm, and to see if it has all the pieces necessary to encapsulate what people love about tower defense, the only real way is to sit down and strap in. So gear up, because the first wave is coming and time is short!
Do you have a game that we should spotlight? Let us know at: firstname.lastname@example.org!
Previous Indie Game Spotlights:
January 2019: Good Dog, Bad Zombie | Review | Q&A | Developer’s Site