W. Eric Martin
Each year at Spiel, the annual game convention in Essen, Germany, designers and publishers present hundreds of new games to thousands of fairgoers. At Spiel 2014, for example, convention organizer Friedhelm Merz Verlag estimates that more than 850 new games were on hand.
Believe it or not, the number of new games at Spiel 2015 will probably soar to at least 1,300, with more than five hundred of those games packed into a single giant box at the 2F-Spiele stand. Yes, with the release of 504 in October 2015, designer Friedemann Friese will give you 504 games in one box. Here's his overview of the game:
504 is a game that creates 504 different games out of one box. The game consists of nine modules: Wargame, Pick-up & Deliver, Production, Streets, Exploration, Racing, Majority, Add-Ons, and Stocks.
In each single game, you take three different modules from the nine available and assemble them in any order you like to create a new game.
• This can be a Wargame with an economy based on Pick-up & Deliver with bonus scoring from Majorities.
• This can be a Racing game on a board that starts small and grows through Exploration together with some tech-cards to be acquired as Add-Ons for better racing or exploration.
• This can be an 18XX-style stock game — the player colors are companies with stocks — with network building (Streets) for the income and building Production sites to produce the workers for the street building.
Each single game takes from 30 to 120 minutes to play.
How does the 504 concept work in reality? Picture a children's book that's divided so that the pages can be flipped independently in different sections — something along the lines of this:
I played the game — well, one of the games — in early 2014 in prototype form, and to determine what to play Friese flipped through his handmade game manual to 743, with 7 being exploration, 4 being streets, and 3 being majority. (I don't recall the actual number, but I think those were the mechanisms that comprised our game.) By flipping the manual, you turn to the specific rules for each type of mechanism and the aspect of the game in which that mechanism if being used. The last number, at least in the prototype, corresponds to special details of play, which means that 743 and 473 will have these same details, but the set-up and gameplay and scoring differ because you're reversing the mechanisms used for them.
This concept blew me away when Friese first told me about it, and I'm still astounded by the audacity of it, by what's effectively another go at Copycat in the sense of him mixing multiple game mechanisms into a single design — but with 504 going even bigger.
At Spiel 2014, Friese explained that in addition to conducting playtests in real life, he had created a digital version of 504 in order to test all 504 games to ensure that they all worked, that no corner cases in the rules weren't answered, and that he could experience all that he had created through his madness. Okay, he didn't put it that way, but that's my interpretation.
For more details on 504 game system, what the modules are like, and where you can first try out the game (assuming you're near Toronto, Canada), head to Friese's "My 1x504 Challenge" GeekList.