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Subject: Redeveloping the game of 20 squares rss

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20 Squares is an ancient game, rules for which do not survive. Boards were improvised on a variety of surfaces and the game spread widely beyond Egypt, where it was presumably invented. It seems to have been a roll and move game.

There have been a few reconstructions of the game, but I thought to do my own interpretation without reference to these. The rules of the game follow. It's very easy to improvise the components (this being in the spirit of the original), so feel free to give it a try.

• Three six-sided dice
• A game board of 20 squares in the arrangement found at the game's BGG entry
• 30 pieces (men), 15 in two distinguishable types — one for each of the two players

The board begins empty, and the men in front of their respective players. Players roll the 3 dice to determine who starts. Highest total on the dice goes first. Ties are re-rolled.

At the beginning of each player turn, that player rolls the dice. Each die is used independently to perform an action which may be one of two following types. It is mandatory to use each die to perform an action. A player who cannot perform an action with each die loses when a die must be used that cannot be used.

The first type of action is to enter a man onto the board. Men may be entered on the row of the 3x5 block of squares nearest the player, which number from the corner nearest the "tail" of five squares in the middle row starting at 1 and going up to 5. A die may be used to enter a man from those in front of the player on the square of the corresponding number, and a die result of six may be used to enter a man on any of the five squares. A square has a maximum capacity of 3 men. A die may not be used to enter a man onto a square already containing 3 men.

The second type of action is to move a man on the board. Men move from the entering row toward its end (the 5 square) and back down the middle row for a path length of 15 squares from the 1 square. A die may be used to move any man the corresponding number of squares. If the destination square contains the opponent's men or already 3 of the moving player's, the man advances to the next available square. If the movement, advancement past an occupied square or any other cause takes the man off the end of the board, it is placed in front of the opponent whence it takes no further part in the game.

After reaching the destination of its movement action, whether a square on the board or the area in front of the opponent, a man may capture a man that was passed by in the course of the movement. This man may be of either player. Capture is voluntary. Captured men return to the supply of the owning player except when the opponent's man is captured from a square containing only that one man which is not the last square of the board. In this case, the man is placed in front of the capturing player whence it takes no further part in the game. Any number of men may be captured from the final square of the board during a turn, but only at most one opposing man can be captured from any other square on a turn.

If, at the beginning of a player's turn, that player has 3 men on the last square of the board, that player wins the game. A man must be six or fewer squares from the last at the beginning of the turn in order to land there on a move (that is, it cannot have started from the squares of the entering row or the first 3 of the middle row). If it would land there otherwise, it instead moves past the square and off the board.

This game is finite and acyclic. It will always result in the victory of one player over the other. Even if both players cooperated to prolong the game and set the result of the dice to chosen values, the game would still end.

There is a tension between holding back one's pieces, using capture to return them to the supply in order stave off running out of moves and using capture aggressively while advancing to occupy the last space. Men on the last space are a threat that will require the opponent to move off the board and lose a man while returning your man from the last space to your supply.

Tension between the winning conditions and a variety of tactics make the game far from thoughtless. This was part of an exercise for me to show that roll and move games are thoughtless only when no effort is spent to make them otherwise.

Any input is appreciated, and I'd like to spur a renewed interest in roll and move race games (this 20 squares game being a sort of misère race). I think there's a design space there that has hardly been explored. Countless mass market retreads have done a disservice to the premise.
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