This is a bit… broad and abstract at the moment, as a response to this week’s Squishy Challenge. But I’m running with it. Oh, it also turned out like twice as long as I intended it to, but… that’s just me, I think.
The game is called Pre-Emptive Strike.
You play two countries at war (there may be a way to expand it to three or more, not sure), and the general setup is a board-game equivalent of a Real Time Strategy game. Every player has a board in front of them with a few locations on it: a military barracks, a power plant, a science center… and a time machine.
You have three resources represented by different tokens: soldiers, energy, and research; you start with three tokens on the appropriate locations (soldier at the barracks, etc.), and will get one more of each at the end of each turn. The time machine doesn’t generate anything. You also have a hand of cards in three varieties: battle, structure, and technology.
Battle cards work rather like Cosmic Encounter; if you initiate a battle with another player, you put forth some number of soldiers and a battle card, most of which have a number between 1 and 10, that you keep secret. The other player does the same, and then you reveal the cards; whomever has the higher card+soldier number wins (with ties going to the defender). Whomever loses, loses the soldiers, and if the attackers win then the defender puts a “damage” token on their board. Five of them, and their country is overtaken, and they lose.
Technology cards can be used in battle instead of battle cards, and have special effects, if you can pay their energy cost. For instance, one might triple the number of soldiers you have, but cost three energy to use, and another might negate the opponent’s battle card, forcing you to fight with soldiers only, and that costs one energy. Some tech cards are for use on your turn outside of battle, but they’re still one-use cards that require energy.
Structure cards will go down on your board, and structures do useful things; some upgrade your existing locations, so they generate energy faster, others can be new structures entirely, like a shield generator which prevents you from being attacked if you spend, oh, ten energy to turn it on. Stuff like that.
You don’t just GET cards though. Battle cards you need to buy, by spending soldiers to draw cards. Technology and Structures you need to earn as well, Technology by spending a research token to draw a card, and then paying the price in research tokens, and buildings by picking the card off of the table (the other players get to see what you’re building) and paying its price in research, energy, and/or soldiers (who will be reassigned to actually building the structure). Most structures are upgradeable (often by the simple expedient of paying the cost and flipping the structure over) and there may be an element of a tech tree… you can’t have the city-shield without at least a level-two power plant, perhaps.
“Ed. Ed,” you say, “This is all well and good, I suppose, but didn’t you say ‘time machine’ up in paragraph one?”
I did not.
“I’m certain you did!”
Oh, all right, I did. Here’s the deal, you have a time machine. You soldiers are time troopers, your ‘battle’ cards are really temporally-duplicated instances of a single soldier, your technology cards are all about time-effects… mass-duplication, aging rays, rewriting the enemy’s training to have been less effective, etc., and your structures are also time-based… the city-shield is a static time-bubble. But that’s theme. That’s flavor. The real deal is this: your time machine lets you use buildings that don’t exist yet, and field soldiers that you don’t have. How? Easy, if you need something, ANYTHING, just grab if from the table. You need two soldiers right now, just grab them from the pile of tokens, and while you’re there, grab a two more. The latter two you will place on a little zone of your board called “paradox”, along with a paradox token. That’s the paradox you’ve created, so on your next turn, you need to spend two soldiers, along with one energy for every token (that’s two for the soldiers plus one paradox token for three total), to send your soldiers back in time. OR, if you can’t, you get another paradox token, and try again next turn.
You start with one paradox zone, but of course you can gain more by upgrading your time machine. You lose if you get ten paradox tokens, because time tears itself apart.
And you can send ANYTHING back into the past… a technology, research, energy… even a battle card! But sending a “10” card back into the past means that you have until you earn ten paradox tokens to not just get a new battle card, but get a new “10” battle card. That’s dangerous. But, on the short term, oh, so useful!
“This is neat and all, Ed, but how does this even relate to the challenge theme?”
Ah, well, there are three ways to lose. Get taken over. Create an untenable paradox. Or engineer a snapback. A snapback happens when a country realizes is cannot win the war, but if it sets of a nuke on its own terrain and directs the energy into the time machine, it might just send some valuable resources back to itself, before the war even began, resetting the entire game.
To snapback (which causes you to lose, remember), take all the cards in your hand… and put them in your pocket. Pack up the rest of the game. Put it away. Say “good game,” because you’ve lost… you nuked your own territory into the dirt.
But next time you play, you can pull those cards OUT of your pocket, as a mess of high battle cards and useful technologies just appears in your hands out of nowhere, sent from the future.
So now, as a player, if you’re losing, the question must ever be on your mind: do I fight back and try to win? Do I sacrifice now, and have a better shot next time? OR do I try to get a better hand so my next game will be EVEN BETTER, and risk being defeated in the meantime?