Corporate Espionage At Its Best!
MAGNET HQ is a physical turn-based strategy game, mixing Hide and Seek with Tag and Espionage. In the game, two teams of players battle each other to reach their asymmetrical goal over three rounds. MAGNET HQ puts the emphasis on spatial awareness, dissimulation, communication and team-coordination, putting the players in the shoes of the units they usually order around in turn-based tactical digital games.
Designed with Winnie Song, Pierre Depaz and Jeremy White for Game Design 1 at the NYU Game Center (5 weeks).
The original idea for this game was to transpose the experience of a tactical turn-based digital game into a physical game where each player would embody the equivalent of the fighting units in those games and experience first-hand the importance of positioning, spatial awareness, line of sight and communication.
The first concern for that project was to, above everything else, keep the rules and interactions between players clear and simple. Unlike a board game where all elements of the game play are in sight, a physical game with players interacting in pairs or alone demands simplicity as to not have to refer to a complete ruleset while playing the game. Also, complicated or obscure rules would have broken the immersion of the game, which we found as being an important point, ever since our very first playtests.
Our very first iteration of the game was about moving a set number of steps per turn and killing the other players by touching them on your turn. The “combat” mechanic wasn’t very fun and engaging, so we created another version in which each team hides a set number of symbols around the floor (on the whiteboards) and players have to sneak around, find them and take a picture of it. The combat mechanic was kept the same as before but the hope was that sneaking around would become more important than directly engaging into combat. This, however, led to a game that wasn’t very fun especially because players just walked aimlessly around hoping to coincidentally find a symbol lying around.
Our objective then became finding a combat system that would be both clear, simple, and engaging for both players, and a way to codify movement around the playspace. After multiple iterations, we didn’t find a satisfying system for combat so we settled on a simple “touch and you’re out” system, which allowed us to focus more on movement, hiding and sneaking. The movement went from being a fixed number of steps to moving through a fixed number of pre-delimited spaces. This allowed for players to hide in any space they were in without having to count the exact number of steps needed to reach it. It also balanced the fact that some players would have bigger steps than others.
After we settled on a combat and moving system, we felt the game was still lacking a climax. Therefore, we iterated on different levels in order to find a goal which would bring both climax and closure to the game. A simple deathmatch wasn’t working and didn’t feel fulfilling to the playtesters. A territorial component felt interesting, but didn’t incentivize player-to-player interactions, as it was mainly walking around a space while ignoring the other team. We tried to develop different ways of playing the game so that player movement on the same team would be meaningful rather than just similar for everyone. We then started to implement different roles, with abilities centered around movement and attack.
The most important feedback we had from our playtesters was the fact that having both teams with the same object led to uninteresting optimal strategies such as playing fully on defensive. This led to a slow and dull game where both team just camped in an attempt to ambush. This led us to create asymmetrical objectives to potentially solve camping problems. Now, one team would have to pursue a territorial objective, forcing them to move around the playspace, whereas the other team would need to locate and confront a particular role in the opposite team. This final approach allowed us to link two aspects of the game we felt were lacking by themselves and let us give depth and tension to the game.
Lastly, I would like to point out that I really enjoyed working with my teammates and I’m glad that we had so many discussions (pacific or not) because in the end all the effort was well worth it and the final game was very enjoyable to everyone playing it. It was amazing to create a play environment out of a space that we regularly use just to study, and I’m glad I did with you guys! I already got several requests to have this game run again, and I’m sad that I had to turn down so many people because of the effort we would have to put just to set the game up again! Hopefully, when all the classes are over, we can set it up again and have as many people play it!