As is often the case with projects that are strictly hobbies (like making board games), I’ve decided to switch gears and work on a different game right now. The Five Nights at Freddy’s-inspired “hidden movement” game will still be there on the backburner, but another game that has been on the backburner has been on my mind a lot lately.

Honestly, I haven’t played that many hidden movement games, so I want to get a few under my belt before I really feel like I can tackle the Freddy’s game. I own one called Mind MGMT, based on the best-selling comic book series, but I haven’t gotten a chance to play it yet, and I’d like to break that open and give it a few spins before I come back to Freddy’s. Research, research, research.

The game that’s been on the backburner that I’m bringing to the front is a game inspired by one of my favorite toylines/comic book series/cartoons of the 1980s, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

A little over a year ago, there was a Kickstarter campaign for a Joe game called G.I. Joe: Mission Critical. The campaign was successful and the game has since come out at retail. As you can see from this picture of gameplay below, the game is mainly a deck-building game, meaning you build up a deck of cards that allow you to take certain actions. You shuffle the deck and place the cards face down, then reveal them to see what actions you can take that round. You typically “buy” new cards to add to your deck that will allow you to complete more powerful actions as the game goes on.

In the case of Mission Critical, there are miniature figures of Cobra agents, mini-bosses like Dr. Mindbender and Baroness, and even Cobra Commander. Of course there are also Joes like Duke, Scarlett, Snake-Eyes, and Stalker that you control to fight back.

As you can see in the picture, the gameboard is really just symbolic. There are only five locations where the action takes place – New York City, Jungle Laboratory, Space Station Delta, Cobra Temple, and Central Command.

These limited locations really aren’t all that different from the 1982 G.I. Joe board game I picked up at a board game conference earlier this year:

As you can see, we have Cobra Island, the Desert Kingdom, Ft. Wadsworth, and The Pentagon. Again, just not a lot of variation in your locations. But maybe that doesn’t matter for Mission Critical. Maybe all that matters is the enemy figures that are occupying those spaces. If that’s the case, the places are little more than set dressing and don’t really have much impact on the story of the game.

While I love a good deck builder (and with a 7.6 rating on Board Game, it sounds like this one could be better), that’s not what I want out of a G.I. Joe board game. G.I. Joe is a military team. When I think “military”, I think “strategy”. And while there is some strategy in building a good deck of actions, you’re not trying to out flank a dug-in position of Cobra troopers or trying to rescue hostages with minimal casualties. That’s what I want out of a G.I. Joe game.

So, I’ve been working on my own G.I. Joe-inspired game called Iron Infantry. Obviously I don’t have the rights to G.I. Joe, but I can definitely take cues from the franchise as far as tone and design.

One of the things I love about G.I. Joe, especially during it’s Golden Age of the mid-80s, is that they were never afraid to be weird. (Things got really weird in the late-80s, early-90s, but I’d say pull back a little bit from that and you have the weird Joe sweet spot.) Think Serpentor, a Cobra leader created in a lab by Dr. Mindbender, using the DNA from Napoleon, Atilla the Hun, Julius Caesar, and Hannibal. He wears gold, snakeskin armor with a cobra snake hood and snake gauntlets, while riding around on a gold hover-chariot that looks like a cobra. I mean, I love this guy, but this is weird, ya’ll!

Part of what made G.I. Joe so great is that it wasn’t afraid to get weird. And I hope to do that too with Iron Infantry. I want the enemies to be colorful. No plain green and brown fatigues on the bad guys, but purple and yellow, and green and orange. We’re not worried about actually blending in here; it’s all about impact and panache. The game is going to have lieutenants that have strange designs and strange specialties, similar to the Cobra leaders like Destro, The Baroness, Dr. Mindbender, and Zartan. The missions are going to reflect some of this weirdness, though hopefully not to the extent the syndicated cartoon got weird. But who knows? Maybe it will get a little bonkers from time to time.

The game I’m shooting for is a strategy game similar to Zombicide or Gloomhaven. You have a mission to complete and there are enemies standing in your way. Sometimes the enemies are the mission; sometimes you have to reach a different objective for the mission to be a success.

I have quite a few notes on gameplay and have even started working up mission ideas, but the main thing I need to work on right now is the board.

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion has a really great game board that I want to borrow inspiration from. Instead of a bunch of unwieldy tiles like the original Gloomhaven game has, you have a spiral-bound notebook that contains the maps for each mission.

And if you need more space, there’s a second book with just individual pages that connect to the main game book:

The second book is “connected” on the top-right of the main game book

I love this idea! It’s so efficient, because you can make unique locations without having to print expensive, bulky tiles. In the original Gloomhaven, all the dungeons look essentially the same – grey stone floors, grey stone walls – because the tiles have to be used in different combinations for more than one mission. But with this, you could make Pages 2 and 3 be a jungle setting, Pages 4 and 5 be a snowscape, and Pages 6 and 7 be an office building. It’s so flexible and allows for exactly the range of missions I want Iron Infantry to have.

Where I’ve gotten stuck in the past is deciding what type of board I want to use – hexagon or squares? There are certain advantages to both in a strategy game. Gamers debate these differences constantly and no one can really come to a conclusion about which really is best. I can see it both ways, which is why I’m kind of stuck. I like the idea of being able to easily movie and attack at angles and distances, which the hexagons are better to use in this case. But I also like the simplicity and game board design of using a square grid. After all, a lot of our manmade world is made of sharp angles, so it’s easier to populate the board with obstacles and real-life items using squares than it is to try to make them fit over multiple hexagons and potentially limiting movement. The problem with hexes is if you try to fit them in a square location, you wind up with “dead” spots that aren’t really useable. This occurs in some parts of the Gloomhaven map below:

Is it the end of the world? No, but it does make for a little trickier board design to have to sort of account for these areas.

I don’t know. I’m still kind of stuck on which one is best.

And so, I’m going to leave you for now so that I can work on a basic mock-up of a mission board. I’m going to try overlaying the same obstacles over squares and hexes and see which one works best for this game. Hopefully I’ll have an answer soon…

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