Field Game: Tips & Strategies

As any true student of Field Game knows, there are many schools of thought about winning strategies. Debates among scholars have at times been heated, rivaling the action on the field. But even as the once-bucolic school sport outgrew the classroom and morphed into the modern Field Game we now see on national TV, fundamental questions of strategy remained.

An essential question confronting any team is how to assign positions. There are three rings each with two spots, and each player has two Kingdo monsters. Do you give each player both positions in the same ring or do you mix them up? Some argue that having a player with positions in two adjacent rings means they can execute passes between their own monsters without coordinating with any other players, but critics say this kind of tactical isolationism reflects a bankrupt philosophy of play.

When you have players with a mix of experience (a practical inevitability) do you assign your stronger players farther rings, where they can probably still control their critters, and leave the inner rings for weaker players so they can stand right next to their Kingdo and bark orders?

On the other hand, is it more essential to have a strong middle ring or anchor the inside or outside? After all, the nug has to pass through the middle ring twice on every run, but depending on the direction of the run the inner or outer ring will only see the nug once.

And then there’s the eternal debate over whether an outward nug run (inner ring to outer and back to inner) is easier than an inward run. With an outward run the action is closer to the players at the center twice, at the beginning and end, making it easier to command your monsters… but that’s true for the defenders too.

No matter how dominant one approach has seemed, over time new strategies have emerged to usurp it.

Much like the Kingdo monsters themselves, the sport continues to evolve, sometimes in unexpected ways. And also much like the Kingdo monsters, it can be surprisingly difficult to master.

Ben Robbins | April 4th, 2022 | , , ,

Ring the Nug: the Kingdomon Field Game

We’re playing a scene during the Elspa Academy era of our Kingdom Legacy campaign, where students are learning a game to teach them about teamwork, handling wild Kingdo monsters… and maybe a little something about friendship.

We’re practicing for the championship match against our rival, Dorfin Academy, but it’s not going well. Spotsprints, Laardvarks, and Croaknkeys are sitting around, eating grass, entirely ignoring the orders the kids scream at them and each other.

It is, in fact, a total shit show. An absolute total fustercluck*. And that’s intentional, because the game is designed to teach students that it takes more than just yelling to get a wild animal to do what you want. Nature does not do what you want, and sometimes other people don’t either.

“Field Game” was an important part of our story in Elspa Academy, but we didn’t really need to know how it was played beyond “kids yell orders at Kingdomon”. Didn’t need to know the rules, didn’t need to conceive and create an entire game… but then after one particularly good cup of coffee, yeah I did conceive and create the entire game.

So now you can play it too! All you need is a nice grassy field, white paint, and a half-dozen trained pocket monsters that (sometimes) obey your commands. Oh and one regulation-sized Nug, but you can probably scrounge one from other field games you have around the house.

The Rules of Field Game

There are two teams. Each has three (human) players, and each player commands two Kingdo monsters, so six Kingdomon total for each team. The field is a circle with three concentric rings, each divided into four quarters alternating green and white, and a “safe” zone in the middle. See the helpful illustation.

The game starts with one monster in each quarter. One team places on white and the other on green. Once play starts, a monster can’t leave its ring but is free to move anywhere within that ring.

The human players stay in the center. They shout orders to their monsters, but they don’t interact with the nug or ever take action directly. Nor can monsters enter the center or interact with the players — monsters can unleash a smackdown on other monsters, but never attack humans!

Field Game Rules

The object of the game is for the Kingdo monsters to move the “nugget” (aka the nug) across the rings, from the outer ring to the inner ring and back again, or vice versa (inner to outer and back to inner). A full round trip scores you a point. Since a monster can’t leave its ring, it has to pass the nug to a teammate in the next ring. But you can only pass the nug to a monster in a quarter of the same color. Which means those diagonal spots where the quarters of each ring meet are the hot spots of action.

The nug has to be in the possession of a monster in each ring, in order, to score. If you skip the middle ring you have to go back and start over for it to count towards scoring. And by design, no player can win by themselves. You only have two Kingdo, so even if they’re in two different rings you always have to pass to another player’s monsters to ring the nug.

At Elspa Academy there are three grades, so of course a team representing the school is required to include one student from each year: one senior, one sophomore, and one freshman. Because that just makes everything harder.

(There were also “advanced rules” where placards were flipped each round to establish special rules that applied to any Kingdo in possession of the Nug, like “no moving while holding the Nug”, or “no throwing the Nug” etc. but that seemed liked gilding the lily and never got used.)

In the fiction there would be lots of careful strategic decisions about where to place different species of Kingdo monsters, based on their abilities and where your opponent is placing theirs, but mostly it’s about team work and figuring out how to get your monsters to do what you want and not have the whole thing devolve into an absolute mess. It’s an intentionally frustrating game that teaches students character.

So how did we do in the championship? Elspa Academy won regionals for the first time in years, defeating the snotty kids from Dorfin! But our main characters, who had nearly resorted to cheating to win, lost their own match but learned a lot about themselves and grew as people.

A loss on the field, a win in life.

Next up, Field Game: Tips & Strategies

* a rare evolution of the Chickycluck, generally considered too small to carry a Nug

Ben Robbins | March 31st, 2022 | , , ,

Microscope In the Classroom: Collaboration Is Not Easy

Along the way, the students learn and reinforce some valuable skills. Collaboration is not easy. Strong personalities have to tone it down to ensure everyone has a voice. Quieter personalities find themselves thrust into the spotlight, having to at least briefly take on a leadership role within the group. Attention must be paid to cause-effect in order to construct narratives that make sense.

The Knights of the Mightier Pen: Fractal Histories

The social dynamics of playing creative games together is a boon for human development. I love hearing about teachers using my games in class, because I think we’ve only begun to scrape the surface of using story games in education, to help everyone develop those critical human skills.

Ben Robbins | March 14th, 2022 | ,

The Designer Ouroboros

When you’re stumped on a project, what do you do? You can bang your head against a wall — and I usually do, for quite a while, because sometimes that does get results — or you can pivot to another project to clear your head.

And when you get stumped on that project, what do you do? Maybe more head-banging, or maybe you decide to pivot to yet another project to clear your head, again.

And when project number three stumps you, where do you turn? Right back to project one.

Rinse, repeat.

On paper that sounds like a dog chasing its tail, an endless vicious cycle, but when you come back to a project that’s laid fallow you might discover surprising insights lurking just beneath your waking mind. The trick (and there’s always a trick) is to make sure your projects don’t drift into something else when you leave and come back to them. So you write down your maxims, and you check your maxims. Can you change your maxims? Absolutely. But it has to be a conscious choice, not forgetfulness.

Irrational Methods & Sacred Holograms

I’m very organized. But sometimes organizing is not your friend.

Recently I noticed I was really grappling with my design notes, that the organization itself was making it harder to work on the game. So I made a strange leap to a totally different approach. On paper a completely irrational method. Disorganization, really. But I’m finding at a particular stage of the development process that it works much better for me, for reasons I’ll explain.

Here’s the logical method, which is what I usually do: if you’ve got a design in the works, you set up folders or some kind of hierarchy for each facet of the game. Maybe a section on character creation, with a subsection on relationships, and really overarching folders for setup versus play and so on. And when you have ideas you go to that section of the hierarchy and write your thoughts in their proper places. Maybe you have different folders or one big outline document with different sections — whatever, doesn’t matter. The point is, as you work or brainstorm, everything you make goes in the section where it belongs. Even if you’re debating three different ways to frame scenes, all three methods are in the “scene” section.

And that’s totally logical. But what I’ve found is that it also creates a small organizational hurdle every time you have an idea you want to jot down. Where does it go? How does that change the structure? Do I need to re-order all these folders? That kind of micro-introspection can stifle the flow of ideas. You can’t just add one idea, you have to stop and think of how that idea fits in the whole right then.

Enter my irrational solution. I usually keep journals for games I’m working on, to reflect about the process and think through timelines, etc. But now I’ve switched to putting the bulk of all design notes in those journals. If I have an idea of how to revise relationships during character creation, I just slap it right in the Tuesday entry rather than trying to put it in the proper section of the notes hierarchy.

The result is a big chronological thread of ideas as they came to me, completely disorganized. And right now, for me, it totally works. Because there’s zero barrier to jotting down new ideas or kicking around some snippet of analysis. I just open the journal and add something.

Later on, yes, there will be a massive culling, where I’ll go through the whole journal and scoff at all the ideas I came up with and abandoned, and then write the true final rules.

But I think this method reflects a very important truth, which is that the true structure of the game doesn’t exist on the page, it exists in my head. If I can’t see the whole thing floating in my brain, I’m not there yet. And then, yes, once that sacred hologram is complete, the next step is to translate it into words that players can read. But the mental construct comes first. Writing things down during the design phase is just a way to help me put it into focus.

A corollary is that this is exactly where some game designers go wrong. They have a clear mental construct, but the words they put on the page don’t express the game in their head, and they can’t see the discrepancy. Which is also why I’ve said in the past that if you’ve been kicking your text around for a long time, it can be revelatory to put it all aside, start with a blank page, and write your entire game out from memory. Because your brain knows how the game works.

And that’s also why a lot of game design work looks like me just walking around the house, starring into space, not writing a word. Because I’m building up and tearing down the construct in my mind.

Ben Robbins | February 14th, 2022 | , | 1 comment

What Made That Game Great?

“That game was amazing!!”

Ah yes, those games you played that you’re still talking about days, weeks or years later. But when someone says they played a really great game session, what does that mean? What actually makes a session great? It might seem like there should be a universal answer, a game theory definition of what makes a great play session, but I think the answer is entirely personal, not universal.

For some people, it might just be spending time with people they like. They had a good time socializing, drinking beer and kicking back, so it was an amazing game.

For others it’s the magic carpet ride, where everyone is on the same page and things just flow effortlessly. We didn’t even need any rules!

Other people love the spotlight. They got to create big things that amazed the other players, or had a dramatic moment that held everyone else spellbound.

Or they cherished a game because it had emotion. It tore them apart or nearly brought them to tears.

Or they got so caught up in the moment that they forgot about their day-to-day troubles, and maybe even stopped thinking about the game as a game. Classic escapism.

Or maybe they just rolled a 20 at the perfect moment

And that’s just to name a few. Ultimately, I think someone’s definition of a “great game” tells us why they come to the table in the first place. That’s what they want out of these games, even if they don’t recognize it in themselves. Because we don’t all play these games for the same reasons, or want the same things or get the same things out of them. Different people at the table might agree a session was a classic, but never realize they loved totally different aspects of the same game.

Transforming “Me” to “Us”

The inevitable question (which I’m asking myself right now, but pretending you’re asking as some kind of rhetorical flourish) is, what makes *me* say a game is great? What ingredients have to be present for Ben to bask in the afterglow and say “Awww yes! That was a great game!”?

In other words: what am I looking for when I play games? What am I doing this for?

Looking back at the games that have stayed lodged in my cranium for years on end, I can detect a common thread. The magic ingredient, at least for me.

What I love is seeing disagreement turn into agreement. Where people start off with very different ideas of how things should go or what they like, players who think they have no common ground, but then the game helps them create something wonderful together.

The process of play brings the table together, replacing their skepticism with camaraderie and trust. It makes everyone love and respect each other more.

That transformation from “me” to “us” is what makes me say “Now that was a great game.”

What about you?

Ben Robbins | January 25th, 2022 |

2021: A Year of Legacy

Despite the pandemic — or more likely because of it — I played more role-playing games in 2021 than any other year since I started logging my games back in high school. It’s a fact.

Playing online via video chat used to seem like a pale imitation of face-to-face gaming, but for logistics it can’t be beat: distance doesn’t matter so you can game with anyone in the world, there’s no picking a venue, no travel time, etc. Even without a pandemic, it’s kind of a great fit for busy adults.

A big chunk of those games were Kingdom. Lots and lots of Kingdom. 71 sessions total. And almost all of them were the new Legacy rules from the second edition. I came from an old school D&D background ages ago, and while I love one-shot (or short arc) story games, there have been times I missed the immersion and involvement that comes from a campaign you’ve been playing with the same people for months or years. But before now there have been, as far as I know, exactly *zero* GMless games that really work for long-term campaign play — I’m talking about campaigns that run thirty, forty, or (ahem) seventy sessions.

But now with Kingdom Legacy we’ve got long-term campaigns again and it’s fantastic.

In 2020 we started our Kingdomon “collect all the pocket monsters” saga with Al, Caroline, and Marc, and it’s still going strong two years in. It was the very first Legacy game I ever played, before the rules were finished and I knew how awesome it was going to be.

Then in 2021 I added a second campaign, the Department of Witches Kingdom with Ace, Ashley, and Joe. And just like Kingdomon, it was originally a one-shot Kingdom game that grew out of control and is now over 30 sessions in.

And what’s better than two Kingdom games? How about three? The Ozari Traveling Circus, with Haskell, Jem, Mike, and Seth, complete with clowns, lion tamers, and trapeze artists. It’s still a “normal” Kingdom game so only time will tell if it will make the jump to Legacy too.

And yeah, I did squeeze in a bunch of other games that weren’t Kingdom: Caroline’s awesome Fedora Noir game, two Fallout campaigns (great players and not-so great rules), some Microscope, Follow, and Downfall, a few games I hadn’t tried before like Incarnis, i’m sorry did you say street magic, and Paninaro, and even a West Marches D&D 3e game that someone else is running so I get to just kick back and avoid getting eaten by wolves for a change.

As always, the key ingredient is great players. I am very, very lucky to know a bunch of people are a lot of fun to game with over and over again.

Cherish your peeps. And cut them some slack when you have to. It’s rough out there.

Ben Robbins | January 16th, 2022 | , , , , , ,