Often I say the mechanics of a game have to really eccentuate the theme. “fantasy” or “sci-fi” can’t just be tacked on without considering how it might be conveyed through the underlying mechanics. Yet thinking through the games I play, Terraforming Mars, Lords of Waterdeep, Roborally, Scythe… there’s history, fantasy, and futuristic, but never, in all my years, have I ever played a really good “cyberpunk” board game. What would make a board game feel cyberpunk? slinking about the undercity, hacking into corporate mainframes, installing personal augmentations.
There is one cyberpunk game I’ve played but it was a deckbuilder, and I’m rarely very impressed by deckbuilders. I want something deeper, full of strategy, and balancing the two worlds of physical and digital.
I’d like to explore the idea of the digital and physical realms being two interconnected worlds. And what does “hacking” look like in a board game?
Each game, your “neighbourhood” could be built up of a random set of building cards. Thinking worker-tile placement style here. On the backs of the building cards will be a hexagonal grid, and the unused buildings are used face-down to create the play-space of the digital realm.
Following the metaphors of “interconnected” (internet) and “information highways” I imagine the digital board is populated with hexagonal tiles with lines/curves connecting them in different ways, possibly with different colors of lines. In order to “hack” you must create a continuous line from one jack-in terminal to your target.
The skill and strategy of hacking comes in manipulating the digital realm, placing new tiles, locking existing ones, placing traps, etc.
Gangs, Corporations, Hackers
A city full of denizens of all sorts. From shadowy figures in alleyway to menacing corporate towers, and gangs that roam the streets at nights. You can choose to play as any of them, the big or the small— be a team of hackers teamed up against the corporation, or all play corporations vying for control of the city.
One challenge of designing a cyberpunk-themed game is the depth and complexity required of the world. There is a fine balance between too little content and possibilities and feeling shallow, surface-level, and then the other end of stuffing so much content into the game that it feels mashed up and haphazard. As with all design, the goal is to create a simple set of mechanics that not only bring about great complexity and strategy but that also eccentuate the cyberpunk themes of disparity and techno-grunge.
After sifting through ideas above, I feel perhaps a list format might be better suited for brainstorming the sorts of possibilities which could be used, combined, or repurposed into what may someday become this cyberpunk board game.
I’ll start by rehashing some of the ideas I’ve already covered:
- Worker-placement building cards, randomly placed to lay out your “neighbourhood” each game
- Hexagonal tiles w/ lines that connect, hacking and manipulating digital realm involves placing, moving, rotating these tiles and “jacking in” through terminals
- Would be neat if you could choose to play as either a hacker or a corporation— some games could be 3 hackers vs. 1 corporation, other games could be all corporations vying for control of the city
- What are the key resources in a cyberpunk world? other than money I might consider information (hackable) and influence (societal)
- Perhaps there could be confrontations in the physical world— maybe
if you try to take the same worker-placement slot as someone else?
- This could lead to a potential battle-royale-like situation, if you recruit more agents or the buildings get destroyed through events, etc. then it could force you to make confrontations in the physical world as you’re literally running out of space
- Military grade cyberoptics
- Ramen bar
- Net cafe
- Black Market Pharmacy
- Arcade / Gambling den
- Pawn shop
- Computer Repair Shop
- Street doc
- Corporate HQ
- Body shop (augmentations)
- Imagine if everybody had different goals for winning… You have to constantly be second-guessing intentions, trying to figure out information that might lead you to discover what each-others goals are in-order to get in each other’s way. It would amplify this sort of indirect conflict, especially near the beginning, an ambient tension of not knowing and just slinking around doing your own thing. Could work pretty well.
- Would there be any presence of police? crackdowns? gangs? even corporate goons or assassins?