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“Why the fighting?” – making of Skirmish

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Skirmish came about almost entirely from Luz. She had been tasked to design a game as part of a class she was taking at Mills and she had a cool idea I was interested in so we played it into existence.  Luz wanted to make a more fast paced version of a game she loved and we pared down the multitude of weapons into three categories and then attacked how armor would work.  Once we had a bare bones idea of how gameplay would work we went out on coffee/sushi/dinner dates where we would play a round of Skirmish and take notes.  I got a hold of a fishing tackle box and built a container for our figures, Dice, and markers. It was pretty fun to work out the dynamics of gameplay in a relaxed atmosphere while fielding questions from waitstaff and sushi chef’s.

We ended up doing a bunch of workshopping on how the dice were used in damage, hand to hand combat, and grenades.  The grenades stick out in my mind because we wanted them to be deadly even to a fully armored opponent, but we wanted to limit their availability in the field.  All this talk about death and destruction ended up bumming us both out a bit.  We wanted to be making a fun strategy game and our focus on how to do the killing was leading us to question if what we were doing was “good”.  

After sleeping on it I realized I wanted to know why the sides were fighting.  We had talked about the assumption that our figures were scouts of their respective armies, and I came up with mechanics for finding the other army as the priority.  Having the larger goal of finding the opposing army fundamentally changed the way the game is played.  Instead of focusing on destroying the other players’ figures, it becomes a strategy game about gaining information.  

The first time playing with these rules we saw an immediate difference in the game.   That larger goal pulled our teams apart in a way that increased the stakes for each of our figures. Instead of focusing on fields of fire, we had to think about moving across the board.  It turns out that three figures willing to sacrifice themselves allow one figure to dash across the board, see the opposing army, and radio back to his teammate.  When I decimated Luz’s team, and lost the game; I knew we had a winner.

I like to play a version where instead of thinking of the figures as chess pieces, I make a short note about each of them as I write down their names.  Chet here thinks he’s invincible, Norman is grenade happy, John likes to shoot first and ask questions later, Bill is just back from an injury and is playing it safe, Tom is the newbie in the group and wants to prove himself.  These little notes push me to role play the characters a bit and provide some direction during the countdown as each round progresses.  I won’t pretend it’s a better strategy than sitting back and controlling their disbursement on the playing field, but I find it more fun, and isn’t that what playing games is all about?