Continuing with my run of digitally-inspired ideas, I was thinking a lot about how you could distil the experience of the popular DOTA-style games into a tabletop version, and whether it was even possible. I must preface these ideas with the disclaimer that I have never played DOTA, and apart from watching other people playing it on Youtube, I am a complete novice when it comes to these sorts of games. However, what I would consider to be key concepts in these games would be:

  • An element of teamplay – each player is controlling a character that acts within a team, whose common goal is to defeat the other team.
  • A clear goal – usually destroying the opposing team’s home base.
  • A constant stream of lesser units heading towards the opponent’s base, which you can augment with your own hero.
  • A way to customise your own hero, with varying powers

I have probably missed some things off that list, but I didn’t want to start with too many restrictions, after all I would like my game to be inspired by DOTA – it doesn’t have to be a direct copy. For me, the really key thing that I would want is that element of teamwork, of working together against the other team. I should also say that I’m sure there might have been boardgames already made that resemble what I am about to explore, most notably games like Heroscape (which I have never played).

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Day 20: DOTA the boardgame

Players are split into two teams evenly, with each player controlling a character on that team. Players can choose from a range of characters, and then can further customise their character by choosing what cards comprise their character deck. Each team has the goal of either destroying the other team’s base, or by killing opposing characters a certain number of times.

The game is played on a relatively small hex grid, with characters and buildings being represented by either tiles or figures. The board would be preset with some features, such as defensive towers and walls, and each team would start surrounding their base on their side of the board. Defensive towers will automatically damage opposing characters near them at the end of each turn, but can be destroyed.

Each character has a certain amount of health, and a track of experience. Over the course of the game, as they perform certain actions (such as killing an opposing character or destroying a building), characters earn extra experience, in addition to the 1 experience that every character earns at the end of each round (so that even if you aren’t being very lucky in defeating opponents you still get the opportunity to level up every now and again). When a character hits a certain threshold of experience, they level up, and can add a new card to their character deck.

The game is centred around the use of cards to do certain actions in the game. Every round, each player will choose two cards from their character deck and place them face down in front of them, with these cards describing what their character will do that round. Some of these cards are common to every deck, such as movement cards, and generic attack cards. Other cards represent a wide array of special attacks and abilities that a character can perform. The key part of these phase is that players on the same team can show and discuss the cards they are choosing, so as to best work together as a team that turn, while at the same time not knowing what their opponents are going to do. Once all the cards have been chosen, they are revealed at once, and resolved in speed order (each card has a speed rating, and the lowest cards resolve first). Once all cards have been resolved, a certain number of cooldown tokens are placed on the cards played (again, this number is defined on the card), representing how many rounds have to pass before the card can be used again. Some cards don’t have any cooldown, and can be used every round. At the same time, any cards that have no cooldown tokens on them can be taken back into the player’s hand (at the beginning of each round, 1 cooldown token is removed from every card in front of a player).

If a character is reduced to zero health they are killed: they return to their home base, and return all cards to their hand (regardless of cooldown tokens). They also have to miss the next round of play as a penalty. The number of kills are tracked, as one of the winning conditions is killing characters from the opposing team a certain number of times.

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Again, having not played many games in either the tabletop of digital arena of this type, I’m not sure how original this idea is. I can imagine having such a wide variety of very cool powers, and the addition of a geographical element of the board really widens how these effects could actually work. There is definitely room to create a lot of interesting characters with focussed abilities, and the level up cards provide a way for players to customise their characters as the game progresses. I would be really interested in your thoughts, and what interests you most in a game like this!