Saxton Hale’s Mercenary Combat Simulator is a board game adaptation of the first person shooter Team Fortress 2. It is my attempt at faithfully representing an existing IP in a different medium that retains the core thematic and mechanic elements of the source.
Overview – Project Details
Development Time: 2 Months
Roles: Designer, Artist
Tools: Team Fortress 2, Photoshop
Overview – Synopsis
Saxton Hale’s Mercenary Combat Simulator is a 2 player, turn-based board game adaptation of a 24 player real time first person shooter. The process of distilling down the mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics that make TF2 the game it is, and converting them into a fundamentally different medium with its own physical limitations was quite a challenge. However, I feel that the end result faithfully maintains the essence of TF2, while still being an entertaining and engaging product in its own right.
Details – Design Process
In one of my design classes, we were given a challenge to convert Team Fortress 2 into a board game. This made me absolutely ecstatic, because TF2 is one of my all time favorite games. I have logged thousands of hours into the game, played in tournaments, made my own game modes with SourceMod, and made thousands of dollars in the hat trade. I am intimately familiar with this title, and the chance to convert the game into a board game excited me immensely.
We were told to “break down TF2, and make your game about the most important aspects of TF2”. This of course left me with only one option…
So my professor then gave me a new mandate: NO HATS! Yes, much to my horror, I had to make a game that wasn’t about accumulating the most fabulous and rarest hats possible. Maybe some sort of alternative headware simul… not that either? Fine, I’ll make a game that’s about force composition and distillation of mechanics, but you’re going to feel pretty sorry when everyone’s heads are unsheltered from the elements.
The first challenge that I needed to deal with is identifying which components of the game should remain, and which should be cut. There are 9 playable classes, hundreds of weapons, and several different game modes. The vast combinations would not only be a nightmare to adequitely balance, but as a physical board game, the players must keep track of all the rules and numbers that the game normally would do automatically. Thus, everything must be simplified down to a more manageable level.
There are 9 playable classes in TF2. Many of the roles of these classes overlap to some degree – the Soldier and Demoman are both offensive classes that use slow moving ranged explosive attacks. Fundamentally, from a mechanics perspective, both classes aren’t really necessary to represent the same type of unit. However, from an aesthetics perspective, each of the classes in TF2 has a unique personality, and are vital to maintaining the thematic appeal of the game. TF2 fans would be outright offended if they had to play some sort of “soldierman” class. So, each class needs to remain, regardless of the added complexity this creates.
The original “vanilla” release didn’t have different equippable weapons, and following this would make the project much simpler. However, modern TF2 is a fundamentally different game because of the vast variety of weapons and playstyles that arise because of them. It is a more satisfying experience because you can collect inventory items. So, I wanted retain multiple weapons because I feel that it creates a more engaging experience. I decided to select a sampling of some of the more iconic weapons for several of the classes.
Details- UX Design
Keeping track of the game state is vital in a strategy game. The layout of cards and the presentation of information needs to be clean, clear, and concise. Each card has a name and picture of the object it’s describing for quick visual identification. Character cards additionally represent this with the classes official icon. The most important figures, like heath, and attack power are displayed in a large font. Card-specific information is placed into a separate box.
The actual character tokens on the map are pictures of the class, instead of the class icon. In playtesting, I tried both methods, and found a picture is easier to identify, especially if you are not familiar with the icons.
TF2 is a 24 player game. As a board game, it make much more sense to have one player control an entire team. Keeping track of that many characters is still pretty much impossible, so I decided to cut the number of characters down to 6 per team. It’s not only a lot simpler, it’s actually the numbers used in professional tournaments, so in a way, it still retains a TF2 feel.
Still, keeping track of that many characters can be a daunting challenge, and I wanted to limit the amount of information the players have to mentally keep track of. I created a health and ability system that uses two cards for each character. One card is the character card, pictured above. This contains the base stats and relevant rules for the class. The second card tracks the health and abilities of the character. Each of these cards is labeled 1 through 6. A player takes a turn moving character 1, then the other player moves their character 1. Then the first player moves their character 2, and so on. This makes managing movement and health much simpler than many tabletop games, and helps move the pace of the game along.
Details – Post-Mortem
I’m really happy with the way this project turned out. It definitely accomplished the goal of retaining the essence of the source IP, and it’s just plain fun to play. It was also just a lot of fun to make, because it was a great challenge. How often as a designer are you given an opportunity to work with such a fun IP?
This project was a great exercise in identifying mechanics and map composition of an existing commercial product. It was an interesting challenge, and I feel that the exercise has made me stronger in the process.
Download – Full Game
Would you like to play this physical game? You can download all art assets and the complete ruleset here.
If you would like to download just the rules, you may do so here.