Friday, November 10, 2006

Wherre Are All the Manhunt Games?

The other day I saw a thread on Boardgamegeek by a guy who suggested that someone should adopt the Scotland Yard system to the Star Wars universe. The Luke Skywalker player would use hidden movement to run about the board and do rebel stuff, while the Empire player uses his numerous forces to search and destroy the pesky Jedi. Actually, to be accurate, it sounds like he wants to adapt the Fury of Dracula system to the Star Wars universe.

I had planned to someday write a blog on the Fury of Dracula/Scotland Yard system, and the unexplored possibilities of the manhunt game genre. The Boardgamegeek thread merely made me think that the time was right to write.

If you haven’t played Scotland Yard or Fury of Dracula, all you need to know is that they are manhunt games. One player uses hidden movement to move a single character while the opposing player or players move multiple characters in an effort to find and capture/kill the slippery fugitive. Fantasy Flight’s FoD adds combat, event cards, special supernatural Dracula powers and other flavoring to create a game both more complex and more fun than Scotland Yard. I’ve played as Dracula a couple of times, and although I’ve lost quickly both times (in daylight Drac can be killed by an angry girl scout armed with a spatula), the game was always fun. FoD is one game that will be pulled out every Halloween, and sometimes in non-October months as well.

Considering how much potential this game system has, I’m surprised that there aren’t more son-of-Scotland Yard games (There is a Manhattan version of Scotland Yard, but the basic rules of the game are the same).

In fiction there can be a thousand variations of one genre. The modern manhunt story was probably created by Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal, the story of a British hitman trying to kill France’s President DeGaulle and the detective determined to stop him. Other plot-against-an-historical-leader novels include Jack Higgins’ The Eagle Has Landed (a plot to kidnap Winston Churchill), Glenn Meade’s Snow Wolf (Stalin), David Mason’s Shadows over Babylon (Saddam Hussein), and Philip Kerr’s Hitler’s Peace (the Big Three) Other fine manhunt novels that feature either World War II commando action or modern terrorist threats include Ken Follett’s Jackdaws, Stephen Hunter’s The Master Sniper, Thomas Harris’s Black Sunday, and Joseph Finder’s The Zero Hour. And these are just the books I can remember off the top of my head.

So why not some more manhunt games? I mentioned in passing in a previous blog that Fantasy Flight could easily make a werewolf variant for FoD. I also could easily imagine a Lord of the Rings manhunt game. Not that we need another Lord of the Rings game, but the subject matter and the game mechanism would seem to fit. And there could easily be games based on more situations that don’t involve fantasy, science fiction or horror.

Here’s a possible scenario:

The rogue nation of Werdistan has defied the United Nations and built its first nuclear weapons. The American President has decided to end this threat to world peace by sending a covert team of elite Army Rangers into Werdistan to seize both the weapons and Werdistan’s top nuclear scientist.

But when the Rangers raid Werdistan’s desert nuclear facility, they discover that the atomic bombs are gone. A captive scientist reveals that the bombs are being delivered to a terrorist group that very night.

The race is on. Can you guide your commando team to victory by finding and seizing the nuclear weapons? You can raid other Werdistan instillations for resources and clues as to where the terrorist rendezvous will take place. But time is not on your side, and any encounter with Werdistan’s security forces could result in a deadly battle.

As the leader of Werdistan’s security forces, can you locate the fast-moving American team before it ends your diabolical plot? Your security forces are plentiful, but their training and morale are low. You will need an overwhelming force to find and crush the elite American unit.

The fate of the world is in your hands.

I can even imagine some kind of spy game in which players control both hidden-movement espionage agents and wet-work thugs looking for other players’ agents. Players get points for both stealing other players’ secrets and eliminating other players agents. When a player loses an agent, he gets another one, but the new agent must start at the players’ home base costing the player valuable time. (This hypothetical game owes a lot to SPI's Spies! game, but that game lacked true hidden movement).

We’ve all seen innumerable area-majority games, countless card-driven wargames, and whole families of train games. I think the market would support a couple more manhunt games.

Let’s hope for some good hunting.

1 comment:

huzonfirst said...

I can think of at least one other Scotland Yard spinoff: 2001's Ghost Chase, in which the players are seeking a playful ghost in a haunted castle. Pretty good game.

I think there's a huge difference between literature and games, Kris. You can have two dozen books in the same genre and they can all be completely different, due to setting, character development, and vastly different dialogue styles. But most gamers want something concretely different in a new game. Just changing the locale or the theme isn't enough. Most of the various area majority games have fairly significant differences in their mechanics (to the point that many of them feel completely different from each other). The challenge would be to do the same with the manhunt games. FoD did it by ramping up the complexity; changing the theme to Dracula was a necessary step, but far from a sufficient one. It's possible that it may be hard to add much to the all-against-one, partially hidden movement, deduction-style game. I like Scotland Yard too, and I'd love to see some meaningful variants, but it may be a tough thing to accomodate.