Sure, BattleCON’s great, but you know what it really needs? More expansions and variants, of course! I mean, there are a thousands and one ways to play BattleCON, but there’s still room for more. The one thing that BattleCON doesn’t have is a multiplayer mode that I actually want to play. I mean, there are the boss fights and the ex/almighty fights, and the 2v2 team battles, but none of them really satisfy. The boss fights are more of a novelty, and the team battles feel cramped and honestly why not just play two games side by side? What I was trying to do with Melee was create a free-for-all BattleCON experience with 3-4 players that preserved the feeling and appeal of the standard game. The best way to do that, it seemed to me, was to open up the board, and take us into the third dimension.
But how could such a thing ever work? The back-and-forth movement system is pretty deeply baked into the game, how to translate that to a board with multiple planes of movement? The answer I came up with was pretty simple, but with works pretty smoothly and feels quite “BattleCON” to me. Essentially, each player secretly targets another player for their attack, everybody simultaneously reveals who they’re after at the beginning of the ante step, then resolves their turn as normal. Movement is done relative to the position of the target, which preserves the Advance/Retreat, Push/Pull system on the cards rather simply. The game has piles of unused tokens with different factions symbols on them, and the life spinners from Devastation share those same printed symbols, which worked out perfectly. When you set up the game, every other player takes one of the tokens with your marker on it, and there you go!
The only tricky bits are working out how to resolve priority clashes and movement across irregular lines. I cycled through a handful of different approaches to both these problems, but after a couple false starts and a lot of play-testing, the system I settled on seemed to work best. First, clashes only occurs if one of the tied players is targeting the other, in which case they clash as normal, with the other player switching targets if necessary to target the clashing player. This keeps things pretty dynamic, as a clash can result in a shift of target as well as forcing you to choose a new base. It also closes the loop on some weird exploits that were cropping before the target switching rule.
Movement was a little trickier. Like I said, the 2D plane in BattleCON is pretty much hard-wired in, and there are a lot of terms and variables to consider. A few too many, to be honest, as BattleCON doesn’t necessarily have the tightest rule-set in the world. My first impulse was to leave the rules up to the player’s discretion to a certain extent, as Melee is more of a chaotic party atmosphere than the very thinky and deterministic 1v1 match-ups. The system I initially used was a little too loose, however, and a revision was needed. What I settled on was this: When moving relative to another character, drop a ruler on the board which crossed the centers of both spaces. Any space bordering or crossed by that line is fair game. When given the option of two spaces, the player initiating the movement gets to pick. Passing over characters is done only if moving directly across their space, and two characters side-to-side block movement. This seemed like a pretty good balance of simplicity and precision, so I think that it will do the trick.
The final piece is the power-ups. I picked up the armory expansion because I’m a completionist dork lacking in self control. I don’t use it much, however, so anything I can do to make use of it is fine by me. The obvious inspiration for Melee was Nintendo’s Smash Bros, and bringing in the wacky items seemed like a good fit. They pop up on the board and provide a one-time boost to the person that picks them up. It also incentivises people to keep moving around the board instead of hunkering down in the corner.
So, there you have it, BattleCON: Melee. A fairly modest mod, to be sure, but a fun one, I think, for anybody interested in opening up this magnificent two-player game to a bigger group. You can grab it right here on the BGG.
I had something of an ulterior motive, however, in crafting this mini-expansion. The board, which I made by having a customer poster printed and adhering it to a spare Doomtown: Reloaded board, was something of a test. It worked magnificently, and looks great next to the boards from War and Devastation. Given how well it turned out, I’m ready now to print a board using the same method for my next fan-expansion, a far more complex and involved mod that I’ve been working on for more than a year and will be talking about here very soon…