Published on March 24th, 2006 | by Greg0
Lasers and the Big Idea
Bright packaging. Cute Egyptian-themed plastic pieces. And a great idea, use lasers and reflective pieces to make an interesting board game. It’s called Deflexion, and it’s another example of our love for the little guy. Because this isn’t another game from a huge conglomerate- despite the “Made in China” label on the box- this game was created by a couple of Tulane students and their professor, and won a grant from the National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance.
We like board games here at Truly Obscure, and especially the type called “abstract strategy”. So when we heard about a game featured in Wired Magazine that has low-powered lasers built into the gameboard, we had to check it out. What we found was a great idea, one of the most interesting board games we’ve played, but not a game without it’s flaws. The basic concept is to destroy your opponents Pharoah by using your laser- each player has a fixed laser and fires at the end of each turn. You move and tilt mirrored pieces to aim your beam, and remove any piece that is hit on a non-mirrored surface.
Abstract strategy is tough- games like chess and go aren’t easy to make, despite thousands of attempts. There are so many factors to consider: ease of learning, depth of play, balance between players. And it has to be fun. And it needs to vary between games, and not get stuck. Deflexion succeeds on most of these points and is definitely more captivating than some other games, but fails because the placement and number of pieces, and layout of the board, seems arbitrary. They admit as much, trying to turn a potential weakness into a strength by asking players to create new board situations and setups and suggesting that new pieces are forthcoming.
This is great- it implies a more active approach between designers and players, the kind of conversation that makes many computer games better. And it is bad- because it says that there is no “right” way to play, no fully-developed set or layout. Varieties of chess are many, but everyone learns the basic setup and that’s because it works very very well. It may seem arbitrary, but it’s not, and you learn that quickly.
With Deflexion ($40), you want to experiment with different layouts, because the limitations of the basic layout are immediately apparent. Attacks are hard to plan and carry out, because of the entrenched layout and number of pieces. In addition, some pieces are invulnerable, an odd and troubling decision. And others seem to serve little purpose (the obelisks). Overall, Deflexion reflects what is great about inventors: new ideas, challenging of conventions, and willingness to be a part of the community. But it also reflects some of the common weaknesses, namely, the triumph of the big idea over an actually fully realized end-product. It’s a great game, will probably only get better, and can encourage creative play- it’s just not quite a fully-formed idea yet.