The first game I headed to at the Boston Festival of Indie Games was an Asymmetric board game called STATE, being created by Michael Leonard of Diagram Games. I went straight there for a couple of reasons: first, it was a tabletop game, and I was all to eager to get a look at the glorious Tabletop Game Showcase during the Boston FIG. Second, when I’d first been reached out to by Diagram pre-festival, I was really intrigued by the inspiration behind the game:
STATE is inspired by works of fiction like “1984” and “Brave New World” and historical events like the Nazi’s treatment of the Jewish people; I attempted to make a game that comments on the nature of occupation and the weed of suspicion that can grow between former friends. It is often argued if “games can be art”; I’d like to humbly submit STATE in favor of this proposition.
Now, I suppose I can understand why that might turn someone off (Hooray, Persecution The Board Game!), but I can truthfully say that STATE has a ton of potential, and that’s not just my lifetime adoration of dystopian fiction talking. STATE, in its current state (hehe), has one player being a government agent, and the rest acting as citizens. The citizens are trying to get passports that, while illegal for them to have, will allow them to leave the state for greener pastures. The State Agent on the other hand is trying to capture and arrest citizens, and then turn them into informants and more agents for the states. The game is laid out with a number of building laid out in a grid, which also has the effect of forming streets. All the buildings are drawn in a stark brutalist style, which works phenomenally with the theme of the game, and is color coded: Blue building being easier for citizens to search, Yellow being a medium level of difficulty, and Red being Pro-State buildings. The number of stories on the building also come into play: the more floors, the more chances to find a passport, but also the longer it takes to search, thus giving the State more time to catch you in the act.
Where the game has a lot of potential is in two aspects: bugs and the actual requirements for escape. Players can be caught and turned into state agents, but can also happen upon bugged passports. The game is in many was team based, at least in the beginning. The citizens have the opportunity to discuss tactics and their plan, which the state cannot listen to…unless there is a bug. This combined with the fact that one of your allies could be brainwashed into an agent of the State and would know your entire plan creates an air of distrust and self-preservation. You only need three people to have forged passports, not the entire group, to successfully escape and so as you might imagine, this creates a very brutal environment where people are going to very quickly turn on each other and worry only about themselves. Which is exactly the point.
Michael Leonard is an educator when he isn’t making games, and when I talked with him he made it clear that he was interested in exploring the nature of what it meant to be human through this game, all be it a much darker way than some other forms, and using this to make an impact on people and they way they see history and fascism. While talking to Leonard, he said that to be human, to him:
…is to be kind, is to try to assist people. So, the opposite of that would be to consciously,or unconsciously, or subconsciously be oppressive to others. It is sort of like a moral theory, that if you truly believe that someone is your equal, you can never harm them, because they are the same as you. So, it is when you decide that you are inferior to me, that is when you can start harming people. So that’s what happens [in STATE]: everyone is essentially equal, until they become part of the State, and now the State is greater than the citizens, so….screw the citizens. – Michael Leonard. Diagram Games
STATE is still in development, currently in playtesting and working mainly on balance, but you can be sure we’ll make sure you know more about it as in moves along.