Calvin’s Commentaries: Up and Across

As a lover of abstract strategy games, it’s always interesting to get my hands on essentially a prototype version of a new game.

Such was the case with Up and Across from designer Ellis Hendriksen.

The game is at its core about moving your pieces across the board (a 7X7 board), to get to your opponent’s home row before they accomplish the same goal.

There is a bit of a theme pasted on to the game, with the key pieces called wizards. You must get two of wizards to the other side of the board where they end up on one of your towers.  Towers are the other pieces at play in the game.

The wizards begin atop your smallest towers and move across the tops of the towers in the game, but you only win if you finish on your towers.

On your turn, you may choose from the following actions: move towers or move wizards.

If you move towers, you always move two of them.

“One tower moves all the steps in a straight line, the other tower moves all the steps in a diagonal line,” relates the rules.

The order in which you do this is up to you. Towers must take a number of steps, depending on the size of the tower, the smallest moving one, the mid-sized towers moving two, the largest moving three.

“If you move towers, you can step over other towers, if there is another tower at the place where your turn ends, you cannot make the move,” notes the rules.

If you collide with the edge, the tower continues in the opposite direction to where it came from.

I will note here that this rule does seem counter-intuitive in the sense of simply passing over other towers. It seems more natural that towers would block each other, so this takes some getting used to.

“By moving wizards, you can move three steps. You can divide them as you like. If you move wizards, they must always move one step up or one step down,” notes the rules. “You may move several steps up or down.  Moving from the smallest to the largest tower (and vice versa) is always two steps and is only possible if the middle one is used.”

You may walk with your wizards on the opponent’s towers and end up on them, but it is not as a winning condition.

You only get a score if your wizard is on your tower on the opponent’s starting line.

Interestingly, Hendriksen said he has not always been an abstract strategy game fan.

“Not always to be honest. I’ve learned to love it and now that I love it I’m crazy about it,” he said in an interview via email, adding, “That doesn’t mean that I don’t like other games either.”

So what was the seed of an idea that led to the creation of the game?

“Sometimes it’s hard to figure out which thought, word, small event eventually leads to a game concept, but with this one, it was very clear,” offered Hendriksen.

“I was in a movie where there was an extensive scene with all kinds of object movements. These movements eventually led to a concept that I worked out into this game.”

In creating the game Hendriksen said he wanted something different.

“What I always try to do, be unique or try to do,” he said. “I know this isn’t always possible, but that’s my goal. In addition to trying to be unique, I think it’s important that people enjoy it and come up with solutions that I wouldn’t have thought of myself.”

Hendriksen said from idea to end result, development took about a year.

“I tested it extensively in games clubs, at fairs, and with very experienced other authors,” he said. “I like the test phase. Initially, you work with a small group to see if it’s something that could work and that’s also unique enough to embroider on. This is always an exciting phase because the same goes for the same thing.”

The hardest part of the development “was bringing in the 3D aspect/feeling, not making too many rules and giving the player as much freedom as possible to make their own strategic and tactical choices,” said Hendriksen, who added it is also what he feels is the best element of the game.

“The 3D aspect/feeling, the separate movement of towers and wizards because I think that combination makes the game unique and gives it a surprising amount of depth,” he said.

This game has some neat mechanics that offer definite depth to explore, and even in prototype, being made of wood is nice. I might stain the towers to add to the difference in pieces, and ultimately the meeple wizards might be more ‘wizard-like’ but as is it’s a nice set.

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