Cube Conquest (board game)
Cube Conquest (or simply Conquest) is an abstract strategy board game that promotes three-dimensional thinking. The game has been played for centuries within the Manifold Sky setting, especially among descendants of the Voxelian culture, with different "unit" pieces added over time to represent contemporary advances in military technology. Numerous variants of Cube Conquest exist to keep the gaming experience fresh for advanced players.
Conquest was originally a much simpler game, with a square board and infantry-only style of play reminiscent of draughts. Later, pre-modern forms of the game included chariots (which eventually became vehicles) on the backside of the coin-shaped pieces and would be played on a flat board in the shape of an unfolded cube, with the connections between sides imagined. Developments in both the variety of units and the complexity of variant rules closely mirrored the actual technological advancements and discovery of new territories shaping the Manifold beyond the game. Ultimately, higher-dimensional variants of board never caught on with the general public due to the complexity involved, the cost in terms of space and materials of such large-scale games, and subtle cultural machinations on the part of the Navigator's Guild to dissuade the mass adoption of the variants (anyone who learns how to traverse the Manifold is potential competition).
A game of Cube Conquest begins with the setup phase. At the beginning of the setup phase, each player selects a home face. Turn order progresses clockwise around the board. Initially, each player takes a turn placing a single piece from their stock in an unoccupied space on their home face, selecting any one of the four units for the piece to represent when the piece is placed; the unit a piece represents cannot be changed after the unit is placed. This continues until four pieces are placed by each player, at which point the setup phase ends and the play phase begins. During the play phase, turn order continues to progress clockwise around the board. During a player's turn, the player may opt to move one piece and attack once with it if a valid target exists within range. No two pieces may occupy the same space at the end of a turn. Pieces may move a maximum distance and attack within a maximum range based on their unit type, and some pieces have special movement and attack rules. A piece may opt not to move, and may attack once at any point during it's movement. Alternatively, if allied pieces surround an unoccupied space on all four sides, the player may chose to place a new piece from their stock into the surrounded space in lieu of moving or attacking; as many such surrounded spaces can be filled as desired in a single turn as long as the player possesses a sufficient number of pieces in their stock to do so. The "strength" of a piece is represented by the number of contiguous spaces occupied by the piece and allied pieces, including diagonals, to a maximum strength of nine. A piece is returned to it's owner's stock if it is attacked by a piece of higher strength (the unit with the "strongest line"). In the event of a tie, the piece with the most adjacent allies (the "most compact" unit) wins the tie; if this does not resolve the tie, then the attack fails. When a player loses their last piece on the board, they are eliminated from the game. Surrender is allowed, though not required, when a player possesses three or fewer pieces (insufficient to place more pieces) on the board; a surrendering player's pieces are removed from the board at the end of their turn. Each unit type has specific movement and attack ranges, with ranges counted across the sides of spaces even if the spaces counted cross an edge of the cubic board:
- Infantry: Move 1 (one optional free attack when trying to move into an occupied space), Attack 2 (one optional free movement into space of adjacent piece attacked)
- Vehicle: Move 2, Attack 3
- Airship: Move 2 (can jump), Attack 2. Other pieces may move through an airship's space, as though it were not there, so long as those pieces land on valid empty spaces at the end of their turns.
- Airplane: Move 3 (can jump), Attack 1
- Blind: Players are not allowed to rotate the cubic board or leave their seats without looking away from the board to avoid "sneak-peeks." This means that commands must be issued to an external referee, who moves, attacks, or places the pieces as a player requests when the pieces are on a side of the board the player cannot see. In games with more than two players, all with different perspectives of the cube, this introduces an element of intelligence gathering, bluffing, and innuendo. Blind 4-Plex and Blind 5-Plex are considered impossible for both physical and cognitive reasons.
- 4-Plex: The center space (or four spaces if the board has an even number of spaces) of each face is treated as a commissure, with pieces able to take a move to transition from one commissure space on one board to the same commissure space on another board in the same manner that one might move from a face of one cube to another in the Manifold itself (as within a tesseract). This requires 8 boards and enough pieces for each player to fill three whole faces of a board. This variant is rarely played outside of the Navigator's Guild for it's complexity.
- 5-Plex: This rule set functions as 4-Plex does, with the addition of adjacent sets of boards being traversable by airships. This requires 80 boards and enough pieces for each team to completely fill a single board. This variant is rarely played outside of the Navigator's Guild for it's extreme complexity and large material requirements.
- Whitelist: A Whitelist game is one in which only certain, pre-selected units are allowed to be used. The older versions of the game could be considered Whitelist (infantry) variants, while a doctrinaire game of modern Cube Conquest would be considered a Whitelist (all) game.
Components and tools
The standard Cube Conquest board is a hollow, cubic board of some material that can be used to hold the pieces in place, typically a thin sheet of metal (for magnetic pieces) beneath felt or hook-and-loop matting; when implemented in the form of a cube, a stand which props the board up from a single vertex is included so that all faces of the board are accessible. Each face of the cubic board is subdivided into square grid spaces, with the number of faces on a side numbering from as few as six (for travel variants) to as many as twelve (for professional competition). Most games are played on single boards, but "4-plex" variants have been created where up to eight boards are employed with the spaces in the center of each face leading to another in the manner of a tesseract, and a few rare "5-plex" variants have been created for special events. There are four possible kinds of units in modern Cube Conquest - infantry, vehicles, airships, and airplanes - and each player must have enough pieces to cover their home face. To this end, modern Cube Conquest sets come with two to six uniquely-colored sets (known as "stocks") of tetrahedral play pieces, with the vertex facing up from the board indicating the type of unit that the piece represents when first placed.
Cube Conquest can be played by two to six players, though games with more than four players are uncommon due to their tendency to run long. Each player is presumed to pursue their own independent victory over all others, though making and breaking alliances with other players to accomplish objectives is also encouraged.
Each Navigator's Guild guildhall has a collegiate Cube Conquest team, with a game played between teams monthly via radio or telephone transcription for both sport and educational purposes. These collegiate games are played on massive, 80 board (144 spaces per face) layouts carved or inlaid into the floors of the guildhalls' exhibition halls. These games represent a "grand strategy" simulation of pan-Manifold travel and conflict, with each team possessing enough pieces to fill a single cube's spaces. Collegiate games can run for days or even weeks at a time, with team members alternating between playing and sleeping in the manner of a relay race. Betting on these games is a common form of gambling in the civilized regions of the Manifold, as the plays and results are the subject of licensed public radio commentary for the duration of the games, and the revenues from advertising helps to keep the Guild flush with capital.