We should have known this would happen eventually. For a decade there's been a craze in collectible trading card games, then it moved to collectible, tradable miniature wargames, now Bandai is commercially releasing a chess variant with collectible, tradable pieces, called Navia Dratp. (That's not a typo, its's apparently pronounced "nah-vee-yah drap." Other web reports have mis-spelled it Navia Drapt, but the image of the packaging doesn’t lie.) I played a demo in the dealers room at GenCon 2003 and enjoyed it-- it's obviously inspired by Shogi, which is a great game but impossible to play with most commercial Shogi sets if you don't read Japanese.
I intend to make this my collectable game of choice. Bandai planned to release it either October 2003 or early 2004, then postponed to June 2004. Now the street date is definitively committed to an August 14 2004 debut, with the first tournaments scheduled for a few days later at GenCon. If Navia Dratp becomes the next craze, chess variants will probably get a wider audience than they have previously enjoyed.
Navia Dratp's starter set (RSP $29.99) comes with a rollable vinyl mat with the board printed on it, a Navia figurine and card, seven randomly packaged Maseitai figurines with a card describing each of them, nine gerudo tiles, and a handful of guillas stones of three sizes and colors. This is enough equipment for one player. Booster packs (SRP $8.99) of three randomly packaged Maseitai or Navia will also be sold.
The intricately sculpted and fully painted figurines sold for Navia Dratp will probably number in the hundreds before long. Each one has a point value and a unique movement ability illustrated on a grid on a disk attached to the front of the base. This disk is hinged to flip over when the piece promotes to a more powerful movement, and the disk is to be aimed at the opponent on the board to indicate whose team the figure is on. They are anime/manga-styled gods, angels, demons, faries and some comical critters as well. The smallest point value I saw was 6, and the highest other than the Navia was 14. Some figures have special non-movement promoted powers described on the bottom and on the card that either work every time it moves or just one time when it promotes. For instance, the power of one piece is to exchange itself when promoted for any piece that its team has lost. Another has the ability to fly to any unoccupied space one time when it is promoted.
A sample movement grid and the promoted version on the opposite side.
At the beginning the only pieces on the board other than the Seven Seals are the Navia and tiles. Each side has seven grey tiles resembling rough-hewn-stones, one on each square of the second rank, each tile bearing a grid representing its ability to move one step straight forward, and the numeral "1". Two more gold-colored tiles start on the second and sixth files on the first rank, and bear a movement grid depicting their ability to move forward straight or diagonal one step, and the numeral "3". The tiles are pointed on end as in Shogi, to show which side they belong to by pointing toward the opponent.
The Navia figurines, the Kings of the game, start on the picture of a Pharaoh in the center of the first rank. They move one step in any of eight directions. Their promoted power costs a whopping 60 crystals and wins the game instantly if invoked.
Crystals, the currency of the game, come in three denominations. Little white crystals are 1, medium-sized blue crystals are 5, and big gold crystals are 30.
The board is seven-by-seven, with one square in the center of each back rank bearing a symbol for the Navia and several squares bearing a symbol to indicate they are Summoning Squares. At each player's end of the board is an extra rank of squares called the Seven Seals. The center rank of the board has five squares bearing a symbol which I'll go into below. The left and right sides of the mat each have three bounded areas: on your right is one for crystals you don't possess yet and one for crystals you have earned. On your left is one for your captured enemy pieces.
Each player chooses seven figures from his collection and begins them in any arrangement on the Seven Seals, to await being summoned into the game.
The following image was drawn from memory, so the symbols will be slightly different stylistically. I can't be sure that I've recalled the positions of the Summoning Squares precisely, but the layout is substantially, functionally correct.
Give the cards describing your figures' movements and powers to your opponent before beginning. A turn consists of either:
If a figure's move ends on one of the symbol squares on the center rank, it promotes at that time for half cost. Any time crystals are spent in the game, they return from the player's pot to the player's own store.
One-step movement ability are indicated by a filled-in square on a figure's movement grid. Ranged moves are indicated by an arrow. Pieces may not move through any other pieces unless specified by a dotted line on the arrow.
If a figure or tile's move ends on a square occupied by an enemy figure or tile, that piece is captured and goes to the Graveyard. You then take the number of crystals equal to its point value from your store to your pot.
Both tiles and figures have the ability to capture. You may not capture your own pieces. Unlike pawns in FIDE chess, no Navia Dratp pieces have to move and capture two different ways. There is no en-passant or castling.
If a grey or gold tile is moved off the board into an empty Seal, it is exchanged for any piece of that player's choice that he has lost.
The object of the game is to capture your opponent's Navia. There are no rules mandating declaring check, or rules against moving into check. There is no stalemate unless both players agree that a conclusion of the game is impossible.
The Bandai representative said there are currently no rules for team-building. Some collectible games have players agree on a limit of how many total points each team may cost. That may work out for Navia-Dratp. But sophisticated gamers have noticed that team-building is often the most important part and the actual combat can be a foregone conclusion. This is less true of a game that does not involve dice, like Navia Dratp. Building a team is like designing the game. While we who are interested in chess variants know that it can be just as much fun to design games as to play them, most players out there would build a team with which they will win, which is not always the same as designing a game that's fun and challenging. This "meta-game" of spending the same points to build two different armies should reward players for creative foresight in team-building, not let them exploit a stale repetition of unrepairable loopholes. John W. Brown has a great explanation of this in his essay, "A Critique of a Chess-like Variant Construction Set" at http://www.chessvariants.com/newideas.dir/jwb-comments.html specifically the section on street values.
Quote-- "An apparent weakness of such a game would be that the price of resources must be accurately set by the initial programmers. Theoretical prices will not do. The cost of a particular power must reflect its ‘real-world’ contribution to winning a game. Otherwise, a savvy player will soon learn that certain powers are overpriced and others are underrated. This would eventually lead to a kind of ‘Sim Army elite’—experienced players who, through collective experience, had divined the street value of various powers. These players would repeatedly win, though not through skillful play. They would win through a kind of insider trading."
Personally, I wish Bandai would hold recorded Navia Dratp tournaments and use John W. Brown's suggestion for a floating value system: "For each consecutive game, the cost of a power would be adjusted according to the relative number of units purchased in the last round. Eventually, a price-to-value stasis would be reached." But most players would not like having to look up the latest numbers on a website before playing. Perhaps the suggestion of having a computer assign values from repeated self-play is the answer.
I'm inventing rules for multi-player Navia Dratp here, in which the cards and crystals that come packaged with the game are used to resolve the frustration of being the third or fourth player, whose disadvantage of initiative in a typical four-player chess variant is so much greater than Black in FIDE chess. The absence of rules against moving into check, and the fact that four colors of armies are unnecessary, also ease the transition.
The board pictured above would have to be created for one's self. Pieces are still aimed away from the owner to indicate which team they are on. The opening arrangement of the tiles is different, as shown.
In order to capture a Navia, there must be an empty Pharoah Square. Instead of going to the graveyard, a captured Navia is transported to any empty Pharoah Square of the captor's choice, and rotated to be on his team. He receives thirty crystals. The object of the game is to possess three Navia at the same time, although winning with the Navia promotion power is still allowed. If a player's Navia is captured, he does not leave the game, and still can attempt to win.
Play would proceed in rounds with three phases each, like this: