Hell On Eight Wheels: Three – The Track and The Board

There are a few groups running roller derby bouts. But at the time of writing, the largest organisation in the US is the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), in Australia most of the leagues play according to the WFTDA rule set, and I can only imagine that the rest of the world follows suit (I know of Derby leagues in the UK and have heard of some starting up across mainland Europe).

The WFTDA rules have a very specific section detailing the measurements of the track, and since the game is being based on these rules, it makes sense that the board’s track should match these specifications.

But the actual drawing of the track only bears a vague resemblance to the sequence of actions taken to move around it.

Move Forward, Turn Left, Move Forward, Turn Left.

If we are using figures, activation takes them a distance around the track. But how many times should a figure activate in order to complete a full rotation of the circuit? How detailed are those activations?

An abstract version of the game might divide the track into four sections; a curved section at each end and a straight section on each side. Figures in this type of board might move forward a single section at a time, dealing with the other figures in their section via a series of die rolls.  

Another version of the game might not have sections marked at all. Such a game might be like most traditional miniature wargames where figures are moved a set distance depending on their statistics, perhaps being allowed a certain break in their movement to turn (in exchange for a sacrifice from their total move distance). If figures come within a certain range of one another they might gain the opportunity to block/trip/injure/foul/assist one another. It’s certainly a viable idea, but individual movement of figures according to movement rules can be slow and tedious (as many an experience wargamer has seen).

Since one of the inspirations for this game is Bloodbowl, a look at that board might be in order.

The Bloodbowl board is marked up into squares (eleven across, nineteen long). It means that movement isn’t precise (especially when you compare diagonal movements to cardinal movements), but it allows quick calculations and fairly rapid play.

According to the WFTDA, the standard track is divided into 18 sections of length (3 straight on each side and six around each end curve), a skater typically has to skate ten feet to get through one of these sections to the next. The average width of the track is about 14 feet. It makes sense to follow this scheme for the Ho8W track, or possibly even subdivide these sections further.

A reasonable assumption is that a person can stretch each arm by two feet on either side of their body so we could make the track sections four to five feet wide (a foot accounting for torso width); this would make a track with a width of three sections.

Since a blocking action may only be undertaken with the torso, abdomen or upper arms down to the shoulder, it might be more reasonable to divide the track into sections two to three feet wide. This might be good because it introduces the concept for foul actions. A skater can block someone who moves through their section without breaking the rules, or they can risk a foul by blocking someone in an adjacent section. This is getting closer to what I want from the game.

If the sections are three feet wide, that leaves a width of five sections. There are three blockers and a pivot on each side, each trying to prevent the opponent’s jammer getting through. That’s 4 blocking skaters covering five section widths, always leaving a fifth section that can be passed unless a foul is performed and a penalty risked.

If the sections are two feet wide, it becomes a bit less granular. That makes seven sections wide with 4 blocking skaters and a slightly wider range of strategic options. Slightly smaller sections mean that skaters can block adjacent sections without fouls or risking penalties, we also now get the opportunity to apply a rule where no two skaters may exist in the same section without some kind of collision or tackle; this brings a bit more potential for violence.

The shape of the sections on the board plays a strong semantic role; it tells us about the nature of the game through implication. Movement in square sections implies that lateral movement is just as easy as forward movement. Movement in rectangular sections varies the degree of implied lateral movement. Roller derby is a fast game, so from a semantic perspective it makes sense to have sections that are longer than they are wide.

With 18 marked section lengths around the track, these could be left as the section markers, leaving scaled track sections 10ft long and 2ft wide; probably a bit too extreme for our purposes, especially if we are incorporating a rule where two skaters may not exist in the same section at the same time. It might be a better idea to halve the length of the sections, leaving them at a scaled 5ft long x 2ft wide, roughly the outline of a skater who has fallen flat on her face after a fall. This layout requires a skater to pass through 36 sections to complete a circuit of the track, that’s not a bad number to play with.

Forgetting semantic applications, if we make the sections square at 2ft x 2ft, it will take 90 section steps for a figure to move around the track. Games slow down when people have to think about high value numbers, especially if those numbers don’t have nice factors. If we’re using “square” sections, then we need to add some other effect that will hinder the lateral movement of the skaters…to keep them moving forwards around the track rather than side to side.

Let’s go with the halved WFTDA sections for the moment. It also makes things easy with the WFTDA rule that a pack consists of blockers who are no more than 10ft in front of or behind one another (you can have no more than a single gap section between skaters).



Crooked Rook said…
Have you seen Formula De or Formula D? This reminds me of that.
Michael Wenman said…
I hadn't seen it before I started thinking about the concept, but a few people have pointed me in it's direction.

My second post (about the inspirations of the game) includes "Formula D". I'll need to get a copy so that I can see where it works and where it doesn't. I've already heard a few things about the quirks in the mechanisms from a few reviews that I've read.

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