Wizard of the Board

Wizard of the Board is a Nintendo 64 homebrew game by Daniel Savage and team released on 7 Dec 2021 for the 2021 64brew Game jam. In it, you play as a warrior named Zeff who travels up a tower and fight demons with chess pieces to become an acclaimed Wizard of the Board. It won 1st place in the competition, well done!

You can download the ROM from the download page for this homebrew game by using the password danielfacethewizard or see the source code on Github and download from Drive (PAL, NTSC).

Wizard of the Board story and gameplay

This is one of those homebrew games that have a story to go along with the game, so we’ll cover the two of them separately.

The story

It is a shitty time. The harvests are poor and monsters run freely across the land. Chosen by lot, warriors are trained from birth in the mystic artes. A warrior must be learned in cunning, strategy and swiftness for their final lonesome trial when they come of age.

To prevail as a warrior is to scale the Demon’s Spire, lair of the Shadow Queen. Many have entered, but few have returned.

If one prevails over the trial, if one succeeds at their task, they shall be known as a… Wizard of the Board!

Intro to the game

The story follows a young boy called Zatt who is training to be a warrior. The final step to complete this training is to climb a tower of trials to become a Wizard of the Board. There are short cutscenes in between most levels that give a bit more insight into Zatt’s struggles.

The first character you come across is a friendly mouse looking for food. A fairly stark contrast to the dour attitude of our protagonist.

Zatt likes to have flashbacks to his training where he is constantly scolded and have expectation put on his back.

The demons that inhabit the tower do speak, but don’t really do much except taunt Zatt and try to scare him. That is, until you get to the final stage, the Shadow Queen.

Spoilers

Before you reach the Shadow Queen, you’ll come across Wren Buster from Lunar Assault 64, talking to her boss from the same game. When you finally defeat the Shadow Queen, Wren will come along and use the satellite array to take her down once and for all.

The game ends with Wren telling Zatt that he’s been living a lie his whole life. There is no such thing as mystic artes, or at least they’re just a very inefficient way of taking out lunar beasts. This reinforces something that the Shadow Queen said earlier – that he killed her staff and rearranged her furniture, implying that he was really just hallucinating this whole time.

Zatt then moves in with Wren and applies for work in a logistic fulfillment centre to take advantage of his talent with positioning blocks.

The gameplay

The gameplay in Wizard of the Board isn’t quite straightforward, but it does make sense once you get the hang of it. You play as Zatt, his powers move chess pieces along the board in the same movement patterns that they would in a normal game of chess. The objective is to place all the pieces on target spaces, and in later stages, defeat all the demons present on the stage as well.

You do this by selecting a piece by looking at it and pressing A, and then select a target destination with the C buttons or a nearby space with Z. This can be a bit confusing since the game is played in a first person perspective where you can rotate to change your orientation, but you move your pieces in the four cardinal directions.

Demons

There are five types of demons that you have to contend with in order to beat the game. They don’t really have names except for the last one so I’ll just give them my own

Froggers are green like frogs, croaks like a frog and just hop from left to right and back. Their movement is very predictable so it’s easy to stay out of their way.

Blade Traps move in straight lines until they reach an obstacle, after which they change direction. They follow a fairly predictable path until you place a chess piece in their way, which changes their collision path. This becomes a real problem in stage 15 where you have four of them and killing one puts your piece in the path of the other three.

Smiley Spitters have yellow faces and shoot projectiles at you, so you need to keep on the run. Their projectiles are very slow, so be careful not to bum into them if you’re retreading a path.

Blue Demons will chase you relentlessly if you are in their line of sight. Hide behind barriers to give you time to plan your moves! Three hits to KO. They also can’t see you if you approach them from behind.

Demon Queen – she floats around the board, staying far away from you and shooting projectiles. Select a piece and wait for her to move in its path. Three hits to KO.

Levels

  • Stage 1: Move one pawn a few spaces forward.
  • Stage 2: Two rooks, one target is behind a wall.
  • Stage 3: Two bishops. Pay attention to the tile colours!
  • Stage 4: One knight. It can jump over walls.
  • Stage 5: A king and queen. Each can reach a target with two moves.
  • Stage 6: A pawn, bishop and rook. Lots of obstacles in the way!
  • Stage 7: A rook and knight. The knight can’t move until the rook gets out of the way.
  • Stage 8: One Frogger and a King. Careful not to get hit!
  • Stage 9: Two Froggers and a bishop. With some good timing, you can get them both in one move.
  • Stage 10: A blade trap and a rook. This one moves in circles.
  • Stage 11: A Smiley Spitter, a bishop and a knight. Keep moving!
  • Stage 12: A Blue Demon, a bishop and a knight. Use the walls to your advantage.
  • Stage 13: Two Blue Demons and two rooks. It’s getting harder to keep track of everything.
  • Stage 14: Two Froggers and a rook. You’ll have to cross their path to get to your weapon.
  • Stage 15: Four Blade Traps and two bishops. The bishops can get in the way of their path so be careful when they reorient!
  • Stage 16: Two Smiley Spitters and a pawn. Race your pawn to promotion as fast as possible!
  • Stage 17: A Frogger, A blue demon, a pawn and a rook. The demon will give you a scary surprise, so promote the pawn to get the upper hand.
  • Stage 18: Final boss – The Demon Queen.

‘Control’ theme

Wizard of the Board has a fairly wonky control system to get used to, but when you do, it’s a blast. You need to be able to move your character around with the joystick and D-pad and still be able to move your target cursor with the C-buttons. This becomes particularly hectic when you have to deal with Smiley Spitters, Blue Demons and the Shadow Queen.

The other interpretation would be that ‘control’ refers to Zatt controlling the chess pieces on the board, and move them according to his will.

Daniel Savage also said that there is a minor theme of control regarding the story where Zatt doesn’t have control over his life and he’s looking to beat this challenge to overcome it.

Credits

Daniel Savage – Developer, voices, music

Clayton Savage – Voices

Kivan117, Gravatos – PAL testing

Morusque – Music

Tairblenn, Reitanna, Sterne von KF – external assets

Buu342 – Unfloader, Sausage64

CrashOveride – Modern SDK

Special Thanks
Natasha Miner, Mom, Dad, Alyssa, Roro, kivan117, Hazematman, Meeq

Conclusion and Review

Despite being in completely different genres, Wizard of the Board has a very similar look and feel to last year’s Daniel Savage game, Lunar Assault 64. It has distinct levels with short dialogue bits in between, the demons look kinda like indoor lunar beasts and the game even takes place in the same setting, albeit from a different perspective.

Story (spoilers)

Throughout the game, the story is a bit depressing. Zatt is always doubting himself and his skills, never really having the confidence to see his mission to the end. Even when he’s complimented by the other characters, it never really seems to stick. This carries on until the very end when Zatt isn’t confident about the outcome of a job interview.

Wren on the other hand seems to really like her job, so this could be a sequel to Lunar Assault where she takes on the job as a hobby.

The plot twist at the end does come as a pleasant surprise, but after playing through the game a second time, it would have been nice to have a few clues throughout to make putting the pieces together a bit more rewarding. But that’s just a nitpick.

It’s simple and straightforward, but Wizard of the Board’s story is sad with a charming end.

Gameplay

The gameplay is unique to say the least. It mixes chess, puzzles and FPS all into one package. This can make it a bit overwhelming to process at the start but the game provides ample opportunity to practice. In fact, you don’t meet your first demon until about halfway up the tower. The only way to lose beforehand is to make a chess piece run into you on purpose, and even then you’d have to do it several times to die.

In order to get the best experience, you’d have to use a two-pronged N64 controller since this game makes use of both the D-pad and joystick at the same time. It is possible to beat the game with just a joystick, but you’d be walking around using tank controls. It’s a fairly complicated to get a hold of, but rewarding once you do.

The puzzles aren’t particularly complicated to complete as long as you are aware of how chess pieces are supposed to move. The challenge really starts when you start encountering demons which makes it so that you have to time your attacks, dodge bullets or run and hide. The blue demons in particular make the game pretty hard since they take three hits to take down.

There are a couple of tricks to cheese the enemies. For example, if you put a rook/queen between you and the demon, all you have to do is move it back and forth a few times to kill it. The Shadow Queen will also always be opposite you on the board, so all you need to do is keep a piece near the edge, move opposite her until she gets into position and boom!

Conclusion

Wizard of the Board has a nice warm feeling to it. It does make me feel like I’m back in the 90’s with the way that it’s designed. I like the HUD that has a little portrait of Zeff that changes expression when different things happen, like he walks or gets hurt. It reminds me of games like Wolfenstein or DOOM. I like the level progression with the short cutscenes in between (which the creator says are inspired from Puyo Puyo), they help to make the game more than just a series of levels to complete.

It has a decent length for a homebrew game, and definitely feels more complete than Lunar Assault 64. However, given that the engine for the game has already been built, there could have been a few challenge levels thrown in. It could also be like a New Game+ mode where you replay the game but with a random enemy added to each stage. Just a little something to extend it a bit further would have been great.

It’s overall a great game that can be completed in about half an hour. It’s a bit confusing to start out with, but there isn’t really much of a challenge until you’ve had enough time to get used to it. A great game for the win of the 2021 64brew Game Jam!

Articles across the web

Wizard of the Board is a N64 Homebrew game by Daniel Savage and winner of the 2021 64brew game jam. You play as a young warrior who moves chess pieces around to climb a tower and defeat the Demon Queen.
Article published on N64 Squid

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