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World Of Wrestling: The Physics of Fun

If you haven’t been following along with my WIP thread on BGG, then you may not be aware that I’m in the final phases of getting my new wrestling game ready for release. So, for those not in the know, let me give you the quick pitch.

World of Wrestling, much like Techno Bowl: Arcade Football Unplugged, is a sports entertainment board game that takes it’s inspiration not just from the sport itself, but also from the video games that I feel are the best representations of the genre. For the core gameplay experience, I’m talking about console classics like: WCW vs NWO World Tour, WCW vs NWO Revenge, Wrestlemania 2000, WWF No Mercy, and Fire Pro Wrestling World. I’ve also sprinkled in a bit of the colors and style from arcade classic Wrestlefest, brawler Saturday Night Slam Masters, and even made a couple of nods to NES Pro Wrestling.

Using these references as a starting point gives me the advantage of having some very specific gaming tropes that can be used as familiar bases/concepts that players will immediately recognize and feel comfortable with, and that translates into easily learned and internalized mechanisms and interactions on the tabletop keeping the initial rules overhead very low. Those familiar bases in-turn provide a framework that allow for some creative and exciting new systems to be crafted and interact with the core gameplay loop in ways to provide a one-of-a-kind experience.

Up to this point, we’ve covered the high level system basics like managing your health, stamina, and crowd meters and using excite actions to pump up the crowd. We’ve also delved into triggering/utilizing the excitement of the crowd to perform movements, Irish Whips to ropes and turnbuckles, and basic strikes. We also established the base of the physics engine with the status effects stunned, staggered, and knocked down.

All of that brings us to our topic of discussion for today, and it starts with this question: what made those games so revolutionary at the time and just plain fun and addictive to play? Any article that you read on this subject will say it was the revolutionary grappling system that changed everything in wrestling video game design, and that’s true. But the reason it was revolutionary is that the system finally allowed players to have real control over their wrestlers to perform a variety of moves and not just button mash like an arcade brawler. The grappling system combined with fantastic move animations made for a winning formula. So, what am I trying to say here?

Wrestling is 101% real! At least 101%. And being a professional wrestler is 200% about the moves!! It’s just math.

Moves. It’s all about the moves brother!

But, how do you translate moves and move animations to the tabletop? You could just abstract it as crowd meter combinations and damage, and that would be… fine. I guess.<yawn> Game design, however, isn’t just about abstractions, it’s about the right abstraction for the intended experience. This is where we build our physics engine. 😉

For this build to be a success, there are several design goals that need to be targeted and realized:

  • Create “animations” that visually convey the wrestling moves that are being emulated.
  • Performing these moves/animations needs to create interesting tactical and strategic decisions.  
  • The haptics of performing the moves needs to reinforce the design by, quite literally, feeling thematic and adding to the sense of play.
  • The moves need to obey the physics, rules, and tropes that are specific to pro wrestling.

Let’s check out the design.

Move is the generic term for attacks that can be performed by triggering specific combinations of sections on the crowd meters. A move will typically do more damage than an improvised strike or dash attack and may have one or more status effects associated with it.

Moves are classified by what color an opponent’s health meter must be reduced to before they can be performed. Performing moves also generates excitement for the attacker after the move has been completely resolved based on this color classification.

Green Moves = 1 excitement
Yellow Moves = 2 excitement
Orange/Red moves = 3 excitement

Wrestlers do not gain a free space of movement when exciting the crowd through performing moves, pins, submissions, or aerial attacks.

Generally speaking, moves will be categorized as one of the following types:

  • DROP
  • SLAM

A strike attacks a standing opponent in an adjacent space. Both the attacker and target must be standing unless otherwise noted.

Drops are strikes that attack a knocked down opponent in an adjacent space. After the attack is complete, the attacker is knocked down.

The wrestler picks up an opponent in an adjacent space. The opponent is then slammed and knocked down in any space that is adjacent to the attacker’s square.

A power slam is performed exactly like a slam, except both wrestlers are knocked down as a result.

The wrestler picks up an opponent in an adjacent space. The opponent is then thrown to a space that is a 3 movement away. This distance is measured from the attacker’s square. Both wrestlers are knocked down at the conclusion of the suplex.

A throw is performed exactly like a suplex except that the attacker is not knocked down at the end of the move.


To anyone that’s even a casual fan of wrestling, learning and remembering how to execute the various move categories above won’t take much past the first read through. They make sense and look like what you expect.

What’s more, performing them feels like you’re executing the moves.The tactical choices are there too. A vertical hanging suplex will might do more damage and excite the crowd more than a scoop slam, BUT it also causes your wrestler to be knocked down a full space away from their opponent. Is the damage and excitement worth the extra energy required to stand-up and maneuver to reengage? Maybe. Or do you need to chain together a few weaker attacks that will allow you to go for a pin or submission? Depends.

Combining those move types with crowd meter combinations, color classifications, damage and effects, and giving them a name, provides us with almost limitless possibilities and tons of subtle variation with almost no rules overhead. Here’s an example of how it all comes together:

Notice that both the Scoop Slam and Chokeslam are categorized as slams (which mean we know exactly how to resolve them), but because the Chokeslam requires higher levels of crowd meter tokens (translating to more effort and energy expenditure), the opponent to be more injured, and does more damage, it feels like a more powerful move, AND it generates more excitement.

The Arm Drag below is an example of how the move categories can be used in unexpected ways that end up being effective models for real wrestling moves. Nobody typically thinks of an Arm Drag Takedown as a powerslam, but since a powerslam in World Of Wrestling just means that a wrestler is picked up and knocked down in an adjacent square with both wrestlers knocked down at the end, being combined with low level crowd meter requirement and low level damage it works.

That’s probably enough for now, but as you can see, the strategic and tactical decision space can get really large really fast. Most importantly though, it gives you the freedom to be creative and do cool things. And who doesn’t like that?



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