Monday, March 11, 2013

Kotra - A Cardassian Board Game

At last, the Kotra rules are finished! These were gleaned from what little information there was in the DS9 episode "Empok Nor", as well as production notes, and the script. The rules are derived from chess and stratego, since the script described the game as being a cross between the two. Other elements, like the use of dice, were gleaned from scenes in the episode. The board design and markings are based on the fabulous concept art by John Eaves, but the rules and gameplay are mine. Please do not alter them or claim them as your own.

You can download a PDF of the rules here: Kotra - A Cardassian Board Game

Happy gaming!


Kotra is a two-person strategy game played on specialized kotra boards consisting of 51 spaces in square and triangular shapes. It is one of Cardassia’s most popular board games, with portable versions available to soldiers and frequent travelers.

Each player begins with 21 pieces: one legate, one gul, one dal, two dalins, three glinns, three gils, five garresh, one agent, three mines, and one capital. Pieces are used to attack and capture the opponent’s pieces, with the objective to identify and capture the capital, or to force the opponent to surrender by capturing enough of their pieces that they can no longer make any legal moves. Players cannot see the ranks of each other’s pieces, so deception and discovery are important aspects of the game.
Elim Garak described the game as one that favours “bold maneuvers and tactics” (“Empok Nor”). 


Kotra is played on a specialized “double-fan” shaped board, with trays on each player’s side for the holding of captured pieces. There are specialized notations on some of the spaces, indicating certain movements or imparting advantages or disadvantages to the piece occupying the space. These are known as “terrain” or “traps”.
The game begins with each player setting up 17 of their pieces, which they are free to choose, but must include their capital, their legate, and at least one mine. Each player is free to place their initial pieces in whatever configuration they wish, on their side of the game board. Additional pieces can be brought into the game throughout the course of play.


Game pieces are roughly triangular in shape, and players choose to play either gold or silver. The ranks of the pieces are printed on the underside of the game pieces, so the player must mentally keep track of where each piece is moved.
Movement is determined by a pair of 10-sided dice, one light and one dark. The dark die indicates how many pieces can be moved per turn, and the light die indicates the maximum number of open spaces the pieces may move. The pieces may only move over open spaces, they cannot jump opponent pieces unless moving between specially marked terrain spaces. The piece may either land on an open space, or they may land on a space occupied by an opponent’s piece, therefore attacking that piece. If a player chooses to attack their opponent’s piece, the ranks are revealed, and the weaker of the two pieces is removed from the board. If the weaker piece was the attacker, the capture goes to the opponent. If the attacker is the stronger piece, the attacker captures the opponent’s piece and occupies the contested space. If the pieces are of equal rank, the attacker is always victorious.
The object of the game is to capture the opponent’s capital, or the force them to surrender.


For most pieces, rank alone determines the outcome of attacks, but there are some exceptions.
The mines are stationary pieces, which can only be defeated by a garresh. Any other piece attacking a mine is immediately defeated, regardless of rank, and both the mine and the attacking piece are removed from the game. When a mine is attacked by a garresh, the mine is considered “defused”, and is captured by the attacker. When a mine is attacked by any other piece, the mine is considered to have detonated, and both pieces are removed, the attacker being captured by the mine’s owner. The detonated mine is removed from gameplay, and cannot be restored.
Each player has one agent, and while it is considered to be the weakest piece, it is the only piece that can defeat a legate besides another attacking legate. However, if the agent is attacked by any piece, it is immediately captured by the attacker.  
The capital is a stationary piece, and cannot move. The capture of the capital usually ends the game, however, the player that captures their opponent’s capital can still lose the game if the other player has captured enough of their game pieces to outscore them in points. There is a bonus of +10 points for capturing the capital, which is added to the final tally of points, therefore encouraging capture over forcing surrender.

Each piece is assigned a numerical value, with higher ranking pieces worth more points. Mines carry no value.

Number available
Special abilities
When captured, ends game; cannot move






Can defuse/defeat mines
Can defeat Legate, but is defeated by any attacker
Destroys any piece except Garresh; cannot move

When either capital is captured, the game automatically ends, and the points for captured pieces are tallied. The player that has the most points is the winner.

Reserve pieces

The four pieces that are left out at the beginning of the game are the player’s reserve pieces. These pieces remain in the empty spaces to either side of the straight. These pieces can only be brought into the game on a double roll, both dice landing on the same number. This allows one piece to be brought out from reserve, which is then placed on the base square at the base of that player’s crescent. Reserve pieces are not required to enter the game, but are there for the use of the player as needed.


Each player has the opportunity to “relocate” their capital once per game. This is unlocked when three of a player’s pieces have made it to their opponent’s crescent, occupied the crescent for one turn, and rescued one of their captured pieces. This then allows the player the ability to relocate their capital at any time after the achievement has been unlocked, however, unlocking the achievement deducts -10 points from the player’s overall score. The player must also keep in mind that using Relocation may reveal the position of their capital, since it would require moving a piece that has previously remained stationary.


When landing on a rescue space () on the player’s opponent’s side of the board, the player may restore one of their captured pieces to gameplay. The restored piece is of the rescuer’s choosing. The rescued pieces are immediately placed on the player’s base (). The same piece may not rescue other pieces twice. Garresh cannot make rescues. Mines cannot be rescued.
No piece may move diagonally across square spaces. In regions divided into triangular spaces, pieces may only move to spaces that share an adjoining side, and may not move to another space across a corner.

Attack Positions:
When opponents occupy adjacent spaces, they are in a position to attack. However, pieces may not attack diagonally. In triangle spaces, pieces may only attack across shared sides, not across points. Examples of legal moves:

The Board

The board is divided into two halves, down the horizontal center, each player having one side of the board as their territory (red). The reserve zones (yellow) are where the reserve pieces are kept until they are brought into the game. Each player has a half of the capture tray, for holding the pieces they have taken from their opponent. The center of the board is considered the ‘conflict zone’ (blue), where most of the confrontation takes place. The tray on the left side of the board, marked with the Cardassian symbol, is space for rolling the dice.

Terrain Spaces

Almost all the spaces on the kotra board are marked with special “terrains” or “traps”. These may be obstacles, advantages, or indicate movement from one square to another.  There are 15 different symbols that you’ll find on your standard kotra board. (The design of the markings is based on John Eave’s original concept art, but the meaning assigned to them is original to the author.)

- “loyalty” – one of the primary crescent spaces, representing one of the core Cardassian values. These spaces are “rescue” spaces, and the player that reaches his opponent’s rescue space regains a captured piece of their choosing. This space must be occupied to unlock Relocation.

- boundary marking the entrance into your opponent’s territory. A +2 bonus is added to a player’s score upon entering their opponent’s territory.

- “door” – free movement is allowed between spaces marked with the door symbol, with a limit of two consecutive jumps between two spaces

- provides a +1 bonus to any piece captured on this mark

- “attack” – players add +3 to their movement when leaving this space

- “bog” – an obstacle space – lose one turn

- “advance” – players add +1 to their movement when leaving this space

- “promotion” – player landing on opponent’s promotion space levels up their piece by one rank

- provides a +2 bonus to any piece captured on this space

- “family” – one of the core value spaces in each player’s crescent. This space must be occupied in order to unlock Relocation

- “retreat” players lose -1 movement when leaving this space

- “safety” – a piece on this space cannot be captured for two turns

- “duty/service” – one of the core value spaces in each player’s crescent. This space must be occupied in order to unlock Relocation

- “defense of home” – any piece captured on this space includes a +5 bonus

- “base” – space where reserve and rescued pieces are brought out onto the board. The player must place the rescued piece on their own base, not their opponent’s.

Strategy hints:
When setting up pieces, place your capital toward the back of the board, with mines placed around it to protect it. Another strategy is to place mines away from the capital in order to act as a decoy, and then place a high-ranking piece near the capital to protect it. The player must remember not to block their own path with their mines.

Use some of your garresh to reveal the ranks of your enemy moving toward you. Keep some of your garresh safe and use them later to capture the capital.

Place some of your higher ranking pieces on the forward lines to capture garresh and other lower ranking pieces.

Keep your agent near your gul. If the enemy Legate is nearby, you might be able to lure him over to capture your gul. Then you can strike with your agent and capture the Legate.

Once you know you own the highest ranking piece on the board, you can capture any of your opponent’s moving pieces. Try to remember what pieces moved during the game.

Be wary of pieces that have not moved. If you detect a group of pieces that have remained stationary throughout the game, they are more than likely to be the mines and capital.

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