The Kotra Project

March 01, 2013

In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, "Empok Nor", Garak and Nog are playing a Cardassian board game, called Kotra. Now, in Star Trek, we catch glimpses of different games all the time - tri-d chess, klin zha, tongo, and so on, but we're hardly ever given official rules and gameplay for them. However, enterprising fans have often come up with exactly that! There are now online klin zha playing communities, and tri-d chess sets are available if you look for them (search "star trek chess" on eBay).

So, what about kotra? There have been discussions online, on and off, for a few years, driven by a few people that wanted to set up a rules for play, but nothing was ever finalized, and all the projects were ultimately abandoned. 

Well, not this time! With the encouragement of my fellow Cardassians, I've been researching kotra. Here is the scene which features Garak and Nog playing kotra, taken from the script:
__________________
10  INT. RUNABOUT

CLOSE ON a Cardassian board game we'll come to know as
Kotra. It's a cross between chess and Stratego, where
all the pieces are identical in shape, though each
player's pieces are of a different color. A hand moves
one of the pieces back, "retreating."

    GARAK (O.S.)
  What are you doing?

WIDEN TO SEE the two players, Garak and Nog.
O'Brien is nearby, at a side console, doing some recreational
reading off a PADD. Boq'ta is piloting the runabout.

    NOG
  Regrouping.

    GARAK
  But you're losing.

    NOG
  That's why I have to protect my
  assets.

    GARAK
  This isn't a financial
  transaction. Protecting your
  "assets" is what got you into
  trouble in the first place. You
  have to go on the offensive -- you
  have to attack.

But Nog is committed to his own strategy.

    NOG
  Your move.

    GARAK
  This is maddening. Asking a
  Ferengi to play a Cardassian game
  is like asking a Klingon to chew
  with his mouth closed.

Garak, exasperated, takes the octagonal dice and rolls.
Garak moves a series of pieces brazenly as he speaks:

      DEEP SPACE NINE: "Empok Nor" - REV. 04/07/97 - ACT ONE      10A.

10  CONTINUED:

    GARAK
  Kotra isn't about "regrouping" and
  hoarding "assets" -- it's about
  bold strategy and decisive action.

Garak has "taken" two of Nog's pieces, placing them in
his "captured" tray.

__________________

You can watch the full episode here.

From the scene, I determined a few things -

-movement is determined by rolling a pair of dice
-pieces can be captured
-pieces have no fixed movement (like chess pieces, for example), so one of the dice must determine how many spaces you can move

And, yeah, that was about it. The script says that kotra is a cross between chess and stratego, though those two games are already very similar. I have contacted John Eaves, the original concept artist who designed the kotra board (the drawing at the top is his concept art), to see if he made any notes about the game itself, but so far I haven't heard anything back.

So, I've been working out how the game would work, given the clues from the episode and researching other games. I have the basic gameplay figured out, I just need to figure out how the symbols on all the individual spaces affect play, draw up some diagrams so I can illustrate the different aspects of the board, and then put it all together! I'm actually pretty close to finishing up, so I'll be posting the final rules and gameplay article very soon.

Of course, once I have the rules figured out, I'm going to build a gameboard so I can start playing with others. I'll post pics of that here, too, once I get underway.

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