I’ve written about this a little bit before, in my Losing Control article, and I previewed it a little bit in my card preview in the Keeping Track article. One of the key mechanics of my Zomblobs! game is the Heat mechanic.
Once again, here’s the preview card:
Of note for the Heat system (which I suppose could use a more snappy name, but hey, “Heat” worked for BattleTech, and this is inspired in big ways by that game, so I can’t be too picky) are the three key values in the lower left corner, and the Heat values in each Action Tile. Action Tiles are the largest visual elements on the card, the stack of pink and blue rectangles on the right side. They define what the unit can do for its Action each turn.
A unit’s options are limited by its present Heat value. Heat is a scale from 1 to 12 (easily tracked with a D12, 2 D6s or pen and paper) which every unit needs to track. The Norm value is where the unit starts along the scale in any given battle. The Coma value is where the unit slips into a comatose state, unable to move, and only able to use the universal Recover Action instead of any of its other Actions. The Fever value is where the unit crosses the threshold between cool and warm. This is really where each breed (Aspirant, Feral or Zomblob) most strongly differs.
The card above shows a Zomblob unit, which starts in the warm section of the gauge. While it’s there, it can only use Actions that have the pink “warm” background (and the standard Actions, Recover and Absorb). These actions will make the unit’s Heat go down by the number noted in the costs section of the ‘Tile. Zomblobs prefer to be hot and fevered, and when they cool down, they start malfunctioning. This is reflected in the blue Action Tile; when in its non-Norm phase (cool, in this case), a Zomblob unit can only use the Actions with blue backgrounds, and as can be noted, the Murmurer’s cool Action isn’t quite as desirable as its warm ones (though it may be useful in mirror matches… otherwise, it’s going to be attacking its teammates).
Aspirant units, on the other hand, start off in the cool section of the gauge and melt down into mania if they get too hot, and their available Actions will reflect this. Feral blobs are perhaps the most quirky here, as they are about as effective warm as they are cool, just in different ways. A unit that specializes in fast melee single target strikes while cool might settle into slower strong Area of Effect or Swipe (arc) attacks while warm. Ferals don’t particularly mind being warm or cool, they just function differently (and unlike the other two, they may use the Recover and Absorb Actions while in their “non-Norm” state).
This dance between heat states is one of the most important things to track in the game. Sure, Health is important and the Time system is key to some tactics, but Heat will dictate what Actions you have available on any given turn, and that can make all the difference.
Consequently, one of the most crucial aspects of Support units in the game is the way they can help other units manage heat (or inflict heat troubles on opponents). Notice the last Action Tile on the sample card up there. The Murmurer can make a target unit gain heat (and time). This is a multifaceted tool, usable on *any* target. Sometimes it might be advisable to heat up your own unit, even if it does mean a time delay (though I might just reduce or omit that to make the Action more useful). Sometimes it’s best to heat up an opposing unit to throw their tactical options off. It might even be useful against an opposing Zomblob, purely for the delay.
Each unit also (often) has access to the universal Recover Action, which costs 2 Time Points but heals 2 Health Points and moves the unit’s Heat 2 units towards its Norm. Sometimes it’s best to stop and take a breather. (Though the healing part of that might be too strong… playtesting will be key to nailing down the magnitudes of these functions.)
This will probably make more sense with more cards to compare, but that’s the core idea behind the Heat system. It’s a way to modify the tactics of combat, and a way to make choices and timing more important. Do you go for the big attack that will put your unit in its “off” state, or do you play it safe and Recover or use a cheaper Action? I think it’s these choices, and their concurrent risk and reward, that make this sort of game most interesting.
What think you?
Oh, and I’ll write more about the combat system next time. That’s really important, too, I’m just trying to break these articles up into concepts.