I wrote a fair bit about the dice-based combat system I’m using in my Zomblobs! game last time, but I wanted to add this smaller coda about criticals and what I see as an “underdog” mechanic within my system.
Variety is the spice of life
Many games use the idea of “critical” strikes (sometimes called “crits”) to spice up combat a little. As the theory goes, these critical strikes do some extra bit of damage or cause some bonus, representing the “lucky strike” of hitting a foe’s funny bone or artery. The WoWPedia has a good definition of how criticals work in World of Warcraft for a little more detail, noting that each game does things a little differently.
If variable damage and hit accuracy rates are the salt that makes games a bit more interesting by dodging perfectly deterministic combat resolution, criticals are the cayenne pepper that makes the occasional bite something really special. In practical terms, they not only serve the purpose of instilling variety, but they also give game designers another handle to tweak as they fiddle around with balance and even the game’s flavor/feel. They give players more chances to have memorable “lucky rolls” that turn the tide of an otherwise unwinnable game… or more reasons to curse their luck.
This balance between luck and tactical decisions can be a tricky one. I really want Zomblobs! to have a very strong tactical element, and for luck to be minimal, though I see some gameplay value in dice rolling and simulating the chaos of combat that actually does wind up being somewhat less than perfectly controlled. The core dice rolling system of “successes” on attack and defense cover most of what I want to do with randomness. Each point of attack or defense has a 2/3 chance of succeeding, which is enough to make attack decisions somewhat risky without being too crazily uncontrolled. (It might actually be too big of a chance of failure, but 5/6 chance of success might be too small a chance of failure, and I’m trying to stick with common six-sided dice. As ever, playtesting will be crucial to nailing down the right feel.)
Criticals are layered on top of this thusly:
Criticals in Zomblobs! happen when all of the dice you roll show the same number. If that happens, you are considered to have rolled an extra successful die for the combat. This means one more attack point added to your attack total, or one more defense point added to your defense total. This also means rolling all 1s or all 2s, which would otherwise leave you with a 0 attack or defense total, will actually give you a total of 1 for attack or defense. Consider this the “lucky unlucky strike”.
Most curiously, these criticals are easier to score the fewer dice you roll. Weaker attacks have greater potential to hit a little bigger. This particular “crit” design is therefore more of an “underdog” mechanism, rather than a “win more” mechanism. Instead of harder hits probably hitting even harder, it’s the weak hits that are most likely to slip in a little extra punch. It’s not quite the “slow blade” that can win a Dune-flavored shield knife fight, but it’s another tactical consideration that should keep someone from always just using their biggest attacks.
At least, that’s the theory. Playtesting will hammer this all out, and the design may need to change. Still, for now, I like the core combat chances, and I think criticals will add the occasional spike of fun, while boosting the “underdog” attacks ever so slightly. This should also have the effect of speeding up the game a little bit, as the lower attack value Actions (which usually are also faster, with a lower Time Tick cost, meaning units who use them will act more frequently) gain a little extra potential punch.
It should also make some tactical decisions more interesting: do you go for the 3-Power attack and hope you roll well for the basic successes or go for the 2-Power attack and hope for doubles? This sort of decision, where there’s a good statistical case to be made, but it’s beyond casual calculation, is an opportunity for players to play “by their gut” or do some number crunching on the side and really min-max their game… or maybe just bring some lucky dice.
Whatever the case, it’s an implementation of criticals that seems unique to me, so I want to see it work. Designing Zomblobs! is itself a bit of a game, or at least a puzzle. That’s the fun of game design in my book. Wiring all the variables together into an enjoyable machine is great fun.