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Posts Tagged ‘WarMachine’

Dice are one way to carry your team’s banner on the tabletop battlegrounds.

Davion

For Davion!

…of course, there’s not really a Tinker faction in BattleTech, but Tinker Dice will fit into a WarMachine play session nicely.  Unless you’re going to play WarMachine digitally, thanks to this project, but I digress.

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One of the cardinal… guidelines… of game design is the K.I.S.S. mandate: Keep It Simple, Stupid.  Designers (and I count myself in this group, though I’m just an indie, and an artist by day) have a tendency to want to make intricate systems with many moving parts.  Part of the beauty of a good game is how well design elements mesh and make something more than the sum of their parts.  Tangentially, this is why emergent gameplay is so fascinating, but that’s an article for another time.  This tendency is an asset and a liability.

Like a precision watchmaker, I find joy in making initially disparate parts work together to make a great game, and like that watchmaker, sometimes most of my work will never be seen.  It’s like working in special effects in a movie; if you’re doing your job right as the FX guy, nobody knows because the effects are seamless.  (I almost went into movies; that is what my degree was geared for, Pixar-style, but I refuse to work in California.)  Like a good watch, a good game should present a simple function to its end user, and do an excellent job with this primary function.  Maybe there are bells and whistles under the hood that are there for further tinkering, maybe the function takes a lot of work behind the face, but in the end, a watch tells time.

A game provides… what?  A good play experience at the very least, hopefully with more depth as players dig into the strategies and implications of the design.  This exploration should come naturally, though.  Dropping an encyclopedia on a new player might be fine in some niches, but generally, the old Othello tagline “a minute to learn, a lifetime to master” is a pretty good rule of thumb.

Of course, each game will be different, and will appeal to different players, so this is more about culling extraneous design elements than it is about establishing a baseline for all games.  If a particular game design element just isn’t giving a lot of benefit for its cost, maybe it needs to be cut.

A couple of days ago, I posted a unit card for my Zomblobs! game.  This is a game that is meant to be a tabletop wargame, in the vein of BattleTech or WarMachine… just with blobs and some other quirks.  Here’s the card again for reference (and remember, it’s effectively boiling a whole page of data into a single card):

Zomblob Card Murmurer

As Andrew and Yeebo noted last time, it’s a busy little beastie.

There are three major mechanics in play here that drive the game engine:  Time, taken largely from my Tick Talk Time articleHeat, inspired in equal parts by BattleTech and Hordes and a simplification of what I wrote about in my Losing Control article, and the D6 Combat (no fancy single word keyword for this yet) based largely on the World of Warcraft Miniatures tabletop tactical game.  There’s nothing revolutionary here, like 4D space or psychometric controls, but that’s not really what I’m aiming for anyway.  This is a part of a bigger whole, ultimately, but it needs to function as a tabletop game as well.  Consequently, I’m dancing around a few self-imposed design constraints.

One, I want it to be easy to pick up, both for new players and veterans of Warhammer and the like.  Two, I want it to be a relatively small scale game, where every unit is important (think Final Fantasy Tactics rather than Warhammer).  Three, I want to explore the tactical implications of time.

It’s that third one that I hung a lot of hopes on.  Zomblobs! Tabletop isn’t a game where players take turns moving their whole army, like Warhammer or WarMachine.  It’s more like the WoW Minis game, where units move according to their own personal clock, and turns can wind up interwoven like the queue in Final Fantasy X.  (Again, I wrote more about this in the Tick Talk Time article.)

This, of necessity, means each unit needs a way to track their time.  Officially, these are the rules for Time (though I may rework the text for clarity as time goes on, this is the core of the design):

Every Action in the game costs Time.  Time is listed in the Costs section of each Action.

When an Action is used, the unit gains Time Points as noted in the Action Cost.  A unit can never have more than 6 Time Points.

Each unit will need to track its current Time.  A D6 die will work well for this.

A unit can only take its turn to move or use Actions if it has no Time Points.

If all units have Time Points, remove one Time Point from all units.  After this, any units that now have no Time Points may take their turn as normal, acting in Initiative order (highest initiative goes first, roll for ties), choosing to move and/or Act.

A unit’s turn incurs at least a single Time Point cost no matter what, even if they do nothing but pass their turn.

This should do what I want it to do, with teams interweaving their turns, units acting when they are ready instead of waiting for their laggard teammates.  This is also a mechanical theme; Feral units are fastest and will be able to act more frequently and move farther, while the Zomblobs are slow, plodding, powerful beasts, and the Aspirants are somewhere in between.  It might be a lot to think about and track, though.

…wandering off on a brief tangent again, Mark Rosewater has written a few times about tracking information in the Magic the Gathering game (though my Google-fu is weak today and I can’t find said articles, sadly).  The game has this Frankenstein’s Monster card with a weird mishmash of counters to show its state.  In recent years, they have tried to make counters only be +1/+1 or -1/-1, with a few exceptions like time counters.  This streamlined the game and made it easier to understand just what those little counters on the cards meant.  In effect, it means that the players have to track and parse fewer things to understand the game state.  The game has been “dumbed down”, perhaps, but it made it easier to play while still maintaining the bulk of the complexity and tactical depth that comes with those unit modification counters.

…back to the Time mechanic of Zomblobs, then, it’s one more thing to track in the game.  This, on top of Health (Hit Points, really, as Yeebo wrote eloquently about) and Heat (both of which will have a 12-unit span, making them trackable with a D12 like Time Points can be trackable with a D6).  Now, tracking three things per unit isn’t terrible when compared to some tabletop games, but it does mean fiddling around with pen and paper or dice.  I’m not inherently opposed to this, it’s expected in this sort of game, but I am keenly aware of the potential pain involved in tracking too much.  It seems like tracking Time isn’t quite as essential to the unit as Health or Heat (it’s not even part of the unit card), but at the same time, it’s pretty central to what I’m doing with the game’s combat tactics and pacing.  Time and Heat are both costs for each unit’s action, and they are fundamental to how units interact.

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that the time system will be too much to handle for players who just want to take turns.  I think in the balance, the Time system adds enough tactical depth that it’s worth the cost of tracking it.  Maybe I’m wrong, but hopefully playtesting will give me a better idea of how well it’s received.

I hope to have a set of PDF files available here in a couple of weeks or so for printing by beta testers.  I’d greatly appreciate any help in testing this, especially by those of you who do have experience with other tabletop wargames.  I’ll make a big post on that when it’s ready, but I figured I’d mention it now.  In the meantime, does this make sense?  Any thoughts?

Thanks for the input!

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As noted before, Zomblobs! has three breeds of blobs vying over global control:  The Aspirants, the Ferals and the Zomblobs.  One of the high level design rules I’ve made for myself is that I want each breed to play differently, but still be as balanced as possible.  Call it the StarCraft influence, perhaps.  Balance between three factions is inherently more interesting to me than two faction balance.  As such, one of the big things I want to change between the factions is the finer details of controlling units in tactical combat.

Some time ago, I purchased the Privateer Press Hordes: Primal book so that I could learn about the game.  I have a passing interest in tabletop miniature wargaming, and I really like what I’ve seen of WarMachine, so when I found a great deal on the Hordes sourcebook, it seemed like a good purchase.  It’s actually an older version, but that’s fine.  All my WarHammer and WarMachine books are older versions, too; that’s how I get ’em cheap.  Since I’m not on the cutting edge, itching to play in tournaments, older sourcebooks work just fine.  (Aside to Hordes fans… if I mangle some of this, it’s inadvertently.  I’m still digging into the system.  I welcome corrections.)

Hordes has a curious mechanic they call Fury.  Commander/spellcaster units they call Warlocks command a group of Warbeasts who can in turn generate Fury points as they are prodded into combat actions.  The Warlocks then can leach those Fury points from the Warbeasts, using them to fuel spells and special actions.  At first blush, this is all upside, which is a bit odd considering that WarMachine, the sister game, is one of resource management like the typical mana point system we see in RPGs.  Fury-generating actions are useful in combat, and spells the Warlocks cast are similarly useful.  Generation and use of fury points provide combat benefits.  So where’s the resource management?  Warlocks and Warbeasts have Fury limits, true, so there’s an upper limit to what can be done in any given turn, but an upper limit is a different thing from a pool that depletes.  It’s also important to note that Warlocks don’t generate Fury on their own.

The significant catch is that Warbeasts can “frenzy” if they fail to pass a “check” performed with a dice roll.  Warbeasts who have Fury points on them are more likely to fail this check; the more Fury points, the more likely they are to fail.  When a Warbeast “frenzies”, the Warlock (and therefore the player) loses control of the Warbeast.  They will tend to still try to attack enemies, but they do so in a blind fury.  They can even turn on allies or even their “controlling” Warlock.  As such, as the designers note, Hordes is a game of risk management rather than resource management, though there is still resource management on the battle level, as usual (losing units makes your team less effective, losing your Warlock means you lose the battle).  Warlocks need Fury to fuel their powerful abilities, but pushing their Warbeasts too far flirts with losing control of their most significant assets.  You will want those powerful abilities that come only with the use of Fury, but the more you use them, the more likely the Warbeast frenzy system is to blow up in your face.

So… what of Zomblobs?

Thematically, I really like the notion of losing control.

Aspirants are the most intelligent of blobs, and strive to always be in control.  They know that they could slip into the natural, instinctive mayhem the Feral blobs embrace if they lose control, and they aren’t sure they can get back… or if they would want to.  And Zomblobs, well… zombies have long represented the loss of control that most humans fear, a primal, deep rooted concern, as the loss of control wouldn’t be a surrender, but a corruption.  Aspirants are deathly afraid of losing control, either to become a Feral blob or a Zomblob.  They fight not because they want to rule, but because they do not want to be ruled… or corrupted.  They know passion, they know fear, but they do not lose control.  (Think Spock, not Data, and Trekkies know the trouble an uncontrolled Vulcan can get into.)

Feral blobs love being reckless and dancing on the edge of being out of control.  They draw strength from that savage adrenaline rush.  They don’t want to buckle down and bow to the sort of control an Aspirant cherishes.  They glory in acting, not thinking, the faster the better.  They love the hunt, and they cherish the kill.  Life is simple for a Feral blob, though they don’t follow directions well, especially once they get rolling.

Zomblobs are corrupted monsters, some were once Ferals, most were once Aspirants.  They no longer have full control of their faculties, though they are stronger in some ways for it.  They don’t follow detailed orders well, but their single-minded drive to consume and corrupt means they are utterly implacable and totally committed to their course of action.  Nothing short of complete defeat will keep a Zomblob from its destination, though they can occasionally be confused once they accomplish their orders.

Mechanically, I’m torn on this.  I believe that players tend to like to keep the reins and control their units.  Hordes does show that some fun can occur when that control is loosened a bit, and the WarHammer Greenskin army of Ork and Goblin fame thrives on a bit of chaos.  It still seems like an acquired taste, though, and I’m not sure how many players want to trade power for a more unwieldy toolset.

I’m thinking of two major design approaches to this.

On the one hand, I’d play it safe and go with a Fury-like system, where each unit has a threshold where they lose control and do their own thing in combat (though just for a turn in all cases; control can be reasserted pretty quickly once the fury is expended).    Ferals would have less control than Aspirants, and Zomblobs would be even less controlled.  The “frenzy” equivalent would balance this loss of control out, and indeed, it can be a calculated risk to intentionally drive units to go crazy.  I like the choices that might prompt.

On the other hand, I’d really like to make playing each breed a distinct experience, really embracing the flavor of the factions.  Aspirants would play like normal ‘Tactics games, with full control.  Feral units would pick a target at the beginning of a skirmish and begin hunting.  Players could nudge them with interim commands, but for the most part, Feral blobs would just go for the kill and then wait for new targets.  Zomblobs would just be given a direction and/or a location, then be left pretty much alone.  Players wouldn’t have much control at all.  It’s almost like the difference between commanding a group of snipers, a nest of rabid trench fighters, or a wind-up flamethrower automaton with C4 nailed to the tanks.

Now, in all this, players can play any of the three blob breeds, so they can always find one that fits their taste, and they would probably still have full control over the RNA layout, so they can prepare loose cannons before a fight.  Still, I’m not sure that diverging too much between playstyles, as I’m thinking of in the latter option, is a good idea.  I really want to make it work, and I think it could be a lot of fun, but how many players will bother with the Ferals or the Zomblobs then?  Might the game be poorer when players don’t like two thirds of the potential units?

Any thoughts?

…perhaps it’s telling that I’m leaning to the latter design, with elements of the first, though it could be more risky.  It seems like it could be more fun.

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Copra asked a little while ago about MMO settings, specifically, “What would you like your MMO to be?

I’ve written about this sort of thing before, but mostly in a whole package sort of way, pontificating mechanics, business model and such along with the setting.  Just for fun, though, while I’m working on another balance article, I wanted to write a bit purely about a setting I’d love to see in an MMO.

While I’d like to see things like Dinotopia (from the book, not the lame TV versions) and Midkemia represented well in a graphical MMO (Midkemia Online is a text MMO… I’ve nothing against such, they just don’t interest me as much), or even Warmachine, what I’d really like to see is a blend of things.  Over at Copra’s place, I called it “an alternate history Steampunk MechWarrior game”.  Perhaps a bit more detail is in order, perhaps not, but it’s fun to get things down in type.  That’s sort of what I do here.

First, there’s Steampunk, a curious fiction genre adequately summarized by the Wikipedia entry, or in more entertaining form, by the Girl Genius comics (yes, yes, the Foglios refer to GG as “gaslamp fantasy“, but I like that twist of the fantastic in the steampunk mix) or the Clockworks comics.  It’s a sort of alternate history where steam power became more prominent than it did in our history, with a bit of Leonardo da Vinci and even Escher thrown in, maybe with some magical elements.  I love the look and feel of this sort of gritty, gear and steam-based technological world.  The Industrial Revolution was a fascinating period of history, so riffing off of that makes me happy.

MechWarrior, on the other hand, is a subset of the BattleTech universe, a fictional far future where different factions of humans use big, stompy robots to fight interstellar wars.  It has a long and storied history, and the IP has spawned a ton of games in a variety of formats.  MechWarriors are the elite warriors of that universe, pilots of said big stompy robots.  There are other military units to be sure, but infantry and even most tanks aren’t much of a match for these giant walking tank-things that typically range from 20 to 100 tons, bristling with energy, ballistic and even melee weapons.

I’d like to mix the two.  I’m imagining a game setting where the Industrial Revolution turned into an arms race, with each country devising its own steam-powered ‘Mechs as the ultimate fighting machines.  A purely terrestrial political war might not have the vast resources that the interstellar Inner Sphere of BattleTech has, but that’s part of the draw.  ‘Mechs would be more ramshackle, more likely to be MacGyvered into military service than perfectly cloned assembly line hot rods.  They wouldn’t be far and away better than the other machines of war, but they would be important “heavies” in combat.  They would be steam and gear-powered, but you could even see prototype Gauss Cannons (purely magnetic) and Gatling Guns.  Scientific innovations would be rapid, and experimental weapons might just carry the day in several instances… or might backfire spectacularly.

The political landscape would be a mix of feudal systems and nascent city-states, with most major countries shattered into several internal factions.  Such a diverse political backdrop could provide very fertile ground for mercenary work.  Reputation could be interesting, and managing a career by playing the lines between powers who may or may not know of your work history (communications being a bit more primitive in those days) could be an interesting non-combat large scale puzzle.

Similarly, the economic game could be a lot of fun.  The arms race would be fueled by weird science, always chasing new energy sources.  Factions would try to squeeze the most out of their controlled territory and even expand into the New World.

…which opens up even more potential.  Forget the Eastern Kingdoms vs. Kalimdor, let’s talk stompy robots storming New England.  And don’t forget, ‘Mechs function underwater…

…and you never know what sort of things a mad scientist might come up with.  Even smaller mouse-sized ‘bots might be a threat…

Mouse Mech

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I’ve been designing some miniatures I can get the Shapeways guys to print out eventually, ultimately for use in a pair of games I’m working on.  One is a six player (or three or two) elemental sort of chess, so I just need models, but the other is sort of a fantasy/BattleTech mashup, a tabletop tactical miniatures game almost in the vein of WarMachine.

I’m running into a design question, though that I’d like some input on.  I’m trying to find a good way to keep track of information for the combat units.  For those of you with experience with or interest in mini games like this, how do you like to keep track of unit status?  This might include things like hit points, status afflictions (morale, poisons, buff and debuffs, auras, that sort of thing), weapon loadout, special moves, or any of a number of other variables.

I’ve seen games like HeroClix and the World of Warcraft minis game try to encode at least some of this data on a rotating base under the figure.  This has always seemed like a gimmick to me, but it does reduce the number of things you have to keep track of on paper off the combat arena.  The models seem a bit flimsier for the mechanical base, though, so it’s definitely a tradeoff in terms of usability.  They also seem a bit more… “gamey” than the games that just use minis on bases that might have a more simulationist feel.

Other games like WarMachine and BattleTech offload the bookkeeping to papers.  This isn’t as easy to tell the status of things at a glance, but it does allow for much more detailed information and thus, potentially more game design elements and clearer design.

Warhammer does a little of both, in a way, letting unit count in a block of infantry be a visible tally of a combat group’s strength, but it also has a lot of data offloaded onto paper, especially for hero units and special gear or magical effects.

One of the strengths of the Magic: The Gathering card game is that they have tried to reduce the bookkeeping and memory issues over the years.  Once upon a time you might have to keep track of multiple different upkeeps, special effects and what different counters represented (is that a +0/+2, +1/+1 or +2/+0 counter?).  These days, they have tried to distill these issues and have the “board state” give as much information as possible.  It’s nice to have a lot of data out there in the gamespace rather than offloaded to paper, but some things just don’t code well in a small amount of space.  Reducing the number of things players have to remember also helps speed up the game and make it easier to learn, as well as easier to play.

My question then is about that data encoded in the figure bases, whether it’s HP, action arcs, facing, whatever.  Is that method actually helpful in real gameplay?  (This includes noting that it’s more of a hassle if you’re always picking up the models and twiddling with their bases, and on a non-grid gamespace, that’s kind of annoying.)  Is it better to have all bookkeeping off-model?

Which do you prefer playing with and why?  I have my opinions, but I also have relatively little experience with miniature tactical gaming.  I’d like to get a bit more information if possible.  Tangentially, how much bookkeeping is too much?

Thank you in advance!

(Perhaps this could be generously noted as a bit of game UI design.  Playability is a big component of whether a game sticks or not.)

Oh, and bonus question while we’re talking mini design.  Painted or nonpainted?  Shapeways can print in full color now, and it’s even cheaper than nonpainted models.  Painted models are more brittle, though, and don’t have as much detail, so again, it’s all about the tradeoffs.

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The tabletop version of Warhammer, that is.  It’s the same reason I don’t play WarMachine.

Have you seen those models?  Or this sort of thing?  Or the multiple rule books?  (At least WarMachine is all in one book…)  Or what some players do with the models?

That’s just… way too expensive and getting everything ready is way too time consuming.  That said, I could, of course, drop all of my other gaming and goofing off, choosing instead to focus on one of these.  That might work.  Of course, it could be hard to find someone to play against, but I could drive for a while to a game shop and make do.  (I still think there’s money to be made doing an online version of the “real” Warhammer, like MTG Online… but way better.)

Still, the real, deep down reason I don’t play?  I’d want to make my own miniatures and terrain, all the way from sculpting to painting… and probably devise my own rules… especially if I were to really dig into the Steampunky WarMachine. I’m an artist; it’s an occupational hazard.  I’d get so lost in the game and doing it my way that I’d not have time to do the other things I want to.  Like sleep.  Though, if I could make a living at it, say, by selling my miniatures through these guys, it might be a viable option…

…so yeah, they look like pretty awesome games, from what research I’ve done.  I’d probably get sucked into them like I almost got sucked into BattleTech years ago.  I’m happy the games exist, I just… don’t have enough time in this life to do everything.  Alas.

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