Pax Victoria at Buckets of Dice 2013

June 4, 2013

Some things worked well, other things did not. Afterwards I remarked that I really needed a co-GM whose sole task was to keep whispering in my ear “Too complex, make it simpler”.` That we only completed four full turns in four hours means I failed to design the time structures of the game – I had wanted to complete eight game turns.  This was largely due to the large number of teams (eight), and the land mechanics being too complex.  The map also ended up being a bit cluttered.

SAMSUNG

Some things did work well.  The map itself was pretty to look at, although we had some stability issues on the tiny tables.  Marking hex terrain with a thick coloured border around the hex also worked very well.  Next time I should try and get hold of a decent wargaming table to mount the map on. The physical appearance of the game counters was also good.  I spent a few hundred dollars on dice, leader stands, and wooden/plastic tokens from The Game Crafter  and from http://www.blankdice.co.uk/. I also used sticky labels printed out on my laserprinter for the counters, rather than spray adhesive. Overall it was a better looking game, and an easier to assemble game than most of the games I have done in the past. Lots of reuseability in the components, so people will see them again.

I also think the pre-game strategic options and diplomacy worked well.  It also meant I had to have the game 99% finished a week before the Con, rather than the night before the con.  It also motivated me to actually throw some content on my www.housewar.org website.  This had room for improvement, as I failed to take into account that some people would be too busy in the week beforehand.  Ideally people should be able to delegate or select proxies.  It was a real buzz for me to walk into the Con at 0900 and find people already plotting for the Grand Strategy game that night.

The picture above shows the state of the game at the end of the night. A few cities and sea zones had changed hands, but because the Orange-Black, White-Green wars had been largely one on one affrays, no truly decisive land action had taken place.  The neutral islands had been occupied, so if the game had lasted longer, the sideline players would have started intervening.  Naval combat did not start until turns 3-4.  What this tells me is that I had too many sea areas for the number of naval forces in the game, and that everyone was more interested in dividing up and grabbing colonies rather than fighting each other.  So one simple fix there is to start teams with island colonies, and to reduce the number of sea areas down a bit.

Naval movement and combat worked well.  Land movement and combat did not. As well as some rules complexity, people found it to hard to see what was happening on the front lines. The leader stands hindered as much as they helped, as people found it hard to calculate hex radius distances, and the support units cluttered up the map.  The off-map reserves really needed better mechanics for voluntary deployment and removal, as it encouraged players to do counter-intuitive meta-game tactics, like deliberately leaving gaps in their line and trusting their neighbour not to exploit.

Amphibious movement and invasions were too complex and time consuming given the brief number of game turns completed. Almost no one chose Guards units as a strategic option, which makes me think that I should have called the units Marines, as they were actually the best units to do an amphibious attack with.

Trade mostly took place away from the map room, I have no idea how well that worked, but at least we didn’t run out of cards this year.

I did get feedback on the night that players wanted to build units.  I am thinking about this.  I tried keeping the game simple by having the builds effectively take place before the game began, but several teams wanted the option of building up their navy mid-game and it just wasn’t possible in the Rules As Written.  This is something I will work on for the next version.

With eight teams, teams were averaging around five to six minutes for a game turn, not the two minutes I had hoped for.  If I had built a second map just for naval actions, then I could have split the moves up a bit and had less overall downtime for the teams.  The bonus action (“The Big Push”) was ignored by some teams early on, then towards the end everyone bet big on it, which told me both that the economy was generating too many resources and everyone had figured out how important a second full action was.  The “shells” on the game map proved too fiddly to keep track of, so I would dump them from the game.

A lot of teams, when they got to the map, tended to give orders by telling each other what to do, not by telling a Gm what they were going to do. It makes me think that going back to the old, old system of the team leader having a free minute at the start of a team’s turn to look at the map and give orders, followed by a set time of the team’s minions moving pieces and not talking except to tell a GM they are attacking, might be a better system for getting things done quickly.

I liked the game enough, that I will run it again at Kapcon 2014. So people in Wellington or further afield, now is your chance to volunteer to help out.  For my 2014 Buckets game, I am pondering about running To Reign in Hell, a game where the players represent legions of Demons trying to take over Hell.  I’m sure I can adapt Dante’s classic map somehow.  I’ll have another blog post on Pax Vicky in a couple of weeks when the survey I am running concludes.

I also ran a simple Dragon Age tabletop game, where the players were Djinn working for the Ottoman Empire in an alternate history 1960s.  A successful investigation of a dodgy hospital exploiting a leper colony in Jerusalem ended with icky alien bug like things being squished.  The stunt system worked well at making the characters look baddass, so Dragon Age may become my convention system of choice.

I enjoyed the Dresden Files LARP on Sunday night of Kapcon. It helped that I was paired up with an extrovert who was my long lost brother, and we had fun roleplaying crazy Russians on Circe’s Island. Which sank. But I freed my brother from being a vampire’s thrall, earned brownie points wit the Catholic Church for retrieving one of the holy swords of the cross for them, did not get hunted down the Warden, did facilitate the defection of a White Council member to the Red Court, and got a free ride to Paris from the Queen of Summer. Not bad for a poor boy from the Ukraine who can talk to the (mostly) dead.


Pax Victoria – Naval Combat

February 6, 2013

Naval Zones

 

Map Progress

Some more work done on the map today: borders and cities added, railways and ocean zones, nations have been named with suitably English themed names.  All nations except Midland have three cities, Midland has four.  All nations have some kind of rail network, except Lumbria. Midland is the only nation with a good rail network, and there are definitely places that are barren of railways.  Before the game starts player teams will have the opportunity to build some more railways and cities (or to increase their standing armies and fleets).

Naval Framework

One lesson I have learned for rapidly adjudicating combats for control of zones is to avoid having stacks of a dozen or three dozen units. It takes a long time to count them.  So one big step for navies in Pax Vicky is that each nation will have a small number of Fleet units, perhaps 3-6 each depending on pre-war options.  Each Fleet will have a strength of 6-9, representing various squadrons of battleships and support ships (and strength will depend in part on pre-war options).

So on the Pax Vicky map I have around 27 sea zones, each with a name and a control box.  This is less than the number of fleets the nations will have.  While some sea zones will fall naturally into one player’s sphere of influence, others will be hotly contested.  Midland has one of the worst naval positions, having three different areas of naval operations, and no easy way to transfer forces between them.  All nations are within 2-3 sea zones of the Crown Lands, the uncontrolled territory at the start of the game.  Any nation or coalition of nations able to control the Crown Lands and maintain a convoy route there will gain a considerable economic boost in the game.

You control a sea zone if you have units in the control box.  If you don’t control a sea zone, your naval counters are placed anywhere in the sea zone, outside of the control box.

Some cities are located on the boundary lines of sea zones, this is deliberate and will allow fleets based there to project forces in either sea zone easily (or at least get repairs more effectively).

As well as the main battle fleets players will have some supporting naval units:

  • Merships (Merchant Ships), contribute towards gaining trade cards.
  • Naval HQs, allow naval movement, essentially a coaling station or squadron of colliers
  • Cruisers, escort Merships
  • Raiders, raid Merships.

Naval Combat Theory

There are two main approaches to steam age naval warfare with bloody big battleships: seek decisive battle, or avoid decisive battle and raid the enemy where they are weak.  You generally try and seek decisive battle when you have a superior battle fleet  or if you are pressed by circumstances to gamble.  Mahan’s advice here is to “never divide the fleet” (i.e. if you split your fleet up and send it in different directions, its likely to be defeated in detail).  When you are weaker, a sound strategy is to hide your fleets in safe habours, emerging only when the situation changes.  Meanwhile, smaller vessels are sent off to raid the enemy shipping lanes, sinking ships, disrupting commerce, driving up insurance rates, and so forth.  In the 20th century this was largely done with submarines, although to keep things simple for Pax Vicky I am assuming raiders to be light cruisers, with the endurance to sail a long way away from home bases.

The strategic objective of naval combat is control of the seas.  In Pax Vicky there is a bonus to be gained from being able to trade, and a massive penalty for being blockaded (having no sea zone that you control adjacent to a friendly controlled port).

Naval Movement

Naval Forces have infinite movement through sea zones where naval HQs are present.  Movement stops if you enter a sea zone without an HQ, and only Raider unis can move from a zone without an HQ into another zone without an HQ (all other forces have to go home and refuel).

Naval Combat Decision

Naval combat is optional.  The oceans are big and easy to hide in.  If a player does want to fight they can choose to either raid, or seek decisive battle, but not both in the same turn in the same sea zone.  Naval forces can only fight once per turn.  If you control a sea zone, with a fleet, and no other fleets are present, you can automatically assert control and force all Cruisers, HQs, and Merships controlled by other players to leave that zone.

Naval Combat Step One – Interception

Draw a card for the attacking player.  The card will have a number from 1-10.  If this number is greater than the enemy fleet strength, then they are not found and no battle occurs.  If the enemy fleet is found, draw a card to see if their scouts spot the attacker.  This happens if the card number is equal or less than the attacker’s strength.  If the attacker is not spotted, then the defending fleet has been ambushed.

Naval Combat Step Two – Battle

Draw two cards for a Fleet that is stronger than an enemy Fleet.  Draw one card for Fleets of equal or weaker strength.  Draw a bonus card for an Ambush.  Note that there is a strong advantage in favour of the stronger fleet which is difficult to reverse except through luck or attrition over time.

A card “hits” and does damage if the number on it is equal or less than Fleet strength.  Otherwise the card “misses” and does no damage.  A small number of cards have symbols for critical hits and inflict two damage if successful, otherwise damage is one per card.

Each hit on a Fleet reduces its strength by one.  Mark this by placing a counter on the Fleet.  Any Fleet with five or more damage counters is no longer capable of remaining at sea, and retreats to the closest controlled port.  Damage counters persist until repaired in a logistics phase.

Naval Battle – Outcome

A Fleet loses the battle if it is forced to retreat from five points of damage accumulation. If a Fleet misses with all cards when its opponent hits with at least one card, it also loses.

If both Fleets score at least one hit, fight another round of combat.  Repeat as necessary until a winner is determined or both fleets are forced to retreat.

Note that five points of damage will take a long time to repair, possibly as many as three naval logistic turns.

Naval Battles – Cruisers and Raiders

This is similar to Fleet battles, however the Raider is attempting to intercept the Mership, while the Cruiser is attempting to intercept the Raider.  So a Raider always ambushes a Mership, and a Cruiser always ambushes a raider (if they manage to intercept at all).  All these units have a nominal strength of 5, although a Mership cannot damage a Raider.  Any damage done to a Raider, Cruiser, or Mership forces it to retreat.


Pax Victoria Map Design

February 6, 2013

Pax Victoria Nations

You may have to click on the image to see the headings clearly.

I am yet to commit to firm boundaries and city placements on the map, mainly concentrating on where the nations will go, and how many other nations they will be adjacent to. The Fallow Lands zone is some empty space for the players to squabble over, and a major reason to contemplate building a long range amphibious capability.

As a rough rule of thumb for geopolitics, the more states your state is adjacent to, the more likely you are to find it difficult to defend yourself.   Terrain can modify this (such as mountains, rivers and fortresses).  So on the whole those states listed as Peninsula Powers have only two land neighbours to worry about.  The obvious strategy here is to ally with one against the other.

The Canal Power will control a route through the narrow isthmus of land that permits Naval forces to move swiftly between the “interior” and “exterior” oceans. Possibly influential, but it has long coastline that is hard to defend against landings, and four neighbours to worry about.

The Island Power, by dint of having no land neighbours, will probably be a strong naval power like England.  Its controlling players could choose to build a lot of land units, but its not going to do them a lot of good.

The Small Power is the potential Switzerland of the map. It has short borders that could be completely fortified by a defensive player, but the key to its success would be skillful diplomacy.

The Central Power is the hub of the main continent, especially as all the railway networks will connect up in its cities, giving it a strong logistic base and the ability to move armies around on interior lines.  It does have to worry about the Land Power though.  The Land Power is big and has only one obvious route for landward expansion.  I may make it harder for it strategically by giving the offshore island to another nation and possibly giving a strip of its southern coastline to another player as well.

The Medium Power will be weaker than the two largest powers, but stronger than the other powers. Its interesting diplomatic challenge is going to be steering a course between neutrality or alliance with the larger powers.

Starting Forces

Before changes are made by players, each state will have an existing army and navy that is based on its geography. Naval strength will be based on length of coastline, number of ports, and the number of sea zones the nation is adjacent to. Army strength will be based on the number of controlled hexes, number of cities, and the number of adjacent nations.

Nations are likely to have around 10 units per player on the nation team, but some will have stronger armies than navies, or vice versa, and not all units will be available at the start of the game (i.e. reserve forces will be built during the game).  Its going to be impossibly for most nations to garrison their entire land border (the small and island powers are an exception) so that feeling of vulnerability is going to encourage diplomacy and surprise attacks.

Next Steps

Naming the countries and drawing definite borders. Then the cities and railways need to go on the land mass, and the sea control zones on the oceans.


Pax Vicky: Iteration, Iteration, Iteration

January 24, 2013

Successful game design requires iteration.  Iteration requires you to recognise that your brilliant  idea is not going to work, and then coming up with a new brilliant idea. Which probably won’t work either, but at least it feels like progress!

Pax Victoria is going through an iteration process, as I turn several interlocking sets of mechanics over in my mind.  They key mechanics I need to cover are:

(1) Pre-game grand strategy formulation and its flow through impact onto all choices made in game

(2) An attrition based land combat system (i.e. its a meat grinder system if both sides are evenly matched)

(3) A maneuver based naval combat system (i.e. one which often results in no battle at all, or a decisive victory/defeat)

(4) “Twitter Diplomacy” – all written agreements must be done in 140 characters or less

(5) An economics/logistics system to allow units to be built/replaced and to track economic fatigue and eventual economic collapse.

I’m well into my third  iteration for all except the diplomacy rules.  For the second iteration I made my usual mistake of creating a dice game, and after a couple of happy days of meshing all the synergies together, I remembered what a PITA it is for GMs to spend time sorting dice and figuring out if a roll was good/bad hit/miss critical/boring and then implementing it in game.  So I took the numbers and underlying math and turned them into a card game of sorts.

For a World War One style game I am influenced by various history books and Great War boardgames that I have played, especially Ted Racier’s Paths of Glory.  So there a few key features I want to represent:

  1. Railway networks and supply lines are important. Industrial armies cannot survive by living off the land. If their supply line is cut they collapse quickly.
  2. Cavalry units are largely ineffective, unless a gap is created for them, or their opponents are weak.
  3. Artillery is the Queen of the battlefield – it was responsible for far more lives lost than the machinegun
  4. Fortresses are situationally powerful. Build them in the right place and they work like magic, build them in the wrong place and watch the enemy ignore them.
  5. Mobilisation of reserve forces is important.
  6. Enveloping units on multiple flanks, or pressing on all sides of a salient, is a tactically strong move.
  7. In a battle of resources, it makes strategic sense for an economically powerful country to focus on attrition, while a militarily powerful nation will be striving for the “Short, victorious war” beloved of politicians down through the ages.

So I have roughly six types of units with the following qualities:

  • a movement rate of zero to two hexes
  • a strength rating of zero to six
  • a range rating of zero to two hexes
  • a stamina rating of zero to two.

Guards

A Guards unit is an elite infantry unit. These will be limited in number.

Full Strength (5) Stamina (1)

Half Strength (2) Stamina (2)

Guards units are tough, the only unit at reduced strength with a strength greater than one, and the only unit with a stamina of two for a glorious last stand around the regimental colours.

Artillery

Artillery is a support unit. Like Guards, Artillery will be in short supply.

Full Strength (6) Stamina (0)

Half Strength (1) Stamina (1)

Special Ability: Because there will only be one unit in most hexes, artillery contribute their strength to any battle within two hexes of the hex they occupy.

Special Weakness: Artillery are the strongest land unit in the game, but at full strength they have a stamina of zero, so if involved in combat they must automatically flip to half strength.  This will make it hard to sustain attacks, as sooner or later you will need to resupply your artillery units back to full strength to keep attacking.

Regular

The standard army unit, no special abilities or features, other than being the most common unit on the map.  All nations will have a similar number of Regular units.

Full Strength (4) Stamina (1)

Half Strength (1) Stamina (1)

Reserve

Reserve units do not start the game on the map. They must be built during the game.  Nations will have very different reserve force pools, based on their grand strategy.  Effectively a weaker version of the Regular unit, but cheaper to build, and in quantity they have their own quality.

Full Strength (3) Stamina (1)

Half Strength (1) Stamina (1)

Cavalry

The last of the limited number elite units, Cavalry are good for rapid advances against light opposition or exploiting gaps in weak defensive lines.  Attacking solid defences, not so good.

Full Strength (2) Stamina (1)

Half Strength (1) Stamina (1)

Special Ability: If a gap is created in the enemy lines to the green fields beyond, cavalry units can move to the gap, and then onwards one hex into vacant enemy territory.

Headquarters

A Headquarters (HQ) is a supply source. If attacked in combat it collapses as Generals flee for safety. It counts as a Rail hex, so if you form a continuous chain of HQs you can carry supplies deep into the wilderness, or use the HQ line to bring reinforcements into the campaign.

Strength (0) Stamina (0)

Fortress

A strong defensive unit that is immobile. Good for defending cities, railway junctions, or key border crossings.

Full Strength (6) Stamina (+1)

Half Strength (3) Stamina (+1)

Special Abilities: (1) Acts like an artillery unit for support, but does not flip. (2) Can have a garrison unit stacked with it (3) Increase the Stamina of any garrison unit by +1 (4) Acts as source of supply for its Hex (5) Counts as a rail hex.

So those are the units.  Apart from Forts, I am keen to avoid any kind of stacking on the map, single counters are far faster to count and so will help players make good informed decisions in less time.

As for the crunchy bit of combat, after playing around with die rolls and realising that would be too hard I thought about a system where you pulled one card from a deck per stamina point the defending unit has.  Today I had the brainwave that it would be faster to pre-print cards with multiple entries for Stamina-1, Stamina-2, Stamina-3 etc.  Each Stamina line has a number, which is the total strength the combined attacking units require to defeat the defender and force a retreat.  Each line will be 1-10 strength, average of 6, accumulating over the lines.  So if attacking a Regular unit (Stamina 1), if you draw a card and get six on the Stamina-1 line, then if you are attacking with only a Guards unit (Strength 5) you fail, but if attacking with two Reserve Units (Strength 3 x 2 =6) you succeed.

Units would get a +1 stamina bonus for defending beaches, cities, mountains or rivers.

The defending unit is always reduced in strength by the attack, unless the card has a symbol indicating that the defender does not flip (I’m thinking of having this on about 10% of the cards).

The attacker flips a number of units equal to the defender’s stamina, plus all supporting artillery.  I may have symbols on a few cards (10-30% of the deck perhaps) indicating that elite units have their effective strength increased, perhaps even doubled, for that battle.  So while overall outcomes are predictable, there is enough variation to keep it interesting.

So how do you win a land war in the Southeast Colonies?

1. Attack reduced strength or stamina 0 units, with full strength units.   A destroyed unit costs more to build than a half strength unit costs to reinforce.

2. Envelop or surround a unit so you can attack with 3+ units, increasing your strength to guarantee a forced retreat. If you keep taking a hex a turn, after a few turns you will be in their capital city.

3. Use overwhelming force, Guard units supported by artillery can smash through on a narrow one hex front if the defender does not have stamina boosting terrain, Strength 5 + Strength 6 = Strength 11 total versus a maximum of Strength 10 on the One Stamina line of a Battle card.

4. Bloody Attrition, from a position of economic strength attack with expendable units so that you create a situation where (1) is possible.

5. Counterattack, wait for them to attack you when you are in stamina boosting terrain, then counterattack while they are weak.

Both 1 and 5 are going to depend a on when teams draw their logistic chits (the number of which you have are determined by pre-game grand strategy choices). Its going to be nerve wracking to see if the reinforcements arrive in time for the big push, or whether you signal to home that its been delayed by mud.

Next Steps

I need to ponder the naval combat design for a while longer, but I can probably do a post soon on how I see the pre-game Grand Strategy choices working.  I also need to do some thinking on the economics.  I found some economic analysis of GDP figures in World War One recently, and while the USA and UK had GDP growth during the war, all the other great powers lost a large chunk of GDP, despite massive increases in the government share of GDP.  So while a wartime economy works, more or less, it does not create an infinite supply train of resources, so I suspect peak wartime strength might only be around 20% above fully mobilised pre-war strength.


Gaming recap

September 14, 2012

Just some short bullet points today, although I hope to finish a longer write up on the Cataclysm expansion for World of Warcraft and what I thought of it all now that Mists of Pandaria is ready to launch.

Guild Wars 2: levelled a Guardian to level 20, world is pretty, weapon skills are fun, craft skills are a tedious grind that sucked all the fun out of the game.

SWTOR: I let my sub expire.

World of Tanks: currently playing mostly tank destroyers (Renault UE 57, Jagdpanther, Hetzer, and SU-85) plus the T-34 and KV1-S medium tanks.  Have about 54k XP saved for when the British Tech Tree is released – I’m keen to play the fast British mediums like the Crusader.

Roleplaying: still running my Dragon Age game, players are getting close to level 10 and have reached the ancient capital of decadent elves and their dark secrets.  One of the players managed to kill next year’s warm weather, so the party has to enter the Phoenix Games (the winner of which will be sacrificed after ruling as king for seven years).  I need to read through RQ VI again and write a proper review.

Boardgames: had some good ideas for “Keep the Galactic Empire Alive as Long as Possible”game  and a “Barbarian Hordes Loot the Empire” game.  Will try and have prototypes ready for Big Gaming Week.

Grand Startegy: Pax Victoria is going to be run at BOD 2013, plan is to have pre-game, a draft map, and combat mechanics ready for Xmas playtesting.


Pax Victoria Mechanics

August 14, 2012

Last weekend I sent the outline of Pax Victoria off to Saga for consideration for BOD in 2013.

I also spent some time looking at the old Flower Power rules, and what worked and what didn’t.

A key design goal for Pax Victoria, is for player teams to design a grand strategy before the convention, so the night’s game is more about the success or failure of executing that grand strategy.

Game Options in the Pre-game

So, ten teams.  Three players per team.  Plan is to have each player submit one build option for their state each day for ten days leading up to BOD.  So 30 options per team.  If a player goes AFK, I’ll substitute a random choice.  The team also has to select their objectives.  Objectives could be chosen from the following:

  • maintain the status quo
  • largest army
  • best army
  • largest navy
  • best navy
  • gain control of one or more sea zones
  • gain control of Shuttle Island
  • gain control of Blood Stone harvesting areas
  • gain control of the straits
  • conquer other states.

The more objectives you select, the harder it will be to “win”, so I will be giving states with Napoleonic ambitions some bonuses.  I’m still thinking about the math on this one, and I may hide the formula from the players, but a team that wants to play like Germany in 1914 is going to have a much better army to play with than a team that wants to play like Belgium in 1914.

Some options grant absolute rewards, i.e. they result in fixed and predictable changes to resources.  Other options grant relative rewards, i.e. the benefit gained depends on the options selected by the other teams.

A partial list of options:

  • Monument: increase the victory value of a controlled city (possibly useful for a defensively minded team)
  • Fortress: an immobile combat unit placed in a specific hex, useful for defending key objectives like cities, ports, and terrain choke points.  The earlier it is built, the stronger it will be.
  • Railway: expand the railway network, building one hex of rail links for each option phase remaining (so if chosen as your first option you get ten hexes of rail, if chosen as your ninth option you get two hexes of rail), railways are critical for strategic movement of units and logistics.  Building rail will also stimulate the economy, allowing the construction of some additional cities on the game map
  • Factories: produce logistics, which are needed in the option phase to build some units (maybe, will need to do some math here), and in game play to resupply exhausted units.  The earlier you build factories, the larger your stockpile of supplies at the start of the game.
  • Canal: not sure about this, but I might build some narrow land areas where a canal mega-project could be attempted, it would facilitate naval movement.
  • Merchant Ships: factories of the sea, again, not sure if the complexity is needed, but it may add another reason to engage in naval warfare.
  • Army HQ: acts as a rail hex for the purposes of moving supplies, can resupply adjacent units (so if you don’t build any you will lose any war you fight in as your units are slowly destroyed, and if you want to invade a region that lacks railways you will need a lot of HQs to avoid a Retreat From Moscow situation, one per three hexes of hostile border is probably good).
  • Fleet HQ: one is required for each sea zone you have naval units in (so most players need a couple, and anyone going for control of the oceans needs more)
  • Marine HQ: acts as a supply rail head on beach/port hexes (limit one per 10 other HQs, essential for amphibious warfare)
  • Army Training: increase the relative quality of the Army
  • Army Expansion: increase the absolute size of the Army
  • Naval Training: increase the relative quality of the Navy
  • Naval Expansion: increase the absolute size of the Navy
  • Build Elite Unit: converts an existing unit into an Elite unit (as they get an action token of their own, everyone will want a few, plus players can add chrome by giving their elite units special names)

That is probably more than enough options!

Teams also get to choose how liberal/conservative they are.  Liberal states will generally start with larger armed forces, while more conservative states will start with higher quality armed forces and a lower chance of mid-game rebellion.

Combat Mechanic Outline

General philosophy with mechanics is that ground combat is hex positional and attrition based, while naval combat is area based and more decisive than land combat (i.e. the losing side takes more damage).

Each state has two action tokens per map: Regular and Elite.  In a regular action token, all units can move/attack.  In an elite action token, only elite units can move/attack.  I will also have one “Big Push” action token per map, which is sold each game turn to the team bidding the most logistics points.  The Big Push token is a Regular action token with a +1 bonus on all attack rolls.  Action tokens are resolved in a random sequence.  Each time one is pulled, each player on that team can resolve one move/attack.

Each unit has a strength value, an average number for a rested unit is 11, with elite units being 12-13, and weaker units on 9-10.  An exhausted unit generally has half the strength of when it was rested.

When you attack, you roll 1d6 for each unit adjacent to the hex being attacked.  Elite units add +1 to their roll.  Artillery units can contribute with a ranged attack.  The attacker must “flip” counters with a strength value equal to their roll.  You must try to match the required strength loss if at all possible.  If a reduced strength unit is “flipped” it is removed from the board (to be rebuilt later if you have the logistics for it).  The Defender does the same, except they can use terrain to negate die rolls (lowest dice first). So mountains, cities, rivers, forts, etc make it easier to defend.

So you want to attack weak units, or units that can be flanked from multiple hexes.

If you do enough damage to eliminate a unit, then Cavalry units can exploit through the gap.  Otherwise if the defender is weakened, and the attacker has a full strength unit remaining, the defender retreats one hex (towards nearest HQ or city).

Note: due to the slow nature of this combat system, states will be relatively small – the distance from a border to a capital is likely to be three hexes on average.

Naval combat – terrain has no effect at sea, roll 1d6 for each unit in the fleet.  High roll wins control of the sea zone.  It’s unwise to engage if heavily outnumbered.  I may have to develop some kind of “raid” mechanics to allow hit & run attacks by small forces.


Pax Victoria

June 7, 2012

A bit of 2000AD influence here, but the concept for Pax Victoria is an isolated colony world, where a trillionaire businesswoman has established herself as Queen-Emperor Victoria II for a couple of centuries.  Funded by a monopoly on sales of Blood Diamonds harvested from fearsome leviathans of the ocean deeps, Victoria II has established a romanticised neo-Victorian colony world.  The upper tier of aristocracy have access to galactic technology, imported from off-world and maintained by the “Butler” class.  The other colonists are restricted to pre-1900 technology, except for a few educational and medicinal facilities.  So the colony is mainly steam-powered, save for the shuttle port (which galactic regulations require to have modern facilities for dealing with lost and damaged starships, so it has a small atomic power plant).

Victoria II has had a long reign, and through life extension technology she has celebrated a 200 year jubilee.  From time to time she has taken lovers as Prince Consorts, before plunging into decade long bouts of mourning following the consorts tragic early demise.  Her children, the darling princelings, have grown into administrative duties as they have matured.  The local natives are convinced of the divine origins of the off-worlders, and have signed a number of unfavourable 999 year leases, but nothing so bad as to trigger the anti-slavery clauses in the Galactic Constitution.  So while some rebels do strike from the jungles, the Sepoy units of the Imperial Army are usually sufficient to defeat them, and if not, the Imperial Guard has the Maxim Machine Gun 3000, and they do not.

Sadly, the beloved Victoria II has died after a decade long coma.  Tragically, she has neglected to name any of her children as her heir.  The Parliament she established so she could preside over ceremonial openings and closings has little power, although it is seen as a means for the common voter to express their will, all attempts at reform have been crushed by the conservative Lords.  So as the Queen lay dying, her children began plotting their own path to power…

Sequence of Events

Two weeks before the game night, I want teams to be determined and players mailed the background information and first set of options for team decision-making.  I want the teams to be making decisions in three areas:

  1. Their victory objectives for the game.
  2. Their stance on political issues relating to the status quo or societal change.
  3. Their preferred options for force build up.

Victory Objectives

The minimum goal players can select is an inherently defensive one – preservation of their sovereign independence and the territory they control at the start of the game.  Ambitious players can select stretch goals, which could include:

  • build a navy, army, or air force that is stronger than adjacent states/any state/any other two states combined
  • gain control of one/many/all the Blood Diamond harvest zones
  • gain the submission of one/many/all other states
  • capture capitals, forts and other key locations (individual hexes)
  • gain control of all ports in the inner/outer/all seas
  • gain control of the full length of the continental rail networks
  • gain control of disputed territory.

For each stretch goal, you gain an extra option point, but also acquire a victory point penalty (i.e. if you go for Napoleonic world conquest and fail, then you will lose the game of grand strategy, while someone choosing a Switzerland approach may find their goals easier to obtain).  I will describe these in qualitative terms, I will keep the maths hidden until the end of the game.  I would probably have some threshold effects, such as gain +1 action token per additional state you conquer so that world conquest is possible (if not exactly probable) so that players choosing that gamble should at least have a fun time executing it.

Political Issues

The players are Lords.  They run their states like petty fiefdoms.  This does not make them popular, but the players can choose between political stances that will increase or reduce the stability of their states.  Stability will change the chance of either the natives rebelling against the humans, or the common humans attempting a revolution to take power of their own.  Some stances may also change the number of option points available.  The final set of political stances will also determine how many victory points it costs to ally with other players (the greater the difference in stances, the higher the victory point cost).

Some of the stances could involve tradeoffs between:

  • secret police or free newspapers
  • votes for natives
  • independent centres of education
  • maintaining horse cavalry or building an airforce
  • conscription or volunteer armies
  • free trade or protective tariffs
  • allowing free industrial development or maintaining central economic planning
  • supporting the World Empire or balkanisation of the colony.

A stable state may not be as powerful, but it will not be home to the first rebellion/revolution (which is how I can respawn into the game any players whose states are conquered by other teams early in the game).

Options

Options represent an investment of energy, leadership and labour in preparing for the end of the Pax Victoria.  Most of the options are things players will want to do, but it will be impossible to do all of them.  The teams will each pick an option every day in the lead up to the game night (hopefully by consensus, if they disagree I would pick one randomly and reduce state stability).  The earlier a team picks an option, the more powerful it will be for them in the game.  For example, setting up a spy agency early on gives you a lot of spies in the game.  Setting up a spy agency as your last option gives you a small, pitifully underfunded agency.

Options could include:

  • building up the size of the army, navy or airforce
  • artillery or tanks
  • fighters or bombers
  • building up the quality of the army, navy, or airforce
  • spies
  • building various elite units (Guards, Marines, Airborne)
  • expanding Blood Diamond harvesting operations
  • completing railway/canal engineering mega-projects
  • fortresses and other static defences
  • naval bases
  • improving logistics, HQ staff

The goal would be to minimise the chance of one option being a clear game winner.  Ideally at the start of the game the different teams will have a mix of forces and abilities that avoid them being carbon copies of each other.

Geography

The design intent is to make Naval power much more important than it was in Flower Power.  The idea is to borrow and adjust the Circle Sea setting from Andrew Vallance’s epic play-by-mail game of yesteryear.  So imagine an ocean on a water world.  Now imagine a comet smacking into the world.  The crater that is left behind leaves a dimple island in the middle, with an outer circle of the crater wall.  Have a couple of straits eroded in the walls and you have two long crescents of land.  Each of the two continents have five teams of players on it.  Each team has at least one land neighbour, and usually 2-3, and has naval ports bordering on two oceans.

So players have some big choices to make.  It will be impossible for any team to have both a superior inner sea navy and an outer sea navy, and an army/air force superior to all of their neighbours.  Each state will be weak somewhere.  This should encourage diplomacy, alliances … and betrayal.

Combat

Ground combat will be attrition based in outcomes, resulting in small amounts of positional movement and army losses.  As long as a state has selected options that allow them to train and equip replacements faster than they take losses, their army will remain solidly on the field (unless backed into a corner and forced to retreat, or if being attacked by more than one player at a time).  Ground combat is at the Army level, with elite corps sized units.  Each Army has around ten tokens, which are placed in hexes to represent “front lines”.

The airforce will play a role in supporting army/navy combat, unless a state decides to spend a stupendous number of option points developing a strategic bomber force.

Naval combat is based on having superiority in a sea zone, and is much more likely to result in a decisive battle than ground combat.  Outnumbered naval forces will tend to hide in fortified naval bases, only poking their heads out to do raids.  Naval combat is at the squadron/fleet level.

Turns and Actions

We probably have two map tables for land operations, and a third map table for naval operations.  Assuming a 20 minute turn and 30 players, so 10 players per table, if turns can be executed in 30 seconds, players can be allowed four actions per turn.  If they take a minute to complete, then two actions per turn.  To help focus players, we probably make it hard for states to have more than three combat units per player.

Using a HAT system, each state gets a number of tokens equal to its number of players, plus some tokens based on options.  The default token is “Hasty Assault” (i.e. extra casualties for the attacker), but depending on how the state spent options it may get different, or additional tokens such as “Supply”, “Prepared Defence” (i.e. reduce defender losses if attacked, increase attacker losses) and “Prepared Assault” (i.e. bonus for artillery).

Exhaustion: once an army has attacked, it is exhausted.  It cannot attack again until either the next game turn starts, or some logistic resources are expended in a supply action.  It also suffers a penalty if attacked.  This should make players less frantic to be the first to move … so when a team is called up for an action, they have a few seconds in which they can choose to pass and wait.  In some ways, executing the last move can be advantageous (so the end of the game turn may be 20 minutes +30-120 seconds at random).

 

Anyhow, that is one possible scenario for next year’s Grand Strategy game.


Sun and Starship Washup

June 5, 2012

It was one of the best two or three Grand strategy games I have designed and run over the last 20 years, but there is still room for improvement!  My take on the intiial feedback is below, more comments are always welcomed.

Overall Summary

Most of Saturday was spent in preparation, while the maps were easily set up cutting out and stuffing the trade cards into sleeves was a very time consuming process ~4 hours.  One extra player was easily incorporated, giving a final total of 30 players, 6 GMs, one volunteer helping the GMs and a photographer.  The game started on time, finished around 11pm, and managed to get through 10 complete turns (against a maximum target of 12 turns).

A lot of people said they had fun, so I walked away feeling really happy about it.

Distributing game info a week earlier was useful.  Many players had plans, and most of the teams came in team colours (red/blue sashes).  We had name tags too this year.

Combat cards worked pretty well mechanically.  Trade cards did not, there were too few to met the demand, so being able to harvest them became a matter of luck.  Emperor succession worked fairly well.  The politics game worked better than in Colossus of Atlantis, so that was a win for making the political process unbreakable for players.  The outcomes were still unbalanced, two of the five princes ended up not gaining a steady share of the dividends of state, and quickly fell behind.

What broke the game, was the Pirate players deciding to ignore their victory conditions and all cooperate to take the Imperial Capital, combined with the House players choosing to (mostly) ignore the Pirates.  This also revealed that the Prince players were too embedded in the politics game to effectively defend their territories.  So, the emergent play was cool on one level, but also demonstrated that I did not have the balance of incentives right for directing player action.

Player Feedback

I got feedback forms from 25 of the participants.  Thank you to everyone who took the time to fill them out.

What was the best moment of the game for you?

  • scaring people away from my fleet
  • when a pirate became Emperor
  • taking the Imperial Capital
  • causing a civil war via a tied vote just when Mark thought he’d become Emperor once again
  • the whole game was great. I really liked passing bills that supported my [House?]
  • successful negotiations with pirates for significant gain. I had fun
  • recapturing my sector after having lost to pirates
  • marrying a pirate, establishing a trade outpost and having others think this was a good idea
  • trading and diplomacy
  • Winning against 17 dreadnoughts, 2 Maulers, 1 Logistic Ship and 68 Cruisers with 2 Raiders and the Prince having nowhere to retreat
  • trading, fast and furious
  • Josh the invincible most sublime Padishah ruler of the universe
  • Hyperspacing between systems and wiping out whole fleets
  • combat cards better than dice. overall I had fun. Mutual negotiations with pirates for benefit both parties. Bluffing totally superior forces away from a Capital with false promises
  • Capturing a capital with a single raider that I had gained through a pirate attack
  • being voted Emperor again and again
  • stealing the territory later in the game with 20 cruisers and 6 dreadnoughts
  • plotting as a group
  • manipulating the Senate

Which mechanic did you least enjoy, and why?

  • not enough time to do everything
  • Senate seemed ineffectual
  • Raider units only being built by Pirates, too powerful once they joined forces
  • Senate Bills – loud and dominated by shouting, disorganised (common complaint)
  • Unable to get votes if not on the Apparatus Committee, Apparatus Committee created a power oligarchy among the princes
  • combat was too random
  • Pirates able to collaborate. It caused pirates to be too powerful and make game boring
  • the excessive pirate factions. The unit sanctioning mechanic limiting House
  • Board play – not many options available for Houses
  • the queue mechanic was very intimidating. It prevents teamwork, discussing tactics, trading, diplomacy. I found it isolating.
  • battle and harvest, not designed very fairly
  • raiders were too strong (a common complaint)
  • Queue mechanic
  • no point in the Princes taking back the [Imperial] Capital
  • harvesting – quickly became almost useless
  • only one capital attack a turn – makes retaking the capital difficult, allowing one person to establish a secure position
  • the special units and giving pirates to Dreadnoughts
  • card trading – not really relevant to my faction

Which mechanic did you most enjoy, and why?

  • Combat cards, small forces could win
  • Combat was interesting
  • Combat cards were good, if not so random, very simple, elegant and quick
  • the randomness in battle
  • That because they couldn’t retreat the victor got everything
  • Trading cards, trading, it encourages working with others – allowed alternate ways to get resources
  • trading and diplomacy
  • Harvesting
  • Voting system, secret ballot/blind vote for Emperor, vote forms
  • Senate
  • more refined queueing system
  • no action tokens for map queues, like previous grand strategy games
  • I liked making sets of cards
  • Pirates
  • simple resource generation

What one change could we do to make the game more fun for you?

  • more trade tokens/cards, adjust set requirements (a common point)
  • better recycling of trade tokens
  • more economics
  • allow for more fun when unforseen consequences occur
  • fewer turns, it got tedious at the end
  • make the Senate more ordered, allow each Senator to draft and submit one Bill per turn
  • Combat system that doesn’t allow your entire Fleet to be destroyed by an unknown Fleet while not present in the room
  • enforce time limits at tables – make having multiple, foolishly large, Fleets a disadvantage
  • put all Princes on the Apparatus Committee
  • a little more integration so you understand if your team is doing well
  • being able to interact with team more
  • no more queues
  • Being able to give actions [proxy control] to team mates
  • everyone starting off on a more even footing and less rush
  • a little more power for the Senate, but less for the Emperor
  • penalty for House and Princes if capital is taken
  • limit combat results so 2 cannot destroy 50
  • prevent people jamming at the front door, enforce the 30 second rule
  • minimise the voting system, allow a mechanic for executive control of the politics
  • the GMs didn’t seem very aware of some of the rules/what the policies were

Analysis of Feedback

It’s really striking how the same mechanics appear on both the least liked and most liked lists.  I do agree with the complaints that:

  • there were not enough trade cards
  • that the Senate was disorganised
  • that Pirates were too powerful
  • that combat was a little too destructive/random.

Okay, now for some detailed comment from me on how the mechanics all worked out.

Player Response to Victory Point Objectives

Towards the end of the design process, I decided not to give each player role a long list of unique victory conditions, focusing on common scoring systems (territory, votes, power) and one unique flavour buff for each role.  I failed to anticipate one group of players (the Pirates) ignoring their objectives to concentrate on a goal (the Imperial Capital) which really was not all that valuable to them.  This also made clear that I had got one element of the “Byzantium in Space” strategic environment wrong. Istanbul had the strongest fortifications in the world in its heyday, but the Imperial Capital in Sun and Starship was weakly defended. I note here Emperor Gerald’s decision to divert the bulk of the Imperial Capital defence forces to protecting his personal estates on another map table.

So, a new design maxim for me: “Always expect a player to try to break the game”.

Control

It is important to always be able to determine the game state.  It must always be clear who controls what.  I think I made a mistake by having the big control markers, and at having player control markers be mostly white space and coloured lines.  I should have made the colours bolder and cover more of the counters.  I might have been better to give everyone one-two more flagship markers and no control markers.

I now feel that gifting of ships was too easy, although that was not something mentioned in player feedback.

Easy control was also diminished by the large number of ship tokens on each flagship counter.

Imperial Warlord Status

This did not work as intended, in large part because very little information flowed from the game map to the Senate, or vice versa. So we had Warlords in the Senate room asking for, and getting, imperial resources, and then going back to the map and doing whatever they liked with them (which was intended) without the Princes finding out (which was not intended).

Atomic Power

Despite being worth VP, Atomic Power was not present much in the game, being largely converted into Dreadnoughts.  Part of this may be tied to the fact that many players did not harvest, unless trade cards were available, so less atomic power was generated than intended.  Once the Pirates had the Imperial Capital, that also reduced a flow of 30+ atomic power into the game per turn down to zero.

Build Actions

I now think it was a mistake to allow Pirates to build Raiders while in Imperial space.  I should have made Raider builds possible only while in Deep Space.  While they would still be powerful in combat, attrition would reduce any Raiders in Pirate forces operating in Imperial space over time.

Building special units did not work well.  The Princes did not know what the map looked like, or what the sector names were.  I also noticed that players always built all their special units in one place rather than splitting them between different players.  This had suboptimal consequences as it allowed the Pirates to frequently capture large numbers of special units.  A better solution would have been a bill that enabled a player to build one on the map when and where they chose to do so.

The lack of any limit on build actions allowed a few players to build a lot of units very quickly.  That was probably a mistake.  Grand Strategy games work better with a smaller number of significant units to make choices with, rather than trying to shuffle around 100 counters in two minutes.

Movement

I did not see a lot of map movement, so I don’t know if the four moves a Scout had was actually useful, or if hyper-space movement helped or hindered the game.  A few players complained about other players going over time – another sign that there were too many counters on the table.  Another way of doing the Scouts might be to have them increase their stacks movement by +1.

I think the maps themselves worked pretty well, although I could have had more colour on them to indicate home territory for each of the great Houses.  The Imperial Capital map was too small, making it too hard to retreat.

Movement between tables was better than last year, but still too fuzzy for my liking.  I think I need to prohibit movement between maps except between game turns.

Combat

This was largely working as intended.  A few mistakes were made by GMs (one handed out combat cards as trade cards, another interpreted the one ship captured rule as all ships captured) but it was faster than previous combat systems and easier to do when tired.

I think the retreat rules were more unbalanced than the fact that small forces could beat large forces, as having large fleets captured was more catastrophic than having them destroyed.  That is something that can be fixed.  While the Raiders did well overall, if the flow of special units to Imperial fleets improved, then that would be self-correcting.

Counting ships is always slow … so I was thinking that on a map table the flagships could be used to represent nominal fleet locations, with all the ships being held in a reference box by the side of the table (one box per faction).  It does remove an element of tactical control, as the relative strategic balance between a faction would become more important (although I could add static on-map defence only units).  It would make it clearer who is stronger/weaker.

Senate

Worked better than the Athenian democracy in Colossus of Atlantis, but needs further refinement.  Mechanics dominated by loud voices make some players uncomfortable.  I probably need to go with a strict one player, one vote systems, otherwise as soon as one triumvirate can award themselves an unassailable vote lead, they usually do so.

Perhaps what I could have is roughly ten senate positions, and Bills that distribute five favours at a time.  So to pass a Bill, at least one voter is doing it for a future favour promise.  I like the one Bill per turn per player suggestion as well.

Information flows between the Senate were week, and Princes were largely unable to do Map movement or trade cards.  One idea I have here, is to make the Emperor and elected military leader, so they become responsible for leading the Imperial Fleet that turn, only returning to the Senate for a casting vote on tied votes.

Imperial elections were fun, but there was some ambiguity about where votes were directed when sitting around a long rectangular table.  It might possibly be better just to use a secret paper ballot.

Bills need some tweaking for clarity and bullet proofing against player writing illegibility.  More tick boxes!  Someone also needs responsibility for taking Bills to where they can be executed/resolved.  Perhaps bills could create Sinecures, where a player is given a card with the rules for their new power (e.g. the ability to make a special unit) and they keep the card and its associated power until the Senate assigns it to a different player.

Trade

While players enjoyed trade, feeling hampered by the flow of trade cards, I think this mechanic needs a major overhaul.  Watching people sitting on the ground sorting stacks of cards does not look like fun (although it may well be fun for those doing it).  As a GM, making the cards was time consuming and required a lot of printing.  Ideally, I will come up with a trade mechanic that allows deal making and negotiations, but without requiring a large number of game tokens.

Terminology

I kept tripping up on the distinction between Capital area and [Imperial] Capital Sector.  Maps also needed province/quadrant names.

Queue Mechanic

I am tending towards regarding this as a valiant failure.  It makes players focus too much on the map, and the map state of your own forces, and not on the other players and their forces.  In a way its reducing the amount of strategy in the game over the furious execution of tactical moves.  As such, I am leaning back towards the Holistic Action Token system (i.e. drawing faction names out of a H.A.T. to see who moves next).

Another possibility is to have an “exhaustion” combat result for attackers, indicating that a Flagship cannot move again in that game turn (unless perhaps a logistics ship is removed to resupply the force).  This could create interesting possibilities for counter-attacks by fresh forces.


A week without computer games

May 13, 2012

Day 6, my fingers twitch, but as much as I’d like to play some computer games I’m going to be good and follow my GPs advice on dealing with the tennis elbow in my left arm.  I did log into World of Tanks to take advantage of the VE day specials, and to take a look at how my Soviet heavy tanks had been rejigged, but I successfully resisted the x5 experience bonus and logged out of the game afterwards.  For a right hander, getting tennis elbow in the left hand is rare, I suspect its the dominance of WASD keys in modern gaming that has done it to me (that and playing computer games 4+ hours a night).

Grand Strategy

This does leave me with a lot of time for reading and thinking, so a good chunk of today was spent working on the Sun & Starship rules for Buckets of Dice 2012.  Most of this was spent trying to nail down control of tokens, so people will always know who controls what in the game, or how control changes between players.  I’m deliberately forcing players to keep ships concentrated in no more than three stacks, so as to encourage raiding tactics and to make it difficult to build solid defence lines.

The Senate Bills have also been fleshed out.  Each of the five committees gets one to four Bills each turn. The exact number is determined by the Treasury Committee, which can increase or reduce the Bills other committees get.  After the first draft I did a second pass for balance, prompted by realising that one committee had a power worth +/- 10 victory points, so I made sure the other committees had something comparable.  I then did a second pass to increase the horse trading options so that most bills gave out boosts to more than one player at a time.

Planning ahead for 2013 I would like to design a railway building game.  This would include options I wish were included in most published railway building games, to whit, the option to say “Screw this, mobilise the army” when someone else pips you to the next rail hub.

Roleplaying Games

I am following the development of the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons over at http://community.wizards.com/dndnext without a lot of enthusiasm.  While I purchased the core 4th edition books, I found that the game had gone too much towards a fully blown miniatures wargame and away from the narrative combat (“theatre of the mind”) that I use in resolving a lot of tabletop conflict.  As a GM I simply couldn’t fit the options available to the players into my own mind, making the game too complicated for me to design scenarios for.  That said, the actual written advice on running/designing campaigns was solid.

I am much more looking forward to The Design Mechanism’s sixth edition of Runequest, especially after the PDF preview was put up at: http://www.thedesignmechanism.com/resources/RQ%20Preview%201.pdf.  I like the clean, uncluttered layout, and the style of artwork.  I’m intrigued by the inclusion of cultural passions (e.g. loyalty, love, hate) and how they might influence the mechanics.  It’s also good to see that mysticism will be a valid magic system in the main rules.

In part because of the upcoming RQVI I took a look at the Stafford Library’s Arcane Lore, which is essentially a 129 pages of GM/design notes on hero questing. One of the big frustrations of RQ was that there never seemed to be enough information about the hero quests of Glorantha to actually run players through, unless you were willing to hunt through obscure mail order fanzines.  I suspect my next campaign game will use Runequest rules, although it may not be a Glorantha setting – there are hints that a new edition of roleplaying rules for the Artesia setting will be a D20/RQ ruelset.

Grabbing a few other PDF’s to read this week, I was disappointed by Monte Cook’s Ruins of Intrigue. While its only 98 pages long, I was hoping for a bit more in the way of interesting crumbled ruins and a lot less overland/wilderness terrain.  While the alternate secrets for major NPCs and foes was nice, with competing explorer factions for Casablanca intrigue, it would have been nice for a range of lost artefacts and other lootable stuff to have been detailed rather than leaving the GM to make up all the loot themselves.

In an old school kick again, I picked up the D&D 3.5 edition of Blackmoor, in part because I read that the map in the 4th edition version was less than helpful. That’s next on the reading list.

Gaming Recap

Skyrim – still have not resumed play of this.

World of Warcraft – 3/8 hard modes, expansion is definitely winding down, have BETA invite not using it yet as I have no interest in the levelling content (I do want to see how the Paladin heals 5 mans and raids).  Guild finished the Rogue legendary dagger two weeks back, so we may go back and finish the Firelands legendary staff next.  Have been trying to clear off some grindy achievements in the down time – still have not found a useful BOE in archeaology.

TERA MMORPG – not going to touch this one, can we please have real armour for females in games?

Secret World MMORPG – looks interesting, modern day occult horror, but dear god where would I find the time!

World of Tanks – upgraded to a premium account, changed play away from acquiring new tanks to focusing on the ones I have that are fun to play – trying to get crew skills to 100%. So while I have researched the SU-14 for example, I’m still happy playing the SU-8 as my artillery piece.  Patch 7.3 has rejigged the Soviet tree, so I’m going to have to relearn how to play the KVs – the 152mm “derp” howitzer has been shifted from the KV 1 to the KV2.

Guild Wars 2 – still looking forward to this after reading more beta info, as a non-subscription MMORPG its one that will be easy to play for just a few hours every now and then.

SWTOR – got bounty hunter healer to L40, enjoying healing much more than tanking, deep down I still prefer WoW.


Keep it Simple and Awesome

February 28, 2012

I stole the title from an article that was on copyright, but covered success stories for content creators in the digital age – keep it simple and awesome.

So, as much as I like the dice/energy system, it fails the simple test.  Too easy for “The Great Hat Disaster” to bump all the dice, at which point the entire game turn is screwed.  I also could not find enough stuff for the Agents to do that was awesome – it looked too much like being an unpaid intern.

Revised player roles:

  • Imperial Princes (up to 10 players)
  • Great Houses (x3, with 5 players each)
  • Pirates (up to 15 players)

I’m fairly happy with the Senate, no maor changes there.

Combat, because the pirate players are each individuals, I have to drop the idea of Faction based cards for determining victory.

Initially there will be three types of combat units:

  • Raiders (build by Pirates)
  • Cruisers (built by people controlling colonies)
  • Dreadnoughts (built by Imperial players with Atomic Power).

Players are free to trade/gift units to other players (and this is the only way that Pirates can get Dreadnoughts or Imperials can get Raiders, unless they are lucky in combat and capture a unit).  Initially only Imperials control colonies, but as the game progresses, Pirates will capture colonies too.

Later in the game, the Senate will be able to authorise the construction of additional special capability units.  This requires a crisis to trigger, so the players have time to learn the basic combat system before it gets made more complex.

The combat resolution mechanic is:

  1. Draw a card – the card lists a unit type (Raider or Cruiser or Dreadnought)
  2. The side with the most of the unit type wins
  3. The Defender wins ties
  4. The card will list two sets of casualties that the loser takes, winner takes no losses.
  5. Loser retreats.

Casualty results are in the form of [Unit Type] [Loss], where the types of loss are:

  • One unit destroyed
  • One unit captured by enemy
  • All but one unit destroyed
  • All units destroyed.

Initially the Imperial forces have a 2/3 chance of winning battles (because the Pirates probably don’t have Cruisers or Dreadnoughts early on).  The game economy, however, will allow Pirates to rapidly recruit new Raider forces.  This means that the strategic risk of combat is actually borne by Imperial forces – while the chance of losing all your Dreadnoughts is low, losing all of them in an ambush is a great disaster.  This chance of disaster is deliberate, because it will force the Imperials to engage in diplomacy and to work together when there is a crisis.

Pirate players can be bribed by the Empire, gaining the Pirate the designation of Warlord as long as they work for the Empire.

Trade – leaning towards a variant of civilisation trade cards, but simplifying it so each set of trade card lists what the set is exchanged for.  Players get one trade card for each colony world they control.

Civil Wars – ideally I will develop a mechanic that allows the players to resolve the civil war entirely during the period when the GMs are tidying up the map table.  My current idea is to give players “support cards”, which can be traded around.  In the inter-phase, Princes can trigger a Civil War, at which point people spend and compare support cards.

Emperor – to make the Civil War worth fighting, the Emperor will get a lot of beanies to distribute among their supporters.

Maps – looking at having sector capitals that generate atomic power, and colonies that generate trade cards, and some deep space zones for Pirates to skulk in.

Thats where my thinking is at the moment.