Information Rich Combat Mechanics

June 13, 2017

The Modiphius 2d20 system is one I have used a couple of times to run convention games based around the Conan roleplaying game. I am thinking of adapting it for use in a Megagame.

First, a Quick summary of the 2d20 system:

  • You always roll at least 2d20.
  • You can roll up to three more d20s for situational modifiers, such as other players assisting you, to a cap of 5d20.
  • The roll is compared against an Attribute (usually in the 8-15 range) and a Skill (usually in the 1-5 range), potentially generating 0, 1 or 2 successes for each d20 roll
  • For example if you have an Attribute of 12 and a Skill of 3, and you roll 2d20 and get a 12 and a 2, you have three successes
  • If the number of successes equals the task difficulty, you succeed, and for each extra success you gain a point of Momentum
  • You can then spend Momentum to cool stuff in the game
  • Weapon damage is handled by rolling d6s
  • A damage roll of 1 or 2 inflicts damage equal to the roll, a roll of 3 or 4 does nothing, but rolls of 5 and 6 trigger special effects based on the weapon type (e.g. bypassing armour, or extra damage).

It recently occurred to me that I could adapt this as a mechanic for handling Army/Front level combat in Megagames. Traditional wargame mechanics often involve a lot of counting of various factors, followed by some maths as you try and make sure you reach the golden 3:1 ratio considered the minimum to ensure success in land warfare. In a Megagame there is no time for all this counting, you need to be able to take in the situation at a glance and get on with resolution. At the same time I want rich information from the combat result – if we are only doing a few combats each turn, then they need to actually move stuff around on the map and add to the game narrative.

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The situation in Army Group Center’s sector of the Eastern Front on 6 December 1941. This is a German map, the Soviet reinforcements that are about to launch a counteroffensive are not on the map. Sourced from the Dupuy Institute blog.

Generally speaking, formations of Army/Front size are rarely destroyed in combat – the exceptions being encirclement (e.g. destruction of Army Group Center in 1944) and/or running out of space to retreat (e.g. British at the Fall of Singapore in 1942). What is important is how ready is the unit for further combat operations, and what is the momentum on the front.

So I am thinking of a mechanic where we are rolling d10s, and the important factors about a combat formation are readiness, on a 1-10 range, and quality, on a 1-5 range. A rested unit at full strength with brand new equipment would have a readiness of 10 (so most units would be rated nine or less). Quality is something that can be worked out based on historic performance (for World War Two, based on effectiveness scores from post-war quantitative analysis, I would put German units at 5-6, the  UK at 3-5, the USA units at 4-5, and the Russians at 2-3). Units roll a base 2d10, then +1d10 for each supporting unit flanking the enemy. Units then roll 2d6 for damage, but can spend supply points (or play special capability cards) to boost that up to 5d6 (I will have to playtest that cap, or perhaps allow it to be exceeded by special limited use cards).

The force being attacked also rolls for its defence, and the force with more successes is the force that gets Momentum points to spend. Units that are defending get bonus Momentum for defending river lines, urban terrain, mountains and prepared/fortified positions.

So we also rolled some d6 for damage, and while we throw away the 3-4 rolls as in 2d20, in this 2d10 system, the rolls of 1-2 are used for Attrition Effects and the rolls of 5-6 are used for Maneuver Effects.

Attrition Effects

Spend your Momentum points to reduce the targeted unit’s Readiness score by 1-2 points. The defender can also spend Momentum to hold the ground the occupy (the default assumption is that the attack does move the defender backwards) at a cost in Readiness.

In theory with 5d6, if you roll enough 2s you can take a unit from Readiness 10 to Readiness 0 in one attack, in practice its likely to take a while to grind forces down. At a glance in the European Theatre in World War Two, it was pretty hard for any force to sustain continuous operations with land forces for longer than a couple of months (the US/UK tended to run out of supplies first, the USSR to run out of tanks).

Maneuver Effects

This is where it gets more interesting and you can spend Momentum to:

  • reduce your own Readiness losses
  • reduce enemy Political Will (i.e. capture a large number of prisoners, or a city or other vital objective)
  • gain initiative for your side next turn
  • exploit the breakthrough (deep penetration and/or forcing flanking formations to retire)
  • capture enemy supplies that you overrun.

Using the two sets of dice, lets the game create a rich tapestry of potential game information. The downside is getting the players to make those decisions around spending Momentum quickly. This would be the key thing to stress test in playtesting the design.

Doctrine

One way of representing historic doctrine is to programme the first choice a side makes (or perhaps even the first two choices). For example, UK forces could be required to spend their first Momentum effect on reducing their own Readiness losses, Soviet forces on getting a breakthrough, and US forces on maintaining the initiative.

Initiative

I used to own a copy of a game called Renegade Legion: Prefect, which focused on hover tank battles on a planetary scale. The side that had initiative did nearly all of the movement and combat, while the side without basically sat there and hoped for a counterattack to give them the initiative. That concept bubbled to my head while thinking about this hack.

So my plan for this 2d10 system is that the side which starts the game on the attack holds the initiative. The initiative allows you to attack as many times as you like (up to one per Army formation). The side without the initiative gets a limited number of counterattacks. Both sides can spend Momentum on initiative, with a cumulative penalty for any side holding on to the initiative for consecutive turns. Another way of doing that might be to have an escalating supply cost, so you could hit a point where one side runs out of puff, no matter how well they are doing on the map. Frustrating, but a representation of Clausewitz’s theory of the culminating point.

A zero score for initiative could be taken as both sides are temporarily exhausted and spend a couple of weeks (or longer) resting or maneuvering before one side resumes offensive operations. Maybe both sides would be limited to a small number of attacks, like counterattacks.

Recovering Readiness

Units should recover Readiness quickly. Fifty percent of lost Readiness per two week turn seems okay as a starting position for playtesting. In this system I would just about never remove a unit from play, but at Readiness One I would not allow it to initiate attacks. Front lines would also be continuous – if you run out of actual Army formations, you would just deploy a Readiness One Battlegroup counter.

While Readiness should bounce up and down, quality would change only rarely – perhaps reflecting a unit gaining an elite reputation, or being issued with state of the art equipment in sufficient numbers to have an impact on operations (one Super Pershing does not a +1 Quality increase make).

…and now I really need to get back to revising The Colossus of Atlantis. GENCON is only 63 days away.

 


Aquila Rift Feedback

June 7, 2017

Last Saturday at Wellycon X, I ran the Aquila Rift Megagame, with the assistance of five control players and the enthusiasm of 26 players. A lot of the game files are available online, if you are interested in taking a look. Aquila Rift was intended to be more of a casual Megagame, and none of the players had played one before, and only a few had heard of them before Wellycon – although one player had watched the Shut Up & Sit Down Watch the Skies video several times.

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Each map table had roughly 14 systems that players could move between. Blue routes were pirate only, red routes inflicted damage. White markers indicate routes onto other map tables. The Control table has everything needed to run the map game, and one of the committees.

Setup started around 1100 and took a bit over two hours with one other person helping. Travis was also heaven sent when another member of the Control team texted to tell me he had rolled his ankle that morning while tramping. Travis volunteered to drive out and do a pick up so we would not be shorthanded.

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We set up six tables, but only used five.

We had around 19 signups before Wellycon started, so we picked up several people on the day, and also had four last minute cancellations – they felt that they could not commit to a four hour game.

A live action game of Codenames ran over time, so we started late (~4.30pm) and played through to 8.30pm. All up we got through 18 map turns and six committee phases. I was pretty happy with how the interaction between the map game and the committee game worked. There were problems, but in general I think the concept works for the kind of low player number Megagame I can run in Wellington. Every player gets to wear at least two hats. If I could get 60+ players I would focus more on one role per player.

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Richard managed to be both Pirate King and Public Enemy Number One at the same time

One new thing I did this time was to get some video. We did not have a spare person to run the camera, so I just left it in place with a Tripod. I will be teaching myself how to edit video this weekend and then I will try and put the highlights of game play and end of game speeches up on YouTube.

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This ship was almost destroyed in battle, just two more hexes of damage would have finished it off.

While law and order was maintained in some sectors, in others it collapsed, and pirates were able to “put the sector on farm”. The Viceroy gave good speeches, but teams were more united in the search for lost relics than in cooperating for the development of the sector. Some player feedback though t there were too many pirates. There were twice as many pirates as other roles, but only about one more Pirate than there were Patrol and Governor players.

The top five end of game plunder scores in the bank were:

  1. $1,163 – Alya
  2. $986 – Zachary
  3. $708 – Richard
  4. $698 – Jack
  5. $557 – Hannah.

On the whole I was happy with how the game system worked. Combat was the complicated bit, but it seems to have worked out okay – but one person did give feedback that it was too complicated. Where I was surprised, was just how much plunder appeared in the game – it was quite a bit more than in the playtests. This distorted the committee a bit, so if I run Aquila Rift again I would look at the plunder economy first, rejigging the committees second, and making combat simpler as the third priority. The search for the lost ships also seems to have been a good unifying element for teamwork in the game.

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Players were inventive with the dry erase markers.

Number Crunching from the Feedback Forms

I got 20 responses to the feedback survey form. Not to future self, have a few biro pens lying around for this – dry erase pens are not good for writing feedback. People were asked to rate things from 1-5, and high numbers were usually good.

  • Enjoyment 4.55 (high)
  • Briefing 3.6 (room for improvement)
  • Difficulty 3.2 (easy for some, hard for others)
  • Rate of Play 3.45 (not too fast for most)
  • Control 4.125 (good job guys!)
  • Involvement 4.45 (good but several suggestions for more)
  • Value 4.35 (good value).

I am very happy with the 4.55 rating for enjoyment! In terms of support for future games, 85% said they would like to play a Megagame again, and were willing to pay an the average of $27.65 for a whole day game and $18.50 for an evening game. Fourteen people also said they would like to help Control in the future. I think about 75% of the player and control team had read at least part of the game rules before the game.

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In the middle of a map turn.

I intend to recycle a lot of the game structure from Aquila Rift in The Galaxy Will Burn. Some players gave feedback on Aquila Rift that they wanted more politics, intrigue and an expanded faction game. TGWB will definitely have that.

My thanks go out to Wellycon for giving us the space to play in, to my control team of Alan, Dutton, Travis, John and Alistair, and to all of the players for an enjoyable game.


The Galaxy Will Burn

February 9, 2017

The Galaxy Will Burn is the working title of my new Megagame design for Kapcon 2018. A whole bunch of ideas fell in place for this today, but first, progress report on my other games.

Colossus of Atlantis

I am part way working through working out an example of the revised Council mechanics. I decided to start with the Council of War, as that involves a lot of changes to all the systems for interacting with the enemy empires. The options are still a bit too raw for public exposure, but I think the process for the meeting as outlined below should be an improvement.

The Council of War

The Council of War meets in the Diplomacy Phase, after House meetings have finished. The Council of War meets for a maximum of five minutes. All actions at the Council of War are resolved in the following order:

  1. Quorum
  2. President of the Council.
  3. Council Actions.
  4. Research
  5. News
  6. Control administration.

1. Quorum

The Quorum for a meeting of the Council of War is 2/3 (round up) of the Strategos players. If the meeting starts late, the time allowed for the meeting is reduced.

2. President of the Council

The Strategos present at the start of the meeting with the highest Arête score is appointed as President. In the event of a tie in Arête, the older player is appointed. Strategos who are late to the meeting cannot be appointed as President.

3. Council Actions

Starting with the President, each player chooses one Council Action to resolve. After each player has made their choice, the President chooses which player makes the next choice. Each Council Action can only be chosen once per meeting. Players who are not present when it is their turn to act, forfeit their choice of Council Action for that meeting.

If the DOOM Action is chosen, the player must choose a second Council Action. If that action is an Arête Action, it becomes Corrupted.

Control can penalise any player taking too long to make a choice by taking one or more of their Arête cards away from them. Control will give a player a five second warning before doing this.

See below for detail on the different Council Actions available for the Council of War.

4. Research

Each player draws a random research advance. Player(s) that chose a research Council Action draw a second advance. Each player can then purchase one Strategoi research card – these act to upgrade Hero units.

5. News

It is the responsibility of the President of the Council to inform Control of any changes to the game that have resulted from Council Actions.

6. Control Administration

Each Council Action not chosen by a player now has its rewards increased, as indicated on its card.

My goal is to finish the game revisions before the GENCON website opens for game bookings on May 28.

Aquila Rift

This is my space pirates themed Megagame for Wellycon X. I have started a Facebook event for this game, and as usual that will be my recruitment ground for playtests and first comments on changes to the rules.

The current goal for Aquila Riftis to have a playtest set of rules by the end of February. At the moment the two key mechanics I want to nail are the movement and search rules. For movement I intend to have “star systems” connected by “wormholes”. Wormholes will be colour coded: Green (safe), Yellow (chance of delays), Red (chance of damage). I might have some wormholes restricted to a subset of the players, e.g. a route connecting two patrol bases might be coloured blue (no pirates allowed). For movement: all merchants, then all space patrol, then all pirates. When space patrol moves, they can spend fuel to deploy search tokens. If a pirate moves through a search token there is a chance they trigger a fight with a patrol vessel. If a pirate enters a system with a merchant, they then dice to intercept (ship quality counts, spend fuel to boost odds). A pirate that intercepts a merchant, captures the merchant (KISS). Combat only occurs between patrol and pirate ships. If you run out of fuel, take damage and jump to a base.

This is deliberately intended to be a simpler game than The Colossus of Atlantis. The three main player roles will be Governors, Space Patrol, and Pirates. There will not be a complicated trade system – a major reason for people being pirates is that its easier than working for a living. Any trade mechanic which allows players to get wealthy through legitimate trade therefore undermines the rationale for having a game about piracy.

First playtest will be in March sometime.

The Galaxy Will Burn

This Megagame will be a return to my favourite theme, the decline and fall of complex political organisations due to their own internal processes.

The main player role in this game, is that of sector governor, responsible for the administration and defence of several star systems. Every player in the game belongs to a public faction and a secret faction. Memberships do not overlap between the two factions. Your faction wins if at any point all members of the faction have been declared Emperor at least once. Game play is resolved through five minute turns, with a one minute gap between each turn. I may test some of the submechanics for this game (such as movement and combat) at the Aquila Rift game.

After each five minute turn, you must change the game table you are playing at. If you spent the last turn being a Governor at your home map table, this means either:

  1. Going to the Imperial Capital and trying to gain a seat at the cabinet table for the next committee meeting.
  2. Going to another map table, and spending the next turn there as a Raider.
  3. Taking a five minute break to do other things.

After a five minute turn at the Imperial Capital, you must change the game table you are playing at by either:

  1. Taking a five minute break to do other things.
  2. Going back to your home map and spending the turn as Governor.
  3. Going to any other game map table, and spending the next turn there as a Raider.

After a five minute turn as a Raider, you must change your game map table by either:

  1. Going back to your home map and spending the turn as Governor.
  2. Going to any other map table and spending the next turn there as a Raider.
  3. Taking a five minute break to do other things.

After a five minute break, you can return to play as a Raider or a Governor. It is deliberate that the only way you can move to the Imperial Capital is after a turn spent as a Governor. There is nothing to stop you from a life as a pirate (or having it forced on you lose control of your worlds as a result of imperial politics). While there will be some chaos, I am hoping this will lead to some interesting emergent play.

Rising Tensions

Each game turn, the number of recruits available to a player choosing to raid increases by one. If the political decision at the Imperial Capital supports a reign by a Strong Emperor, all the existing Raiders are removed, and the recruitment rate is reset to one plus the number of Strong Emperors in the game so far.

For example, during the first game turn Raiders recruit one ship. By the fifth game turn they will be recruiting five ships. If there is a Strong Emperor at the end of turn five, then in turn six the recruitment rate will be two ships, and in turn seven the recruitment rate will be three ships. If there is a second Strong Emperor at the end of turn seven, the recruitment rate in game turn eight will be three ships.

Each time a Strong Emperor is declared, the number of chairs around the Imperial Capital table is permanently reduced by one. This represents the trend in political systems to become closed to outsiders.

The Imperial Capital

At the start of the game there are 13 seats around the Imperial Cabinet table. These seats are given to the players willing to commit the most money. This is a one round auction – everyone writes and reveals their bid at the same time. The money spent is also your voting power while on the Committee (and you spend some on every vote you take part in). The chair of the committee is the player spending the most money on getting a seat at the table.
Each Cabinet session can address a range of topics, most of which channel perks and kickbacks to the players, but the crucial one is choosing a Strong Emperor. If this option passes, the Cabinet meeting immediately ends.

The Strong Emperor

The appointment of a Strong Emperor immediately ends the actions of all Raider players for the rest of the game turn, and removes all Raider ships from play.

The Emperor then has one minute to make any changes they deem necessary for the continued security of the Empire. Each change must be clearly enunciated and each change must be specific.

  • “mumble taxes mumble rhubarb atomic power mumble” – nothing happens because no one knows what the heck the Emperor meant
  • “The Dagobah system is now controlled by Governor Tarkin” – control of the named system changes to that of the named player
  • “All systems in the Coriolis Cluster are now controlled by Governor Cook” – change is too broad, each of the systems needs to be individually named.
  • “The Sixth Fleet moves to the Hoth system” – the move happens
  • “The Moth ball Fleet moves to the second map table” – change is not specific enough, a system name is needed.

After their minute of glory, each Emperor secretly chooses one of the possible endgame victory conditions and places it in a ballot box. When there is 30 minutes of game time remaining, one of these ballots is picked at random and announced to all players. The Emperor can tell people what option they chose, but is not required to tell the truth!

Victory Conditions

The game could end in any of the following ways:

  1. A civil war – players split into factions, and fight until only one candidate to the throne survives.
  2. Successor states – the faction controlling the most territory at the end of the game wins.
  3. Dark age – the faction with the most atomic power wins.
  4. Hedonistic twilight – the faction with the most money wins.
  5. Republic – the faction with the most status wins.

Combat

My plan is to keep combat simple.

  • Raiders and Battleships roll 1d6 per ship
  • Imperial Dreadnoughts roll 2+d12 per ship

For each matching die roll you have, you lose one ship. Yes, the more ships you have in a battle, the more ships you will lose. The rationale is that the battle is the result of the logistics cost of multiple small encounters.

Highest roll wins the battle.

Resources

Raiding gets you cash, and reduces the resource base of other players. Being Governor gets you a mixture of cash, atomic power, some status, and the chance to gain influence with the Imperial Fleet through successful combat operations against Raiders. Imperial politics can get you any of the above.


The DOOM Economy

December 3, 2016

I think they key thing about the DOOM economy in Colossus of Atlantis, is that I have absolutely no idea what will happen when the game is actually played. This is equal parts exciting and terrifying.

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Made in China as a flower pot holder. Can you spot the Alien influence?

Player actions in the game will increase the DOOM score. If the total DOOM score from all player actions hits a secret and predetermined point, the game ends with Atlantis sinking beneath the waves. The team with the lowest DOOM score wins a moral victory. Up to five players can assure personal survival through the cataclysm if “The Ark” Great Wonder has been built. A couple of the other wonders can influence the Atlantis DOOM score, halting its increase for a turn, a one off reduction in score, or allowing House scores to be reduced through sacrifice (which does not change whether Atlantis sinks, but can boost your chance of a Moral victory).

House and Atlantis DOOM scores are public information.

DOOM is a collective action problem inspired by the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Actions that increase DOOM have the potential to benefit the player whose action has triggered the DOOM increase. If your House nobly eschews the use of actions that increase DOOM, you may well save Atlantis, but your rivals who do increase DOOM may outperform you in the game.

DOOM tokens are also a negative feedback loop. They are a way of giving a boost to a player who has not done well earlier in the game, by giving them an option to catch up in effective game actions. Negative feedback acts to stabilize and prolong the game (See chapter 18 games as Cybernetic Systems in Rules of Play by Salen and Zimmerman MIT Press 2004).

Getting into the gritty detail, DOOM is increased:

  • by the number rolled on a DOOM die (a d13)
  • by the cost of each Sorcery card purchased by a player
  • by the value of any Governance cards that DOOM is used to power up for City options
  • by the value of any Governance cards used to activate Sorcery cards
  • for roleplaying reasons (if Atlantis falls into anarchy, or the players are misbehaving)

Each map table will probably have at least one DOOM die rolled on it each game turn. So if we have five map tables and ten game turns, then that will make the Atlantis DOOM score increase by roughly 380. But a player with a DOOM die involved in multiple conflicts might roll the DOOM die four times in one turn. The DOOM ray technology upgrade also allows more DOOM dice to be rolled. So perhaps the upper range of DOOM from normal combat activities is closer to 1,000.

There are 18 sorcery cards. The cost to buy a complete set is 171 DOOM tokens. So if we have seven factions and all the cards are purchased, that is 1,197 DOOM. That is a large investment of DOOM tokens, when most teams will get perhaps 5-10 tokens a turn between all their players.

The cost of Governance cards used to power up cities and fuel sorcery card use is hard predict. The cards have a value range of 1-10, with an average of around 6.5. Higher value cards have usually (but not always) stronger effects. The limit here is going to be the number of DOOM tokens that can be used as fuel.

You get one DOOM token per conflict you lose, and each time you leave a Council meeting without any rewards. Player choice can see rewards distributed evenly, or hoarded by a few. So social inequality increases the chances of Atlantis sinking – I am okay with that as a design feature. The number of conflicts each turn is variable. Again player choice can lead to conflict free map tables. Or there could be a lot of eris on a table, and a player could get anywhere from 1-4 DOOM tokens.

Finger in air time, I expect most players to use DOOM tokens at least some of the time. The temptation to use DOOM will always be there. Maybe it will be 1,000 points of DOOM over the course of the game.

So, if I pick a secret DOOM threshold of 3,000, then its quite likely that Atlantis will sink. If the threshold is 2,000 it will probably sink quite early. If the DOOM threshold is 4,000 or more, then the chance of Atlantis sinking goes down.

So Sorcery cards are equivalent to nuclear weapons. You want some to act as a deterrent force against other players, but you may not actually want to use them in play. Given human emotions, once one House starts using Sorcery, the other factions may respond in kind. Another possibility is the kind of player who likes smashing sandcastles other players build, deliberately maximizing their DOOM generation (social mechanisms in the game might be able to deal with that – its up to the players to spot it happening and do something about it). A House that feels they are losing badly after a series of betrayals may also feel justified in dragging Atlantis down with them.

In my next post on The Colossus of Atlantis I will address aspects of emergent play in the game.


Conflict in Colossus of Atlantis

November 10, 2016

Let us start with two video clips. The first is the Talos scene from Jason and the Argonauts. It neatly demonstrates a Colossus versus Trireme battle. The second is from Oliver Stone’s Alexander movie, the main battle scene (not the best quality sadly). Which I think is a much better take on Hoplite warfare than in the movies Troy or 300.

Design goals

My design goals for conflict between the forces that players control in The Colossus of Atlantis are for conflict to be:

  • Simple
  • Fun
  • have scope for mastery
  • fit with the theme
  • Quick

I have tried to keep conflict relatively simple by:

  • making conflict automatic if two or more players send units to the same region
    • the only exception to this is if a player declares they are a coward (by saying “Phobos!”), and withdraws their forces back to their home city
    • cowardice has a potential cost – you can be fined by the courts, and if you don’t pay, your home city can be attacked (see below for an image of what that looks like)
  • keeping the maths to simple addition (no subtraction, multiplication or long division)
  • restricting the types of forces and the number of possible attacks to four

The maths is simple – add your strength ratings together for all your controlled units. Roll your dice, and add the two together. Highest player wins, both players lose in a tie.

I have two main ways in which conflict is fun. First, you get to roll dice, and you have a chance that each roll will explode (allowing you to keep rolling until the die stops exploding, and adding all the numbers together). Every now and then the Chaos dice will allow a player to pull off a lucky win against the odds. So there will always be some tension in a dice throw. Secondly, when you win you always get rewarded. You get some money, some victory points (VP), and some other useful game resources.

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Course of Empire by Thomas Cole [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I believe there is scope for mastery of the game to be demonstrated. This arises from observation of the emergent play – if you can see the choices other players are making in how they allocate forces to regions, and react to them with skill, then you should win more conflicts (and earn more rewards). A cautious player may concentrate their forces on one or two areas. A bold player may split them between four areas, hoping to get lucky and find a region no one else is contesting for a cheap victory. Understanding how the dice can work out will also probably help with system mastery.

Exploding Dice

Because the Chaos die generates numbers from 1-4, and explodes on a four, its actually impossible to get a roll of four on the dice. Four +1-4 gets 5-8, and of a course a second four explodes again. You will roll from 1-3 75% of the time, and then 25% of the time you will roll 5+:

  • 75% of the time you will roll from 1-3
  • 18.75% of the time you will roll from 5-7
  • ~4.5% of the time you will roll 9-11
  • ~2% of the time you will roll 13+

One implication here, is that if you have a one bonus die advantage over your enemy, but they have four more combat strength, then you will have roughly a 25% chance of winning.

The DOOM die generates numbers from 1-13, but only explodes on a 13. So it exploding is a rare event – you might not see it happen in the game.

  • 92.3% of the time you will see a roll from 1-12
  • 7% of the time you will see a roll from 14-25
  • less than 1% of the time you will see a roll of 27+

Intuitively you would think that the d13 has a better chance of giving a victory against long odds, but its good to see it confirmed in the math.

Theme

I believe that a megagame conflict system trying to model Ancient Greek hoplite combat for a megagame should keep it simple, following a cultural style of combat where both parties agreed to fight at a particular place, the battle was fought quickly, and the defeated party conceded defeat. I thought about incorporating rules for skirmishers, cavalry, chariots and fortifications, but playtesting showed that this made it too complicated.

I added Triremes after the second playtest, as I redrew the maps, splitting them into one set of six land regions, and a second set of coastal regions, plus one gateway to the hollow earth. This reflects the importance of naval warfare in ancient Greece, and also fit with a change to how trading worked in the game – opening up possibilities for blockades and smuggling.

Quick

This relates to simple. A few things have been done to keep play fast. First, all players in a region are in conflict with each other. Diplomacy over forming temporary coalitions just takes up too much time in the fifteen minute game turn. With 13 potential conflicts to resolve, battles need to be done in under a minute. Second, players can resolve more than one conflict at a time. If two players are resolving a conflict in region one, three different players with a conflict in region 5 can be working through that. That is another reason why there will be lot of dice for each game table.

I also removed an early playtest option for spending DOOM tokens to adjust combat outcomes. This created an auction bidding mechanic, which just took too much time. Now you need the right Colossus upgrade (the DOOM Ray) and you spend the token before you roll the dice (a DOOM die).

Part of being quick is in constraining the choices the players can make. Most humans can only effectively evaluate three to five options. More than that and they start taking mental short cuts. So while I have 13 colony regions for players to squabble over, and they each offer slightly different rewards, there are only three types: land, coastal, and hollow earth. The fourth option, attack on home cities is constrained by law and politics. I also only allow four attacks maximum – and no splitting up of unit types. All your hoplites go to one region, and all your triremes go to one region (and it could be the same region).

Right, back to editing the game document!

 


First Colossus of Atlantis Playtest

October 9, 2016

Yesterday I had four people who kindly devoted four hours of their Saturday afternoon to the “half-baked” playtest of Colossus of Atlantis. In that time we got through five game turns, which is not too bad for a planned six hour game, but definitely has room for improvement. Part of this can come from making the game simpler, part can come from more rigorous time control by Map GMs – every table should have some one/five minute Sandtimers.

The test focused on the map game. As there were only four players, I kept the map to seven regions. Each region is identical at the start of the game, but changes quickly as it is colonized by the players. The number of regions means that from turn three onwards, there are no easy gains for players.

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Region Map

On the picture below the Yellow Circle token indicates Eris (“Strife”) in that region. The Red Shoggoth is a monster. The domino tiles are hoplite units, while the Chess Knights represent Leaders. The Tarot cards are unique colony upgrades, while the normal playing cards are turn based governance choices. The red hexagons are orichalcum mines. The green castles are fortresses. At the bottom you can see the grey plastic colossi.

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Mid-game situation

Between game turns we glossed over most of the Council phase, but allowed players to pick some research advances, as this allowed me to see how they interacted with the map game. We also got to see how Colossi changed the game in turn 5. The scary monster became easy to drive off.

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End of Game Scores and Research

The tally in the DOOM column is actually the sum of the turn by turn Victory Point scores. As you can see there is quite a spread in the VP scores. Gold had a few poor card draws and was subject to card loss from Tribute to other players more often. We did not focus on DOOM in the game, so I will need to make that a focus of the next playtest.

I asked for Keep, Stop, Start feedback. I was told to keep the laminated region maps (good for writing on), the monster threat, the colossi (a clear signal of reaching the midgame), and the permanent region upgrades from the Tarot cards (which made the regions distinctive). I was told to stop exploration (the Major Arcana event cards were too wide ranging, and the process of looking up what each meant took too long) and stop the process of comparing “high suit” scores in the normal playing cards (it was tricky with four players and seven regions, scaling up to 13 regions and seven or more players was going to be time consuming). I was told to start putting more quick reference information on the region maps, prepare role reference cards for the players, to schedule a mid-game lunch break, to rethink how population growth would work, put something to track the game turn number onto the map tables, make city size relevant to city functions other than tribute and trade, and to have collateral damage from combat. There needs to be a simple way to track and reference technology unlocked by research.

There was a lot of minor feedback on the rules – areas for clarification and consistency.

Income was not a major constraint on player actions. Trade deals were usually in the $35-$45 range, but as the card values went up and down, new trade deals were more rare than I thought they would be. If you already had a good trade deal, moving your governance cards into other options was better choice.

We had a couple of PVE and PVP combats. The monster was usually driven off, and regions did change hands. The dice pool combat system worked, but the process of assembling the pool is a bit fiddly. So I will think about how that could be improved.

The turn sequence needs some work – especially around the timing of combats and the order of resolving the governance options for regions.

When it came to Orichalcum, my gut feeling is the current game mechanics do not work well. Players should want Orichlacum and Vril, it should be awesome to get and use. So I need to rethink how it fountains into the game, and what players can use it for.

So quite a bit to keep me busy until the next playtest in Christchurch in two weeks, but the concept and core mechanics seem viable, so the first playtest was a success.

 

 


Building a better tech tree

June 28, 2016

I have had a stimulating couple of weeks working on some ideas for Colossus of Atlantis II. One goal for the redesign is to have a better tech tree. Last time the research game was “go fish” in the card deck, followed by “collect a set” trading, and for some of the teams, eventually building a colossi or two. I think I can do better next time. Ideally I want every team to have the chance to put Colossi on the table in time for them to make a difference. I am also keen to move away from people holding large piles of cards for trading – I want trade negotiations to focus on a contract like piece of paper where people haggle over the split of profits.

Tech trees have always been a staple of RTS games, but they go back further, to the old Civilization boardgame (1980), if not earlier.

Some of the design questions you need to consider in building a tech tree include:

  1. Is the research order set? How much choice do you want to give the players – this can be crucial if there is a system mastery challenge where some options are better than others.
  2. Is the research order known to the players? If its known it can be a spoiler, if it is not known the uncertainty will change player strategies.
  3. Can steps on the tech tree be skipped? If players do screw up, is there a catch up mechanic?
  4. How much control do the players have over the research effort?

Technology developments can be great rewards and motivators. Its a way of adding complexity to the game as the players master the core rules of the game, by adding new capabilities to the game mix.

Time is a constraint in megagames. You will only be able to process a finite number of game turns. If you make the tech tree too big, teams will never complete the end of the tree, and this may disappoint the players. This suggests you need to calculate the resource fountain or flow dedicated to research, against the cost of the options. You definitely want a playtest of the system. After several turns what does it look like for teams that focused on research, ignored research, or did a bit of research?

Because technology can be used to change the game rules, you also need to consider how this change is reflected in game state information. All the other players and GMs need to be able to verify and understand the research outcomes. Keeping things simple is always a good idea.

In real life, tech change tends to be evolutionary, not revolutionary. One thing I would not want to do, is to have one option in the tech tree that is a dominant strategy. Some teams will spot it, others may well miss it until it is too late.

Putting this all together in a new package

I usually have about four hours available for a megagame, and get through about eight 20 minute turns, after briefings and delays are taken care of. So I want less tiers of research than I expect game turns. I think the tech tree should be open knowledge to the players, especially as I want to run the game more than once.

Because each team should have five players, that sets the upper bound of research effort each turn – five attempts to generate research points and buy technology cards. That means no more than five branches on the research tree. With the mechanics I have in mind, at the start of the game a player should be generating 1-12 research points a turn. By the end of the game, a player should be generating 2-24 research points a turn.

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This is a table I put together quickly, so the numbers might be fine tuned later. It has four tiers of research, although I might extend it to a fifth tier as well. There are two concepts represented in the cost/reward structure – diffusion of knowledge and diminishing returns.

The first team to research a breakthrough pays the highest cost, but reaps the greatest reward in Victory Points. The costs diminish as the knowledge is spread throughout society, but the Victory Points drop more quickly to zero. This can be done by building a card deck, set in a prearranged order, so the cost of the top card is the highest cost, and so on down to the cheapest and last card.

If a team focuses on maximising research, they should unlock most of the tech tree within five turns, granting them three or more turns to enjoy the fruits of their labours. A team focusing its efforts elsewhere, can catch up with a bit of effort.

I do have some problems to work on. First, I need a way to make it clear who gets the privilege of choosing cards first (it could just be random).

Second, because I need to keep the research card decks in one place, but my initial map design has multiple maps where research can be generated, I need to find a way to accurately transmit information about research (do I give the players cards or token chips, or rely on Map GMs to coordinate the information).

I also have not decided exactly what the research will do, but it is likely to be a mixture of:

  1. Adding more units to a team’s force pool.
  2. Improving the capabilities of controlled units (e.g. rolling a d8 rather than a d6).
  3. Changing game rules.
  4. Unlocking new types of units, such as the Colossi.
  5. Allowing the build of ancient wonders of the world.

One option I am considering, is allowing a narrow thrust up the tree to unlock the Colossi at Tier IV or V. But all the branches of the tech tree lead to Colossi (each gives the Colossi a different capability). After all, making a game about giant steam bronze robots, and not letting the players use and enjoy such leviathans, would not be good design.