Jenga and Galactic Trade

October 2, 2017

For The Galaxy Will Burn I am planning to use the tower building and collapse game of Jenga as part of the game mechanics. This is to represent the collapse of bubble economies. As the Jenga tower grows higher, players can gain a bonus when they trade, and the bonus gets bigger as the tower gets higher. When the tower falls, that ends trading at that game table until the central government intervenes to get the trade mini-game up and running again (in the grand tradition of privatising profits and socialising losses). I am hoping that this creates some of the emotional tension of market trading.

As some people have pointed out, there is the sandbox problem of what to do with the kid who likes knocking sandcastles over. I think the best solution to that is to make it clear to the players that the spirit of the game is to do your best not to knock the tower over, and have a little in-game penalty for when it does happen. I think that is the 99% solution for 50 cents, or two lines of rules rather than two pages of rules.

Image result for jenga

I spent a lot of time last weekend thinking through the rest of the trade process. My conclusion today is that making trade a 20 minute mini-game is not going to work. This is partly because of the process elements. If you need to collect trade resources at table A, take them to table B, and then put them through process C, before taking resource D back to table A, then you have a lot of components which Control needs to be tracking. It is also because unless there are a lot of resources to trade and a lot of potential rewards to buy – on par with the complexity of the old Advanced Civilization boardgame – then there is not enough important stuff for the trade mini-game to actually resolve.

Remembering that less can be more in Megagame design, my design intent is for there to only be half-a-dozen rewards from trade, but for each reward to be quite powerful. It will also be simple enough to be handled at each map table, during normal gameplay. This means trade competes with the other gameplay options, i.e. you have to fit trade in and around options for building and moving units, fighting battles, etc.

The Jenga tower is the key chokepoint for mechanical resolution. If a standard turn of player action is resolving six-nine actions in 20 minutes, then the number of draws from the Jenga tower needs to be limited. While I would like the granuality of letting a player make multiple draws based on the number of hyperlane bases they control, its too high a bottleneck potential. I could make an exception for a draw based on Megapower, and allow that to have a double draw.

I still want Hyperlanes to influence trade, so I could limit the number of trade actions based on how many hypelane bases you have (zero bases = no trade, one base = one trade action, three bases = two trade actions, six or more bases = three trade actions). Another way of representing this could be to have just one trade action option, but to increase track values by the number of hyperlanes bases controlled.

For example, if you controlled three hyperlanes and did a normal trade action, you could boost a trade track by three. If it was a Megapower action, then you could increase two tracks by three, or one track by six.

The Jenga bars will each have a sticker on the end, indicating the reward it offers. Each time you draw a bar, increase the corresponding track on a player record display by one.

Bubble – for every 12 bars drawn, each player who completes a trade action gets one bonus atomic power counter. I do not expect this bonus to stack more than three times. The best estimate of number of draws to Jenga collapse I have found is a range of 12-35. When the market crashes, reduce the trade track scores, with the highest players being reduced to zero, and other players losing half of their position (round up).

Rewards – you need the highest score at the table to benefit. Rather than handing out dozens of cards, the trade system just needs to keep track of five reminder cards and a few counters on the player record track.

  • Green – military, your lock on defence contracts for parts and logistics lets you move more units and draw an extra battle card
  • Red – disruption, your economic stranglehold on the markets for new goods and services allows you to reduce the budget of another player by one (or two with a Megapower) when you undertake future trade actions
  • Silver – industry, your hold on cutting edge manufacturing lets you build additional units
  • Gold – political influence, the spice must flow, this increases the influence gained for the imperial politics mini-game
  • Blue – technology, exploiting intellectual property laws allows you to take technology cards from other players.

You can also choose to reduce a trade track score by four and collect a Megapower token. Cashing out of the market before it collapses will be an element of system mastery for the players. Cashing out of the market in a way that “bankrupts” other players by reducing their track value to zero, leaving you still dominant in the market … that should be a priceless experience.

My next post will probably be on how I plan to do the technology/research side of the game.

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Colossus of Atlantis at GENCON

August 23, 2017

So I went to GENCON and ran my Colossus of Atlantis Megagame with 27 players and a control team of eight players (including myself). The game mostly worked, most of the time, which is about as good as you can hope for a Megagame.

The overall outcome was that Atlantis did not sink, but Europe did, and the two high-Kudos teams merged together to dominate that generation of Atlantean politics (with a Kudos score of 12,261). As in the previous game, players started changing the rules so that DOOM tokens were treated as an efficient energy resource, being renamed mid-game as “Destiny” rather than DOOM. The final Destiny score was 1,517, and the Destiny score required to sink Atlantis was 2,000. Over half of the Destiny points were gained in the last turn, due to the sinking of Europe.

Possibly the best compliment I had came a couple of days after the game, when one of the players said to me that while the game was complicated, it had worked smoothly. The half hour lunch break proved essential, given the distance to food vendors and washrooms. One team turned up in full on ancient costumes, a trident, and brought delicious cupcakes and other treats with them that they shared around.

2017-08-17 14.13.12That the game went well was in no small part due to the Control team, with Catherine McNamara doing number collation for DOOM and Kudos, Witt Yao handling hatred scores and the rival empires, and Jesse, Jessica, Peter, Joseph, and Benjamin on map table duties. This is the biggest control team I have had for a game, and everyone did well for not having been run through how the game worked prior to GENCON. It is a blessing back in Wellington, that I can often recruit my mini-game playtesters for Control duty.

2017-08-17 14.13.46I think I definitely want to be using a PA system again in the future, if I have a large hall space. Otherwise my voice would have been lost in the vast space of the Lucas oil Stadium. The PA let me focus on timekeeping, along with using a countdown timer on my smartphone, to keep things mostly moving along after the long first turn. We finished seven complete turns, rather than the hoped for eight turns, a result similar to the last play at Kapcon in January. The projector screen that the Megagames Coalition hoped to have for GENCON fell through, and another suggestion at one of the design seminars was to play countdown videos off You Tube to help with time keeping.

2017-08-17 14.14.08Now for the initial feedback from players and Control broken down into Keep, Stop, Start themes, with my own comments following in italics:

KEEP

  • Council options – after looking at how these played out, I think the game would play better with a reduction in the overall number of options (and many of them were duplicated between Councils)
  • Separate map tables – after looking at the size of the tables we had at GENCON and the maps the other coalition games had, I wish my map tiles were bigger, but back in Wellington there was only just enough room for the map tiles, player cities, and other game resources.
  • modifying and writing laws – I had some feedback that the delay in getting a law ratified by the Council of Law made some players uninterested in trying this option. The problem with a same turn change lies in communicating the change to all of the other Councils, players and Control (possibly this could be done in something like the Watch the Skies press conference/media phase).

2017-08-17 14.45.03STOP

  • too many tokens – I agree with this, but I need to think about which tokens can be dropped. I can also just try and reduce the rate at which tokens fountain into the game so that handling them is easier.
  • too many rules – see comment on rules clarifications below
  • unit caps made armies depend on upgrades too much – one problem here was a hard limit on the number of counters (everything for the game had to fit in one suitcase), if I had dropped to five players per faction, everyone could have had an extra token of each of the three unit types, but increasing maximum force sizes makes it harder for players who have been defeated to make a come back later in the game
  • the d4 was too weak – another way of doing dice for the game would be to use d6s and d12s, this would also be cheaper. I did have exploding d4s in the previous version of Colossus but this tended to extend combat time rather than change combat outcomes.
  • factions having two players at one map table (and thus dominating that table) – this was a feature of having five map tables and teams with six players, I was dithering over whether or not to drop the spy player role and have five teams of five rather than four teams of six, and went for the latter option on the day. If I had one more Control available I could have run a sixth map table.
  • wonder stacking – this would have been less problematic if each House could only buy each Wonder once, and I note here that the Council of Wonder unanimously passed a resolution to allow players more flexibility in the purchases (i.e. making it easier to stack wonders).

2017-08-17 14.45.48START

  • some people liked the abstract region map, others wanted something more like a contemporary map
  • make chaos happen earlier – Colossus is a very player driven game, so if the players choose to cooperate over territory division, not a lot happens. I did have feedback that the rival empires needed to be stronger/scarier (and I was deliberately avoiding making them too strong in this game)
  • more time for discussion planning and trading – another good reason to try and trim some parts of the game
  • more rule clarifications – this makes the rules longer, and I am not sure what a good length for a Megagames rule book is and I was aiming to keep the main rules to 13-14 pages. It will always be too short for some players, and too long for others.
  • Kudos cards drawn over a certain amount should give a static result – because of the number of cards drawn due to some wonder stacking, some people ended up having to count 160 Kudos cards in one game turn.
  • upgrade cards should be single use – I agree with this, but worry about them being hoarded for the last turn (I don’t think people carrying 20+ cards in their pocket is elegant design) so another option is to require them to be used in the following game turn (or to pay a higher cost for a more flexible use)

2017-08-17 14.14.27

NEXT STEPS

After this game, and the opportunity to see several other Megagames in action I have some thoughts on what to do for the next iteration of Colossus:

  • In some ways the easiest resource token to drop is Talents. Each of the remaining six resources could then be the key resource for one of the six player roles (Kudos for Generals, Cogs for Spies, Arete for Kings, DOOM for Sorcerers, Vril for Architects, and Orichalcum for Merchants) with that resource being needed to purchase/use upgrade cards or to activate certain Council options.
  • Player role briefs should have more information on council options and upgrade cards.
  • To make the map easier to understand in the early-game, each region should only spawn one type of resource. So land would spawn Arete cards, coastal regions spawn Orichalcum, rival empires spawn Vril, cities spawn Cogs, and Kudos and DOOM tokens depend on winning/losing battles.
  • To make dividing the map up evenly between layers less dominant as a strategy, Control will vary the number of resource tokens/cards each region spawns.
  • Oaths did not get a lot of use, perhaps half a dozen times in the game. Perhaps I should drop that mechanic?
  • Perhaps rival empire attacks should be driven by player bribes?

2017-08-17 14.45.13

Colossus is next going to be run in the Seattle region in the next few months, so I am going to be trying to do a quick turn around on small changes to the rules by mid-September. Feedback is welcome here, as are any stories about events that happened in the game which I missed.

 


Settlers of R’lyeh

July 12, 2017

This is a hack of the Settlers of Cattan game, using some of the figures from Cthulhu Wars. Although I see dreams of madness have inspired other designers along similar lines, what I offer here is a small island somewhere in the South Pacific, some fever dream ridden settlers, in a desperate race to complete a great temple and then join their Deep One cousins forever before R’lyeh sinks beneath waves again.

Shoggoth by Nottsuo <http://nottsuo.deviantart.com/art/Shoggoth-594261203&gt; CC 3.0 License.

Prepare to play Settlers of Cattan as normal, but grab the Cthulhu figure from your Cthulhu Wars set and replace the Robber pawn with Great Cthulhu. Place Cthulhu beneath the sands that cover the city of R’lyeh (i.e. on the Desert tile). Replace the Knight cards with Cultists from Cthulhu Wars, and grab a High Priest figure if available.

To set the right tone, I suggest playing at night, with candles, while playing A Shoggoth on the Roof.

The Stars are Right

When a player rolls a seven, the stars are right, and Cthulhu wakes. Move Cthulhu to any hex tile on the Cattan map. Do not discard Resource cards. Instead the player who rolled the seven has a number of destruction points equal to the lowest die on their dice roll that turn. For example, if a player rolled a 5 and a 2 for the stars are right, then they have two destruction points.

For each destruction point the player must either:

  • remove one road
  • downgrade a city to a village
  • remove one village

All tokens removed or downgraded must be adjacent to the tile that Cthulhu now occupies. All destruction points must be used if possible, even if this means a player must remove or downgrade their own game tokens, or must place Cthulhu to revel and slay in gay abandon in a tile that is not the player’s preferred choice. You cannot move Cthulhu to a tile where it inflicts no destruction, unless there are no player tokens left on the map.

If you downgrade a city and the player controlling the city has no village token that can replace it with, then that player must place a village token from another player of their choice, as the inhabitants join another splinter sect of the cult of Great Cthulhu.

The stars are right effect is also triggered if a player must apply the deluge effect due to inability to acquire resource cards (see The Deluge section below).

Cultists

When you play a cultist card you dream of Great Cthulhu, and then move the Cthulhu figure and apply all of the stars are right effects with the dice roll you made that turn.

Tip: for maximum impact, wait until a turn where you roll a double 4, 5 or 6 before using your cultists.

The first player to gain three Cultists gains the High Priest figure (if you do not have one, use a Cultist figure of a different colour). This does not count as an extra Cultist and merely serves as a reminder that you have the biggest cult. If another player ever has more Cultists than the player with the High Priest figure, they immediately take the High Priest figure.

High Priest

If you have the High priest when the stars are right, then your destruction points are equal to the higher of the two dice. For example, if a player with the High priest rolled a 5 and a 2 for the stars are right, then they have five destruction points.

Note: unlike the bonus for holding the largest Army card in a regular Settlers of Cattan game, holding the High Priest does not grant two bonus VP.

2017-07-12 15.35.30

Cultist, Cthulhu, and High Priest figures from Cthulhu Wars

The Deluge

If a player has no village or city tokens on the game map when the stars are right, or they no longer have the ability to get any resource cards from their remaining villages or cities when it is their turn, they must apply the deluge effect:

  • after moving Cthulhu and applying destruction effects from the stars are right, invert the tile Cthulhu occupies. This represents R’lyeh slowly sliding back beneath the waves and is a permanent change.
  • remove the circular numbered token from the inverted tile – it no longer generates resources.
  • if any road token now has inverted tiles on both sides, remove it from the board as the local geometry becomes non-Euclidean.
  • if any village or City is now completely surrounded by inverted tiles, remove it from the board. Their inhabitants have gone to join the Deep Ones.
  • road, village and city tokens removed by deluge effects are removed permanently and cannot be rebuilt later in the game.

Winning the Game

It is possible no player will reach 10 victory points before the deluge effect sinks R’lyeh below the waves, in which case dread Cthulhu wins. If a player reaches 10 VP first, they complete the great temple, and join the Deep Ones below the waves forever. All the other players should make “glub blub blub” noises as their settlers drown.


Pools

July 5, 2017

One of the key themes I am planning to incorporate into an Operation Unthinkable Megagame is that after almost six years of a world at war, most of the combatants want nothing more than to go home. So there will be a mechanical thread running through the game of a “clock” of political will that is running out of time. I also needed a way of modelling initiative at a theatre level, logistics and replacements, military capabilities, and all the wunderwaffe of alternate history. My ideas have developed a bit since my last post.

1945-05-01GerWW2BattlefrontAtlasFirst, for logistics, I started with some data on comparative munitions production by the allies in 1944 (the original numbers were something like millions of tons of munitions a year). This broke down as follows:

  • Canada – 1.5
  • United Kingdom – 11
  • USA – 42
  • USSR – 16

Because the UK and USA have commitments in the Pacific Theatre of Operations, I divided their scores in two, and added the Canadian score to the UK score to reach:

  • UK and allied forces (Canada, Poland, etc) – 7
  • USA and allied forces (Free France, Brazil, etc) – 21
  • USSR – 16.

This gives me a baseline score for how many supply tokens each side gets. Each token is a bonus attrition effect die to cause enemy casualties in battle.

While thinking about this, I was also thinking about the problem of how to determine which side starts the war, and how to handle initiative at the European scale. During the Second World War you generally had one side on the offensive, while the other side was on the defensive. A traditional I-go-U-go initiative system just did not feel right to me. So what I plan to try testing is having each side’s supreme command group (4-6 players) secretly allocate 100 points among the following five categories:

  • Alternate History
  • Initiative
  • Logistics
  • Military Capability
  • Political Will.

Alternate History

Alternate History points will allow players to use military capabilities that are not part of their historic force for mid-1945, including captured German equipment, vehicles that were only in prototype or blueprint form (such as high-altitude fighters for the USSR), and atomic weapons. It will also represent potential political choices, such as propaganda campaigns, influencing neutral nations, sending troops to secondary fronts like Greece and Norway, and redeploying forces from the Pacific. Some Alt-history cards are in both decks, so the first side to draw and spend the points for it gets it.

Each turn the Supreme command team will get to draw five cards for free. They can then spend Alternate History points to draw extra cards (the first card costs one point, the third three points, the fourth six points, etc). Each card has a cost to be played, either one, three, six, or ten Alternate History points. The cost will be weighted based on just how implausible the event is. For example, in the aftermath of WWII the Soviets managed to secure about 200 tons of Uranium oxide from German facilities, while the Western allies secured about 1000 tons. The allies let the Soviets have the plans for A9/10 rocket capable of reaching America, but there was no actual rocket prototype anywhere. So having a card option for a one-off dirty bomb is probably going to cost one or three alt-history points, getting a working A-10 ICBM is probably going to cost 10 alt-history points, and a German A-bomb to go in it another 10 alt-history points, as that is more alternative universe material than alternate history.

Initiative

The side that allocates the most points to Initiative is the side that starts with the initiative. In a tie, the western allies get initiative.

Victory conditions will then be switched so that the side starting the war is the side that needs to try and get to the far side of the game map to win.

When you have initiative, you get to make most of the attacks in the game, but you only have a finite number of supplies to help. When you do not have initiative, you get to stockpile supplies, accumulate replacements, and make limited counterattacks.

After each game turn, the supreme commander for each side makes a bid in initiative points. You must bid at least one point, and can bid up to half of your points. The side with the highest bid has initiative next turn. The losing side’s bid carries over to the next turn.

I think how this will play out is some back and forth, but the side with the higher pool should be able to do several two turn offensives, and a month of continuous operations is about the maximum that the Red Army could do in WWII.

Logistics

I discussed the baseline for logistics above. Allocating points to logistics increases the stockpile of supplies you have at the start of the game after the six week pause since the German surrender, and increases the baseline logistic supply (representing improved road, rail and port supply networks). I will apply a diminishing return here, possible a square root, so a 16 bid gets you +4 supplies and a 25 bid gets you +5 supplies.

Logistic points are also used to buy replacement cards to reinforce units suffering from battle casualties:

  • the UK and the USSR are both exhausted for manpower, barring play of some alt-history options, so each time they play their replacement cards it costs more
  • the USA has not exhausted its manpower, so has a fixed cost for replacements.

I am still thinking about whether airpower draws replacements from this pool, or has its own fixed schedule of replacements. I am leaning towards the latter option.

Military Capabilities

This pool is used to refresh military capability cards. These cards represent the chrome and colour of history, such as the Russian all female bomber regiment “the Night Witches”, or the deployment of the M-26 Pershing tank, as one use cards that grant a bonus.

Once used Military capability cards are returned to supreme command, who can spend points to regenerate the cards, and they then pass back down through the chain of command to front line commanders.

Political Will

Political will represents how long you can keep your armies fighting before you start to have major problems on the home front and the front lines. When your Political Will hits zero, the other side starts getting “Morale” cards that can be used to facilitate desertion from your combat forces, and to try and reduce your Political Will by an effect die roll.

Game options to increase Political Will will be rare. In most cases its just going to keep going down. Each turn you do not have initiative, you roll an effect die for Political Will loss. This is a cumulative effect. So the third turn in which you do not have initiative, you roll three effect dice. I may also have a drain on Political Will for key cities or river lines being taken/crossed by the enemy.

Back of the envelope calculation, for an eight turn game, you probably want a Political Will of 25+ to avoid having morale cards used against you. There is an obvious interaction with Initiative – a high Initiative pool means you will lose less will due to being on the defensive, but the combat advantage for being on the defensive should even this out a little.

The Effect Die

Events tend to have a no long term effect, a small effect, or a large effect. Borrowing from the 2d20 damage system when Operation Unthinkable  asks for an effect roll it means rolling a d6 for:

  1. A one point effect
  2. A two point effect
  3. No effect
  4. No effect
  5. A five point effect
  6. A six point effect.

Interaction Between the Pools

When any points pool, except Political Will, hits zero the following process is used.

  1. The Pool is refreshed to its current maximum score.
  2. Roll two effect dice, plus one effect die for each prior time the pool was exhausted.
  3. Each die roll must be applied to either Political Will or the Pool that hit zero.

For example, an Initiative Pool of 25 hits zero for the second time. The player rolls three effect dice and gets two, three, and five. The player chooses to reduce the Initiative Pool by two and Political Will Pool by five. So the Initiative Pool is now refreshed to 23. They could also have chosen to reduce either pool by seven.

When Political Will is reduced to zero:

  1. Refresh Political Will
  2. Give the opposing side a Morale card, plus one Morale card for each previous occasion Political Will hit zero
  3. Reduce all five option pools by one effect die roll.

If any pool is permanently reduced to zero, its zero effect is then applied each game turn. This will probably result in a collapse of Political Will in a few game turns.


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.

ostfront-6-december-1941

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.

 


Hack what you like…

March 23, 2017

As my current Runequest campaign is drawing to a close I have done a little prep on my idea to hack Night’s Black Agents (a GUMSHOE variant for vampire hunting at a James Bond/Jason Bourne level of competence) into a SF setting (with some help from Ashen Stars). I was originally thinking something Star Wars Old Republic era, but I might try the Coriolis setting (Firefly meets Arabian Nights). I have not run GUMSHOE before and it will be interesting to try a new game system that requires a different level of self-discipline from the GM. For NAB you need to build your vampire conspiracy and your vampires before the campaign starts, and then stick to the decisions you made so that the clues the players acquire make sense for analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of their fearsome foes.

I have also been thinking about what to do after the next campaign is finished. While I have some setting ideas I want to explore, I am not sure which system to use, or if my ideas are strong enough to make a serious stab at designing a game. Bearing in mind a comment from a friend recently that he could design eight board games in the time it takes to design one roleplaying game, because roleplaying games are complex.

Key Roleplaying Game Design Articles that Influence my Thinking

These are articles and webpages that I keep coming back to for inspiration.

Vincent Barker, A Quick & Dirty Outline and The Fruitful Void.

Jared Sorensen, The Big Three Questions.

  1. What is your game about? This is the premise.
  2. How does it go about that? These are all the game elements.
  3. What does it reward? This is the game system.

John Wick adds a fourth question “How do you make this fun?”. Other people have added even more questions to the list.

Whitson John Kirk III, Design Patterns of Successful Roleplaying Games.

A few other random quotes on rpg game design:

  • The First law of RPG Design – A game is not about what it is about, but how it is about it (also known as Ebert’s First law).
  • The Rule of Jared – only roll dice when its important.
  • The Mearls Paradox – a roleplaying game that is complete is not a roleplaying game at all.
  • Jared’s Rule of Combat – Fight scenes need to be exciting. Combat does not have to be.

Specific Articles on Magic

Aliette de Bodard, Magic Systems and my world building process.

Brandan Sanderson, Sanderson’s Third Law of Magic (but follow the link to the post on the second law, its the most relevant to roleplaying games).

Roleplaying Game Design is Still a Contested Space

A few recent forum threads gave me a rehash of the GNS debates and similar history from the Forge era. The best concept I gained out of that time investment was the idea of focusing on the fiction you are trying to emulate. It also helped steer me towards realising that my creative agendas fall more in the “gamist” rather than the “simulationist” camps.

The most recent attempt at simulationist design I read, I stopped when it said as an example of play “Roll 15d10 to climb a wall…”. What I would rather have in a game is one die roll, or a dice pool of not more than 6-8 dice

Lessons learned from Kickstarters

There seem to be four kinds of successful gaming product on Kickstarter:

  1. Genuine innovation (the rarest beast).
  2. Ancillary products (dice and other gaming aids).
  3. Next Editions of an established gaming product.
  4. Love Letters to an older game that will never get a Next Edition again.

I also have to say, that after backing 66 projects since May 2013, that I am no longer enthused to back anything that does not at least have a quickstart or ashcan version (for an RPG) or a demo of a physical product (game aids). I think the only really innovative game I have backed is Blades in the Dark. The three games I have been waiting the longest on delivery were all “good ideas” from established designers and companies, but are now approaching two years overdue. While I suspect they will eventually deliver, I think in the last few years Kickstarter has become more of a place to take roleplaying games that are already 80-90% finished.

I do not have any interest in making ancillary products, and I do not have an IP to do a Next Edition with, so that leaves genuine innovation and love letters. Try as I might, I have not figured out a new and interesting way of rolling dice, or changing the practice of play around the gaming table. So that leaves taking the “love letter” approach to writing a game. Here I find my ideas keep returning to the D100 System. The game I would most like to pay homage to is Runequest 2nd edition, which packed an awful lot of game into 120 pages. It did this in large part by making a lot of the setting implicit in the rules, art, and examples of play. not by devoting large amounts of space to fluff text and short fiction.

Of course, there is a Next Edition of Runequest due out this year, and based on the designer blogs and draft I saw at GENCON, its going to be quite good. But there are at least two open license D100 systems on the market that I can use as a starting basis. “Hack what you like, to make what you love” as Vincent Barker put it. So that is where my thoughts are at right now, trying to innovate at the edge of the D100 system, and producing a focused setting with a light touch, the way RQ2 managed.

Now, I need to get back to drafting some Megagame rules…


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.