Bookings for Kapcon are now open!

November 6, 2017

This means bookings for The Galaxy Will Burn Megagame are also open! It is your opportunity to struggle against other factions within an Galactic Empire as things fall apart and independent pirates and warlords threaten the old order. Or perhaps you will belong to a revolutionary faction that wants to overthrow the Empire?

I will be doing a couple of things differently with TGWB. The different factions in the game will be of different sizes, and players may belong to more than one faction. In past megagames I have had to do severe contortions with last minute player registrations and faction membership to try and keep things balanced. For TGWB I cannot do this, as membership of some of the factions are secret. I think its going to work out like this:

  • Players who turn up and register on Saturday 21 January for the megagame will be placed in the default faction, the Galactic Loyalists, and as their faction name suggests, their goal is to preserve the Galactic Empire as it is
  • Players who register by Monday 15 January will get the full casting sheet, and will be able to join both a public faction and a secret faction (you must be in a public faction, belonging to a secret faction is optional)
  • People who contact me between the 15th and 21st may be able to get a faction choice, but probably will not be in a secret faction
  • The first 13 people to register will be allowed to join more than one secret faction.

I will be aiming to complete the initial casting as soon as possible after 15 January, so members of the same faction have some opportunity to plot together before the game starts on Saturday.

There are four main player roles at the start of the game:

  • Governor – responsible for controlling sectors of space on one of the Quadrant maps. This is a good role if you like playing a game of slowly expanding your territory and resources.
  • Admiral – responsible for patrolling the hyperlanes on one of the Quadrant maps. This is a good role if you like being aggressive in combat.
  • Politician – leading a faction, politicians are based in the Imperial Capital, with a gameplay focus on trying to successfully resolve crises and make sure you become the next Emperor rather than the other politicians. This is probably the most difficult of the game roles.
  • Media – responsible for conveying accurate, timely information between the different sections of the game, that the historical record exalts the achievements of their faction, and for making sure that blame is attached to people who mishandle crises. This is the role that has the most emphasis on roleplaying, and the least on boardgame style mechanics. As such it is a good role for a player who is new to Megagames.

Players will be able to change their factions and roles during the course of the game. You want for example become a leader of the initially non-player Pirate or Warlord factions, or become an Usurper trying to overthrow the current government of the Empire.

TGWB can cope with 40 players. I am looking for six to eight people to help Control the game.

KapCon 2018 is open for registration. If you’d like to attend, please
fill out the form here:

http://kapcon.org.nz/?q=regform

Early-round games can be viewed here: http://kapcon.org.nz/?q=games27

And the flagship larp signup form is here:
https://goo.gl/forms/8QMN2hEHAajdOg6x2

As usual, we’ll be doing this “shark week” style, with games allocated
on preferences after a week. So there’s no need to rush the form in a
giant gaming frenzy.

We’re still after games, so if you’d like to run something, please
fill out the form here: http://kapcon.org.nz/?q=gamereg

The structure of KapCon means that on average everyone needs to run a
game, so please do your bit.

If you’ve forgotten your username or are having trouble logging in,
please email kapcon@gmail.com.

Malcolm Harbrow
Official KapCon mail prole

The cost of coming to Kapcon for the weekend is $30 (or $20 if you are helping facilitate a game), for just the Saturday the fee is $20. There is a $5 discount for preregistering by 15 January.

I will be trying to update my website with more information about the game later this week, but at the moment I am getting some errors trying to load the site builder, and the default help suggestion of clearing the cookie cache is not working.

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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.


Grim and Gritty, or Glam and Sticky?

June 16, 2015

JoyceMaureira_SORCSPLASH (2)

In which I will eventually consider my own play preferences, but first…

I have been doing a lot of reading on roleplaying game design over the last few weeks.  So much so that I suddenly started dreaming in GURPS mechanics last week. Which is odd, as I have never owned a copy of the GURPS rules, just a few of the setting supplements.

My reading started with me thinking about cooperative magic mechanics, magic mechanics in roleplaying games in general, tropes entries on magic, and some Wikipedia research on shadows and weaving.  I also listened to some podcasts at Narrative Control. Chatting with friends, I got feedback that my pitch was more of a Gotterdamerung/final days pitch than a real post-apocalyptic pitch, which I thought was valid.  This led to me thinking a bit about noir settings – and the very next day Bundle of Holding decided to have a noir themed release.  I am still working through that pile of information (and the rulebook for Ars Magicka 5th Edition from another Bundle of Holding offer a few weeks back), but I think a noir influenced setting might require multiple flying cities (so you can have a Casablanca in the middle of it all).

I can go back and forth on the setting. While its important, trying to build it without a better grasp on system is likely to be a waste of time. Figuring out the best system for the setting depends on figuring out exactly what I want the characters to be doing in the game system and what I want the players to be doing around the game table.  So I need to do some research to try and figure out if an existing game system already does what I want, or if I need to build my own system.

Cooperative Mechanics

Many game systems are silent on the issue of character cooperation to resolve contests in the game. Some games allow one character to assist another, but few of the mechanics I looked at are built explicitly around a group of players all making decisions about the contest outcome. Here are three that I found:

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: everyone makes a roll, if half the characters succeed, the group succeeds. Dull.

Runequest 6th Edition: the extended skill check system can be used for group tasks. The GM sets a difficulty (suggested base is 100), and the characters do skill checks, +25 for a success, +50 for a critical success and -25 for a fumble. Not quite as dull as D&D, but close.

Blades in the Dark: Characters take turns at being “on point” for an operation (which is based on teamwork). One of their options is to lead a group action: all players roll six sided dice, the best roll is used, but the leader takes one “stress” for each roll of 1-3. Players in “backup” roles can also influence this, e.g. by taking stress to roll a bonus die. Extended tasks are handled with progress clocks, which reminded me of the damage clocks in Apocalypse World. Overall I found this system was exciting my imagination, and I plan to run a Blades in the Dark game at Kapcon in 2016.

Magic Mechanics

Starting with Runequest, the sorcery system is close to what I want, but many of the spells are either lacking in obvious utility for player characters, or are too powerful for player characters. In play, I am not sure there is enough width to the spell list to make a combination of magic form 5-6 characters worthwhile.  The current edition also makes magic very all-or-nothing, either a spell overcomes the defences, or it completely fails, and this is a paper-scissors-rock subgame game.

I am not done reading Ars Magicka yet, but its rich and detailed magic system is primarily focused on the individual mage. While the troupe/covenant playstyle is interesting, its not what I am looking for.

D&D/F20 suffers from my dislike of Vancian magic. Too weak at low levels, a campaign killer at high levels.  If I have to rebuild the entire magic system, I might as well look elsewhere.

Note: there are a lot of roleplaying game systems out there that I have not played, or are unfamiliar with. I would be happy to hear suggestions of game systems I should take a closer look at. Information in forum posts makes me think I should take a look at FATE, and in particular The Dresden Files.  I only know the Mage: the whatever games in brief summary.  Heroquest and Riddle of Steel fall in the :too damn complicated” box for me.

Not satisfied with my search for illumination, I have been thinking about my literary influences, and also doing some research on roleplaying game design.

Roleplaying Game Design

Time to post a few links:

The Power 19 are like an extension of the Big 3, and most of the 19 feed off/interact with them, so I will just repeat the Big 3 here:

  1. What is the game about?
  2. What do the characters do?
  3. What do the players do?

Hard questions that are worth answering. I don’t think I have solid answers yet but some initial bullet points are:

  1. The game is about the transition to a post-peak magic society, and shaping the age that is to come (its about surviving the apocalypse long enough to make a difference).
  2. The characters are a cabal of mages, who share a fragment of a broken God, and the sum of the whole is greater than the parts when they weave their magic together.
  3. The players have to decide between escalating or escaping from contests, how much personal gain they want to try and twist out of the cabal, andwhat they want to do with their broken God.

Another part of my research was trying to figure out how dice pool mechanics work. I was sleeping under rock when these came on the scene, and I was intimidated by the wall of d6s required to fire an AK-47 in Shadowrun.  I think I get the concept now, and while an “exploding die” can be fun for criticals/fumbles, I still think my gut feeling is right that throwing large numbers of dice to determine contest outcomes has a big downside in terms of the mental energy required to keep processing the maths.  Star Wars: Edge of Empire has a dice system I would like to know more about, but the game is petrified in dead tree format, so it is going to be a while yet before I get to read it.

RPG Design Patterns was a good read. I think the best insight it gave me was on “Conflicted Gauges”, where is where a mechanic in the game is situationally good or bad.  For example, in Call of Cthulhu a high Mythos Lore skill is handy when trying to remember facts about eldritch monsters, but a disadvantage when trying to make Sanity checks.  There was a lot more in there, but this is going to be a long post already.

The RPG Design Handbook gave me some other questions to think about:

  1. How does the game make players care?
  2. What behaviours are rewarded, and how are they rewarded?
  3. Will the system let the players play the game the way I intended it to be played?
  4. Authority in the game – who gets to decide when the conversation moves forward and the decisions are locked in place?
  5. Credibility in the game – who has the right to challenge the shared fiction, and who gets to win that contest?

Literary Influences (Appendix N)

I think its worth listing some of my literary influences at this point:

  • Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files
  • Steven Erikson’s Malazan Tales of the Fallen (a spinoff from an AD&D campaign converted to GURPS, rpg.net has a good thread discussing Warrens)
  • Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence (I have only read the first two books, but I like what I have read)
  • Mark Smylie’s Artesia comics and first novel The Barrow (one of the best literary interpretations of a dungeon crawl ever).

I have not been influenced by Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, even though I worked back to it when searching for “magic + weaving” on Google.

Play Preferences

My tabletop roleplaying gaming started in the 1980s and was firmly rooted in the first generation of games: Dungeons & Dragons, Runequest, Call of Cthulhu, and Traveller. Most of the campaigns I have played in or game mastered, have been in those systems, or a D20 version (like Fading Suns).  Kapcon has been good for being exposed to indie games, but prior to the Bundle of Holding, it was rare for me to look at other game systems on a regular basis.

Its interesting to reflect on my play preferences and how they differ when I am a player or a game master.

As a player I like:

  • rolling dice and sometimes getting lucky
  • being effective in combat
  • having a solid background hook for the character
  • a clear niche for my character
  • progression over time (and don’t make me lose the game in character generation by failing to understand what my character build should be)
  • some kind of direction about what we are doing in the game.

As a game master I like:

  • contest outcomes that give me some direction about what to narrate next – this is the main weakness of the d100 game engines, what does 57 mean?
  • faction ambiguity – players will always attempt to immediately kill anything within line of sight that is flagged “obvious villain”, and will feel like utter failures if you refuse to let them roll for initiative before you finish the opening monologue. So I like shades of grey and intrigue as a GM.
  • a system I am comfortable tinkering with for the house campaign (i.e. I understand everything inside the black box and feel comfortable about pulling level A to get result B)
  • running long, multi-year campaigns (most narrative games cannot do this to my satisfaction)
  • building a detailed setting for the house game and doing prep before each session (when I stop enjoying prep its time to think about wrapping the campaign up)
  • subverting cliches
  • the lightbulb moment when one of the players figures out the big secret!

While there are a lot of grim and gritty roleplaying games out there, there are not a lot of glam and sticky games. These reflects the wargaming roots and the mania for combat simulation. Still, maybe someone will make a game some day about playing 1970s rock stars and their groupies.

What might an ideal cooperative mechanic look like?

I do not have a solid idea yet on how to articulate these ideas as a mechanical expression.  Rolling some dice probably, but if I want something closer to the stories of literature/cinema, then I need a way of divorcing myself from the simulationist mania.  I would like the game mechanics to incorporate these ideas:

  1. The Cabal of Broken Gods: as a resource shared between the players – encourage the players to work together by making it advantageous to do so. Maybe the cabal lets you cast spells known by the other PCs but not by your PC? Maybe the cabal has a bonus pool of magic points? The cabal obviously needs its own character sheet (a character sheet is a promise).
  2. Magic Weaving: the players need each other’s help to cast effective spells, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Other PCs can give a die roll bonus, share the cost, benefit from the cast, etc.
  3. The Tapestry of Shadows: the potential threat of losing control over your character, or otherwise increasing a potential threat.
  4. Betrayal: the potential to twist a cabal weaving to your own benefit.
  5. Escalation: as the contest progresses, the player has to make the decision to escape or escalate. Think of the classic mage duels, no one dies in the first fireball, its a sequence of move and counter-move (and after scribbling this idea down I read about escalation mechanics in Dogs in the Vineyard for the first time)
  6. Going “all out”: a choice by the player to commit everything to the contest, with dire consequences for failure, the last option on the escalation ladder
  7. Escape: so common in literature, so rare in tabletop gaming. I want to make escape a valid choice for players, by having some kind of reward for bailing out of a fight they might lose (e.g. +1 Luck Point), and by making it easy (e.g. mages can teleport).

I am doodling some diagrams, trying to see if I can build some conflicted gauges around 3-5 magic resources.  For example, having a strong talent in Wild Magic could help you create new magic, but might make all your spells harder to control.  Other potential axis are destructive/creative, permanent/non-permanent, clarity/confusion. One thing I want to avoid, is writing up 666 different spells. Much easier to have just a small number of useful spells. Some important considerations for magic in the setting itself:

  • is magic an individual gift, or can anyone do it?
  • is magic powered from within the self, or by tapping into a universal magic force field?
  • is magic a fixed list of specified power, or can the players be creative/improvise on the go
  • is there are hard limit to the magical energy a character can tap – I think this is important because in much the same way players dislike going to zero Hit Points, they also dislike using their last Magic Point/spell, but it did occur to me that I could build into the reward system an explicit bonus for spending that last magic point
  • how quickly does magical energy refresh?

Publishing

I did some quick market research this week. Tabletop roleplaying games make up $15m of the $750m hobby gaming market. Boardgames have a greater share of the market at $75m. Most of the market is taken up by miniatures ($125m) and card games ($500m+).

The bulk of the tabletop game market is dominated by the Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder systems.  Outside of the F20 market are a handful of universal game systems, such as GURPS, or more focused systems, such as World of Darkness that have large followings.

I think if you want to make some money in publishing a new game setting, you have to think really hard about not using some flavour of F20.  If you want to publish a new game system, I think you need to be focused in your efforts. Write two pages, not twenty pages, write twenty pages, not 200 pages.  Having looked through a number of the universal setting free game engines, I would be unconvinced that the world needs another way to roll dice on the table.

Military Muddling

Finally, a shout out for my friends at the Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group in London, who have migrated their old club newsletter into the blogging age. Military Muddling may be of interest to people who are keen on historical game design and megagames.

The artwork in this post was taken from the art pack for The Silent Legion.


Kapcon 2014

January 20, 2014

The bad: I had to cancel the Grand Strategy game.

The good: Asterix and the Deep Ones was popular, with 16 players over three sessions.

Cancelling the Grand Strategy Game

It is sad to cancel a creative project, but I have had to do this before and will do so again. I would not be doing a service to anyone by trying to run a game which will not provide the fun that it was intended to offer. Before Christmas there were only three signups. With a week to go there are only seven. Unfortunately, Grand Strategy games require 5+ teams to be balanced (or just two teams), and for teams to ideally have 3+ players to allow team dynamics to unfold within the larger framework. While I could have spent all my spare time over the next week building a new design for a smaller number of players, I think I was better off spending the time on polishing “Asterix and the Deep Ones”.

So, any lessons learned?

Promotion – the Kapcon organisers have spent quite a bit of effort to promote the game, I pushed it through my own networks, and the website had enough information for anyone interested in the game to suss out if it was their cup of fun or not. I have only had one potential player contact me to ask questions about the game. I don’t know how much interaction the LARP GMs have with potential players, but I suspect it’s a bit more than that.  Still, I could have pushed the game harder, and made more of “recruit friends to join your team”.

Competition – Kapcon offers half-a-dozen or more tabletop sessions, and a LARP in head to head competition with Pax Vicky. Potential players have voted with their preferences, and it is not for what I am offering in that timeslot.

Con structure – one of the reasons the “Grand Strat” works at BOD, is that it has traditionally been given a flagship evening slot on Friday or Saturday night. I get a captive audience, which gives me certainty that they critical mass of players will be present. It was made clear to me years ago that I was never going to get the only such slot at Kapcon, as the Friday and Sunday nights are for social mixing, and not gaming. While I could attempt to run my own event in Wellington, the lukewarm indifference that has greeted my posts about grand strategy games on nzrag.com makes me suspect that I’d just end up losing money on the hall hire.  I have to admit to recognising a self-fulfilling prophecy here, because I don;t get positive feedback for my ideas on NZRAG, I don’t read or post there very often … which means I don’t get feedback or promotion opportunities.

It’s too weird – globally what I am offering is a rare type of hybrid game, it’s a mix of giant tabletop boardgame and LARP, and I have only ever run into one other group of gamers who do these games outside New Zealand. So the design community is very small, there are only a few people I can really talk to about these games, and most of them live in London. It is also a type of gaming which has no commercial product on offer, and a limited online presence – it is very hard for potential gamers to learn about this kind of game, or to give it a try and end up wanting more.

Opportunity cost – designing and building a grand strategy game takes me 4-5 full weekends over a 6-12 month period as I iterate concepts, design rules, build maps, playtest, revise, and then finally print and assemble the game (praying for a sunny day with no wind as I glue stuff together). This is a lot of time I could be spending on other projects. There is also a financial cost, I have spent close to $3,500 on my last two designs, and while some of that cost (laser printer, toner, tokens) is available for future games, it is still a lot of money for a hobby. Setting up and running the game also consumes an entire day at the convention, and for 2014, I could have been somewhere else entirely different from Kapcon, having a good time with one of my other hobby groups.

Structural flaws – the boardgame nature of the Grand Strat is such that there is very little scope for improvisation (by players or GMs), it is not a game that can be winged on the night, unlike a table top RPG. It is also hard to walk into a game five minutes before it starts – as we like people to read the rules in advance and to make decisions a week before the game begins.  The bespoke nature of the game, a complex set of rules that might only be used once, means that if there is a major flaw in the game, it is difficult to fix quickly. A mistake can cascade through the system, wrecking the game economy and spoiling player strategies. So Grand Strats are high risk/high responsibility games to run, and it’s rarely the player’s fault if things get derailed (I have only had one player deliberately undermine a Grand Strat game, and one do a table flip after a game has finished).

Agency – the team nature of the game may discourage players through lack of a strong character to identify with and role play, and the fact that the player’s desires must be subordinated to the group’s plan if the group is to prosper in the game might also be off-putting to potential players. I do have a good reason for having abstract replaceable characters – character death sucks (I tried a few variations on death mechanics but nothing ever worked in a fun way).

Is it still worth it?

Running these games has always been a peak experience for me. It’s not often that I am the centre of attention and it’s a nice buzz when things go well. I have learned a lot about game design from organising and running these games. I have found, however, that this learning translates into ever increasing amounts of work to get everything right for future games, and a lot of frustration when the games do not go well. The minimum amount of work for a game is pretty formidable, compared to a table top game, where I can get by with a sketch map, half a dozen PC sheets, and about an A4 of sketch notes. It would be really hard for me to offer more than one or two games a year – the group in London manages about four a year, but has a different team designing each game – and this makes improving the design of these games a slow process.

So, it might be time for me to move on from Grand Strategy games, and find something else to do with my time, or perhaps just have a year or two off until I can find the old joy again. Maybe I should just go back to writing LARPs, which is where all this started 20 years ago.  A different tack, would be to drop the fantasy, and go for a hard core historical game – World War one could be viable as its the 100th anniversary of it starting this year.

Asterix and the Deep Ones

This went well, with lots of laughter.  In the first game I had five players (Asterix, Getafix, Obelix, Fulliautomatic and Unhygenix), in the second game I had four players (Asterix, Getafix, Obelix and Cacophonix) and in the last game I had all seven characters in play (add Vitalstatitix).

Using a known IP made character identification really easy.  Using the Call of Cthulhu quickplay system was okay … but one of my conclusions is that traditional game engines with their multiple tiers of Characteristics, Attributes and other character qualities are just a bit too much (a friend described being given three pages of character sheet for a game at Kapcon, which is two pages too many).  I could have easily run things off just the straight characteristics (Strength, Dexterity, etc).  Giving everyone 90% in a combat skill was a good decision, made the combats true to the original comics, and giving almost everyone low SAN scores made crazy stuff happen – mostly delusional beliefs that the PC was a significant historical character (Cleopatra, Julius Caesar etc).  I used luck points in a blunt force way, everyone had 90 and you sent them to change the d100 roll. So if your skill was 50, and you rolled 62 (fail), you could spend 12 luck points to make it a success.  No one actually ran out of luck.  I treated magic potion as giving the Gauls first strike, a bonus die in combat, and increasing the damage bonus die to 1d6. As per the comics I toned down the blood, and had knock outs and tweety birds circling around heads.

  • Asterix – the leader/straight man of the party, no major schtick but usually the person making the talk/spot rolls.
  • Obelix – the superhuman strength schtick came in handy many times – carrying boats overland, menhir volley attacks, etc
  • Getafix – had the ability to brew potions that could almost anything (restore sanity, dreamless sleep, and water breathing were the ones people came up with), the drawback being you needed a side quest for ingredients and it took time to boil water.  I deliberately started Getafix with 10 SAN because after the first night of bad dreams and flashbacks to things a young Druid did in old Egypt, he was always motivated to find the source of the dreams.
  • Cacophonix – a strong roll, as any threat to sing would always cause the group to react.  One Cacophonix managed to ninja past 100 Deep Ones to rescue his Uncle Malacoustix, and another Cacophonic managed a critical success on a sing roll to wow the surly villagers into enthusiastic applause.
  • Unhygenix and Fulliautomatix – not quite so strong roles, but good to have in a fight, and high potential for comedic barbs between each other and Cacophonix, Unhygenix’s fishing skills were also useful for the investigation.
  • Vitalstatistix – perhaps the weakest character, unless they exerted their authority over the Gauls.

Asterix and the Deep Ones v3

All three groups followed a similar starting pattern:

  • interact with the Roman bridgebuilders and the Gaulish Ferryman
  • find out that something (the Deep Ones) is dismantling the bridge each night
  • head into the village, noticing the barren fields
  • interact with the Britannic owner of the brand new fish and chips shop in the run down village
  • head to Malacoustix’s villa
  • explore the villa, get trapped by storm/nightfall
  • bad dreams, SAN check, sleepwalking episodes

After that the groups went in different directions, although most interrogated the village Chief at some point.  For pacing, after two hours I would introduce Deep Ones, and in the last half hour I brought in Old Mother Hydra.  All three groups ended with escape/rescue/massive property damage moments of success.  Looking at the map – I didn’t need the murky swamp (where clues to the missing Boars could be found).  People seemed to spend about half an hour at each location, so it was one destination too far. Perhaps if I had placed the swamp right next door to the village?

I have had a request to run this again at CONfusion in August (depending on whether or not it clashes with Pennsic).  I am now thinking about Asterix in Atlantis as a possible name for the next game (apparently there is an Asterix story set in Atlantis so I will have to check that out).  Or I could call it The Secret History of Asterix.

Fallout: Australia

A riff on the Fallout computer games, but set in Australia. A bit Mad Max in places. Fairly traditional, in that there was a quest to get a dingus to save a village, but a bit awkward in that the Thug PC more or less had to ignore the Thief NPC (who had stolen his stuff), and we all had to ignore the fat that we knew that a bad guy had bribed the Thug to derail the mission.  It was okay, but we ran out of time before we could get to the Sydney Opera House with the weather machine.

Enter the Avenger

This was a fantasy Kill Bill. The idea is that one player takes the role of the Avenger, and the rest of the players take the role of suspects, the Avenger’s intuition, and the gory details of the avenging.  The prompt notes were superb, I wanted to steal all of the character/city descriptions for use elsewhere.  The player in charge of the avenger never changes, so it can be exhausting for the player, and its painful for everyone if they get struck by indecision.  Each confrontation with a suspect is roleplayed, but the rule is that the Avenger can never be defeated.  I had fun playing a couple of bad suspects.  Fun, would play again.

Nod

Nod is a city which can only be entered on one night of the year.  Enter, stage left, a barbarian seeking revenge!  Another story driven system, like Enter the Avenger, but in this case the other players had more agency (the avenger could be defeated).  There were a range of pre-gen characters, such as The King of Worms, the Apothecary, the Cutthroat and the Potentate.  Different characters had different areas of authority over which they could control the description of and the associated NPCs, and a big thing they could do a major plot twist/reveal around.  This was a round 7 game so we were all tired and struggled a bit.  I enjoyed linking things together and getting other players involved in new scenes.  I enjoyed playing the Castellan, getting everyone into the castle for the big show down, and I described the Castellan as an Iron Vizier, articulated steel in velvet, dedicated to preserving the status quo. My plans were foiled by the Cutthroat using a plot twist to reveal themselves as the real Potentate.  Fun, would play again.

 

As usual, I skipped the flagship LARP.  I did get to the post-con drinks for the first time and it was a pleasant wind down and a good chance to catch up with old friends.


Feedback and ideas for Pax Victoria II

June 30, 2013

I will upload the PDF of the survey results to the http://www.housewar.org website (probably tomorrow as I have been writing this all night) .  Bits of it will get mentioned in passing here.  I will start by going over the survey results and comments.  After that I will highlight some lessons from past Grand Strategy games.  Finally I will outline changes I intend to make to the game for Pax Victoria II at Kapcon 2014.

Most people thought Pax Victoria was okay, with a 3.58 rating our of 5.  Only one person said it was terrible.  Still a lot of room for improvement as only three people said it was great.

Advertising and Communication

In terms of advertising, most of the players heard about Pax Victoria through the SAGA website, and SAGA club meetings.  This is not something I have much influence over, so I appreciate the club officers promoting my game.  Most players signed up to the email list, but there were teething troubles, and only 60 per cent of the players found it helpful.  Again, some room for improvement in how that tool is used to support the game, such as better permission settings for files and archives.  My website was also useful for many people, so I intend to be more proactive about using it in the future.

Some people had issues with Yahoogroups.  I would appreciate suggestions for other electronic email options.

I had about four people proof early copies of the rules for me, but only had feedback from one or two people.  I need to get more advance playtesting done to improve the rules, rather than relying on written feedback.

Strategic Options

Nearly everyone read their team briefings, and three-quarters were able to communicate with team mates about strategic options.  Readership of the rules and guide were also high, so inasmuch as the design was in good shape, players could get a good understanding of the rules. In play, some of the rule sections were insufficient.    However, not everyone had time in the week before Buckets to make strategic choices, and it would have been better to have a proxy/delegation system for busy players to hand their choices over to their team mates.

Most players found the strategic choices interesting, and 70 per cent enjoyed making them.  My main comment when the choices were made was that Guards units were under-represented, and that perhaps I should have called them Marine units, as they were the best amphibious attack units in the game.  In play, Factories producing shells turned out to be useless, as there was an oversupply of shells from trade.  In the survey, two-thirds of players said Factories were underpowered, and half thought shipyards were underpowered (in part  because the low number of turns completed reduced the number of extra ships built).    The three options most considered overpowered were shipyards, artillery, and leader HQ value.  So shipyards may have been a very relative option, based on your geography.

Nearly everyone who was able to take part in pregame choices enjoyed them, so I definitely intend to keep them for future games.  I have done stuff like this before, but only a few players got to participate, and I think its better to involve as many people as possible.

Aggression Rating

This was one of the big experiments of the game.  A slight majority found this a balanced, interesting decision.  Opinion was evenly split between some influence/a lot of influence on the game.  I am uncertain about whether to retain a mechanic like this, which penalises player choices.  The comment made by Hamish that I should incentivise the actions I want to see in the game, rings true.  The mechanic started from trying to balance troop reserves, versus troops on the map, with the idea being that a too aggressive player would eventually run out of reserves and have to stop attacking.

Where the mechanic really failed, was in that there were insufficient VP to be gained from land campaigns, and reserve units were irrelevant to naval campaigns.  I have some ideas for secret objectives, Hamish suggested I give people 1 VP for each attack they make … which will certainly encourage an offensive doctrine!  What do other people think of the idea?

Game Map and Tokens

The map was considered pretty good, so all the money spent on the laser printer and toner (about two grand) was worth it.  Game tokens worked well (they only cost $200), and I enjoyed not having to cut out a thousand cardboard counters!  The tokens will make an appearance in future games.  The naval dice worked okay, but the land dice were confusing, six different letters was just harder to sort out mentally.

Shells did not work too well, too damn fiddly, and we did not clearly explain or mark the different shell values.  Leader and support units also added to the clutter, and for port units, there was just too much stuff piling up in and around the port (which may be realistic, but did not help the game).

I was a bit stunned that pretty much everyone said multiple map tables was a bad idea.  While there is some friction in inter-map communication, having two tables reduces crowding around the table, which will be a problem if I have a game with less teams, with each team having more players.  There are practical limits to how big the map can be made (one axis of the map cannot be greater than two arm lengths, otherwise the middle of the map cannot be reached by GMs and players).  Size also increases the cost (colour toner is not cheap, and commercial printing now costs around $200 a time for a Grand Strategy game set, which is why I’m trying to do it at home for better quality control because sometimes I get a crap job at the commercial printers).

There were too many sea areas, and not enough Fleet units.  I will see if I can order more tokens, although if I reduce the number of sea zones and teams, I should have enough Battleship tokens for one fleet per sea zone.

Rules

People felt they best understood the naval rules, with land combat and movement rules being the least understood.  Its clear with the benefit of hindsight, that the land rules were too complex, which combined with too much clutter on the land map (six different unit types, shells, leaders, trying to count hex ranges, etc), made the game much harder to play, and the turns much longer to play.  A side effect of complicated rules, is that it becomes too risky to allow players with a weak understanding of them near the dice, forcing teams to rely on the player with the best rules knowledge to do everything. Which is not what I want in a team game.

The push back, advance/retreat rules were insufficient.  This was bad design on my part.

Some players commented on the GMs grasp of rules being not good enough.  This is what playtesters of my Housewar game refer to as the “Dillon-in-a-box” problem.  As much as I try to write good rules, its very hard to get alignment of understanding between all the GMs, which is why I try and “float” rather than run a specific part of the game.  I try and spend time in the first turns watching the GMs and hoping it all works out with no major problems.

Trade/Economy

Seemed to work okay. Its definitely useful having options for people to do when away from the map table.  Most people were only busy about half of the time, so there is scope for expanding off-map actions.  Most people found it took a bit of effort to collect cards.  I did not collect data on the size of card sets handed in, so I would appreciate feedback on whether or not people were trying for five of any kind, five of one kind, and any other tactics used to boost trade returns.

There was some clear feedback, that players wanted more control over unit builds in the game, rather than being straitjacketed by the pre-game strategic options.

The Big Push Mechanic – Table Time

This was another experiment/innovation.  Early on, bids were low , then increasing (6, 10, 12, 31 were the winning bids in turns 1-4).  It was successful as an economic sink for shells, but as shells were almost useless, it was not an interesting decision to be making.  With only four turns played, only two teams had extra actions.  I suspect this was just too powerful in an eight team game, but may work better in a five team game.

Player preferences for accessing the map were:

  1. One random action per team per turn (40 per cent)
  2. Determine team actions through other mechanics (30 per cent)
  3. One fixed order action per team per turn (20 per cent)
  4. Purchase all  time at table (10 per cent).

Two-thirds of players were happy with two minutes per turn, with feedback that the two minutes should be strictly enforced, but a quarter of players wanted a minimum time guarantee, with an option to purchase more time.  One player suggested longer turns at the start, explicitly for learning the game, with shorter turns later on.

“There’s a really cruel tension here between being a hardass with the time (which is required if you want to get through the number of turns you need to get through) and helping confused newbies.”

Team Size

Most people liked being in small teams of 2-3 players.  If I reduce the number of teams, however, then either I have to cap the total number of players at a level lower than you get at Buckets, or just have teams with 4-5 players.  People also indicated a preference for having more than five teams, and as the number of teams is one of the most important factors in determining the time each game turn takes, this runs against the wish expressed for more turns to be completed.  While 60 per cent of players preferred resolving actions with their team present, 40 per cent did not, and I suspect if had teams of 8+ people, that team mates would increasingly get in the way of each other.  Its a hard thing to balance.

At a minimum, I should try for a team marker on name tags for future games, so players can identify teams more easily.

Other Player Suggestions

Simultaneous resolution of map actions – this is possible, but only if the rules are no more complex than for the DIPLOMACY boardgame. Otherwise the GMs vanish for half an hour and nothing appears to happen with the game.

Trading turn/initiative cards with other teams – this could be fun, I’ll keep it in mind.

Solo player roles outside the team win/lose framework – quite possible, having journalists whose job it is to produce in-game newsletters has been done before, and I have also had foreign diplomats or mercenaries in games in the past.  One thing to note, however, is that it is common for solo players to be more or less permanently recruited to aid a team, and if a team is aggressive at this recruitment it can gain a considerable advantage.

Project the table into another room – possible, but its another bit of tech to be purchased or borrowed, and more set up time (and the game does take hours to set up for one person). Ideally someone would volunteer to set this up for me…

Announce last turn loud and clear – yes, this could have been done better.

More diplomacy during the game – yes, I have some ideas for this.

More VP rewards for countries – yes, definitely needed more VP on the main land continent.

More off map activities – yes, definite scope for adding some more trade, espionage and diplomacy options.  We are limited, in that all off map stuff needs to be transparent and easily mapped to the hard state of the main game map (otherwise we get close to creating an extra quasi-map table with all its associated friction for keeping the two sets of information in alignment).

Low risk actions for newbies – this is tricky, if its low risk then its also likely to be low-value.  If there is actually more to do at the map tables, then this may reduce the problem as even the newbies need to be doing something in the time allowed.

Brief Overview of Past Grand Strategy Games

First, my record keeping is not the greatest.  I started doing these style of games around 20 years ago, as an evolution from the Freeform/LARP games I had run at games conventions.  So what these comments are, is highlights that have stuck in my memory, cool stuff players did, and spectacular mistakes on my part.

A Medieval Civil War

For this game, almost everyone started as a solo player, and we went through an extended diplomacy phase before the map wargame began. I was surprised that out of 30 odd players we ended up with two teams of 14-15 players, and one solo Necromancer who ran around plague bombing cities.  My lesson, if players can choose teams, they will invariably choose to be on the largest possible team, in order to maximise their chances of survival. Also memorable for Stephen Hoare, noticing the “here be dragons” icon on the map, asking me if there were Dragons.  I did a “can neither confirm nor deny” speil, and Stephen ran around telling everyone he had control of the Dragons.  Players asked me to confirm this, and I repeated the “can neither confirm nor deny” line, so Stephen ended up with some massive bribes.

Peace Treaties

This was a post-great war “treaty of Versaille” style game.  So one subset of players was playing out the Russian civil war, while everyone else was playing a pure diplomacy game.  My big mistake was having a traitor on a team, but only on one team.  In hindsight, high level politicians are unlikely to betray their own country from malice, and the traitor screwed their team beyond recovery.  Design lesson: no traitors, or everyone has traitors.  I don’t think the mix of war and peace worked well, as the two games played out independently of each other.

Empire, Houses, Rebels, and Horde

The map was a bit awkward, in that it was a mixture of fixed nodes connected by lines, and zones that some teams could move through easily, and other teams not at all. The Emperor wanted to remain Emperor, the Houses wanted to be Emperor, and the Rebels wanted to overthrow the Empire, while the alien horde (played by Zane Bruce) wanted to eat everyone.  It worked okay, but it was noticeable that the solo player for the alien horde was much more effective with map actions, as he did not have to consult with anyone.  For that reason I have been wary of giving solo players significant military assets in future games.

Decline & Fall of the Solar Empire

One of my best games, but it ran very late.  It was a mixture of strategic map movement, and tactical combat on mini-maps using a detailed system that required players to design and build warships.  The combat system consisted of probing shots to eliminate decoys, and then hammering the big guns when you found a real target.  Four teams of rebels competed to overthrow the Evil Empire (run by GM NPCs following a script).  In the concluding battle, one sharp eyed player spotted that the hidden counter for the Emperor’s Flagship was 2mm smaller than the other ships, and probed it.  A GM turned to me (the evil Emperor) and said I should retreat, so I wheeled out the “Evacuate in our moment of triumph? I think you oveerstimate their chances!” line from Star Wars, got destroyed, and then forced the GMs to fight a civil war while the few rebel survivors watched…

Decline & Fall of the Galactic Empire

A fairly forgettable game.  It was pretty bland.  I have tried to avoid symmetrical maps since then.  I remember being very annoyed with a player who deliberately trashed the map at the end of the game, preventing useful post-game discussion.

Matrix Games – Dragon Empire

A narrative mechanic system, where players wrote arguments for what happened next.  Theme was succession dispute in a Chinese Empire.  There were riots. GM resolution was a choke point, and because arguments did not succeed (especially if opposed by other players) it was possible to go for a long time with no effect on the game.  It is a good way to generate random events though, so I may use it in the future again.  See http://hamsterpress.net/ for more about Matrix Games.

Flower Power

One of my best games, fondly remembered for the epic last minute thwarting of the Begonian menace.  I had a lot of teams, and a lot of solo player roles, and a few LARP elements involving the RANT drug.  For whatever reason, the chemistry of the game just worked, and there was a strong narrative conclusion that was very satisfying.

Fortress America

A bit of a disaster.  Too many units, too many different types of dice, too complex a rule system. I never want to have a game involving nukes again, because players in a game do not behave like political leaders in real life.  Because people did not understand the rules (my fault, poor design) the invasion forces never got off the beaches, so we never felt like the game was reaching a climax.  Oddly enough, players most enjoyed the bombing raids, because you used an abstract force against a  specific target in an easily identifiable way.

Survivor: Dark Lord

An experiment, with everyone starting on the Dark Lord’s team, and through assassination and execution, becoming rebels.  Player feedback was strong on not liking being assassinated and having to start over, fun, but not a game for investing much in your strategy.  Simeon Lodge’s dark lord costume was epic.  The auction/exploration system for relics was flawed, too easy for player collusion or too rewarding for standing in line for a minute. Combat was based on DUNE and very unforgiving.

Colossus of Atlantis

I tried for a more of research based game, with cooperation and conflict mechanics.  The map was a bit too bland.  Where the game fell down badly was the political system, based on Athenian democracy the players broke it in the first turn.  By changing the rule of the speaker being determined by lot, to elected, the speaker became speaker for life, because whenever a vote was held on the office, people filibustered the vote until the clock ran out.  Realistic, but very frustrating in an actual game.  Lesson learned: don’t let players change the meta rule structure easily, and flagpost the consequences of doing so more strongly.  This may have been the first multi-map table game.

Voting is useful, in games focusing on competition within a state.  Voting systems between sovereign states tend to be consensus based (i.e. everyone has a veto) which tends to create stalemates (which are not fun).

American Apocalypse

Not my worst game, but there was a lot of inter-map table friction, and meta-gaming of the map queues to prevent other players having a fair go.  The economic system collapsed quickly, and everyone was starving to death. It may have been too easy to trade territory, and the end of the game felt a bit flat.  Units were an evolution of the Atlantis game, with each unit having four strength attributes, but as the economic system fell over, so did the combat system, and it became too easy for some players to win cheap victories.

Sun and Starship

I tried to model this game on the Byzantine strategic situation of being a central power playing off external rivals.  I was undone by Gerald’s pirate alliance, and the lack of capital defences to keep the pirates out. So we quickly had pirate emperors.  Learning from Atlantis, the political side was improved, and the Imperial Council was a fun alternative to map/trade actions.  Not enough trade cards, and too many on map counters was the feedback.

Thoughts for Pax Victoria II

Victory Conditions

  • Trade Victory: ship trade goods off-world for VP (an economic sink)
  • Diplomatic Victory: all any four teams to jointly agree to enforce peace, they end the game and allocate 100 VP between them all five teams, minimum one VP per team.
  • Aggression Victory: each player allocates secret VP objectives for their nation (City, Mine, Sea Zone, Railway connecting two cities) with a 1 VP, 3 VP, 6 VP, and 10 VP objective being chosen by each player.  All objectives must be controlled by other nations at the start of the game (except rail, which can be partially in your country).  Objective VP are cumulative (i.e. if a city is worth 3 VP for one team and 6 VP for another team, its worth a total of 9 VP).

Another way of doing the Diplomatic Victory is to have a list of five or six “political issues” (such as native rights, taxation, etc) and for each state to get different VP (which are secret) based on what outcome is agreed at the conference table.  This allows a bit of roleplaying in the game too.

Teams

  • Combine Oxbridge-Mercia, Rent-Tyneshire, and Rutland-Redwall into joint teams (reducing the number of teams from eight to five)
  • Allow players to nominate themselves to be a formal team leader

Time and Motion

Option (a) 25 minute turns, if push actions take two minutes, GM phase three minutes, then seven teams get two and a half minutes each.  If only five teams, then four minutes each.

Option (b) 25 minute turns, push action takes two minutes, GM phase three minutes, but the other teams get an amount of time determined by other game mechanics. For five teams:

  • one team gets two minutes
  • one team gets three minutes
  • one team gets four minutes
  • one team gets five minutes
  • one team gets six minutes.

Rules

  • Build a one page summary that focuses on turn process (where to be, what to do)
  • Main rules (how to do)
  • Guide Book (why to do)

I am investigating options for videoing a short “how to play the game” clip for YouTube.

Game Map

  • Reduce the number of sea zones.
  • Align sea zones to initial national border boundaries.
  • Add rail lines between all adjacent nations.
  • Start with all mines under player control.

Turn Resolution

Door GM displays the turn initiative order on a wall mounted display board.

  1. Door GM announces start of your team’s turn.
  2. Your team enters the room.
  3. GMs in the map room instruct the previous team that their turn has ended and they must step away from the table now.
  4. Perception Phase – team members may look at map and talk, but not touch tokens. Team leader chooses when Execution phase starts.
  5. Execution Phase – team members can touch tokens and talk with GMs, but not with other players.
  6. Door GM announces start of the next team’s turn.
  7. Collect Build Order sheet on the way out, with economic summary filled out by a GM.

While the last team is filling out its build orders for the next turn, the Big Push action is resolved. One team gets a Naval push, and one  team gets a Land push.  Only one person is sent into the room for the push action from each team.

What I hope here, is that the social dynamic of the next team being in the room, will essentially embarrass the team at the table into moving away as fast as possible.  GMs are soft-hearted creatures and hate telling people to stop having fun at the table…

Leader Units

Removed from game to reduce clutter and allow players free choice as to where they want to act.

Shells

Removed from game. Players can ignore supply if it looks like they can connect to a friendly city (no hex counting or bean counting required).

Artillery and Cavalry Units

Removed from the map table, these become an abstract resource any General can call on.  Each time they are used, the total resource available is reduced by one (or, the resource is reduced if you roll a -1 result on the dice).

Guards Units

Rename Marines. Specific role is amphibious operations.

Fortress Units

Remove supply/movement role.  Only remaining role is a bonus die for defence/impede advances post-combat.

Ground Movement

Three hexes plus unlimited rail movement. I don’t expect much movement with the unit changes and reserve unit rules, but players may want to withdraw to rough terrain.

Ground Combat

Cap at six dice (down from nine).  Artillery bonus dice cannot exceed dice from regular units. Cavalry do not contribute dice, only bonus hex capture if you win.

Change die facings to -1, 0, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2.  The number is the number of hits generated in battle.  All -1 results hurt the attacker.  As well as numbers, I can make the printed labels different colours (black for -1, red for 2) for faster identification.

Reserve Units

There is only ever one front line.  There is no game benefit from having a double line of units.  All invasions must overcome an assumed coastal defence force (port cities are harder than beaches).  After combats/invasions, GMs automatically fill out the gaps in the front line with fresh units (unless no units are available).  So apart from the front line, and fortress units, there should be almost no other clutter on the game map to worry about.  Dead units are not available for reserve unit use.

Naval Combat

Change die facings to -1, 0, 1, 1, 1, 2.  The number is the number of hits generated in battle.  All -1 results hurt the side rolling the dice (different from land combat).

A Mership is removed by one hit.  A Submarine is removed by two hits. A Battleship is removed by three hits.

Trade

Have cards that can be traded for economic, espionage, and/or research benefits.  Economic benefit – increase unit builds and trade cards in future turns.  Espionage benefit – increased time at the game table, bid for Push actions, trying to uncover secret VP objectives, and pay for spies in the map room during other teams action turns.  Research benefit – unlock and build airpower options.  With a smaller number of teams, trade options may be more restricted, and the overall number of cards may be lower.

What I am considering is a move away from absolute trade numbers, to relative trade numbers.  In a relative system, the value of your set hand in is compared to what the other teams cashed in that turn, and based on that rank you get a fixed return.  This allows the economic growth/build to be more predictable, and also gives players something else to worry about (sure, you have an awesome trade set, but is now the right time to cash it in?).  I am open to suggestions for ways of making trade more interesting, but not too overpowered.

Trade is risk free … I would like there to be some opportunity for treachery or disasters, but its very difficult to enforce without GM presence and attention, otherwise players can just agree to hide the bad cards and pretend they never existed.  Any clever suggestions for how I could make nasty stuff happen with trade?

Strategic Options

Options do two things. First, they increase the number of units you have at the start of the game. Second, they reduce the cost of building that type of unit during the game.

So a standard build cost for, Battleships for example, might be 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, where the first build costs one point, and building three units costs (1+2+3) six points.  With a few strategic option points pre-game the build chart (pre-printed for GM/player convenience) might look more like 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, so building three units only costs (1+1+2) four points.

Research

I do not want players to research an “I win” button.  Air power is a logical are for research to focus on for a WWI/Great War themed game.  Air power starts at zero for all nations.  Because of the low manpower and resource cost, it can be quickly developed into a formidable war machine.  But due to the rapid evolution of air technology, if not maintained, it will quickly decay away into obsolesce.

Most airpower research = +5 airpower units (for a five team game)

Least airpower research = +1 airpower units (or zero if zero research)

Airpower template card, place in the ocean alongside the front border between two hostile nations, allocate air power counters as you see fit. Counters can move to any other card template.  Counters cannot move after combat.

Counters have four missions (missions must be unlocked by research, with scouting coming first, then superiority, and finally tactical/strategic airpower roles)

  • Superiority (destroying enemy airpower)
  • Scouting (getting espionage cards)
  • Strategic (strategic bombing of cities)
  • Tactical (tactical ground support of combat operations)

Strategic bombing range is equal to one hex per game turn (so unlikely early on, quite easy after a few turns) or a product of further research.

Air Process for active team:

  1.  Move air counters between different fronts and missions. One mision per counter per turn.
  2. Choose to engage in superiority battle, or not
  3. Choose to scout, or not
  4. Choose to bomb, or not.

Superiority Missions

  • Only units on Superiority missions can ever destroy other air counters
  • Calculate dice as per naval battles
  • Roll for both sides
  • A -1 reduces your airpower counters by one, other hits reduce enemy airpower, players who are defending do not suffer strength loss from -1 rolls, as their aircraft can be salvaged and repaired
  • After battle, stronger side is superior, otherwise neither is superior

NB: Superiority is the decisive air combat mission that enables success at all other air missions.

Scouting Missions

  • As above, but hits generate Espionage cards
  • If enemy is superior, they attack you before you roll dice, if you are superior, they attack you after you roll dice, units destroyed before you roll dice do not roll dice.

Strategic Mission

  • As per Scouting Mission
  • Economic attacks, damage does not accumulate, first “1” hit is -1 Trade card, first “2” hit is -2 Trade cards, additional hits inflict VP damage, which can accumulate

Tactical Mission

  • As per Scouting Mission
  • If not destroyed by enemy, add one die to a ground combat operation (this will require coordination with other players).

Finish

Okay, this post clocks in at over 5,000 words, a new record for this blog!


Kapcon 2013 Reflections

January 20, 2013

TLDR: I had fun, but the gaming world is changing and its time for me to be a grumpy old man.

Some quick post-convention thoughts on the Kapcon gaming convention this weekend.

First is the way the games being run have changed over the years.  I see a strong move away from old school published games from big companies, towards Indie games.  I can see why, the old school games were designed for running long campaigns, and their simulationist mind set focuses on incremental rewards and character improvement.  Indie games are more like tvtropes on speed, and very much focus on grabbing immediate player engagement and permitting them to do a lot of swashbuckling Hollywood stuff.  Even the old niche humor/horror games of Paranoia and Call of Cthulhu are vanishing under the relentless tide of Indie games.

Second, is that LARP is eating the tabletop games.  Overall convention numbers are stable, but numbers taking part in LARP over tabletop are increasing.  As a friend commented, LARP attracts all the good immersive roleplayers. This leaves a lot of tabletop games to collapse from lack of numbers, or to be filled by passive players who just sit back and watch one guy talk for three hours.  I’m honestly not sure I should ever bother trying to run a tabletop game at Kapcon again – I’m simply not a good enough Rockstar GM to attract enough players for the game to be fun for me to run.

Third, convention organisation remains strong, improving every year.  Two first-timers I helped bring along were very impressed and had a good time.

I played three games and ran one, and spent a bit of time working on Pax Victoria.  I bailed for home rather than wait around for the prize-giving (pretty sure I was not going to get a mention for either GMing or playing, and sitting around through 45 minutes of talking and clapping when the brain is tired just doesn’t thrill me anymore).

(1) Too Big to Fail (GM Paul Wilson): after playing this I resolve to never ever play a game where you roleplay people playing roleplaying games gain.  It was so meta-meta I struggled to know what to do at any point in time, especially as I selected Jim Butcher who had a “Serious Roleplayer, don’t break character” character, so I might as well have not been playing Jim Butcher.  When the GM has to to tell you the Paladin’s horses name (Charlene) is an in-joke, the its not an in-joke anymore because only the GM is in on the in joke.  The final fight was over in two rounds, which felt too short for me.

(2) Too Many Draculas (GM Mike Sands): my first experience of the Monster of the Week system was good. Characters were easily generated, and the scenario meant that anytime it slowed the GM just added another Dracula.  We got through 11 Draculas, and my cantankerous granddad vampire hunter was fun to play, with my decisions meshing well with the other characters.  Slight look of shock on the other PCs at my willingness to use them as bait, but oh well such is life.  I liked this game so much I went and bought the PDF from DriveThruRPG.com.

(3) Price Slash (GM Dale Elvy): Again, a very strong focus on pretending you’re in a movie, with montages and flashbacks.  Character generation was more of a work in progress, and I failed to mesh well with the other characters, so ended up pretty much a loner. It was frustrating to feel a few times that the GM skipped past me (he often started with the player to my left, and by the time Dale got to me he seemed to have the next frame in mind and wanted to move onto it quickly), so the more active/enthusiastic players got a bit more character development in.  On the plus side, my laundry man/mafia assassin got a three year extension on his seven year deal with the Devil. The game was run with the EPOCH system, which worked, but had a lot of cards and counters on the table.

My own game, Last Stand at Salang was not a great success. It was old school, using Runequest VI, the latest version of a 1970s game, with three pages of character sheets, a colour map, and two pages of combat charts for each player.  It was possibly the only 1970s era game run at the con.  Because three of the four players were passive, it was mostly a military logistics game with one player dominating the talking and the die rolling, with the final battle taking the last 30 minutes. The player with the Dragonslaying sword failed to hit the Dragon three times, and then the Dragon did 13 HP (after armour) to the leg, biting it off, fade to black, a very scorched black.   It was also frustrating to turn up on Sunday morning and have zero sign ups for the second playing of it. Oh well, at least I got a cookie from Idiot/Savant.

Thanks to James for giving me rides to and from Kapcon.  Its a PITA to get there by Bus from Newlands (especially if you want to shower/eat before the con starts).