Thursday 28 July 2016

Delta Vector: A Restrospective

I don't like self congratulatory "I have 200 followers" or "100,000 views" posts but as I was finishing a game design article yesterday I was reflecting on how this blog has evolved.  From under 100 hits a day to averaging 2000, from a review repository to game design musings and PCs, novels and design groups.

Given I avoid the aforementioned posts, and also never do "reposts" I thought I might get away with a "look back" article.

1. Storage Spot for Critical, Thorough Reviews
It all started as I belonged to a few forums as well as local gaming groups. As the resident rules junkie, I was often asked if a system was worth trying.  Getting tired of repeating myself (or retyping the same stuff in three different places) I wanted a repository of reviews so I could just repost a link.

When looking for rules myself online, I found rules tended to fall into two categories:
Vague reviews with no explanation of actual mechanics besides "this is fun!" or
Reviews that focussed on the layour of the rulebook and little else "it is perfect bound, with colour photos"    ....I was left wondering "so what is the game like?"

Few actually contained the information I needed to decided if I would like to play the game.
Most were gushingly effusive in their praise.  I often wondered if I had played the same game as the reviewer.  I don't think I ever saw a review that said "avoid this game, it's bad."  Yeah, you want them to send you free stuff, but have some integrity!  So I decided to share the rules with the wider public, and tightened up my review format to make them more consistent.

2. Quick Paintjobs, Fast and Easy Terrain
I get annoyed at the fact all hobby magazines and sites (and most blogs) show paintjobs and modelling to a supremely talented standard unachievable by mere mortals.  Personally, I can find them discouraging rather than inspirational.  I think there's a middle ground between Golden Demon nominee and "undercoated/bare metal armies" and terrain of model-railroad meticulousness and the random mix of "tissue boxes, paper terrain and random 40K corner pieces on top of a tablecloth."
Articles on making cheap and consistent Infinity terrain from foamboard, sand tables and spray foam proved popular.

3. Game Design & Homebrew Rules
A rant about how spaceship games suck (fast forward to 2016 - they still suck) struck a chord.  Fiddling around with homebrew rules based on skirmish rules such as Ambush Alley and Infinity rather than traditional naval games generated a fair bit of interest.

A rant about IGOUGO (yes, some things don't change) also attracted something of a following. Emboldened, I embarked on what was intended to be a series of a dozen articles about issues in game design.  The topics interested me, but I couldn't find anywhere to read about it. So I thought I'd write my own.  Without making any claims to superior wisdom, I wanted to look at WHY we follow certain traditions when designing games.   Apparently I was not the only one looking for game design articles, as they generated quite a bit of response.  It cheers me up to know I was not the only nerd musing on the deep and meaningful issues behind activation mechanics.  I'm working on my 70th article, so obviously there is more to discuss about gaming than I first anticipated...

4. The Review Period
This was a very prolific period. I'd often review 3-4 rulesets a month.  I started to receive a lot of review copies and playtest rules.  At this stage I'm now spending more time discussing and testing rules than simply sitting down and playing. I feel like I'm transitioning more from a sports player to a sports scientist.  I'm also getting to know quite a lot of the indie rules authors, which concerns me a bit, as I feel it might effect my impartiality.  It's not as fun to sink the boot into rules when you have to consider feelings.  This phase also coincided with a series of book reviews, both of hobby books and novels. Delta Vector was branching out.

5. Delta Vector Google Group
The comments section of the game design posts were often really informative.  Talented designers were chipping in ideas. The regular readers tended to be quite energetic, and the comments section were usually much more interesting than my pontifications. I wanted an area where they could easily share, rather than be confined to a cramped comments box where they would be lost to posterity.  At the same time, I noticed a reluctance to share alpha/beta/draft rules.  People like to present their rules as fait accompli - all nicely laid out, ready to publish - a status 99% of homebrew rules never reach. By sharing the rules early, they can be encouraged by other enthusiasts, who are willing to test out kinks and make suggestions.  There emerges some really interesting discussions, and I've learned a lot of  new mechanics.

6. PC Games Intrude
Much to the horror of old-school regulars, PC-centric content has started to creep in.  This is simply a time factor. It's easy to grab 10 minutes on the computer or laptop while a toddler plays at your feet - it's harder to get painting time. PC games also has a game design aspect which link with their tabletop ancestors. In fact, now PC games are senior and tabletop games are the weird little brother.  Despite it being outside the usual scope, articles on Mechwarrior and World of Tanks have proved well liked.  This will continue, with a focus on "Dad" games*. (*A "Dad" game is one that requires cunning rather than twitchy reflexes,and can be played on small time chunks with scope for interruptions).

7. The Lull
After a fairly active 2015, hobby activity has dropped off a lot. In a word - my second child learned to walk so dad never has a free quiet moment.  Besides testing homebrew rules from the google group and the odd cheap new Osprey title, game time is near non-existent.  I've frozen buying new miniatures even my quick, cavalier painting style has slowed to a crawl and the lead mountain of unfinished projects is outpacing my ability to keep up.

8. Where to from here?
Well, I'm keen to keep to my self-imposed 50-posts-a-year-without-reposting-unoriginal-content rule, but I'm keenly aware of my reduced circumstances.  For example, I'd like to do a "design a game" playtesting and recording my thoughts on the blog.  But that's nigh impossible, given I have a "helper" or two within minutes of entering my man cave.  I have a backlog of rules to test.

With limited time, I need to prioritize, blog-wise. Are there any particular articles you'd like to see?  
I'll post up some incomplete projects, and you can vote on any you'd like to see finished in the comments.  Any particular genres for rules? Any particular type of article? (I'm expecting "no more PC stuff"...)  I'm trying to align my hobby and blog time better.

Tuesday 26 July 2016

Game Design #69: Momentum

This post is a flow on from #68, where I looked at the amount of actions per turn a unit can do.
I'm interested in "inherent" reactions; not a specific reaction mechanic like say Ambush Alley or Infinity, but the ability to respond to enemies actions.

In the last post, I suggested we could improve alternate activation mechancics (the new "normal" as IGOUGO has deservedly fallen from grace) by reducing the number of actions a unit can take from 2 (the usual move+shoot, move+move, charge+melee etc) to one.

As units can only take a single action, they impact the game less. Less in-game time elapses before opponents can respond with their own moves.   A unit which can move only 6" OR shoot, obviously has less time on their hands than an identical unit which can move 6" AND shoot AND melee.

By doing less in a unit's activation, we have by inference made the turn shorter, time-wise.

The most extreme example of "chopping up" a move into small increments is Star Fleet Battles. Each turn was chopped up into 32(!) sub-moves or "impulses."   You could only move a single hex (1") at most each impulse; for example a speed-32 ship could move every impulse, a speed 16 ship might move every 2nd impulse, a speed 2 ship might move on impulses #16 and #32...

(I find the idea of impulses interesting - I've considered reviving them for spaceship or aeronef games. Maybe not 32 - that's a bit extreme - but chopping a turn up into 2, maybe 3 bits it could have several interesting effects, such as easily showing the responsiveness of smaller ships, weapon rate of fire, and turn radius, as well as crew initiative.... maybe food for another post)

This is the ebb and flow of a battle - where one side seizes the initiative (the active player) while the other reacts.  The player with the momentum (or initiative) is the one dictating play, forcing his opponent to dance to his tune.  However, momentum can be lost.  Sometimes it is handed over as part of an activation. Even better, some games allow you to wrest the initiative off your opponent - perhaps by command rolls or by combat results.

I like to use the word momentum - it can be used somewhat interchangabley with the terms "the player with the initiative" or the "active player" but the word initiative can be used in a few ways, and sometimes you might have the momentum/initiative and NOT be the active player (see Forced Activation below).

An IGOUGO game has no ebb and flow. It's like two tidal waves smashing each other to bits.  Side A crashes home, with every unit taking lots of moves, actions and attacks.  Any Side B survivors who weather the storm hit back with all their units, attacking with everything they've got. There's no momentum - it's just one giant crash, then another giant crash.

An alternate move game has players dutifully taking turns. It's like toddlers taking turns to splash at opposing ends of the tub.  While there isn't an overwhelming, synchronized response from an army, but rather a unit-by-unit tit-for-tat, nonetheless I don't like the neat, predictable nature of it.  You move a guy, I move a guy, you move a guy, I move a guy. Fine for boardgames, but warfare isn't that tidy.

I suggest a more interesting way is to enable armies to activate several units in a row. Instead of dutifully taking turns with an opponent to activate a unit each (in alternate movement), sometimes a you can "follow on" by activating another of your units, without handing the turn back to your opponent.  However this should not be predictable. Even better, your opponent should be able to interrupt and seize the momentum back.  As you can see, with a game with variable momentum we blur the lines between reaction mechanics and vanilla activation.

Momentum is not New
This is not a revolutionary concept. I think Warmaster/Epic (heck I forget, it was so long ago) had an alternate movement system - players took turns moving a unit each.  However, you could try to "follow on" and move a second unit, if you passed a Command Test.  However, each time you tried to "follow on" reduced the command roll by -1.  So it would be difficult to follow-on three times as you would be at -3 to make the roll.

So instead of normal alternate activation
1. Player A activates a unit
2. Player B activates a unit
3.Player A activates a unit
4. Player B activates a unit

We have instead
1. Player A activates a unit, he then decides if he wants to activate a second unit or pass the turn to Player B. He decides he wants to act again. He passes the command roll.
2. Player A activates a second unit. Again he can pass the initiative over, or move a second unit. He decides to keep the momentum going. This time his command roll is -1 to succeed. For the sake of our example, he fails the roll.
3. Player B now has the activation. After he activates a unit he may choose to pass or follow-on.
...and so on

You can see there are more decision points for the player. Also, command and control is a factor - the leadership/morale/training of commanders and troops can affect the move sequence.

Another example is Song of Blades. A player rolls 1-3 dice to see how many actions his unit can take. If he rolls 2 failures his turn abruptly ends and it is his opponents' turn.  The momentum shift is very abrupt "hey buddy, your turn is over!" but player can remove the risk by rolling only 1 dice (so removing the chance of a double failure) but be guaranteed of being able to follow on and continue their turn.  It also adds a pleasing element of risk vs reward.  I'm not sure it counts as momentum because your turn is completely over.  For me, momentum is more the shift of initiative within a turn.

Crossfire (WW2 platoon/coy) along with its complete lack of measurements, had a distinct momentum system. Units had unlimited movement and unlimited actions.  However opponents could react freely.  So whilst a unit could technically move the length of the table in its activation, it would be VERY unlikely.  If a unit lost an engagement or was suppressed, the turn shifted to its opponent.
(Crossfire is a very interesting and innovative game for its time - I recommend it to rulebook connoisseurs)

Reaction is not momentum. Infinity has a strong reaction mechanic, but no real momentum. The active player has as many activations as he has units (i.e. 10 units, 10 activations). Whilst the reactive player has very strong, unlimited reactions, the active player cannot lose the momentum. He remains the active player until his 10 actions are used up. There is no way for the momentum to shift within a turn.

The Forced Activation
I quite like this and it appears in a lot of my homebrew rules. If you have the momentum (i.e. you have the initiative/are the active player.)  But sometimes you don't want to be the first one to act.  Sometimes acting second is better.  But we want having the momentum to always be a desirable thing.  So... the player with the initiative can force an opponent to activate a unit.  Sometimes the opponent gets to choose, sometimes you can force him to move precisely the unit you want him to.

To recap - an Ode to Momentum
Momentum is the term I used to show the shift of initiative within a turn, or abruptly losing their turn without activating all their units.  Within a momentum system, players do not hold the initiative for the entire turn.  There is no guarantees of when (or even if) they will activate their unit.  A player with momentum is the one calling the shots - but their is no promises he will continue to do so.

Momentum can be lost in a few ways. Sometimes from adverse effects (a la Crossfire) - a unit takes hits or is suppressed - the momentum (initiative) shifts and the opponent becomes the active player.  Other times a unit loses it by failing a roll (command check); other times an opponent might attempt to seize it off him with some sort of opposed roll if he has a command unit within range or LoS.

A system with momentum adds a layer of complexity - instead of players predictably taking turns, it's a game-within-the-game to seize and hold the initiative at key times. It can emphasize command and control - the when (or if) you act is every bit as important as the where.   It can emphasize the value of commanders as actual commanders, not just high-stat rambo killing machines *cough 40K cough*. Momentum can add a ability for opponents to react and respond, without drafting on an extra reaction mechanic.  It builds an element of inherent reaction into the activation itself.

There are lots of games that use a sense of "momentum" - but it is a concept that I think needs wider consideration.  Game designers are belatedly realising IGOUGO is limited, and that there is merit in reaction mechanics (basically extensions of the old "overwatch" concept.) But I think the concept of momentum is still in its infancy.

Game Design #68: LOTR, Alternate Activation, and Actions per Turn

Squad vs Platoon
Something I've noticed is the relative incompatibility between the two levels of 1:1 gaming; squad level and platoon+ level.

Squad level games tend to have 5-10 minis per side; with either reaction systems or complex special rules (or both); Infinity and Song of Blades and Heroes are two examples. Minis tend to be moved and fight independently or in small 2-4 man fire teams.  They often scale up poorly, as they tend to use reaction mechanics, or have complex special rules, or both. Imagine an Infinity game involving 30 minis per side! Ouch.

Platoon+ level games tend to have minis grouped in several squads of 6-10; plus vehicles - Warhammer 40K, Warmachine, Bolt Action, Ambush Alley are examples of these. They often scale down poorly as they tend to be a bit bland, lacking character or tactically limited when you field small amounts of units.  For example, a battle between two 10-man 40K or Bolt Action squads would be rather dull. 

I think a "holy grail" is a ruleset where units are not locked into rigid "squads" who are forced into an artificial 2" coherency; but where they can act individually or as a group, where a leader can "grab" a bunch of soldiers and imbue them with bonuses or tactical flexibility, but where random grunts also have a modicum of freedom and do not have to rely on their leaders in order to act. 

There's not many games which handle small squad skirmish AND platoon+. Warmachine (at least in older editions) straddles the genres a bit, but there is one that sticks out in my mind. Step forward, and Lord of the Rings.   Not only does it handle 30 per side with aplomb and can stretch to ~50 at a pinch, it also handles scenarios with a handful of heroes and has spawned a range of skirmish games (Legends of High Seas/Wild West etc).

Why does LOTR succeed?
Well, of the innovations that LOTR did over 40K, one was it added resource management (Might, Will, Fate), it streamlined the stats and combat, but most importantly, it abandoned IGOUGO for a sort of sequenced move.

To clarify, an IGOUGO activation system typically goes:

You pretty much can do what you want with all your units, without opposition. Your opponents troops stand about obligingly like wax dummies as you enact your plans without interference. There are few meaningful decisions or reactions you need to make. IGOUGO systems are rarely good (except in CCG-style games where building combos/synergy between units is important - for example, I don't see Warmachine working well with any other system).

LOTR broke this move sequence up into sub-sections:

As you can see, it chopped the game turn up, and gave the other side a chance to respond ("react") twice to enemy actions - there are two "inbuilt" reactions within the sequence*.  There is no complex reaction mechanic (a la Infinity, Tomorrow's War) to slow things up.

Designers have drifted away from IGOUGO, and I would call ALTERNATE MOVE the new "default" for wargames.  It works thus:

PLAYER A chooses a single unit which MOVES, SHOOTS, and MELEES
PLAYER B chooses a single unit which MOVES, SHOOTS, and MELEES
PLAYER A chooses a second unit which MOVES, SHOOTS, and MELEES
PLAYER B chooses a second unit which MOVES, SHOOTS, and MELEES
...and so on until both sides have acted with all their units

There are lots of interactions - theoretically, as many as there are units - and a player can respond to the actions of a single unit. The tactical challenges change as each unit is deployed.
Basically, the new "cool" rule is what Chess has been using for thousands of years.  

So why not alternate activation - there's a lot of interactions and decision points, surely? There's inbuilt "reactions" as well...

Okay, I'm now getting to the "train of thought" that has been boarding at the station for awhile now. I'm going to call it "Actions per Activation" or "Actions per Turn."

In alternate move (or heck in most game systems), when you "activate" a unit or mini, you can do several things. In most rules, you can do things like

Move + Shoot or Shoot + Move  = 2 actions
Move + Melee = 2 actions)
Charge (Move+ Move+Melee) = 3 actions
Run (Move + Move) = 2 actions
Shoot + Shoot = 2 actions

You get the idea. Each time you activate a unit (i.e. a unit has it's "turn") it gets to do 2 or 3 things.  It might move twice up to 12", or move 6" and then shoot, or charge 12" then melee attack.  Basically, when a unit is activated it can do quite a lot of stuff or move quite far. 

The "standard" game I illustrated shows a unit has 2-3 actions per activation.  What that means is the single unit which is activated can do a considerable amount with his 2-3 actions before the opponent can activate a unit which also gets to do a lot of stuff.

Again, the unit does so much stuff the opponents cannot react to. Yes, it's better than IGOUGO, Yes, it's just a single unit - but it seems unlikely anyone would let an enemy sprint 12" towards them without some response.

Aha, I know the answer to this! You need a reaction mechanic!
I do like me a good reaction system (like Infinity or Tomorrow's War) but they DO bog the game down a lot.  The reactions add more dice rolling and complexity; sure, there's a lot going on. I'd estimate more goes on in 3 turns of Ambush Alley than 6 turns of a more "McDonalds" game like 40K or Bolt Action. But it does slow things up at times and adds complexity. I'm trying to avoid an explicit reaction mechanic. How can we improve interactions and "implicit" reactions?

Lets go back to Lord of the Rings example, shall we? 
Yes, your whole force moves* (*actually, this is not true - heroes can spend resources to activate small groups out of sequence, which adds pleasing tactical depth) then the opponent moves.

But they are reacting to only one thing - your move.

Then you shoot, and they shoot. Again, they are reacting to only a single action. Your shooting.

Basically, what I am saying is that by limiting a unit to a single action per activation (i.e. when it is their turn they can move OR shoot OR melee, NOT a combination of 2-3 of those actions) you limit the impact a unit can make. There is less in game "time" elapsing before opponents can respond.

Let's call this ALTERNATE ACTIVATION "Single Action" Edition:
PLAYER A chooses a single unit which MOVES OR SHOOTS OR MELEES
PLAYER B chooses a single unit which MOVES OR SHOOTS OR MELEES
PLAYER A chooses a second unit which MOVES OR SHOOTS OR MELEES
PLAYER B chooses a second unit which MOVES OR SHOOTS OR MELEES

By simply restricting the amount of things a unit can do when it is "activated" to a single action, it means the interactions/reactions between units are more fluid.  You have effectively reduced the time "lag" between action and the enemy response.

If a unit runs 12" (say 100m in-scale) before a enemy can respond, there's say a 20-second lag. If a unit can charge enemies from 12" away without a response, that's a bit implausible.

If a unit can only travel 6"(say 50m in-scale) before an enemy respond, that's a 10-second lag. It's a lot more plausible that a unit could get "jumped" and caught off guard over a shorter range.

Let's flip it around. What if I decided a unit could take 4 actions each time it activated?  In each of those 4 actions it could shoot, more or melee. Potentially a unit with a 6" move could cross 24" of the board, or unload 4 shooting volleys when it is it's turn.  A tad ridiculous?  That's because it is doing too much in its turn. My question: Is being able to do 2-3 things in your turn too much as well?

Yes, some games (like Infinity, and Crossfire) allow a unit many (potentially 10+) actions each activation.  This works because opponents units have unlimited reactions and would get potentially 10+ reactions in response.  It's very unlikely a unit would travel 24" (4 moves) or fire 4 volleys  - before being counter-charged or gunned down by reacting opponents.  This discussion is looking at alternate move activation or activations without an explicit reaction mechanic.

I'm interested in how much (how many actions) a unit can take when it's its "turn."  By reducing these actions, we reduce the "lag" before an enemy responds.  Do we allow a unit to do too much when it is it's "turn?"

Also, I'm interested in what activation mechanics might best bridge the gap between platoon (30+, squad activation) and squad level (5-10 minis, individual activation)games. 

PS: I'd like to explore this "single action" alternate move system further and look at ways we can break up the predictable sequence of ABABABABAB.... but it's late and my toddlers like to wake at the crack of dawn....

Saturday 9 July 2016

Game Design #67: Character Skill vs Player Skill in Videogames and Wargame Implications

I recently came across a blog on game design. It's more PC/videogame focussed, but an interesting article caught my eye "Game Design: The Nature of Grinding."

Whilst the topic of grinding is interesting for me as a PC gamer, it's not so relevant for wargaming. What did catch my eye was a subtopic  - Character Skill vs Player Skill.

Player Skill. In a PC game, this might be things like reactions, dexterity, estimation, awareness. In tabletop gaming, reactions and dexterity might not be important. Knowing the capabilities of your/enemy troops, the impact of terrain etc might be more important than dexterity or reactions.

Character (Army Building) Skill. This is the stats, numbers and special abilities behind your characters or units. This could be the rating of a unit in movement, melee, shooting, morale as well as extra special traits, abilities and powers.

In a PC game, in a RPG/MMO character skill might dominate.  A level 1 hero might not even be able to damage a level 50 hero faster than the level 50 can heal himself; the level 1 might get one-shot by a single attack. Player skill plays little to no part in such a fight. In a fighting game or a FPS like Quake, players might have identical  access to characters and weapons and it comes down to player skill as to who will triumph.

Basically, I made a connection between the balance between army building (character skill) and decision making/tactics (player skill).  In games like Warmachine and  WFB/40K in days of yore, army building (character skill) was very important .  Certain army "builds" and combinations were extremely effective, to the extent they hard-countered certain opponents who had little to no chance of success despite being ostensibly balanced in "points."   
"But wait - isn't army building a skill?"
Yes.  But it does not occur during the game itself. It was possible to build a killer combo army based on a list you copied from a forum post, and win without being a particularly good player (or even being good at army building yourself). If you had the ability to use google and the ability to buy expensive or "flavour of the month" units, success could be yours - i.e. computer literacy and financial clout > wargaming skill.   

In contrast, in Infinity the Game, the pre-match "army building" was less important than in-game decisions.  In Infinity, poor decisions are harshly punished and you cannot rely on the stats of a unit or its ability to hard-counter certain foes to to bail you out after a poor decision.   I often complain that as Infinity gets increasingly complex, it is more about "knowing your unit/opponent's abilities" (i.e. remembering and understanding very complex rule interactions) rather than "where and when to move and shoot" when the game was simpler.  That said, even the act of knowing skills/interactions is arguably still an "in game" skill rather than one that can be performed independently before the actual game gets underway.  Infinity players used to have a quote "It's not your list - it's you." (I.e. inferring it is your own decisions during the game that wins or loses you the game, not your army list)

Character Skill and Player Skill - "Skill Threshold" and "Skill Ceiling"
A unit or army with a low skill threshold (easy to learn/use) means one that is easy to pick up and play.  One with a high skill threshold (aka steep learning curve) tends to be difficult to  learn and perfect.

An army or unit with a low "skill ceiling" tends to mean one that is easy to use but has limited potential - there is little difference between a good player and an average player.  A unit with a high "skill ceiling" is one that appear brokenly overpowered in the hands of a skilled player, but tends to be only average in the hands of an average player.

An example from the PC game "World of Tanks" - the KV-1 Russian heavy tank has a low skill threshold. It is slow, well armoured, with a good gun. Just keep the front facing the enemy, drive towards them, and pound them into the ground with your superior armour and firepower.   It can bully most equal or weaker tanks with ease.  It is very newbie friendly but can struggle against higher-ranked foes.

In contrast, the T-67 has thin armour, and a weaker gun.  However it has excellent speed and camouflage.  In the hands of an average player - it is weaker than a KV-1 which can deflect its shots and shoot it to bits.  However in the hands of a good player it can dominate a game, using its speed and stealth to rip apart enemy tanks unseen while using its speed to quickly move to optimum firing positions.  It has a higher skill threshold (steeper learning curve) but in the hands of a skilled player it's skill ceiling is almost limitless.  Even as the bottom ranked tank, it is still very dangerous.

To use a wargaming comparison, back in the day I recall (at least locally) in Warmachine, Khador with its powerful and tough units tended to be easier for beginners who want to push forward and bash stuff; sneakier and trickier Cryx tended to be harder to play but are more rewarding to veterans with lots of ways to sneak/combo through and win.

So character skill is bad and player skill is good, right?
I didn't say that, no. There's a place for both. It's just something we should be aware of.

I think it's important for games that have factions that are tricky-but-rewarding; difficult to learn but powerful when played right. 

I also think games where character skill dominates (i.e. army building by google to create an unbeatable army) may detract from the gameplay experience itself; however the list building process can be rewarding and fun (and profitable for the miniatures company).

Also, it's soothing for a player to be able to blame defeats on the "character" - i.e. "my army was always going to get stomped by his Tau" rather than their own lack of gameplay skill:  "I sucked and made a terrible move on Turn 2."  As an aside, I think luck needs to be balanced to take this mentality into account - i.e. loses can be blamed on luck whereas wins are your skill. Unlike chess or checkers, we can always blame bad rolls. However a single d10 is less predictable and more unpredictable than 2d6 even though both deliver 10 possible outcomes. I've probably already done an article on this - i.e. how much "random" should a game have - and if I haven't I should.  Again World of Tanks have addressed this in their PC games with "RNG" - a random +/- 20% deviation from the norm - even if your shot is perfectly aimed (player skill) and your gun should outmatch and penetrate the enemy armour, does not mean it will.  The more luck and randomness, the less impact player skill has.

Character skill (aka army/list building) also appeal to min-maxers and perfectionists who want to get the army "just right."  It gives competitive players another area in which to excel and gives lots of interesting things to do when "offline" away from the gaming table.

Again, this is not about "this is right and this is wrong" - it's more about "why" we make design choices.

Tuesday 5 July 2016

Cheap Dinosaurs for Wargaming (....aka Dino Knight mounts)

I'm a bit embarrassed by the paucity of articles in this blog of late; but my shed hobby time tends to devolve into a "make cubbies and chase toddlers"  time.

Accordingly, I thought I might show a half-finished project.  I think I managed to base and undercoat them in 4 hours....
-15min to actually base and undercoat
-2 hours 45min to distract my littlies away from my painting bench
-1hr to clean up the mess they made while playing

These are plastic kids toys - they work out at @50c each. 

Anyway, this follows on from an article on dinosaurs a while back. I haven't got any cavemen yet, but I do have a lot of dinos.  Total cost - a $10 bag from the "dime" shop. (Which also came with a lot of trees and terrain which will also work for wargaming purposes.)

Some of the sculpts were horrific but most were rather good - the Stegosaurus in particular has detail comparable to resin kits I've seen.  Even in black undercoat, you can see the potential.  The default, hideously garish kiddy paint schemes tend to fool you as to the quality of the sculpt.

The dinosaurs are perfectly sized mounts for Perry men at arms.  Yes, it will be knights on dinosaurs!
It would be easy to greenstuff a saddle, but I'll probably keep them "bareback" so the dinos can still serve as wild dinos for a Lost World scenario...

My dinos were hard plastic - remember if soft plastic the solvent in spraypaint can melt them/make them "tacky" so hold the spraycan well back unless you are sure what sort of plastic they are made of.
(He says from bitter experience, having ruined a wonderful dragon toy that would have served his LOTR armies well...)

I'm also looking at some miniguns from Tau battlesuits, wondering how raptors with miniguns would go.....  ....or maybe a Stargate-style expedition into the Jurassic by my lovely Empress moderns (why should the 1930s explorers get all the fun?).  

However, my current project is knights-with-psychic-powers atop dinosaurs, using my homebrew Middleheim rules (which have morphed from their Warmachine+Bolt Action roots into quasi SoBH+Infinity mashup).  I like the idea of psychic powers for medieval.  It makes a more tightly confined, structured, gritty magic system and seems more fresh than conventional swords-and-sorcery magic while filling the same role.
Even the toy terrain from the bag is useable - the wooden bridges in the background will work well with almost any era (I'm thinking they'll particularly match my French-Indian war Zvezda log cabins)....

Anyway, this is more a "I'm still alive the blog is not dead" post, as well as a reminder that we don't always need to buy "approved" resin or metal minis. Toy shops, junk shops and hardware stores are great resources.
Top tips:
#1. look beyond the paintjob
#2. if you can't easily eyeball it, carry a mini with you as a scale reference (I have a 15mm and 28mm mini in my car glovebox - a good use for broken minis or those with missing limbs)