Thursday 29 June 2017

Car Battles - Death Race/Car Wars/Mad Max/Carmageddon Games

This is a topic on the DV google group that has seen a lot of differing opinions on what makes a good car battle games, in terms of realism, recording, etc.  There's a few pretty nifty ideas as well.  Shoutout to the prolific inventor Eric Farrington who has since published his "flick mechanic" game.

For me, I'm interested in a campaign game allowing 6+ cars per side to be used, with a driving "feel" without aiming for hyper realism.  I'd prefer not to have uber detailed recording or fancy templates - i.e. keep a low barrier to entry - "pick up some Hot Wheels, some dice and play."

Anyway, I stole some of my 1-year-olds more muscle-car-y Hot Wheels (in my defence, he left them scattered messily around in my work shed) and gave them a quick spray with some normal beige gloss spray. A touch of black and metallic grey later, and they are now a blank canvas awaiting some 15mm weapon add-ons.  (I think my Sherman tanks may surrender their pivot mount .50cals... I'm sure there's a Sherman variant that didn't use them anyways...)

I was supposed to be cleaning my hobby shed; at least I go those pesky Hot Wheels out from underfoot...

As you can see, I put a lot of effort into the paint jobs... ...not!

I'll have a dig through my 15mm spares box. Weapons will be added...

I'm probably going to use a impulse-style of movement (i.e. cars move only 3-4 "CUs" or Carlength Units" per impulse) so they don't teleport past each other or zoom off the table.  Turns might use a 45 or 60d arc, with rolls to skid etc if going to fast for the angle of turn.  Weapon ranges and accuracy will be kept really low to emphasize maneuver.   I'll probably use a d6 hit location system depending on the angle of fire to the car, for example:

End on: 1-2 boot or engine; 3-4 wheels, 5-6 passenger compartment
Side on: 1 engine, 2 wheels, 3-4 passenger compartment, 5 wheels, 6 boot

Perhaps each car can have a simple card with hit locations on it.  Anyway, I've got a few old draft rules, and I'll dig them out over the next few days and have a playtest....

Tabletop Wargames - PC RTS style?

I recently bought the PC RTS  Impossible Creatures to play with my daughter.  Besides marvelling at the inventiveness of old school games (I mean, mad scientists battling using mutated mixes of animals - crocodile lobsters, giraffe eels, bull ants... your own unit at its finest) and making me shake my fist at the sequel-itis that infects the gaming industry (are we up to the 12th version of CoD?).. got me thinking about how wargames look similar to traditional PC RTS (like Command and Conquer and Starcraft) but few actually share the same traits.

Let's look at some features of the PC RTS and how they would apply to tabletop wargames.

This post was inspired by "Impossible Creatures" - an old school RTS where you can create hybrid animals to attack armies of mutated enemy animals...

"Clicks per Minute"
The ability to micromanage units with relatively few sitting idle is a RTS skill.  This could be simulated by having a set amount of activations; i.e. you get say 6 "actions" per turn; an action can be used to move a single unit or group of units which are bunched together. I guess the word "limited actions" kinda covers it.

Resource Collecting
This could be collecting crystals, gas, or whatever unobtanium.  Often there are two resource types - a general resource (mass, such as steel to make tanks), and a rare resource for producing high tech units (unobtanium, to power fusion reactors or tesla cannons etc).

I like the resource collecting aspect; as interdicting resource collectors (harvesters) and escorting them can provide a source of small clashes and a kind of alternate victory condition - deny the enemy the resources to build or replace combat losses. 

Another sort of resource is "control points" as seen in THQ's Dawn of War and Company of Heroes series; dozens of control points that can be captured and provide a stream of resources and an incentive for constant raids.

The resource management puts another layer on top of the game; and allows for base building and unit building meta-games; you basically can "build your army" during the battle, not just before it (a feature of games like Warhammer 40K). 

A further thought is that resource management must be kept simple, perhaps being tracked by tokens of different colours.  

Tech Levels and Research
I think researching new tech would be outside the scope of a tabletop game, but many RTS have several "tech levels" of base - for example tech 1 could be simple grunts and engineer units; tech 2 light vehicles, tech 3 advanced vehicles, and tech 4 mammoth tanks and super weapons or advanced stealth fighters etc.  This "teching up" might cost resources; so you might have the choice between remaining tech 1 and making a cheap "horde" army to attack early; or sitting tight and advancing as fast as you can to tech 4 to beat the enemy down with superweapons. So "research" in a tabletop game might be simple; merely deciding which of several tech levels to stop on.

Bases & Base Building
There are usually a main "command building" which once knocked out, removes the ability to build new buildings (kinda of an "assassination" target); usually a resource-gathering centre, plus production centres for ground and air units.  Sometimes there is power generators (knocking these out is another way to cripple production capacity) and base defences.  There should be a balance; do you try to nibble your way through enemy defences or try to deep strike past them aiming for critical buildings and generators?  Again there is a level of choice - what do you spend your resources on? Base defences? Advanced buildings? Do you eschew aerial units in order to make an overwhelming ground force?

Unit Building Metagame
Units usually have a faint paper-scissors-rock feel; a light minigun tank might easily be gunned down by a heavy assault tank; but the assault tank loses to a sniper tank destroyer which can easily be swarmed by the minigun tank...

Choosing how many of each unit should be an important part of the game.  As min-maxing armies is popular out of battle (a quick google will reveal a zillion army lists for "best practice" in games like Warmachine and Warhammer; creating optimal lists is a popular pastime.)

Unit Levelling + Recon/Fog of War
RTS games sometimes have the ability to level-up units (often hero units or heavy units) which gain accuracy buffs etc as they get kills on enemy units.  Another, more common feature is "fog of war" - anything not in LoS of a unit (or within their "view radius") are blacked out by the "fog of war."  In games like Wargame: European Escalation recon is vital; sneaky infantry recon units can call down indirect fire while remaining hidden, or allow units into ambush range of their RPGs. They can protect valuable units from being interdicted by their counters - i.e. spot SAM batteries to protect valuable gunships, or spot hidden tank units allowing ATGMs to be wheeled into place to take them out. Having good recon should, in the least, allow you to best counter their scissors with your rock, while keeping your paper out of the way.

I'm sure there's more key points to cover here, but my wife has returned from a seminar by author Mem Fox (does anyone know Possum Magic or is it purely an iconic Aussie-only children's book?) so I'll wrap up this post and join her watching Preacher (an awesome show, btw, though not particularly similar to the comics.)

So... where is this post going?
Well, the RTS-meets-tabletop wargame is something I'm going to explore more.  I'm sure there are boardgames that do something similar, but it's wargames that interest me.  I know Brent Spivey did OP4S years back as a RTS homage - but it does not seem to have gotten out of beta (I did a brief review way back in 2011).  I'll dig it out again - I could do another test play as I've pretty much forgotten it apart from it having a nifty activation system. 

In the Delta Vector google group we looked at landships/motherships/megavehicles a few months back (you know, Ogre, or a Cylon basestar, or an Avengers heli carrier) and I'm now a proud owner of a Landcruiser Ratte in 15mm. I keep looking at it and thinking it would make a good giant mobile base factory/landship/landcarrier for 6mm mecha, and I've attached tracks to some WW2 1:700 aircraft carriers to make them into landcarriers...

I've gone with 15mm for my tank project, leaving me with many 6mm sci fi vehicles unused. I feel 6mm tanks are too small to be "main characters" but they make an affordable horde to be spawned from larger "landships" which could be the heroic units which level up.

I also think RTS might be fun with a focus on a different aspect of sci fi than usual - perhaps with nanomachines or similar.

Sunday 25 June 2017

Domina and Needless Busywork: What is a game's core focus?

A dozen battles into the awesomely violent pixel gladiator game Domina, I received a humourous message to the effect my avatar (the lanista) had died of thirst, thus ending the game.

My response: "Wtf?!"

The aim of the game is to run your own ludus, to become the best ludus in the land and have champion gladiators. In short: the core gasmelay is to a manage gladiators. Giving your lanista a drink is something one would assume would be abstracted; given you can't walk around with her or anything and she's just an icon on the screen.  Keeping track of finances and, say, overall food supplies for your ludus makes sense; micromanaging every glass of water does not. 

Before you race to comment: I later found that water was a resource to be managed (it linked to gladiator training)...   ...but the point was stuck in my head...

While googling my water dilemma, I then noticed the biggest gripe from players is how the research skill "Mind Control" - which allows you to directly steer a gladiator - make the game too easy to win.  Again, by allowing you to control a gladiator, the game is stepping outside its core gameplay - managing a ludus. It's be like if a football management game allowed you to control a single player allowing you to wtfbbqpwn Real Madrid with Luton Town's reserve striker who works at Woolworths.

These musing have applications for game design:
What is the focus of the game? What can be abstracted? What can be micromanaged and what should NOT be micromanaged?  

A lot of games fall into the trap; the general can control each individual sniper or aim each cannon.  A tank commander should be able to designate individual targets; but should a division commander be able to do the same?

 Domina is hilarious pixel violence as you control your own ludus (gladiator school). I found myself shouting "tis but a flesh wound!" as a pixellated trident-and-net dude hopped around clutching an amputated leg...

Why people are failing to make the next Mordheim
I've often discussed how the skirmish campaign genre lacks a torchbearer since Mordheim/Necromunda.  Funnily enough, there are many skirmish games with much better tactics and mechanics already.  I actually think the real reason most have failed as the core of these games IS a ridiculously deep and complex campaign system.   Most games since then have focussed on improving gameplay while tacking on a "simple" and "elegant" campaign/advancement systems.  But I think they've missed the point.  Mordheim was pretty basic (and imbalanced at times) in terms of gameplay, but the nostalgia lingers.  Why? Tellingly, the most successful imitator (Frostgrave) has rather meh, bland gameplay but has a deep magic system and plenty of meat on its campaign mechanics.  Along with an appeal to nostalgia (a searching a ruined city for artifacts...) I think Frostgrave has successfully indentified what makes a skirmish campaign successful - the campaign/advancement/skills/base building part.   I always liked LOTR:SBG, and it's Battle Companies campaign system elegant and simple...   ..and you'd think I'd love it...  ...but it's too simple; as it does not hold the depth of play of its GW predecessors. 

Busywork - aka meaningless grind or activity
Besides the focus of the game, Domina reminded me of "busywork" - contrived or added work/grind in a game for the sake of it.  A good example is found in open world survival games - ARK - an awesome (but terribly optimized game) where you can build bases, ride dinosaurs, and fight other people while riding said dinos.  A key "feature" is how you need to constantly eat or die; you need to scarf down berries every 5 minutes, or your HP steadily and quickly drains until you die.  It's busywork.  Grind for the sake of grind.  It doesn't even make it feel realistic. It's LESS realistic. A few hours without a meal shouldn't kill you. There can be a penalty - reduce stamina, or XP gain, or -1 to all stats or something...   but you shouldn't be constantly hunting berries. That's not realistic survival - it's busywork. 

Does a game track something that can be abstracted or ignored? Are there dice rolls or extra actions that are "tacked on" to a game?  Has each element of the game been looked at; and asked the question "Does this add enough to the game to be worth the extra time/complexity/recording?"

I fail to see much difference between Diablo and clicker games... What is a clicker game?

Perhaps a little off topic (although this is mostly a rambling train-of-consciousness post anyways). Talking about core game design and what the main point of your game; I've always wondered:

What is the point of ARPGs? (PC games like Diablo)
Talking about core gameplay - what is the point of top-down Diablo-ish games (ARPGs?) I call them dungeon cleaners.  It's just cleaning dungeons of coin and skeletons by clicking on them. My level 20 broom cleans your level 15 poop off the walls.  Unless there is dodge/roll mechanics, or specific aim (like Alien Swarm)they're a bit too akin to those clicker games which reward you for how fast you can click.  I try to like them (because I know folk who do) but... ..what is the ultimate point?  What is the core gameplay?  Levelling your character? Because you can level characters in other, more fun game styles that involve more depth and skill than clicking on stuff...