Friday 6 October 2017

Game Design #74: Possession, AI and the "Resource Pool"

Someone has probably already used this in a boardgame - it was inspired by looking at some Magic the Gathering.

A game concept that interests me (which I don't see often in a wargame) is what I call the "resource pool" - where the player himself is represented by a resource.

Yes, we have "command point" pools or "pips" in many wargames, perhaps Infinity orders - but what I mean is more like the focus of a Warmachine warcaster - a resource to buff units, not so much command and control or activation.  In this case the resource not represented on-table by a wizard etc, but it represents the commander - a bit like the mana or hitpoints in MtG.

There's two scenarios that interest me:

Demon vs Demon combat
Basically duelling cults, powered by a supernatural entity of some sort.  The resource pool represents the entity; perhaps a pile of a dozen or so tokens which represent its supernatural strength.

The entity/demon/Old One grants its powers to its devotees - buffing their powers and abilities depending on how much power is assigned to them (represented by tokens next to the mini.)

The tokens can grant stat increases (speed, strength, durability, bravery etc) or special rules (powers or traits attributed with the particular entity).  The more power that is assigned, the greater the powers the minion would possess.

Units could be graded not only by their combat stats, but by their suitability as "vessels" - i.e. a relatively weak grunt unit with strong - faith? - might be able to be upgraded to extreme levels.  having special rules that link to a particular entity could add a strong flavour to each faction.  In fact, the demon "suite" of powers could be assigned to any array of minis; you could mix-and-match: put in 40K terms, it might be like having Nurgle Space Marines, or Nurgle Dark Eldar, or Nurgle Tau.   The entity is what would define the faction, allowing pretty free choice of minis.

So there is a strong aspect of resource management - where does the entity assign its powers? A relatively non-threatening unit could be pumped full of malign powers and walk through a numerically/technically superior force, say shrugging off bullets and throwing telekinetic blasts or whatever is flavour is.  Perhaps loading a unit with too much supernatural power might crack its mind; so you could "overload" a unit with power but risk having it become a gibbering mess for the rest of the game. 

But there's to be another element of risk vs reward - any time a unit "buffed" unit is killed, those tokens assigned it are lost for the duration of the game.  Basically if the entity grants its powers to a minion, and the minion is lost, so are those powers.  So it's possible you might lose only 1-2 minis, but all your supernatural powers, thus "losing" the game.

In addition, in campaign games, the power of the entity would be another factor; for example you might have only 6 cultists, and the other warband has 18 cultists, perhaps with superior gear to boot.  However the power of the demon or whatever could be the other way; the smaller faction might have triple the supernatural points so the contest is actually quite balanced...

This represents the "focus" of a hivemind-style AI.  The AI can buff the powers of the relatively less powerful inbuilt CPUs of the drones/robot minions in similar manner to the example above; placing tokens next to the boosted unit.  Unlike the example above, the processing power is not lost when the buffed unit dies.  However the AI power (or buffs) can be blocked or jammed by EMP weapons or countered by other AI.

So it is less risk vs reward than negation of opponents. It also makes conventional infantry valuable; they cannot be degraded by enemy AI powers or EMPs.  I like the idea of a kind of mech+human "combined arms" - remote drones which can be jammed, autonomous robots with poorer reactions/decisions that can be hacked/overriden by enemy AIs, and weaker humans immune to EW.

I explore the topic in more depth here - but the concept of a supercomputer AI as the overall battle mastermind is another layer over the top.

Where to from here
I could probably graft these ideas onto an existing system (such as LoTR) but I'm more likely to test them using my homebrew Middleheim and Modern Pulp rules. 

I kinda rabbited on about two possible applications that interest me (aka pet projects) but I think the point I'm interested in is:

Representing the "player" as a resource pool (call it mana or whatever) which buffs units; the game can end when the resource is depleted, not just when there are actual casualties. 

Kinda like MtG, only instead of creature/unit cards you have minis, and the mana/hitpoints are rolled into one. 


  1. Dux Bellorum did something similar, where player PIPs were used to buff units in melee/shooting/save throws/morale rather than ordering them around.

  2. Good idea. The player is then the Demon... sort of meta. :)

    I used something similar in a few games but units generated Command Points which could then be used to bid for initiative, activate special rules, re-roll dice results, get a charge bonus, etc. The commander's and sub-commanders "skill" became a resource. As Unit's were eliminated (destroyed, routed, disorganized) you lost command and control ability.

    I won't lie, I stole the idea from Dux Bellorum and simply expanded on it into more areas.

    1. I've never tried Dux Bellorum - it seems to inspire a lot of homebrew rules but what from reviews I saw... I was turned off (for what reason now, I can' recall) - and they were positive reviews, too...