Monday 30 October 2023

Australian Armour & Artillery Museum

The younglings and myself visited Cairns the other week. It's ~1500km from us. For a frame of reference, think London to Moscow. Or New York to Florida. And we're in the same state. Not even at the extreme farthest ends of the state, either.

Naturally we stopped at the tank museum.

The girl (10) enjoyed it for about 10min. She spotted and identified all the Girls Und Panzer tanks so there's that I suppose. 

The wee lad (8) enjoyed it for about 30 min. He identified a LOT of them actually (thanks to War Thunder and bedtime reading of WW2 weapon encyclopedias) especially the obvious ones - Stuarts, Grants, Lees, Shermans, Churchills, Stugs, Panthers and Tigers. Since his bedtime reading also involved snippets from Tigers in the Mud he was keen to check out the Tiger. The Tiger and the Panther were so big! Favourites included Firefly, Schimmenwagen and Kettenkrad (it's a motorbike tank dad - cool!). He was disappointed how cramped the Lee was inside - in his head canon it would be like mobile home due to its side doors. 

Mum liked the misnamed Goliath RC tank. I was dragged away after a mere hour or so thanks to my cruel family. The kids had a ride in an APC with the sides cut away (I think it was a FV432) which they reckoned was like riding in an eggbeater. Apparently on museum anniversary day they fire up and drive around ~50 'exhibits!'

The Su-152 proves size matters with a round the size of a softdrink bottle...

Below are some photos. I've got photos of most of the tanks and APCs so if you want a shot of a particular tank or tanks, shoot us a line in the comments. The index of the exhibits is here.

Here is the 26min  walking tour. They have a pretty interesting Youtube channel as they restore exhibits etc.

We took lots of photos - as although the lad and I are painting up our 15mm WW2 tanks for a fantasy dieselpunk apocalypse wargame (involving mutants, cannibals and savage monsters as well as tank pirates roaming a wasteland Europe - think Mad Max meets Mortal Engines meets Fury) - we are painting them mostly 'proper' colours in case we want to use them for actual WW2 games. Once my bank balance recovers, I think some more 15mm tanks are in order...

The wee lad was impressed by the size of the German heavies....

...but was most envious of the 'motorbike tank!'

 I was amused to see a Bolt Action display and hear employees discussing Wargaming (from World of Tanks). Obviously there is quite a bit of a crossover between tabletop wargamers/dad pc gamers/'old farts who like to look at tanks.'


My daughter retreated to the small arms exhibits and underground firing range(!) as it was cooler downstairs...  Your ticket works for 3 days but unfortunately I had to go to inland that day.

It was an amazing museum and totally worth a visit - if only it wasn't 1500km away...

Weird fact: There is a free tank exhibit in the Cairns botanic gardens. But - plot twist - it's water storage tanks with art displays inside them!

I reckon the Cairns council got visitor feedback "The tank museum is awesome but we wish it was free and you could go inside the tanks" ... and in typical city council/monkey paw style they misunderstood....

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Game Design #100: Rules Complexity vs Tactical Decisions and the "No Measuring" Wargames

I've been thinking about simplicity, abstraction and streamlining due to my own homebrew jet rules. I guess the question I've been asking is "where do I sit" and "is abstracting this a good tradeoff? Do I lose too much depth by doing x?"

Personally, in my gaming preferences - I've decided Infinity was too complex, although it has many decisions and depth. I've decided Song of Blades was too shallow. I like ME:SBG level - while not great at anything, it is just simple enough and has just enough decisions/depth.

It's certainly not a crusade to say "simplicity bad" (actually it's the opposite for me) but as usual, question why certain mechanics are used and what the implications are.

The Rules Complexity (Mental Load) vs Player Decisions (Tactics/Depth)

The board games are, obviously not directly comparable to the wargames, but are just to help make the graph axis make sense.

Whenever I look at rules, my question was usually 'is the complexity the extra rule/mechanic adds worth it? Does it bring enough new tactics to justify the mental effort?' but lately has been 'does the simplification remove too much depth?'  

I.e where is the rulebook on the x & y axis? And which way is it moving?

The complexity ("lots of rules") equates to mental load on the player. Infinity (100s of special rules) and Warmachine (lots of interacting special rules and potential 'gotchas' have a higher mental load than average. Necromunda has a higher rules complexity than War CryGo is much simpler than Chess but has similar high levels of decision making and tactics (and thus serves as my 'ideal').

A good 'complexity' criteria is: do players pick it up fast OR do you need to consult the rulebook a lot?

Player decisions are how often and how important player decisions are in influencing the outcome. Are there opportunities for the player to impact the action through their decisions? (Tactics/Depth). Or is it just random dice rolling, where we could remove the terrain and miniatures altogether and get a similar, random result. 

A good 'tactics' criteria is: Do good players win consistently? Do positioning of units and player choices matter? Or does luck control the game?

I personally prefer low complexity, high decisions - buuuut lots of decisions aren't always desirable either. I liked the movie Inception but I wouldn't want to watch it tired on Friday arvo after work.  Sometimes high complexity seems needful or desirable - e.g. naval/age of sail gamers seem to require a certain amount of 'crunch.' So obviously personal preferences determine what we play.


No Measuring: Unlimited Movement/Shooting

I've been thinking about this lately as I work out what to abstract in my homebrew jet rules and it has popped up a few times lately on this blog, so I'd thought I'd share my musings.

I've covered "single stat" mechanics ages ago (and why they do not necessarily add simplicity, esp in genres requiring differentiation between units). I'd like to explore the concept of unlimited movement and firing ("look ma, no ruler!") and I'm going to go against the cool kids by questioning their value.

The 'no measure' ideas has been around forever: first for me was Crossfire 10-15 years back. No measuring tends to need a heavy investment in terrain to add tactical choices, and games do play differently, but there are other aspects to consider.

No ruler does simplify and speed up things (good) - but it does not completely eliminate bending over the table checking LoS etc - and it may come at a cost. It's not an automatic improvement.

Unlimited Shooting vs No Measuring

Unlimited weapon range is not automatically a bad thing. It's logical, if weapon ranges exceed the table. A 28mm (1" tall) man with a modern rifle should be able to range very effectively across a 4' table (which if viewed to scale is about 50-100m).  A company of 6mm musketeers might not. So the answer is "it depends." 

No measuring at all is where I see some problems.

Having unlimited range puts the onus on the importance of terrain to gain an advantage, vs say the 2' threat 'bubble'  created by the generic 24" shooting range. Removing the threat bubble does remove tactical choices.

Also, if you truly go 'no ruler/measureless' it can impact other things. From personal experience, it's difficult to shoot a pistol or bow at 25m (24") let alone 50m. In both history - and even tv shows - range (measurement) has a major impact on lethality. Musketeers might be able to hit targets at 100m - but should they be as effective as they are at 25m? How do you show this without measuring?

If there is no measuring, you may lose important differentiation and tactics between weapon types. E.g. what stops a semiautomatic pistol outsniping a semiauto rifle across the table?  What extra rules (complexity) will need to be put in place to prevent this?

So while 'no measuring' does speed up play, there are gameplay disadvantages.

Unlimited Movement

This is usually not truly unlimited. If you could teleport anywhere on the board, you kinda remove the difference between melee and missile troops and make an argument for removing the board altogether!

Usually, 'measureless' movement means: you can move unlimited distance in a straight line until (a) you hit an obstacle/terrain (b) want to pivot (c) are interrupted by an opponent reacting - or some similar combination of the above.

The Danger of Doing too Much

When a unit takes its 'turn' every other unit on the table is frozen in place while it does its business. This is usually bad. I've discussed this in posts about actions per turn. To recap:

The more a unit does in its turn, the longer everyone else is effectively frozen and the less fluid and realistic a game is. Basically: we limit what a unit can do in its turn, otherwise it can rambo around the board killing everyone unopposed. I.e. traditionally a unit might move 6", shoot 24" and roll a single dice with 5+ to kill. If we increase what a model can do - moving 48", shooting 48" and rolling 6 dice with 5+ to kill - a model might be able to wipe out multiple enemies in a single activation, without much way for the other player to prevent it. Even if this was 'realistic' it is not fun for the inactive player. The active unit is unreasonably powerful. Unlimited movement can obviously have this effect unless it is artificially constrained.

Unlimited movement abstracts the implicit time/ground scale, potentially to the ridiculous

A unit's "turn" is a 'slice of time' - even if not explicitly stated.  E.g. we can suppose a Necromunda turn is measured in a dozen seconds or less; while a Jutland-size WW1 naval battle may be measured in a dozen minutes. We can sense when a scale is "off" i.e. in Bolt Action 28mm WW2 rifles shooting only 24" where bullets cannot reach the length of a bridge. There is an implicit scale in all wargames, which is shown by what your minis can do in that timeframe and the distances involved. Removing measurement messes with this implied scale.

If a unit can move unlimited distance, we could now have a unit whizz across to the enemy baseline, getting behind all the enemies; while 30 opponents stand around doing nothing. Now typically 'unlimited' rules avoid this by making units move in a straight line, until they hit something. Or when they want to pivot and head a different direction. The implied scale is thrown out the window. It's like a man sprinting 250m+, but in the same time another guy runs 25m until he hits a waist high hurdle, and stops dead. Also in the same time, a second guy runs 50m, then turns and stops dead. Simply turning 90d or vaulting a fence should not make that much difference/take that much comparative effort. Cinematic... ....or silly?

Unlimited movement, like unlimited shooting, relies heavily on much carefully laid-out terrain to create tactics. 

On a featureless board with unlimited movement, there is little difference between shooting and melee - you can either shoot or - equally easily - zoom across the board to melee them. A sword and a sniper rifle are the same. You may as well remove the board and minis altogether. A game with unlimited movement or shooting tends to rely on the players to have (or be willing to make) significant terrain.

Reaction mechanics - adding complexity to solve a self-made problem?

A common workaround to stop units zooming around unopposed are reaction mechanics. These allow non-active units to respond and 'interrupt' the active players by shooting or perhaps charging them.  However reaction units adds a whole new layer of rules, slows the game and detracts from the 'simpler + faster' argument. It also feels like it is fixing a self-created problem: adding a reaction mechanic (complexity) to fix a problem created by the unlimited movement mechanic (attempted simplification).

Neither 'measureless' mechanics completely eradicate the need to stoop over tables with a ruler to check line of sight/if a move is straight - half the time all you are doing is eliminating the need to read the numbers on the ruler.

But.... measureless/unlimited range games play differently and I like it! If this is the reason (or it pushes some desired aspect of gameplay) go for it! Removing measuring or movement does not make a bad game. It just makes it different. 

However, my caution is removing measurement simply to 'streamline' and 'simplify' a game (or just cos it seems cool) may be false economy: losing too much in tactical depth/realism/gameplay - i.e. unintentionally moving the game down into the Yahtzee corner of my sketch above - or countering this by adding in extra mechanics like reactions and thus ending up in the same spot...

TL:DR So... unlimited/measureless anything bad?

No. I'm not saying that at all. I've had fun playing many unlimited range/move rules. However from a game design sense I'd be wary of making them a core 'feature' of the game - although it may be a major selling point for some folk. I.e. I'd make it 'a' feature (like in Rogue Planet which had an interesting resource pool as well) not 'the' feature.

-I think unlimited range weapons make sense in modern+ settings, but it may be difficult to remove all reference to range (no measurement) without losing important depth or differentiation. 

-Unlimited movement I am more ambivalent about - within a narrative RPG and similar it's fine, but in a wargame - and that's what we're discussing here - it makes a lot of tradeoffs for its benefits. 

Again, it's not 'x mechanic is best' and 'only play x game, your choice in games suck' - game preference varies wildly - but rather from a design standpoint:

 'What should we abstract?'...   ...'is x mechanic really that good?' 

Is too much 'lost' in the simplification/abstraction?  Are the benefits of adding complexity 'worth it?'

Sunday 22 October 2023

Game Design #99: Campaigns, and Difficult vs Unsolvable vs Self-Imposed Issues

Campaign Issues

In a game shop the other day, players were lamenting how in a game like Mordhiem, a 'competitive' player would camp in a tall building in a corner of the map all game - and how it made other players lose interest in the campaign.

The question - 'how do we stop competitive assholes players wrecking a narrative campaign'  is impossible to solve, in game design sense. It's kinda an unsolvable issue. There is always a way to game the system - all rules have an optimal 'meta' way to play. It's difficult to stop people being jerks. The simple way is outside the scope of game design - i.e. refusing to play them. I'd class this as an unsolvable issue.

Another campaign issue that came up in conjunction with this was  (which added to the angst when a competitive kill-em-all/win-at-all-costs player meets a narrative 'fluff-orientated' player - whose minis are about backstory rather than meta) is where models are both characters that individually progress and rules are WYSIWYG and there is permadeath or even long term injuries.  

I.e. you have to lovingly scratch build unique models for your deeply characterful warband, but they can then die irretrievably/you never get to use them thanks to the above competitive player. Even 'upgrading' a model can be a pain if you have to glue on an arm between sessions. And if your game wasn't fun - even worse!

This isn't an impossible to fix - but if a rulebook insists:

A) Models can die and miss out on the campaign permanently

B) Models have to be individualized (WYSIWYG) to precisely match their weapon/upgrades


C) You are going (at some stage) to be frustrated your custom mini died on turn 1 of its debut or be resigned to faffing around between games customizing/painting minis.

But - it's only an unsolvable issue if the rules allows it to be. What if....

Only 2-4 heroes per warband can advance in exp (like say ME:SBG Battle Companies) and they can only gain improved primary weapons (+1 flaming sword) rather than swapping to completely different weapons like a flail, or allowing them minor kit upgrades that does not need to be shown on the model (healing potion, throwing knife, climbing rope). You can sidestep WYSIWYG. What if heroes can never die (cinematic licence) but merely are at -1 to all stats next game?

....Many 'impossible' problems are merely self-imposed by the rules designer.

Impossible vs Difficult

Another common issue - "How do we stop one warband from 'snowballing' in strength until it is unbeatable" is merely difficult. I've looked at this at length in a post elsewhere. A difficult issue is not mutually exclusive with the solution - but sometimes needs the question to be reframed.

Currently, I am fiddling with my modern jet rules, trying to make a squadron level ruleset that is simple and fast to play yet retains the feel of air combat - which is a complex affair that requires tracking quite a lot of elements in 3 dimensions. This has been going on for a few years and a few readers have opined this is an unsolvable issue - a fast playing jet wargame that retains the feel of air combat (energy, relative positioning, detection, endurance, etc).

But I think it is merely difficult not impossible. If you follow the 1970s Blue Max formula (as per CY6) it IS impossible. Common themes in an air combat genre:

- "Gamer is the pilot" steering the plane very precisely in 3D space (an issue if more than one plane)

- Pre plotted movement / recording / strict move sequence

- Some sort of special template / hexes (sometimes for individual aircraft)

- Very detailed aircraft/weapons

....ARE mutually exclusive to a fast playing game with 4-12 aircraft per side. It IS an impossible problem if I intend to follow traditional mechanics...

Self Created Issues

There is also self imposed issues - usually by slavishly following existing procedure or adhering to your own mental set of 'rules' or clinging to a favourite mechanic.

"If it ain't broke don't fix it" <- Familiar mechanics are good. Change for the sake of change is pointless

I find most card based systems or fancy dice mechanics fall in this category. Dice and cards are just a RNG - keep it simple and consistent.


"The Definition of Insanity" <- doing the same thing expecting a different outcome.

If I follow the same premise and mechanics of other air games where the player steers each plane precisely, then yes I cannot accomplish my idea of a fast, squadron level game where a player controls 4-12 aircraft. 

"Kill your darlings" -> in story writing, this is when you decide to get rid of an unnecessary storyline, character, or sentences - cool ideas elements you may have worked hard to create but that must be removed for the sake of your overall story.

Sometimes that cool idea or mechanic is better off in another game. Sometimes a pet theory or cool idea must be sacrificed for the greater whole. Just because something worked well elsewhere (Song of Stargrave Rampant) doesn't mean it is suited in this instance. It may be a great mechanic, just not in this game.

False/Needless Simplicity

The lastest one I've considered is 'needless simplicity' or 'false simplicity.'  Simplicity is good. But pursuing simplicity at the expense of all other considerations can make a game worse.

- I've tried to make my homebrew space game completely recording-free YET use few tokens/table clutter. Sadly, it doesn't work with something is big and complex as a space ship. It's hard not to have lots of recording when giant vessels have many subsystems, shields and bulkheads to be nibbled away. I've had to move (unwillingly) to ship data cards - or have the tabletop covered in unsightly tokens. I had to abandon a tenet "no recording" (simplicity) as it was an impossible juxtaposition with "cool tabletop spectacle."

- Song of Blades and Heroes was the frontrunner of the move away from stats-heavy wargames. "One stat does everything." Unfortunately, to differentiate between units it needed 100s of special rules/traits/abilities - in the end MORE rules for a player to remember, not less. This is false simplicity - and was the subject of one of my first posts.

- Recently, I was looking through Grimlite/The Doomed in my recent post on the indie high fluff/low rules trend, and I feel the designer locked in many self-imposed goals which (imo) were needless or contradictory to other aims i.e. super simple gameplay; yet focussed on unique monsters with many special rules (a bit like SoBH) or 'no recording' when the game is meant to be a campaign or sequence of 'hunts'. Some of these were needless simplicity. I.e. "no measuring" can speed up play at the detriment of other tactical choices; but measuring ranges are not usually a major hinderance to play (and exist in 99% of wargames) i.e. the gains are slight. I'd call these self-imposed issues.

Redefining the problem?

With air wargames, I deliberately ignored games like Check Your Six which are typical evolutions of the 1970s Blue Max genre. They work fine when 1 player controls 1 aircraft in a big club game; but what if a player wants to control a flight of 4, or even a squadron? Regardless, writing down orders and leafing through move templates seems the antithesis of a fast paced jet dogfight where seconds count.

Instead I focussed on skirmish boardgames that handled similar amounts of minis. Kill Team, Infinity, even the much  maligned SoBH - what level of detail did they use? What mechanics? And could they be used to give the feel of air combat?

At a core level, most air combat games are very detailed - the player very precisely micromanages headings, altitude, throttle speed of each plane which may have a specific set of moves allowed (rather like a knight in chess). That sort of details is more an RPG than a skirmish wargame where minis often have 360 (or at best 180d) facings and move freely anywhere within ~6".

1.Relative position/facing must matter

2.Relative energy (speed/height) must matter

3.Detection must matter (eyeball/radar)

4.Pilot skill must matter

5.Aircraft and weapon performance will matter

6.Endurance must matter

X. Must play quickly at comparable speed (per mini) to Kill Team, Infinity etc

So I feel free to borrow from and directly use mechanics from infantry skirmish games - as long as all the above were very important considerations to the player every time they went to whoosh their toy aircraft about. 

I decided having a player micromanage precisely the exact speed, height, altitude of every plane - with or without templates - was an impossible problem if I ALSO intended to handle large quantities of aircraft, quickly and simply. 

So instead I intend to sidestep the problem - by avoiding traditional mechanics and usual expectations (the player flies the plane as if he is the pilot) turning an impossible problem into a merely difficult one. I mean, it's quite logical anyways: if I am the flight commander I'm not individually and precisely flying each and every plane, more giving general directions for the pilots to carry out... "Break left" or "He's on your six - evade!" vs the traditional "I'm Speed 6 at Altitude 11, 5 hexes behind an opponent, and I can use templates A, B or C."

I am thus looking at games like Infinity or Kill Team and asking "can I use these proven mechanics which handle 4-12 minis to simulate the core aerial combat concepts I've listed" rather than attempting to streamline and speed up a detailed system intended for a single gamer to 'fly' a single miniature so it suits 4-12 minis. I'm using 'familiar' mechanics - just not ones familiar to the genre.

I still don't have the answers but I feel I've moved the design parameters from 'fundamentally unsolvable' to merely 'difficult.'


Some game design problems are kinda unsolvable, such as competitive players ruining a narrative game. Or game design goals in a rulebook which are mutually exclusive.

Others are merely difficult.

Sometimes game design goals are contradictory - but are a self imposed problem created by the designer - perhaps clinging to familiar or pet mechanics or particular ideals.

Sometimes you may need to shift your own expectations or the parameters of the game; even abandon a game design goal for the good of the game...

Wednesday 11 October 2023

Game Design #98: The Importance of Aesthetics & Background (Fluff)

Years ago I was interested in the role of 'fluff' - background/backstory/aesthetic. I'd say this is an even bigger aspect in wargames now - it's interesting how differently my 2014 self viewed it. 

The rise of 3D printing and cheap plastic kits allows more creativity and variety when making and kitbashing units. Self publishing, wargamesvault, pdfs and Kickstarter makes getting your dream game out is easier than ever before. But the competition has also increased. What makes a game stand out? More than ever, it is the background lore, aesthetics, game universe.

A Shared, Engaging Background

Say what you want about 40K, but it has a very recognizable aesthetic and background. Just like a stormtrooper or a jedi, you and your opponent know how your 40K units will look and act. Even terrain (if I say '40K corner pieces' most gamers will know what I am talking about) is understood and has a strong gothic feel.

There should be room for imagination, but shared expectations. Both players should know what is expected in the game world. In fact, having a strong aesthetic can help creativity - I mean, you can't make your own space marine chapter unless you know space marines have chapters and heraldry. I enjoy ME:SBG and how you can watch the movies and predict how minis will perform on the tabletop. Having books, movies and other media helps immensely in building a 'shared background.'  Some games, like Gaslands, can draw generically on post-apoc car genres from a range of existing, random movies and games. Others, like Battletech, have their own extensive in-house lore, RPGs and novels.

40K again does this well. Even if you are unfamiliar with the universe of 40K itself, the Necrons (Pharoahs-meet-Terminators), Tyrannids (Alien) are very recognisable - and space elves, orcs etc link pretty closely with fantasy counterparts. Overtly linking to existing, familiar genres and archetyles is a sensible move. For example, I know almost nothing about Conquest:TLAK but looking through the webstore the other day I went "ah - dwarves, undead Romans, mythic Greeks, late medieval/Mordhiem Empire, orcs on dinos, mythic vikings, mutants." Thanks to borrowing from familiar stereotypes, the armies are pretty obvious and even the models themselves exude a certain 'vibe.'

...vs Flavourless 'Universal' Rules

The first mini agnostic games from about a dozen years ago ('use any minis with these rules!') were truly generic and universal, trumpeting "Can be used for any minis from ancients to WW2"! The hook was you could use literally any model in your collection. But there was no background or aesthetic. It was, at best, a set of mechanics you could build your own background onto. Usually they made both weak ancients and weak W2 games - good at neither.

I used to own quite a lot of these universal rules. I play none of them. Some had interesting mechanics, but none 'stuck' beyond a playtest or two.  However I would own none of them if offered them today in the crowded marketplace - none of them would even get a second glance without a strong aesthetic/hook. 

BYO minis is not the same as 'use any minis at all.'  More importantly, the question is:

Are minis which fit this setting easily available? 

 Even better:

Does the player likely already own minis for this setting?

I suspect the audience of most indy games is often experienced gamers who have moved on from mainstream games. It's highly likely someone from a gaming group would own a bunch of demons. So a game about these already-available demons (Reign in Hell?) ticks this box very well.

Do games have a strong, easily grasped background? Do they have a strong visual aesthetic? Are suitable minis easily available? Let's look at some games which are not 'AAA big hitters' mostly from Games Workshop - perhaps even Flames of War (as X-Wing/Warmachine once were) but will do well as stars in the "2nd Division".

Gaslands - quite a lot of predecessors and media - Car Wars/Carmageddon, Death Race, Mad Max - a rich vein of background as well as very accessible minis ($2 Hot Wheels/Match Box). The rules themselves are (imo) surprisingly slow and gluggy but the strong aesthetic carries it. We know to what to expect: deserts, leather, spikes, and bolted-on armour and weapons. Kitbashing heaven.

Frostgrave - tapped into Mordhiem nostalgia, hunt for warpstone magic artifacts in ruined meteorite ruined ice city, lots of wizard archtypes - could use generic minis. Deep campaign and interesting strong background although the rules are merely 'OK.'

Mordhiem - weirdly, this use its own, now-out-of-print 1999 self as 'inspiration' - but fan created and 3D printed using old-skool aesthetics have resurrected this 24-year-old-game. Rules are very dated and it very much carries itself based on its aesthetic and lore. Seems to have new lease of life - I haven't seen so much Mordhiem stuff since the early 2000s. Does have current eponymous videogame as well as "Vermintide."

Battletech - very rich lore including novels, RPGs - second only to 40K in literature about it. Spawned many videogames. The rules are clunky 1980s but are carried by the strong fluff.

Necropolis/Reign in Hell - neither are particularly well known - yet - but certainly tick the boxes -  battling undead in a graveyard or demons in hell have both a very strong recognizable aesthetic and very readily available minis. 

The next two are more extreme...

Inq28 - it's more a pure aesthetic than a specific set of rules - perhaps using the old RPG, or homebrew Necromunda. It's the gritty, personal aspect of the grimdarkness of the 40K universe. 40K minis have are so plentiful they have spawned a whole market of kitbashing bitz and 3D proxies.

Turnip28 - relies on scratch building and kitbashing and has a very unique aesthetic - postapocalyptic napoleonics and root vegertables. While suitable plastic kits are cheap, this is very much reliant on hobbyist skills and aesthetic and is unlikely to have more than a niche uptake.

The Doomed (Grimlite) is a game about hunting monsters (Monster Hunter) in a post-apocalyptic world using super basic rules (but ironically lots of rules for the monsters). Not sure about the big monsters but the factions lend themselves well to being borrowed from existing model lines.

There is a common theme. All of these games have a strong aesthetic and distinct background. Suitable models to use for the background are usually readily available.

How Simple is too Simple?

I wondered in a recent post if indy rules are now leaning into the 'aesthetics' and 'cool' aspect at the expense of actual meaningful gameplay. I.e. the rules are stripped down to allow you to focus on the setting, but the rules don't actually promote any meaningful tactics or even link with the setting. As someone scarred by Wargames Research Group and Starfleet Battles in my youth I regard simplifying rules as generally good....     ....but are we in the process of tossing the baby (tactics, meaningful decisions) out with the bathwater (needless complexity)?

Do the Rules Match the Fluff?

Historical gamers are big on the game reflecting the tactics of the period. This could apply to fantasy and sci fi as well. Do the rules reflect the flavour and feel of the fluff? Do they match the game world?

Turnip28 does this well. In the muddy, terrifying messy world of trench warfare napoleonics and mutant turnips, units can blunder when trying to take actions. Their black powder weapons cannot be fired easily. They collect panic tokens as they stress out. Terrain is dangerous. 

Necropolis - units when they die are converted into wisps of mana which can be absorbed by leaders. There are strong magical warband traits and you can use mana to direct NPC monsters onto your enemies. Using sorcery is dangerous...

Frostgrave keeps to its premise - wizards grabbing loot to win games and winning combats by slinging spells is unsurprisingly the main focus.  

Even as we expect a game based on WW2 (a setting, albeit historical) to focus on firing, cover and suppression - rather than melee h2h fighting in ranks. So shouldn't we also expect a fantasy game to match the style of its game setting?

I think a risk is that as focus is increasingly on fluff, and mechanics often tend to be just stripped down, blander versions of traditional wargames (themselves usually pretty McDonalds flavour) the actual gameplay will turn into Yahtzee with pretty minis: where there is almost no meaningful or engaging gameplay choices. Style and no substance.

The lure of lore is strong. 

I own Dropfleet Commander. The models are some of the best I own. They fit so well you can click them together and they hold in place (you are supposed to glue them but the fit is that good). The rules are like Battlefleet Gothic but... ....better. So why am I downloading BFG's rules again and eyeing 3D prints which are inferior in quality? The 40K universe is just more compelling than the "humans, advanced humans, rebel humans, not-elves and not-necrons" of the Dropfleet universe. Or why do I hover my mouse over Bloodbowl teams in webstores when I know how gluggy and dated the rules are compared to the slicker and smoother Dreadball?

TL:DR Games with a strong background and lore and distinct aesthetic are far more attractive than generic rules. 

Rules don't have to be completely "universal" and use any mini - it's just that minis that suit the setting should be readily available - preferably ones players likely already own. 

However there is a risk that a focus on settings and super simple mechanics only will 'dumb down' gameplay - which may not match the 'feel' of the setting.

DISCLAIMER: Remember, I am just 'thinking aloud' with these posts. Basically shower thoughts, but on my way home in the car. These are my current opinions only - which can and do change. The examples I use are not necessarily best practice but to try to explain my thoughts.  I'm just trying to make others wonder "why do we do things x way" - I'm not even  trying to change anyone's views. Originally (in a world before Discord etc) these posts were to collect ideas in the comments when I couldn't find discussions elsewhere... 

Monday 9 October 2023

Deadzone Minis... and the inevitable LotR

I'm curious as to Mantic's future niche. They used to be the 'cheap and nasty' alternative to Warhammer Fantasy and 40K, but lately they have had a price hike and they are just nastier, not a lot cheaper - in Australia at least. It's $A140 for a Deadzone starter kit (vs $120 for Kill Team) and ~$40 for a team squad box vs ~$65 for a Kill team box. Admittedly you don't need the 101 extra supplements and books - so it's probably cheaper as a system overall (though good luck finding players) - but the minis aren't significantly cheaper considering their distinctly inferior quality.  After GW stole Mantic's thunder by relaunching Epic after Mantic planned to move into small scales - it feels like GW is increasingly reclaiming the niche Mantic occupied. Heck, even Old World is planned to come retake its old spot currently occupied by Kings of War.  

(Random thought: I wonder how a new Epic will impact Dropzone Commander - a tidy game with lovely quality minis - another game I always felt was on the verge of collapsing. I like the dropship mechanics but I doubt it can compete with Epic's titans, rich background and 'cool factor').

These peacekeepers could double as Space Marines but are kinda paramilitary police for me.

The big guy certainly gives off terminator vibes.

These are 'scouts'. However I quite like the "guardsmen/generic sci fi troops" which come with lots of bitz and customisation. They have more realistic proportions than my old potato-faced, banana-fisted Cadian bodybuilders.

Snipers and weapons teams as well as some modified with Kasrkin heads and guns or whatever they are called now.

I wonder how wargame companies stay afloat in the increasingly crowded marketplace. Everything has a kickstarter. Everything can be 3D printed. Everyone can put out a catchy, trendy rulebook. I wonder if we have already passed the golden age of gaming choice (back when Warmachine, Infinity, Malifaux, X-Wing were bigger and had presence locally everywhere) and are actually heading into a new dark age as GW reclaims market share and the borderline gamers (like myself) abandon lower-tier mainstream companies completely.... at the expense of having anyone to play against...  There are more choices than ever, but is it getting harder to play something non-GW?

I wonder about product churn and shelf space. The local game store can't justify $$$ of stock sitting around and everyone has so many models competing for space that could be filled by a box of Magic cards that sell much faster and take up less room. I wonder if that is a reason Privateer has moved to print-on-demand? I.e. a bloated product line and no incentive for stores to stock them in bulk. Problem is, they are now competing obviously and directly with 3D printing and retaining the premium prices... They seemed to die after ditching Press Gangers? Malifaux seems to have reinvented itself  a dozen times and seems to putter along quietly. I'm interested if Infinity stages a comeback as it seems to be streamlining its bloated rules and seems comfortable to retire models like GW does.

OK, here's the inevitable "I painted some Mesbg stuff" pic.

Some cheerful hobbits and random models (mostly 3D) I found in a box. I'm kinda done - probably have a dozen broken models and duplicate heroes left, as well as 30-40 or so Rohan foot I have no need to paint. I may go back and touch up some paint jobs as they tend to be largely 'table ready' standard. 

LoTR model painted count for 2023 is now 430. Of those only a few are 'official' models as GW has a shameful level of support - they don't even MAKE some key units or you need to rely on Forg$world. Good luck if you want to play corsairs or Haradrim, for example...  Corsair reivers, I never knew ye...

Game Design #97: 1.5 Actions per Turn and Resource Pools - Controllable Luck

Controllable Luck

My wife, having hated boardgames as a child, is suddenly really enthusiastic about them.  It's cos she has abandoned Monopoly, Risk and Snakes and Ladders and embraced 'newer' games like Catan, Carcassonne - and more particularly, Sagrada and Azul.

It's basically cos new games are much better designed and thus more enjoyable. I could dissect the many, many reasons why they are better, but one in particular they all have in common has stuck in my head.

In many good boardgames, you are dealt your luck FIRST and then you decide what to do with it. A bit like getting a hand of cards - you can see you have a crappy poker hand and plan ahead how to maximize it. This is in contrast to most wargames where you decide on an action and THEN roll to find out if it works or not. Your cool plan may be wrecked by an unlikely roll of the dice.

Now wargames' usual "decide first, then roll to discover you succeeded/failed" is realistic (there is a lot of friction, uncertainty and randomness in warfare) but does it make a good game?

I hate hitpoints, but I understand them. 

Games like the latest '21 Kill Team and Warcry have swapped to use my particular bugbear, hitpoints. 

Hitpoints are fine for some circumstances, like spaceships, but are needless recording (and stupid) in human-scale skirmish games where you can take 9HP from a battleaxe and be perfectly functional, then loose your last 1HP from a rabbit bite and fall dead. /rant

I understand WHY they use them though. Mordhiem or Necromunda could be so punishing - a bad roll or two permanently deletes your lovingly painted mini - or allows an enemy to survive an impossible series of blows. Exasperating. Having hitpoints allows for some incremental progress and less binary dead/alive results. Even with bad rolls, you will nibble some HP off a foe.  Hitpoints - aka having a wider, more predictable spread of results - can ease the swing of luck. I reckon it's why 'buckets of d6' tend to be more popular than a single d20. It may give similar results but seems less punishing and tends to give a more predictable 'average.'

Resource Pools - Controlling Luck

...Anyway, I was talking about predictable luck (or being dealt your luck first). No, I'm not advocating a deck of cards (I haven't found one card-based wargame that didn't seem gimmicky-for-the-sake of it). Nor am I saying you must pre-roll a 'hand' of dice  (although that could be fun). 

I'm talking about resource mechanics, where you get a pool of actions (or bonuses of some sort). Spending the resource allows you to take extra actions or modify your luck. LoTR:SBG (and it's "Legends of" historical spin offs) did this with assigning Might to heroes. This finite resource (usually 1-3 per hero) could be "spent" to allow a mini (and allies nearby) to act out of sequence, perform extra combats, and modify dice rolls to mitigate luck. This elevated the games' rather basic activation mechanics (Side A Move, Side B Move, Side A Shoot, Side B shoot, Both Melee) and added a lot of depth and decisions - to the extent that there is a rule of thumb of "1 Might (resource) per 100pts (6-7 minis)" - i.e. too little Might allows an opponent with more to control the battle too much.

Random Aside: ...Amusingly, as I was designing a sci fi 15mm game for my son, I decided on a similar-to-LoTR activation (as my son knows how to play this), only instead of only heroes with Might the whole army generated 1 "Resource" or "Order" per squad or hero, to be spent universally, in a similar way. I then thought "rather than it be guaranteed, maybe either roll to generate the order or to spend it (with rookie units having less % chance than a veteran unit)....     ...and realised the mechanics I was describing was remarkably similar to FFG's Dust, with extra steps.  A game I haven't seen anywhere since about 2013...

1.5 APT (Controlling Luck through Choice of Actions)

Note: This is more a specific random example to illustrate how luck can be controlled in a different way, rather than a broad recommendation like 'resource mechanics are good.'

Most wargames allow your mini to take 2 actions. Move + Shoot. Move + Melee. Move + Move (aka Sprint). Sometimes Shoot+Shoot. Now for a game to be as 'real time' as possible, all units on both sides should act simultaneously. Failing that, they should do a small action, minimizing the time the enemy spends 'frozen' unable to respond.

The less actions your unit can do, the less time the opponents are unrealistically frozen. However we don't want our lovingly painted mini to do nothing. A few historical games have turns end abruptly, leaving minis 'stranded' without having ever activated. They call it friction, and I see why this mechanic is used - but I just think it feels unfun.  

So my homebrew rules tend to have 1-2 actions - i.e. 1 guaranteed action, and another 'maybe' action if the right circumstances are fulfilled. Now just rolling a dice against say a "Skill" stat does not implement any decision making from the player, but can be used to signal when initiative switches (i.e fail a roll, other player can start activating his minis). This is not ideal, but some decisions can be implemented - say if you take only 1 action you may retain the initiative (risk vs reward). 

I also like to encourage behaviour with modifiers. This is obvious normally, in any wargame. Let's say using a d6, you hit in melee on a 4+ and wound on a 5+. But when shooting you hit on a 3+ and wound on a 4+. There is no incentive to melee and every reason to stand off your opponent - it's more lethal. But if melee was 3+ to hit and 3+ to wound, and shooting was 6 to hit, 6 to wound - you are likelier to go hand-to-hand. Another example is in Infinity that shooting is very punishing unless you are in cover, where you get whopping +4 to both avoiding being hit and also +4 to your wound roll. You are strongly incentivized to avoid standing in the open.

I like to apply this to my 1.5 APT activation - so if you choose particular second action or combination of actions you are more likely to get a second action. In my tank rules, a stabilized US tank gets a +2 to it's activation roll if it moves and shoots. So there is an incentive to roll forward and shoot. A German tank with better optics may get +2 to acquire and shoot but an overworked Soviet crew may get a -2; allowing German tanks to get the first shot off. A tank with bad reverse gear may get a -2 if any movement is a reverse move.You can control your odds of getting a second action by the action/s you choose.

At the same time it allows you to program the way a unit will act most of the time; modifying the action roll to strongly influence the controlling player to choose particular actions - or play a particular way.  I'm fiddling with tying this to a chart for solo play - a kinda if/then tree based off the optimal choice.

....While this seems completely different to a resource pool, it's just another, different example of allowing you to better control your luck - by choosing actions with likelier/unlikelier outcome.  

EDIT: You can also respond the the bad luck (getting 1 action not 2) - which has occurred prior the actions - by choosing which action to keep/or a new action, making the bad luck more manageable.

TL:DR While it may be less 'realistic' having more methods to control luck makes for a better game.

Sunday 1 October 2023

LotR:MESBG - Heroes, Villains... and Lizards (3D Print)

 Repeat after me - Tauriel is not part of Middle Earth...

...but my daughter is desperate for more 'girls' so I caved and not-Tauriel serves as an elf captain.  I'm only collecting LoTR not Hobbit as the minis remind me of that stupid movie (OK, not so bad once I struggled through two Rings of Power episodes before giving up - but it already has aged poorly compared to the original trilogy...). I do like the amputee orc on the base though...

These serve as the ?OOP? Rangers of the North/Dunedain. I think they are Medbury but I merely asked my 3D print guy for "Rangers but some with armour."

These twins are Davale I think, but it's the last of that brand Ill get as they are trying to jack up prices across regions making them less attractive.  

Forlong the Fat, a random king, and a wizard which I painted blue as "I cannot remember his name". Medbury I suspect.

These are shades which are Angmar heroes. I haven't finished basing everything yet but due to visitors I had to move everything into the 'not ideal, but table-ready' packed-away pile. I haven't really played Angmar but they are my favourite Evil faction in regards to interesting 'toys' and 'tricks'.
Uruk shamans to spice up my White Hand forces.
Another Davale sculpt, proxying for Amdur Lord of Blades.
My favourite models, Rhunish cave drakes. I painted them to be half Smaug, half Doberman. Again the base with an amputee (this time a dwarf) is pretty sweet.
My LotR total is now 414 for the year (not bad, considering I've done quite a few other projects such as dozens of tanks, Mantic Firefight and rediscovered 40K models, modern 28mm as well as prepping and basing hundreds more minis including ECW, Samurai, 15mm Arabs and ...Quar as well as a few dozen PT boats which I have not yet begun to paint...). My wife says if I am good I may be able to get a Mumak and a Watcher in the Water for my birthday...
My son has discovered my 15mm sci fi are relatively kid-proof and I have been distracted to start a new set of homebrew rules - simple platoon level sci fi rules (not too gluggy) for my kid that I am willing to play too (interesting decisions and activation). I've got a 4hr car trip tomorrow so I shall delegate driving duties to my wife and do them then.  I'd like to tinker with an 'orders' resource (like LoTR Might meets Infinity activation pool) which boosts units/allows them to act out of sequence.
I've got 101 rules of sci fi squad/platoon level but none really strike my fancy, although I AM a bit out of the loop (my 15mm sci fi craze kinda petered out in 2016ish...). I welcome suggestions...