Thursday, 27 November 2014

Conflict Resolution.... 2nd pass

So conflict resolution.....


Firstly there will be an expansion in the number of locations, a reduction in the strength of the locations, and an increase in the value of locations.

The issue arising out of the play test were (for me at least)..

- Clumping of minions – 'lets all go over here'.
    - Lack of value in guile/magic/swords against locations – 'my 10 magic makes you one weaker'.
    - Lack of value in guile/magic/swords defending locations – 'I've lost 1 orc – shrug – I've got lots more'.
    -The ease of attacking a kingdom heart on the first turn.

So lets start by asking what behaviour we'd like to see....

Generally we want to see stacks – from time to time – it's ok if an overlord concentrates there resources occasionally. But we need to make sure that concentration makes game for the minions.

We definitely need to make sure that the minions all need to convince the overlord that they should get the monsters this turn. Which turns out provides a really good answer about the question of 'should we empower the minions directly' so we are not doing that.

So lets remove an overlords ability to directly create one massive stack by giving each minion a 'command rating' which is the maximum number of monsters they can control. So an overlord has to do at least some splitting of there forces.

But we won't stop a Minion from dropping there forces onto a location where one of your fellow minions is – handing over control to them – but then it's an minions choice. It's there choice even if the overlord demands it..... Which is a good dynamic.....

I've actually realised something – a minion main opponent is the minion working for them same boss. So we just enforce the same rules about 'only one minion' otherwise they fight. So yes – you can totally end up fighting amongst yourselves......

That's clumping.

Well – value of guile/magic/swords against locations is a hero thing....

As for the value of guile/magic/sword in defending a location – I think just putting slightly more requirements to assault on location based on those will solve it. So a place with 4 guile might also have a 2 guile requirement – and yes that 4 quile is not defending it very well but you still need guile to attack it so it sort of is...... It also makes spoiler attacks easier – go in with what you need and lose one of your attackers to guile and your whole attack grind to a halt.

One final thing – monsters don't give strength. Strength comes from orcs – hordes and hordes of plastic orcs without a stat card. Monsters however are all about the bonus stats.... Hopefully that might make things easier on people. Things like an ogre will now give swords reflecting there ability to inflict harm rather make you generally stronger.....

Next – hero manipulation and room acquiring.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Upon a throne of bone - Playtest Number 1

Play testing upon a throne of bone was always going to be hard - the logistics of getting 20 people together for a play test or at the very least replicating 20 people is going to be an epic challenge. On Friday I was surprised how hard it was to get 4 people together to test the conflict resolution system due to a series of random problems and interruptions but we managed it in the end.

The first thing we did was talk through the overall intent and structure of the game to give everybody some context because without it some of the design decision would just be odd. That went down well - and I've recruited at least a couple more players for when it actually happens. Which is nice.

For the conflict resolution system test each player was both overlord and minions.  Running around - dropping piles of stuff of at the locations scattered around my living room.  We had three kingdoms - each with four locations; the heart of the kingdom and 3 others places. We played about 4/5 turns with a reasonable pace despite no central timing.

We were also missing Heros. So targets were a pretty fixed thing - and one source of interference in the plans of others had been removed.

Raiding as a separate activity had been rolled into the single main mechanic via 'single stat' challenges is only a single stat counts toward victory in this location.  These were pretty limited in number but seemed to be ok.

It worked pretty well - specifically for a first play test it went really well. Which is not to say we don't have a lot of feedback.

One big bit of feedback is that there needs to be more locations - that are weaker - with much larger rewards.  So next conflict play test will need to be at least 6 locations a kingdom - many of them very weak to give players suitable targets in the first few turns.

A behaviour we saw a lot off and would be terrible for the main game was clumping. Dropping everything - including all three minions in one place. It's possible that the first set of changes would do something about this - as would the minions being separate people.  But the overlords need a damn good mechanistic reason not to simply create one mega stack to hand to a single player.

Based in this play test -  guile and magic and swords are seasoning on the combat broth. Strength wins fights and so is what really matters. Locations are defended by hordes of 1 stat mobs - so a big pile of guile (or magic) does very little vs a location as it only sends home one person. Equally swords only make things easier for the next person - who might well not be you. Even in pvp winning guile and magic were nice to do but as people did not have a large monsters the impact was limited.  That was changing even in the 4 rounds we had - I had some nasty wraiths and launched a spoiler attack which not only sent some stuff home but through the use of a spell killed a couple of monsters as well scuppering that players efforts. Thatt was done against a players giant stack - left enough strength to do something else useful.  But overall - it's not working quite as intended.

Or maybe it is - maybe a point of guile is just worth a lot less when costing the monsters? The test game was missing Heroes and they are one of the intended targets of guile and magic which might well reduce it's effective value as well.

Winning guile by a single point of guile was pretty pointless - unless the opponent was magic heavy.

I saw (and did) both commit stuff to claim a location and also wait to snipe (both to claim things without interferance and to spoil).

Spell cards are fun - and need to flow in. Even the weakest effect should be powered by mana so playing it reduces your later options. With one overlord being all the minions- a spell card a turn was ok - but would that would have been to little for the proper game.

Defending a location (as a location) with guile or magic generally did not work. The attacker would take a hit mainly a 1 strength ork but plough through.

Having a handful of Orc cards each of which are 1 strength was a pain and less clear then it could have been.

It was slightly fiddly but having locations impact on the kingdom heart worked well thematically. What did not was one player going for (and wining) a victory against a kingdom heart on the first turn.   So hearts need to start off even stronger and get pulled apart from fights around them. Starting Heros on the heart would mitigate that.  As would the the points from a heart being destruction not victory based - and victories elsewhere reducing the hit points of the heart.

That also introduced timing issue - what to resolve first?

That's what happened. Now what to do about it.....

So more, weaker, richer locations is a clear improvement. I'm thinking the start should be about 18 locations across 3 kingdoms. A kingdom does not have to the same number of locations - so one kingdom can be big and thus stronger while another can be much smaller and so easier to destroy.

 I'm a little worried about the impact of the 'richer' on the economy.  I think a good plan is 'loot cards' with victories taking there choice of the cards assigned to a location.  This allows loot to be a really wide range of things putting some variety into victory and giving the minion a choice 'what does the boss actually want. He said 'bring me a hobbit skull - but it's that's for 4 gold and an elf skull.....'  Also being the 'first attacker' has more value since you get first pick. This was an idea I'd been considering but I just ran out of time to put it into effect for the playtest.

One rather dramatic idea was 'the flattening the monsters'. This would make the monsters all 1 stat one point - while making the minion something you empower.  So you rock up with a horde of orc miniatures (feels thematic) and a minion that does a lot of additional stuff. A minion is either leading - or following and only a leading minions pile of funky stuff counts towards the battle. The follower does add - but not much.  That gives you a real reason not to clump.... How magic and guile work here is not clear and sending a minion home seems too big a reward...... It's a really major change following from a pretty successful play test so I've been thinking about that.

A less extreme version would be to drop the 'strength' monsters and just make strength come from the weight of orcs.  Leave guile, magic, and swords as things to come from monsters - but again that requires a rewrite of how guile and magic work.  One possible consideration would be to let Strength decide the winner - and let magic and guile and swords decide the consequences.  So winning on strength alone would only net you one victory- while winning on guile and magic as well would net you a total of 3.

Lots to think off.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

More! I demand More!

So we've got a problem. Not a giant problem – just a bit of a gap.

Most of the focus has been on the minion game - so I thought I’d look at the Overlord game. From playing ‘of Gods and Men’ this is an area I'm worried about because you could end up with an overlord chained to his desk doing nothing fun while there minions do everything.

From an earlier blog post we've got the following turn structure.

•Scouting - 10 minutes. Minions run round talking to people and finding out what is available. But no decisions are made -nothing can be deployed to anywhere.

•Decisions - 5 minutes. decisions get taken and stuff get sent to places. Once placed it cannot move so there is an element of brinkmanship

•Resolution - 10 minutes. Resolving the stuff that's been placed down.

•Explanation - 5 minutes. Minions taking stuff back and explaining what happened to there overlord.

But that’s a minion centric perspective of the turn sequence– looking at it from an overlord perspective it’s very different.

•Scouting - 10 minutes. Overlord sits at table – minions tell them stuff .

•Decisions - 5 minutes. Overlords sit at table – overlord makes decisions (spends gold etc) hands stuff to minions.

•Resolutions – 10 minutes. Overlord sits at table – resolves attacks on their base (if any).

•Explanation – 5 minutes. Overlord sits at table. Minions come back and explains what’s happened – overlord gives out favour depending on their whim.

Right now - I'm designing the game and I think being a minion is more fun….. Don’t get me wrong– the explanation phase (or mini game of aye dark overlord as I like to think of it) has the potential to be hilarious as your minions suck up to you, arse cover and generally blame each other….. It’s just the other three don’t seem brilliant……

This is a problem that got spotted a while back and two things have been suggested – the first is ‘scrying’ which allows an overlord to get up and go look at things. That’s nice but looking is the cousin for actually doing. Something to do when you want to see what’s happening, for when you want to know why your minion is over there rather than where you told them to go.  I do hope an overlord manages to sneak up behind their minion and just watch them for a while – if it ends with the minion going ‘he’s behind he isn't he?’ Then we have achieved the gold standard.

The second is a sub game played by the overlord during the resolution phase – the celestial puzzle – in which solving mastermind like puzzles provides big rewards. I'm currently thinking that awakens particularly giant and impressive creatures – the dragon, the Lich King, Coyote the trickster – that sort of thing.

The intent was that your options to guess would be powered by the actions your minions took in previous turns. In effect you need green tokens for guesses –so you send them to burn down the great forest no matter if it’s tactically sound or not. The goal was a driver which effects overlord thinking which is not clear to the minions “why has the master demanded I do that?” All part of the drive towards a dynamic of confused discord between minion and master which I think is a key goal.

That is currently a bit vague – but sounds cool.

The gap however is ‘the resolution phase’. Overlords literally have nothing to do in that – and we cannot start the celestial puzzle early because they need to head back to there table to resolve an attack at the start of the resolution phase (if one happens).

It’s also good if Overlord are being pulled in more than one direction – if there are demands then they must choose where to be.  Which in turn drives game play.  So lets create an overlord centric time table…..

5 minutes – sitting at the table while your minions run round looking at what is available.

5 minutes – listening to your minions tales of the outside world, ordering your imps to mine gold and mana, spawning foul beats to do your will, dispatching minion in charge of terrible armies to do your will.

5 minutes – sitting at the table while your minions run around miss-using your dark forces and generally failing to achieve your dark goals.

10 minutes – crushing those that dare confront you, scrying upon the actions of your pathetic minions, solving the unspeakable dark riddles of the universe to awaken the great dark forces.

5 minutes – basking in the tales of destruction your minions have delivered in your name, smiling at a chosen minion, frowning at the ones who failed you.  Maybe blasting one of them out of existence…..

Looking at that – there are actually two 5 minutes gaps.  The first bit where minions are looking for things, sure they might appear and say stuff but you've got another 5 minutes after that to actually spend  your money.  So while it might be good if you are at your table counting your gold and working out what to build but it’s not essential.  Then the second bit while things are being decided upon.

Now having overlords mess up the actions of their own minions (and themselves) has the potential for comic brilliance…..

So how about we remove control of hero’s from the minions and move that to the control of the overlord? Who by dint of being one step removed from where the rubber meets the road might well order things that get in the way of there own plans.

So that first five minute bit – that’s some sort of influence phase in which the overlords try to manipulate the hero's.  Using the same resource as the conjunction game seems reasonable since 'victory tokens' represent acts out in the wider game world - raiding, destroying, not leaving the toilet seat down etc.

To mix things up I want this to be a negative bidding - where you are bidding against somebody taking control of the hero's.  Thematically it's about spreading rumours about who 'the real threat' is.  Now I want hero's to be a sort of catch up mechanism - the player doing the worst will by default take control of the most hero's so those at the top will need to spend more resource - which in turn they will hopefully use against there closest competition not the person doing worse.  That said catch up mechanisms need to be subtle - and not sledge hammer.  So simply giving the hero's to the person at the bottom seems bad.  Lets have a simple system - the person who the least victory point tokens bid against them (any sort) takes control of the most hero's with ties being broken in favour of the lowest terror.  Obviously this sort of system needs a chance to co-ordinate and haggle so lets have this bit the time where overlords can get together and talk - before they have any idea what sort of opportunities are out there.

Haggling, deciding, and posting victory point tokens is a good 5 minutes activity.  Then back to there table they go - giving control 5 minutes to work out the winner.  Off there minions go to place resources somewhere - and back the overlords comes to assign there hero's.  Which is where I run into a blank - there's a logistics problem.  How to let the overlords have some control over hero's without just letting them walk up to the various kingdoms and do something.

For this I have no answer - but lets sleep on it and see what happens.  But overall - I'm happy with the shape and structure of this.  The overlord game just got a lot fuller.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

All a bit Gilgamesh and Enkidu.

So there is often a bit of back and forth between myself and the brazen duke kicking ideas around about ‘Upon a Throne of Bone’ – actually that’s not quite right – I regularly mail bomb the poor swine back to the stone age; that might be a better way of describing it.

He has charitably described this behaviour as productive rather than flighty (while writing this I had an idea about flipping the order of skill resolution but I ended up kicking it to the curb) but however you describe it - I've certainly cause some confusion.  I don't think my tendency to spam ideas and concepts rather than clear proposals.

This led him to write up an example prose version of a “Upon a throne of bone” conflict between two players around a system he thought was no longer the flavour of the month.  Thing is – it’s pretty spot on with how I was hoping it would work.

You can read it here and it's worth a read.  It’s not spot on – for example the magic card strikes me as overly fiddly for actual use but its all minor niggles.  In tone and feel – it’s pretty spot on and even better its thrown light on some dark areas I’d not really considered.

This is me trying to get the conflict resolution system down clearly and unambiguously.

I'm doing my best to be guided by the simple principle – think about the consequence you want and design towards those.

I'm going to sheer some flavour text off for now – because I'm hoping that will make things clearer as I write up a slightly more formal version of the conflict system for me, him and anybody still clinging on to this barrage of posts.

A unit has 4 stats (A, B, C and D) and working backwards what they do is….

D determines casualties.

C determines victory of the conflict.

B is strong against C (so if you have two forces that are close in ‘value’ but one that has more B and the other more C - that the first one will weaken the opposition and despite them having more C win).

A is strong against B (so if you have two forces that are close in ‘value’ but one that has more A and the other more B - that the first one will weaken the opposition and despite them being even in C).

However while a force that is strong in A will weaken a force that is strong in C – it won’t weaken it enough to win the conflict.

This gives us something close to A beats B – B beats C – C beats A.  However it’s not as simple as rock/paper/shotgun because you need some C to win the conflict, and because if I have 1 a and you have 5 B you will still win.

For version 1 of the rules – I want to consider that all statistics are equally strong (this might change following play test  but being able to make that assumption makes throwing numbers down on paper easier if I assume there all equal).  Statistic D only determines casualties – so if there is another way of killing something (ie by winning the combat) then it reduces the value of D.  So to keep D’s value it will be the only way of killing something.

A key component of the system I want is that ‘spoiler attacks’ sending in units that will not win but may reduce opponent’s strength such that they cannot achieve their objective should be a valid tactic.  So a force of A’s, & B’s would weaken an opponent’s force and even if they don’t win can prevent their opponent winning their actual objective.  Reduced casualties rates makes that a more viable tactic.

Given that A and B need to effect later combats (to have a spoiler effect) and given that killing units is ruled out by the need for D to maintain its value – then giving both of these skills the ability to ‘remove a unit(s) from combat’ seems to be a suitable power.  There should be a difference in how A and B achieve this result – they should be distinct even if they are fulfilling broadly the same game function.

For now I'm going to use the terms Guile, Magic, Strength and Violence for A, B, C, D.

So how does this actually look…..

Conflict resolution order and alliances

Before any conflict against a location defending strength is decided Overlord forces will fight amongst themselves.

A minion may choose to join their force with another overlord – however they are utterly under the control of the overlord and all benefits are given to that overlord.

A minion may choose to withdraw their forces from a location rather than resolve a conflict - in doing so they all go home and cannot be used in another location.

Conflicts among overlords will be resolved in terror order – with the two highest terrors resolving there conflict first.

Minions and decisions.

The presence of a minion allows a player to make a choice - if there is no minion present then it falls to control to decide following certain default rules.

Resolution and skills

Skills resolve in a set order.

Guile resolves first – the winning guile side may send one unit home with strength less than the amount by which they have won the conflict.  By default (no minion present to choose) the strongest that can be effected is chosen, tie breaking is based off Magic, and then by random choice.

This will be strong against magic because units with magic will tend to have lower strength because they will have used their value in obtaining magic.  If will be weak against strength because 4 units of guile will at best send home 3 units of strength.

Magic resolves second – the winning magic side may end one unit home with a magic less than amount by which they have won the conflict.  By default (no minion present to choose) the strongest that can be effected is chosen, tie breaking is based off swords, and then by random choice.

This will be strong against strength because those units with a high strength will tend to have a low/no magic.  It is weak against guile because it’s used after guile and so cannot affect that.

Strength resolves third – the winning side wins the conflict.  Between two overlords that means the loser’s entire force cannot carry out any more conflicts this turn.   Between an overlord and a location that means the location has suffered a defeat (what that means to be decided later).

This makes strength a very all or nothing stat – you win or you lose.  Losing by a bit is the same game effect as losing by a lot.  I’m ok with that – it’s one less bit of maths to do which is nice.  Where people might feel a failure of theme is that winning a conflict should inflict casualties on the loser.

Violence resolve fourth and final – the winner of the violence conflict kills one creature with a strength less than the amount they won by. By default (no minion present to choose) the strongest that can be affected is chosen tie breaking is by random choice.

Consequences, Options and opinions

One consequence of this system is that it requires creatures with 0 strength/magic so that creatures can be affected by somebody winning a guile or magic or sword contest by a single point.

Where this system falls down is that Guile and Magic do not feel very different.  I’d be tempted to give guile more flexibility by allowing it to affect multiple opponents – but I'm not sure how to word that such that they cannot just send home infinite numbers of 0 strength opponents.  If I win by 1 I want to be able to send home at most 0 strength of creature, and at most 1 creature; if I win by 2 I want to be able to send home at most 1 strengths worth of creature(s) and at most 2 creatures etc.   But not sure how to phrase that…..

Overlord vs Overlord violence

That details overlord vs overlord conflict – which needs to be the most interesting and detailed sort of conflict since it involves two players (which is basically PvP).  However it will not be the most common conflict – that will be the overlord vs a location conflict and if the Brazen Duke post demonstrated anything it was that I've not given that much thought to player vs location conflict (which is basically PvE).

The brazen duke (good old BD as we like to call him) talks about how a location does not resist in the same way as a player – it’s a passive speed bump.  To quote him…

“Once the battle is done, I'll assault the Castle. Guile and Magic do not have Rounds at locations, but rather meet pre-requisites.”

Which I have to admit is not what I was thinking – I was thinking that a location would resist in exactly the same way as a PC with a full range of skills.  Obviously sending home would matter a lot less as it would be the last fight at that location – but it could still happen and still have value.  Now BD’s plan has one major advantage – it’s quick and it’s simple.   So in a game of 20 players with a 10 minute window to resolve conflicts in should not be underestimated as an advantage.  So let’s consider what impacts it has.

Well it makes the stat required up to a certain point – and after a certain point makes it pointless.  If the threshold of guile is 3 – then 2 is worthless and 4 no advantage at all other then as insurance.  This does make spoiler attacks much easier to work out – it needs 3 guile, you go in with 4 guile I just need to drive two guile away and boom.  Your options for getting around my spoiler – are heavily reduced if your spell does not grant guile then it’s no use.  Under a full conflict you could get round a weak guile by increasing your strength to compensate.

The other issue is a little nebulous but having two systems (one for PvE and one for PvP) means that the players and refs will have less experience in resolving the conflicts which will slow things down and complicate things when it comes to PvP actually happening.

But we are left with a bunch of questions - what does guile, magic, or sword do against a location?  Does a location have its own set of defenders – with their own stats that can be knocked out?  Seems a bit awkward and tricky if you ask me – I’d rather assumed that the defenders were a characterless amorphous blob of 1 stat pieces.  So then what good does having two more guile then the defender actually do if all I can do is send home a 1 strength defender?

I think the answer to that is Hero’s.  So your standard defender of a location is worth 1 of whatever stat they are providing and nothing else.  Hero’s are more significant – and rated much like a monster.  Rouges bring guile, mages bring magic, and warriors bring strength – but like a monster they can have more then one stat.  They are always at least 2 in something – setting them apart from the common defenders.  They provide bigger targets that make having a surfeit of guile or magic worth having.

Swords and hero’s present an interesting challenge – can you kill a hero?  Thematically I’d say not – just drive them back to the heart of the nearest kingdom…..  If they are there then sorry - swords are a bit useless.

So let’s stick with – the PvE and PvP systems being the same for now.  Unless play test screams ‘what a terrible idea!’

That’s not to say that a location won’t also have requirements – guile 2 or the keyword flying – or even bonus for meeting certain conditions – have siege and get +3 strength against the really big wall.  Also a location might exclude certain sorts of conflict – no guile contest here.  All in the name of making the locations different from each other – not just the same thing with different numbers.

BD did however manage to solve one of my design issues for you – lives for locations.  Or to quote him once more…..

“The Castle has a Location Value of 3, but has been defeated twice, so once more will finish it.”

Which makes perfect sense – and is now clearly part of the game.  So defeating a location does not automatically destroy it and we know that the person destroying it gets the terror.  So what do you get out of making the early attacks?  How about first pick of the loot?  Each location gets dealt as many loot cards it has lives/location strength/resilience (insert your own word here).  When you win you get one of the loot cards – your pick.  So who ever goes first gets to choose and also gets to see what else is there.  Give the loot cards a bit of a range – and you are driving behaviour.  A nice little reward…..

Still to discuss – Raiding, and other actions.

Thus endeth the Epic - well done for getting to the bottom.  If you in fact did.......

Monday, 10 November 2014

Curse my brain......

I know I needed to throw stuff at paper and see if stuff sticks - but overnight my brain has thrown something at me.....

The proposed system looks like this (drag the text out from the middle of the previous post)

"The intent is that a combat will take place in 4 stages – a guile stage, a magic (magic could be called ranged) stage, a strength stage, and a casualties stage. The strength stage decides the winner of the combat – while the guile and magic stage have an impact on the up and coming conflict.

The intent of the combat system is to limit casualties so nobody will ever lose to much in a single go; that a weaker attacker can have an impact on a stronger force allowing 'spoiler attacks'.

The current rough idea is that the winner of the guile contest sends a monster home (back to the overlords base) with a strength no greater then the amount they won by; the winner of the magic contest kills a monster with a strength no greater then the amount they won by; the highest strength wins the contest; the loser takes a casualty with a strength no greater then the amount they lost by as does the person with the least swords (you guessed it) with a strength no greater then they amount they lost by. Person inflicting the casualty choices – if no player is present to decide the lose then the strongest possible is removed – with a dice roll breaking ties. This may well need some sort of tweaking for balance but that is the current idea."

The thought that kicked in was 'had I created a system that was complicated but amounted to 'highest total of stats wins'?  Because guile allows the removal of strength equal to the amount more of it you have - it's the same impact on the final event as having a point of strength.  Magic does the same trick.....

But while writing this out I realised that actually it is more complicated then that......

Well guile and strength allow you to remove an opponent that has swords - so they can both cause damage flip (the person who wins magic and guile is likely to win the swords contest as well).

So guile does have an impact because it activates before magic and strength - so you can remove an enemy piece with strong magic from the board before it gets to use it's magic (provided it's strength is lower then it's magic).

Magic on the other hand does affect the outcome of the contest in a one to one manner the same as strength but also allows you to kill an extra piece of the opponent.

So is magic better then strength?

Well maybe not.  If player a has 2 magic and 2 strength, and player b has 3 strength - who wins?    Depends on how the 3 strength is made up.  If it's all 1 points - then it's a draw (player b loses 1 strength to magic so it it two two. If it's a 2 and a 1 - then player A wins - player b lose 2 strength to magic so it's two - one.  If it's a 3 then player B wins (magic is not strong enough to achieve anything and the total is 2-3).  Guile also has the same problem but can affect something magical as well....

Equally if I've got 10 magic and you have none - I'm still only sending one piece home so my magic is not as strong en mass.  It's something you just want a bit more of then the opponent not masses more then the opponent.

So guile is effective against magic and swords, magic is effective against swords and an extra chance to kill - but both are never going to be the only thing you relay on.

What would happen if you just ignored everything but 1 strength monsters? Well I think you'd win a lot in the short term- but your casualty rate would be higher although not massively higher - as you'd lose two a conflict (swords and magic) while probably inflicting one (winning the contest) however they would be low cost casualties and what the opponent is using might not be......

Take home from this.......  big monsters might need to be cheaper in terms of resources on a point by point basis then little monsters (which can also be more flexibly deployed).  Spells will need to provide some options of dealing with hordes of monsters - so fireball that allows you to split your strength onto multiple targets.    

Which takes me back to "I need to throw some stuff at the wall and see what sticks" but has thrown up some possible areas of interest.  So it was probably worth the diversion.  At least if you are me......

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Throw stuff at a page and see what sticks....

So we have the statistics that a monster might have - Guile, Magic, Strength, and Swords (ability to inflict casualties).

Now we need some classic monsters/forces that might follow an overlord and roughly what stats they would have.  Feel free to chime in on the comments......  

Your bog standard unit is the Orc - so that is strength 1.
Then there is the Urak Hai who are an orc with more capacity for violence - so strength 1 - sword 1.
Then there is the Ogre who is stronger then the orc - strength 2.
Then there is the giant who is the strongest  - strength 4 (but vulnerable to guile in some way perhaps), sword 1.

Then we have the kobold- cunning but very little else - with guile of 1.
Spiders are creatures of guile and poison - so guile 2, strength 1, sword 1.
Assassins are devious and clever - guile 2, sword 2
Drow Knights are as tough as they smart - guile 3, strength 3

Evil Spirits seem to be your best simple magical creature - magic 1.
Ghosts are a step above them - magic 1, sword 1.  Something that will end up killing the stuff it faces.
Succubus are clever and magical but not that strong in a fight- guile 2, magic 2, strength 1
Ogre mages defy the stereotype of the weak mage - magic 3, strength 2.

Two other sets of things might turn up - things that can fly, things that can bash down castle walls - so that's key words 'fly' and key word 'siege' sorted that might turn up....

Battering Ram - strength 2 - keyword siege.
Black Swans - Strength 1 - sword 1 - key word flying

Dragons are the biggest and meanest creatures - since there strong, cunning, magically powerful, can fly and horribly dangerous.  So strength 3, guile 3, magic 3 and 2 swords - keyword fly.  That would mean a dragon would lose to a giant apart from it's vulnerability to guile however.

I suspect that's enough to throw different combinations together to see what comes out on top - is strength just best?  Does guile or magic make a big difference?  Is it just the biggest stake that wins?

But suggestions more then welcome......

Firefly - you can't take my cards from me

So I have finally played the firefly game and the game that it reminds me of most is Arkham horror.  Which if you know my opinions on that abomination that should means your proberbly going 'oh dear' but it's not that bad.

It does not resemble each other because of mechanics or theme but because they both take ages, require a table the size of the verse, are massively random, and have a horrible tendency for those doing well to keep doing well.  

What firefly does do is nail the theme.  Arkham horror draped itself in the language of Cthulhu but never felt right to me.  I winced when somebody said 'I'll shotgun the shogoth' when I played.  Firefly however hits no such duff notes theme wise - and since I'm more of a firefly fan then I am Cthulhu purist that's not nothing.....

All of this is based on a single play though and It's possible we had a duff mission - but god damn that was hard and time consuming (unless we were doing something wrong and/or stupid - always possible). $7,000 cash to achieve the first goal? After two and a half hours of play I had just enough cash to do that - but was on the wrong side of the rutting verse..... However people were about to start collapsing at that point so the game was called before any could have achieved that first goal.  I suspect I had a good chance at goal 2 and three in quick succession at that point.

The misbehaving cards are supper thematic - and honestly pulling a revear card that was just pure bad and suddenly spotting that I could progress on it because I had river tam and that was basically the start of the movie?  Fabulous but a good example of just how luck driven the game is.  Massive gun skills just reduced the card to a bad fail but having River Tam suddenly everything is golden.   From drawing the right equipment and character cards, to drawing good travel cards, to drawing misbehaving cards that matched your abilities or were nice, to just getting the number you need on the dice - pure damn chance.  Failure brings penalties - making it less likely you'll succeed next time and so starts a terrible feedback loop.   Doing well makes you do well; doing badly makes you do badly.

I would play again - but I'm aware I might just have a terrible time and die alone, broke in a ship out of gas....  Which is without doubt utterly thematic since they always felt like they were one job away from disaster - but it sucks as a game mechanic.

So what would I change - because that's the point of reviewing things for me - looking for places to make changes and flex my design muscles

Firstly movement - just draw a single damn card - and have it present a problem/opportunity that costs movement rather then stops you dead. You'll get around the verse a damn site quicker and more predictably.

Secondly have everybody have a pool of plus points that they can use to add to dice. So you can punch through a bad dice roll - get that pool enhanced  if you fail at something - so a failure at least feels like your moving closer to success.

Thirdly have success in misbehaving saved - so you can actually make progress on something.  Rather then 2/3 doing it and suddenly bang back to square 1 you go.

Fourthly - have an action you can do at any time to get some sort of bonus in a later turn. Because from time to time you'll find yourself with nothing to do - and that's bloody annoying. It would also let you wind up to achieving something big.  Then if your running without 'luck' that's your choice to run things close to the bone - rather then something random that happens.  This and number two should probably be connected....

Fourthly - if you fail at a misbehaving you should get a chance to save the misbehaving so you can see what you'll need to do next time you try again rather then it being back to square 1.  

Fifthly - make it so you don't need all three skills at a high level to succeed - two out of 3 should be enough to get you through.

Of these I suspect you could bring in 2, 3 and 4 as house rules of some sort, 1 or 5 would need a complete redesign of the game.......

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Upon a Throne of Bone - taking shape.

So Friday morning – me and SH (if he's got a blog I don't know about it) sat down and talk over 'Upon A Throne Of Bone'. It was nice to have somebody to talk to and bounce ideas off – you can roughly outline stuff, check what the other person meant, and explore why you might want certain things. It also let me talk about 'Aye Dark Overlord' and it's clear that story telling game is a major inspiration to me. In fact what I'm trying to do is create little mini rounds of Aye Dark Overlord but ones in which you've not automatically failed and are in fact defending how well you actually did.....

This is me trying to get as much of that down in one place as possible – if for no other reason then it lets SH point out stuff I'd completely forgotten.

I think most of the structure from the previous posts can stay.

But I shared the background that had been rattling around in my head for a while – which made some of the rest of the game decisions lock into place so that's worth sharing....

It is the time of the great conjunction – for a brief while the dark forces can escape there prisons and threaten the lands of men - but soon enough the conjunction will end and the dark forces will once more me pulled back. Each overlord wishes to be remembered as they greatest force of terror once the conjunction is over while your minions wish to ensure they go back into the prison as your most favoured minion. Because if it's bad enough being trapped in the prison with a bored and angry overlord – now imagine how much worse it is if your trapped in a supernatural prison with a bored and angry overlord who does not hold a grudge against you......

Game wise this means the basic structure is - Overlords want to gain terror but have few ways of gaining terror directly. They do control resources that minions can use to gain terror – and they control the distribution of favour to minions.

Two special case for that however....

Minions will have a little mission card (whim cards) which if they complete will gain them a minor amount of favour directly – filling whims the overlord player has no idea he has. This is to give a minion a reason to go slightly off mission in an effort to fullfill a whim.

Also the overlord during the resolution phase will be able to be involved in some sort of puzzle game – seeking to unlock powerful bonus resources and also obtaining terror directly. This is currently a bit mastermind based more details to follow however the tokens for use in the game are obtained via actions in the world (ie raiding, destroying locations).

One key aspect is that we are giving the overlord player some tools to help them manage there minions but the managerial style they adopt is entirely there choice.

There was also a lot of discussion about the conflict resolution system – it's still a work in progress but there was a lot going on there.

There are kingdoms – kingdoms are a collection of 'things' that are held together by a single central strong location. Destroying that strong location destroys the kingdom and all associated things giving a really large amount of terror (and brings a new, stronger kingdom into play).....

Destroying locations within that kingdom give you terror and weakens the central location making it easier to destroy.

You can also choose to raid a kingdom – which gathers you resources and/or terror and weakens the kingdom as well.

The full conflict resolution is used when trying to destroying a location or when fighting another overlords forces.

Locations and monsters have four statistics. These are guile, magic, strength, and swords. A location can also have requirements – for example at least 3 magic, or other keyword requirements. For example the location 'the lonely crag' requires 'flying'.

Combat does not involve any dice – this is because we wanted to remove the 'I rolled badly' excuse for minions. However some randomness was felt to be good – so each location will be dealt a card that changes it's values in some way. That card will remain in effect for the whole turn – so every person interacting against the same strength.

The intent is that a combat will take place in 4 stages – a guile stage, a magic (magic could be called ranged) stage, a strength stage, and a casualties stage. The strength stage decides the winner of the combat – while the guile and magic stage have an impact on the up and coming conflict.

The intent of the combat system is to limit casualties so nobody will ever lose to much in a single go; that a weaker attacker can have an impact on a stronger force allowing 'spoiler attacks'.

The current rough idea is that the winner of the guile contest sends a monster home (back to the overlords base) with a strength no greater then the amount they won by; the winner of the magic contest kills a monster with a strength no greater then the amount they won by; the highest strength wins the contest; the loser takes a casualty with a strength no greater then the amount they lost by as does the person with the least swords (you guessed it) with a strength no greater then they amount they lost by. Person inflicting the casualty choices – if no player is present to decide the lose then the strongest possible is removed – with a dice roll breaking ties. This may well need some sort of tweaking for balance but that is the current idea.

Spells are carried by minions – and if a minion is present at a battle they can play a spell (powered by mana) to effect the battle. Minions get spells and mana of the Overlord - but once they've got them they are there's to use or not use.  Some sort of spell hard limit is required I think.....

 A minion may also decide to count themselves as having single point of any characteristic (including swords) for the duration of a contest.

Not all contests use the full method – a number of them are simple auction contests. In those cases a minion counts as the resource – and then also wins ties (if your still tied then it's coin flip time).

Raiding is a bidding system based around guile – the amount of guile you have sent is your bid and highest bid takes the first pile of resources (gold and terror).

Obtaining plans is a bidding system based around gold – the highest amount of gold gets first pick of available plans. This means that players are setting the prices of rooms.....

Controlling hero's is a bidding system – currently based around the magic statistic (corruption).
A hero remains stationary unless somebody bids for control of that hero. The evil overlord at the bottom of the terror track will gain bonus biding that can only be used when bidding for control of a hero – because hero's will tend towards fighting the biggest and meanest hero.

A hero placed on a location will add there statistics to that locations difficulty.  So a hero does not affect raiding, obtaining building plans, or obtaining hero's.

A hero placed upon an overlords base will attack that base – causing damage and costing terror. How a base defends itself is not clear – it wants to be a slow grind through the base destroying things until the heroes are worn down. But not sure how to make that happen.

We are currently missing a quest mechanic – allowing minions and overlords to pursue particular goals. One end of this is simple enough – completing a quest opens up a new location that has a token based requirement to attack it while giving you the token. The other end of the process and making that interesting and unique is not yet clear although it may involve using tokens obtained from activities such as raiding that are also useful in the overlord puzzle game.

Overall a very useful meeting – getting even a skeleton of a system agreed is a fantastic step forwards.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

What maketh the mega game?

So my friend – lets call him ‘the Brazen Duke’ went along to the same mega-game I did and he had a much better time of it; in fact enjoyed it enough that he went for another one.  In all fairness he did invite me to the second one and I would have gone if I’d not been in Whitby with lots of Goths - I'd show you a photo but I've never quite managed to find one that sums it up.....

Anyway prompted by a post on the mega-games web page he’s written an article about just how many people you need for a game to be ‘a mega-game’.  You can find it here (look at me linking to other bloggers I know – like I’m not just making this stuff up).

Just in case you’ve not read it – spoilers sweetie - his conclusion is 24.  Which as somebody who’s trying to organise something mega-game-alike with about 20 people max is at least a little awkward…..

He's added two things I don't think you have to have - I mean they might well be nice but I don't think they are actually required.  These are 1) a group of 'rouge agents' who don't quite work the way the majority of the players do and 2) a group to spread information around.

I think if you had neither of those things and still had 200 people playing the sub departments of an insane Brazil like bureaucracy - you'd still have a mega game.  Note to self - file that idea away as something else to explore another day....

The question switches about half way down - from what number do you need for a mega-game over to 'a mega-game experience that doesn't feel like something is missing' which is a subtly different question.  Because that is - if you peel away the layers - what do you need to make a good mega game....

Interestingly enough I don't think 'Of Gods and Men' quite fulfils his criteria either - there were no 'Intelligence operatives' in gods and men.   The closest were the gods - but I think they were much closer to a second set of rouge agents then people moving information round (with or without an agenda).

Now obviously I want to make 'a good' mega-game - who'd want to make a bad one?  But I don't have 24 players - I've got 20 at most - which I make out to be 16 players and 4 controls.  Maybe it would be better with 24 players but I have to design to what I've got. So it's about making the bes choices I can.....

Lets look at playable hero's - based on comments some people think they should be included so why are they not.  There missing because I rate the Brazen dukes first statement as more important then he does....
“Each standard team needs a leader and two other people with potentially conflicting priorities. In this way, the team is always discussing/debating/arguing and the leader is always making difficult choices. If this isn't happening, I really don't think we're megagaming.”

Which gives you inter team rivally - which is important.  I just disagree and think that in this case you need at least 4 people in a team - one on top and 3 below.  This gives more room to jockey for position then just 'top or bottom'.

Interestingly enough in my 3 person team at Of Gods and Men there was no jockeying for position - partially because there was only 3 of us in total - but I mainly think because had nothing to fight for - the only thing we could see was 'position of the city state'  there was nothing for me personally to try and obtain.....  Which is why there needs to be a clear resource that the minions care about - in this case 'favour of the overlord'.  Everything they do in the rest of the game is actually about trying to get hold of that......

You also need more then 1 team because you want inter team rivallry - and here I agree with the duke at least 4 teams is the minimum.

At which point - that's my 16 players used up.....

I mean there are other structures - in which you do get hero's... ....

Structure A – in which we have 10 players each playing an overlord in completion with each other – while 6 players run around being hero’s opposing them all.

Structure B – in which we have 1 player playing an overlord while 9 players are there minions all vying for favour while 6 players run around being hero’s opposing them.

Structure A is all about team rivalry (ok a team of 1 but the point stands) while structure B is all about inter team rivalry.

They are both valid structures and they could both work – but I think they are worse game design choices then 4 teams of 4 because they only have one of the two types of rivalry.  In doing this I do appear to be following what the mega game people seem to think is a key defining characteristic of a mega game –  to quote there about page….

“A Megagame is a multi-player game, in which, usually the participants are organised into teams, and those teams into an hierarchy of teams".

So with 20 players - something had to give - and for me that's hero's and bards.....

As a side note – while writing this out I did come up with a  possible very different structure for ‘upon a throne of bone’ – One evil overlord – with 3 chief minions – and 9 minions……  Opposed by 3 hero’s trying to desperately save the kingdom (or maybe 3 kings trying to save there kingdom while still staying in charge - sure you can get a hero to save you but do you really want to give away your kingdom)…….

The evil overlord wants to rule – the chief minions wants to become the evil overlord – while the minions want to become chief minions….  It would be a very different game but I think it might work…….  The three 'teams' is ok because you've got an overlord trying to keep things working - to much unsubtle picking on one team is bad for him so he would step in.  In that case you can have just 3 teams.....

Monday, 3 November 2014

Upon a throne of bone

If we want this to be an actual thing we had best try to put some meat on those bones (pun intended) - so let's talk system.

System wise the only thing currently certain is that a minion being present at an action makes it more likely that you will win that event. Pretty much anything else is up for grabs.......

A good question is 'what should it have?'

Well it should have monsters because what is an overlord without vile beasts?  Those monsters need to have a bit of colour and texture about them -sending 5 orcs should not be the same as sending 1 dragon even if an Orc has a strength of 1 while a dragon has a strength of 5......

It should have magic - horrible surprises and vile tricks that can swing things.  Having different flavours of magic would be good - one overlord might prevent harm coming to there minions while another might just bring back there killed minions as undead creatures.

It should have plans - an evil overlord should be working towards something rather then it just be a random of series of events.  Some of them the overlord needs to achieve- some of them just need to be done.... So destroying the forest glade might make you feared but might also advance another overlords plans....

Well - plans are easy enough - overlords have goals to achieve - essentially secret victory point cards that are scored at the end.....

Monsters are something that lasts - a resource that lasts from turn to turn (although something that can be lost) - an investment of resources that returns a fixed reusable result. I don't think loosing them should be a complete lose - so how about the cost of getting a monster is two fold. The first part is building somewhere for them to live - the second is luring a monster into that room. If a monster dies you need to acquire a new one - but the room remains.  Nice bit about this - your overlord has a base that they develop over the course of the game which feel very appropriate.

Spells are secret things that are used when needed - and what they do is not always clear - so cards sound the right sort of effect for that. In fact some sort of pyramidal effect might be good - so you can always receive some sort big bonus if you pump enough resources into it........ As overlords don't go in

Speaking of resources it's always a good idea to have more then 1 resource - so for now we will have the classic gold and mana.  Mana being more connected to spells and one off effects - while gold is connected more to monsters.

We've also got the secondary resources of 'space to build a room' so getting an Orc room means less space for a dragon.

We could have a lot more resources - want a dragon - then you need a dragon egg. But I suspect it would be better to make acquiring new build options a secondary resource on its own. So want a dragon and the first step is to acquire the dragons den build card somehow.

So assuming we have an income of gold and mana - how fixed and how fungible is that? Can a player boost gold production at the cost of mana or vice versa? I think that should be a choice they can make.

So let's lift an idea from dungeon master and give each overlord a bunch of imps that they send to places each turn.

So want to make space for a room - send some imps to dig it out. Want gold - send some imps to the gold mine - want spells send them to the library....

Which immediately presents a question - can you increase the number of imps you've got?  I suspect the answer to that is yes but you need to balance the cost very carefully otherwise why would you not get more imps? If it's a gold to get and imp and imp gets you a gold then of course you will.  A good limitation on that might be the need to acquire 'more imp quarters' in play so there is an opportunity cost (what other thing are you passing up) to acquiring more imps.

That still leaves the actual resolution system to explore......