Monday, January 23, 2017

Game Design - State Space

NOTE: This is a cross-post from an entry I made at Delta Vector within the game-design forums.

In Regards to State Space

When designing a game I think there are several realms of concern in regards to state space, that abstract realm where information is kept for use by players in order to make wise decisions during a game.  These realms of concern are public vs. private information, presentation, state complexity, and hidden dependencies.

Public vs. Private Information

These are two different ways for presenting state information.
  1. Public - Information that is public is displayed for all to see. This usually is information readily apparent to all players and typically presented between the each of them upon a game board or playing field. Public information is often made known with tokens or markers upon a track or made proximate to the physical thing to which is modifies or signifies. Ease of play is a feature of public information because what a player needs to know is visible before them.
  2. Private - Information that is private is recorded for a single player to see; the one controlling the recording. This information usually is logged and is only available upon request to other players. There's some mechanical advantage here as well; a private ledger can keep track of a lot of information.

    As a result of the information being private, to request a value is a "slow mechanic" which makes a game take longer to play. because a communication sequence must be pursued.

    You can imagine this silly exchange between two players;

    [ Jim ] What is the status of your knight, is he wounded?
    [ Rob ] Yep.
    [ Jim ] How about on fire. Is he on fire?
    [ Rob ] Yep.
    [ Jim ] Charmed or not?
    [ Rob ] Not charmed.

    etc. essentially the players in the above exchange are doing some variation of Go Fish!

State Representation

State representation are common ways to show, typically, public information in some ubiquitous manner.
  1. Presuming that a game design is a tactical boardgame, the one common bit of state information is the position upon a field of play. 
  2. Some games allow a figurine to face forwards or backwards; their orientation informs others when a model becomes vulnerable to a bonus "stab-in-the-back" attack.

    -- Games like Strange Aeons allow models to face up or face down to show Knocked-out or Out-of-Action. Presuming they have a facing [ if they aren't Flying Polyps  ].
    -- Many games show status like "on fire" with strips of wool.
    -- Or, in Blackpowder; the rules use white cotton ball "puffs" to show that a model has fired its weapon.
  3. In mostly boardgame designs, public information is shown upon tables or charts with tokens.

    -- In Advanced Civilization there exists the time track showing where a player's civilization is in position to another.
    -- In many heavy Euro-style games where each player presents a tracking board for their resources. Like in Power Grid.
    -- At the minimum there would be a victory point track.
  4. In card games, the cards themselves become public information when played. They'll serve multiple state fields; as assets, as resources, as terrain, and as modifiers.

State Complexity

This is a combinatoric feature of a game design. The more discrete states there are, the more combinations there can be.
  1. This is where, for me, a game becomes interesting because it allows opportunities for players to manage the "state space".
  2. However, by having too many statuses, the game can become slower because the state space - the total matrix of state combinations - grows very large. This usually requires more time to think things out and for people who experience "analysis paralysis" this will cause them to utilize deeper mini-max optimization.
  3. One thing which helps flatten the time to analyze state is the commonality of representation. A game board, especially a simple grid or open field with easily recognizable "terrain" is much simpler to parse by our ability to do visual pattern recognition. So though a battlefield for a tactical game is large, we don't usually think that it makes a game any more complex. Same goes with the orientation of a model, its facing, or whether it "on fire" or "has fired".
  4. Other things are harder to parse, even when the presentation is clear and public. Such as weapon reach of 1-inch or 2.5-cm from the center of a model, or yaw and pitch or whether a model is flying at 4-Altitude or 5-Altitude without resorting to gimbaled telescoping flight stands.
  5. Regardless, the more state the more interesting combinations there can be. "KO'd", "Fired", "Done", "Sprinted", "Hidden", "Facing", "Position", "Panicked". You can imagine the combinations here and how game play could change dramatically.
  6. And with each state, there could be rules to manage those states. But too many states and then the game gets too complex to play quickly or to play at all.

Hidden Dependencies

Hidden dependencies are things that make the game operate as intended but are not declared explicitly with a rules set.
  1. In well written rules for boardgames, there will be an inventory of all game assets similar to this list;

    -- 1 x battlefield
    -- 4 x dice "red", "yellow", "blue", and "green".
    -- 120 x models each with its own stat card.
    -- 32 x status tokens for "on fire", "hidden", and "panicked".

    Having something like that at the preface of a rules set is very nice. Maybe the rules might include something like this as well;

    "this game include 32 copies of a private ledger for recording and tracking campaign game progress. You are free to photocopy for your own non-commercial use".
  2. What I see in tabletop miniatures games is usually something different. Typically there is nothing like an inventory at the start of the game rules. I think part of it is that the nature of the genre allows for some flexibility on which available models there could exist for play in the game, as well as what sorts of battlefield terrain such as buildings, trees, and hills could be available.

    However, it would be nice if I could see something like:

    "This game requires a minimum of 4 models per player, 8 pieces of terrain representing hills, trees, or buildings, and 10 six-sided dice."
  3. Another category of hidden dependency is status tracking. It may not be until later in a particular set of rules I might read and discover that I need to somehow identify a model as a "Big Man" or that I have to track that a machine gun is "Out-of-Ammo" or that a unit is "Routed" or that a squad is "Suppressed".

    These are all interesting state complexity values with their own rules and I like it, but I'd prefer to have such things made known at the front of the game rules.

The Ledger

Lastly is the ledger, or commonly known as the record sheet. Some games just identify this is as "the log".
  1. Games like Warmachine have explicitly available datacards for private information tracking which have stat lines, model-assigned-rules, and then a suite of checkboxes to mark damage received. These in principle I have no problem with regardless of how fiddly such a feature is because they are made known as a game feature within the rules by their very presence.
  2. However, many games in order to reduce publicly represented state information clutter move that information into private control and management. This is a reasonable trade-off but what will happen is that the tracking of that information is often implicit (maybe through omission, maybe through intent) and also declared (if at all) late into the rules set.

    Or not; sometimes it seems that it is up to the consumer of the rules to decide and I think this is bad practice and also makes it harder to learn a game.
  3. For example, a model might have 5 weapons each of which could be in these states;

    -- "Nothing changed",
    -- "Destroyed", or
    -- "Out-of-Ammo".

    For a single model, that is something like 0 to 10 statuses to track just for its weapons Where to display this information? Publicly? Nope, on a ledger. But for some games there is no ledger provided by the rules or indicated by the phrasing of the rules.

Trade-offs

I think that to limit a game design to some arbitrary fixed number of states active or otherwise is a designer's choice. There are always trade-offs.
  1. Many games, card games especially, and in particular Magic: The Gathering; have dozens of states categorized into a dozen state fields with each field being something like "in hand", "discards", "in play", etc. 
  2. The multiplier as a result of all these combinations can create humongous state spaces which are time-consuming to search through.  If players were to compartmentalize these using some sort of heuristic strategy for visiting and analyzing, then the game becomes manageable.

    So, for example, M:tG has this thing called The Layer System which groups states into categories of effects. Each category then groups state modifiers within them.
  3. Something I think is already understood by most players if not most designers is that complexity (and time to resolve) increases with the number of players involved and the number of assets involved. It'd be nice to have a deeply intricate game allow inclusion of a third or fourth player, but it probably is too complex to resolve quickly.
  4. The more assets (units, models, figures) which are in play also is a state field and also increases the complexity of the game. Imagine a game between two "flying battleships", each with detail on the level of Starfleet Battles.

    It might take 1 hour. Imagine such a game with 16 such vessels in play ... the game might take 1 hour or more likely ... ? 6 hours?  Take that an then divide those 20 ships across 10 players instead of two players; the game will definitely take longer because of at least two additional factors; transition of flow between more players is a friction because it is a physical/social mechanism.

    And the last is that the search space is larger since each player - were they computers or persons with "analysis paralysis" - would want to optimize their moves they'd have to regard additional combination.

    BTW, I did this last thing; 16 ships and 10 players using all of the Starfleet Battles rules we knew at the time. It took 6 hours. I think in SFB circles, this is a "medium length" game session. =)
  5. I presume that game designers would want to have a sense of how much time they would want a standard game session to last. At that point, they scale down (or scale up) the available complexity in their design. Then they'd do some math regarding available assets and divide.

    For example, I'd rather that a game take at most 90 minutes per session for 5-11 units each player or about 16 units in total for all players. I'd want to have at least 5 player Turns each (5 Rounds), and so this would be 90 minutes divided by 5 Rounds is 16 minutes per round. Divided by 16 units means an average processing time of 1 minute per asset. That's about 8 minutes per player.

    Therefore if I can get move + combat down to that average per asset, then my design is as I have intended. If resolution time runs slower, then I need to trim my state space and reduce complexity by removing some statuses. If not, then I shouldn't be too surprised that it takes 6 hours.
  6. If I were to want to make that Starfleet Battles game as fast as 90 minutes to resolve, then I'd need to remove or simplify lots of the features. I'd probably start by reducing the impulse chart from 32-impulses down to 8-impulse. Then the energy record sheet would need to be simplified. Then the Damage Allocation Chart would need to be simplified. Then the number of tactical options (HET, Wild Weasel, Transporter bombs, Boarding Parties, etc) would need to be trimmed. Etc.

    There's a lot of cruft to remove! It'd be a different game afterwards and maybe would require being given a new name, like "Starfleet Commander" or "Federation Border" or something.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Cold Steam Empires - Flight stands

Overview

This is the third in a series for crafting assets for the VSF genre.  In this particular post I will show how I crafted flight stands. These flight stands prop my "aeronef" (flying battleship) proxies above the field of battle to provide an illusion that they are hovering upon the table.

Pictures

Here's what you'll need.
  1. Hot glue gun with hot glue gun sticks. Maybe a dozen or two.
  2. Zinc washers 1.25-inch
  3. Zinc washers 0.625-inch
  4. Neodymium (rare earth) magnets 10mm. You can order a variety from Amazon.com here: https://www.amazon.com/100pcs-Strong-Neodymium-Magnet-Fridge/dp/B01MCU7Y1R/ref=sr_1_29?s=industrial&ie=UTF8&qid=1480150925&sr=1-29
  5. Wood blocks with pre-drilled holes. These can also be beadery blocks. The holes are for the dowels.
  6. Dowels. These must fit the holes.
  7. Snap-lock fastener bushings.
  8. Bird-nose pliers for clipping stuff.
Ignore the coasters at the left and the woodsies disc near the middle; those are for the cloud stands. =) The package with the black label contains pre-drilled blocks with holes and comes with dowels that fit loosely into those holes.  The zinc discs are to be used as weight bases, and the snap-lock fasteners at the right are to mount the magnets.

The first step is to glue the blocks to the zinc discs using the hot-glue gun. These ones shown are recycled from an earlier project, that's why they are painted black. Anyways; notice that I draw the glue around the base in random directions for texture.

Here I have about 24 bases for my flight stands. You can see how the block with the dowel shows the loose fit. Let's correct that.

To make the dowels fit more snug, just add some hot glue. Create a puddle with the hot glue and dip the dowel and rotate its tip. Here at the top is untreated, and the bottom one is with the glue.

Make enough for your needs. These dowels are 3-inches long, but you'll probably want to vary them. The idea is to have the dowels be exchangeable; they'll not be permanently glued into the holes in the blocks.

Here's all of the dowels fitted into their blocks. Again, these dowels are removable. My thinking is that maybe in some situations I want things to be higher or lower to the table.

Taking my bird-nose pliers, I crop all of the dowels to about 1.5-inches or maybe a little longer. It's not a precision cut because it will be masked later by the snap-lock fasteners.

OK. Here are the rare-earth magnets. I got these from my local Home Depot hardware store. These particular ones have a hole at their centers which nicely fit the the dowels. Make sure you neodymium magnets instead of the cheaper black "refrigerator" magnets you may normally find at a craft shop or convenience store because those don't really have a strong magnetic field.

The neodymium magnets are very strong. I have to separate them from all magnetic surfaces or else they'll jump together. Here I use my mat-knife to slice one single disc from that tower of magnets near the top of this image.


Here's what the bushing looks like upon the magnet. Notice that the fastener has a hole.

Add hot-glue into the inside of the bushing and push the dowel through. Add the magnet to the end. Because these particular magnets have a hole, I just make it flush to the end.

You can see here that I have enough for a small squadron. All that remains is to spray paint them.

Here's one of the flight stands nearly complete. It could do with some dry brushing to bring out some details. At the right is the reverse side of my proxy figurine. I glued the smaller 5/8-inch washer to the bottom. I imagine that if I were to use a real VSF sky battleship figurine that I'd need to do something similar.

This from later in the week. Time to get painting; I'll be doing some dry-brushing.

Pick a nice blue and pick up some paint. Lay it solely at the base using the flat-side of the brush so as to allow some of the lighter blue color between the glued texture to peek through.

Here's what they look like with the coat of blue laid down.

When the blue paint is dry to the touch, find some white paint. What happens next is that I do some "dry-brushing" by take a minimal amount of white paint and use the flat-side of the brush again. This time I pull the white from the box towards to lip of the base. I also dry-brush the edges of the box ... I dunno why. Looks good to me. =)

Here's what everything looks like when finished and against a dark background.


And here is my aeronef on its flight stand! Ta Da!

Here's the pay-off. This is a close-in view. I actually have a total of 22 clouds upon their stands and two squadrons of 4 aeronefs in play. The missing two are out of frame.  Here is a zoomed-out view of the battlefield.  I really like the combined otherness and familiarity of the setup. This is before I finished the darker paint treatment to the bases of the cloud stands and the flight stands.

Here's the battlefield with all of bases (flight stands and cloud stands) painted with the darker blue. You may notice that I have some of the cloud stands stacked two tall, and that some of the flight stands are taller than the others.



Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Cold Steam Empires - Cloud Stands

Recap

In this post, I'll show how I created flight stands for my clouds. I created these clouds for a play-test of Eric Farrington's "Castles in the Sky". The idea of having clouds available as blocking terrain, as a sort of "sky tree" is very interesting to me.

Pictures

Any how, here's what you'll need:
  1. Hot glue gun with hot glue gun sticks. Maybe a dozen or two.
  2. Primer spray paint. White.
  3. Flat color spray paint. Sky Blue.
  4. Poker chips. Probably white.
  5. Some wood discs, about 1.5-inch across.
  6. Large circular coasters. Mine are 4-inches across and made of cardboard.
  7. 2-inch (plus or minus) PVC pipe connectors, the kind used for building lawn sprinkler systems.
These are my clouds. I built them in the last post.


Glue the PVC connector pipe to the coasters. Ignore that weird thing at the top left, that's for the next post. =)

Poker chips. Cheap plastic version.

Glue the poker chips to the tops of the PVC pipe. Here you might notice that I added texture to the bases of each cloud stand; this will be important later to create the effect of ocean waves.

After spray painting the stands in white primer base coat followed by a blue main coast, all of the cloud stands are done. Here's what the clouds look like upon their stands.

And here's what they look like upon the battlefield at this stage.  My yellowish lighting in my dining room washes out the colors. The clouds are not glued to the stands and merely sit squarely upon the poker-chip bases. This is a good place to stop, but I'll go a little further with the painting (below).

Here's my current inventory. Bunches of cloud stands. I'll be adding more paint.

I draw using the flat of a wide paint brush my blue across the base. I try to draw the paint from the center to the edges of the base. I'll also trim the edges of the base with blue.

Here's a bunch of the bases with blue paint against them all drying.

Once the blue paint dries, I dry-brush white using the flat of the brush across the blue. The white picks up the high areas of the texture bumps which I created earlier when I place the hot-glue gun glue. Looks like waves! I also trim the edge of the base to add a nice white line.

Here's most of the cloud stands finished.

All of the cloud stands are finished now. I've got enough variety in sizes that I can stack some of them.




Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Cold Steam Empires - Some Clouds

Overview

And here's where I show what I've been up to.

Recently I joined a small forum for game designers at Delta Vector so that I can get and give feedback on various game designs. The games presented in the forum cover a number of topics in regards to game mechanics and also cover a multitude of genres. One of the game genres is "aeronefs" where World War I is fought with flying battleships. This is a subset of VSF or "Victorian Sci-fi".

VSF is of interest to me because I've been working on the genre document for MEST 2.0 and also I've been trying out the strategic campaign design.  So why not also cover a board game dealing with flying battleships while I'm at it? Since I've already got Cold Steam Empires as a work-in-progress, I thought this would be a great way to establish a more solid understanding of how that board game should be designed.

And so now, as I've been working on getting proper assets into place; I've got some pictures for my progress on building clouds for these sorts of VSF battlefields.

Pictures

Here's my progress. Stuff you'll need:

  1. Hot glue gun with hot glue gun sticks. Maybe a dozen or two.
  2. Poker chips. White. Maybe a dozen.
  3. Bags of cotton balls. Probably 2 to 4 bags.
  4. Maybe some white cardboard. I use cold pressed board.
  5. Maybe some old DVD or CDs. These are 5.25-inch in diameter. White label them.
  6. Matt knife. For desperation.
  7. Scissors. Yep.


Most of my supplies and tools.

Drawing out weird shapes. Note; try to limit concave shapes as they are hard to cut.

Cutting stuff out.

Gluing cotton balls.

Crumple a piece of white paper for the CD/DVDs in order to fill out some of the volume.

Glue down the crumpled paper and start filling in the gaps with cotton balls.

Here's what the 5-inch disc looks like now with everything in place. Also, the cloud at the top left is made by gluing the cotton balls atop a crescent-shaped piece of white cardboard.


My pretty pretty battlefield with just some clouds. The smaller clouds are upon the poker chips. The larger are upon the cardboard.

Next Time
In my next post I'll show you how I created stands for these clouds.

Monday, December 5, 2016

More about the Zombie Apocalypse

Overview

Here's more information on the Survival Horror genre document.  See the earlier blog post regarding
the campaign structure for more information on how this stuff fits in.

Mutant Zombies

There's a lot of freedom here because there are lots of zombie tropes to pull from. This is the initial list which I'm sure will change once I get more into the design of the setting. The basic concept is that beyond the Shambler, Walker, and Runner, there are more advanced zombie types to be discovered once the campaign progresses and the Survivors begin to encounter the weaponized military zombies.

Zombie Archetypes

Each of the zombie archetypes are meant to have variants so there could be a Superior King Zombie or a Great Exploder Zombie.

Type     CCA RCA REF INT POW STR FOR MOV SIZ Traits
Shambler  0   =   0   =   4   1   1   2   3  [Shamble]. Fear.
Walker    1   =   0   =   4   1   1   2   3  Fear.
Runner    1   =   1   -   5   2   1   3   3  Sprint.Evasive. Fear 2.
Doggy     1   =   2   =   4   1   1   3   2  Sprint 2. Detect. Bite. Chase. Fear 2.
Tank      2   =   0   =   4   4   3   2   4  [Shamble]. Claws. Fear 2.
Spitter   0   1   2   =   4   1   1   3   3  Spit. Detect. Fear 3.
King      2   =   3   0   7   3   3   3   3  Tactics. Bite. Claws. Transfix 5.
Witch     3   =   2   0   6   2   2   4   2  Shriek 2. Bite. Chase. Transfix 3.
Exploder  0   =   0   =   4   2   4   2   4  [Shamble]. Bomb 2.


Specific Zombie Traits
All of these are fairly rough and need more play-testing. These particular ones are specific to each zombie archetype:
  • [Shamble]. See [Slow!] May not use Agility.
  • Bomb X. Spend 1 AP. Remove this model and perform Range Combat Attack from its location. AoE 2+X Impact 3+X. Damage X+XW
  • Poison X. Upon successful Hit Test, roll X Modifier dice; the target receives a Poison token for each success.  Each Poison token will cause a “Hindrance” penalty which is -1 Modifier die for every Test the character performs, except for the Damage Test. At the start of a character’s Initiative if it is Poisoned, count the number of Poisoned tokens upon it.  It must perform an Unopposed FOR Test at -1 Base die per Poison token. Upon fail, it receives a Delay token as Stun for each pair of '1' generated.
  • Shriek X.  See [Noisy X] Spend 1 AP to generate Noise; free of cost if within Cohesion of target.
  • Spit X.  See Poison. Spend 1 AP to perform a -1 Modifier die Range Combat Attack.  Impact X. Damage X+1 Poison Damage.
  • Transfix X. See Fear X. For every Fear token target receives by this character, it also receives 1 Delay token if it is in base-contact with this model. Targets not in base-contact receive 1 Delay token per 2 Fear tokens instead.
General Zombie Traits
All of these are fairly rough and need more play-testing. All zombies will have the Mob and Horror traits assigned to them by default;
  • AI:Zombie. Uses the Zombie AI rules.
  • Horror. See Fear. This model has total Fear equal to its Fear level plus 1, 2, 3, or 4 if it has at least 1, 2, 4, or 8 models with the Horror trait within Cohesion.

Zombie AI

Zombies have poor vision and rely upon a keen sense of smell and excellent hearing. They otherwise are mindless and with very poor reflexes and fighting capabilities.

Here's the Zombie AI sequence for zombies with less than zero INT:
  1. Zombies must move as part of a Group Action if possible.
  2. Zombie facing is important but only to help track current direction of movement.  Zombies when first encountered as a result of a trigger will all face the same direction towards the source of a noise trigger.  Zombies that have been surprised face in various directions. 
  3. When a zombie is moved, it will continue in the direction of its current facing until it bumps into a wall.  Zombies can move through each other if facing the same general direction, otherwise they'll stop.  Zombies which bump into a wall will reface using Biased Scatter away from the wall.
  4. Whenever a Firearm or [Noisy] trait is triggered, any Free zombies will immediately reposition MOV x 1” towards the source of the trigger.  Identify such trigger locations with a Trigger marker which is to be removed as soon as it is within 4” of a zombie.  If a Trigger marker is placed, any previous Trigger markers that are not within 4” of a zombie is removed on a D6=4+.
  5. Unless Zombies are within 4” of an Opposing model they will continue their current direction of movement towards the last Trigger marker.
  6. If Wind rules are used; being within Wind Factor x 4” downwind of a zombie allows that zombie to behave as though it were an intelligent model when activated it can move directly towards any Opposing model.

Resource Management

Players are expected to manage their Assembly Roster as well as their Resource Inventory.

Resource Inventory

A key feature of survival genres is resource management. Players must make hard decisions on acquiring, keeping, consuming, and trading resources. There are some really technical ways of doing this and many computer games handle this stuff very well to a great level of detail. MEST is a boardgame with some narrative aspects, and doesn't want to be a role-playing game, and so it won't do thing with the crunchy details. What it will do is a trade-off between verisimilitude and playability.

Types of Resources
Most of the resource types will not be a concern for management until the later campaigns by which time the player Assemblies presumably have grown into the dozens and the Interim Time has increased into Weeks or Months.
  • Ammo. Lack increases Out-of-Ammo results to 1-2 on each ROF die. A surplus is akin to Ammo trait.
  • Food. Lack forces characters to use Initiative Points to perform Push.
  • Hygiene.  I think this will make things interesting and will affect the rate dysentery and infection for Post-mortem checks. 
  • Medicine. Lack and surplus alters the Post-mortem die rolls.
  • Rarities. These luxury items have an appeal to certain types of characters that will be encountered. If found upon the battlefield, these behave as caches and will Trigger certain Behavior Profiles.
  • Tools. Heavy stuff, but not cumbersome. This affects die rolls to fix equipment, vehicles, weapons.
  • Water. This should always be in short supply and is a burden to transport. There's always the tap water ... do you trust it? A lack forces characters to receive the [Slow] trait. Severe lack will affect Post-mortem die rolls involving surgery.
  • Weapons, Armor, Equipment.  MEST is a WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) system. So this won't be so bad. Weapons and Armor will be by their type; Light/Medium/Heavy Armor and Melee/Thrown/Firearms. Other things will be named and need to be tracked such as "The Cure" or "Passcard".
Rate of Consumption
All resources are rated in person-weeks or as bonus ratings if they are such things as Rarities or Tools. A lack is below half that rate, and a surplus exists at double that rate.

Transporting Resources
The Physicality of a character is the higher of a character's STR and SIZ. How much can be transported is equal to a character's Physicality.

Assembly Management

Another critical feature to convey the sense of scarcity, turmoil, and despair is character management. During the course of the campaign arc, the Survivor player will get to decide who gets to live, to die, or to become zombie bait.

Assembly Rosters

Each character will be named and tracked across several Missions, and have the potential to grow between Missions as they earn Experience Points [ XP ]. However, because the Interim Time is very small, and the likely-hood of death (erm, "Elimination") is very high; a lightweight Champion Roster is used instead of the Champion Record Sheet. Players can always opt to use the latter if necessary and will probably do so once the last leg of the campaign arc is begun.

Recruitment
During the course of the campaign other survivors will be encountered. Each will be a Variant Common Archetype and will be assigned a Behavior Profile keyword (see below) and a Role keyword. After the encounter or the mission is resolved, Survivor players will be given the opportunity to recruit new members into their Assemblies.

Roles
Some would serve as mules to carry resources, and others would be recruited because they'd bring in new skills or have keyword terms associated with them which might help in later Missions. For example, a keyword could be Military Scientist which would unlock a door in a later mission into a military research facility. Another keyword could be Los Lobos which provide a negotiation bonus when trying to get past a "Los Lobos" gang-controlled board area in yet a different mission.

Behavior Profiles

Whenever a survivor character is first encountered, it will be identified with a Good, Neutral, or Bad keyword indicating a sense of its general behavior during game play.  There actually are specific Behavior keywords for these characters, but they'll not be known until the characters is triggered (see below).

These behaviors should create interesting emergent game-play. On the one hand it makes things interesting, and on the other hand the will players lose a little bit of control. 

Triggering
At some point during game--play while deployed to a Mission, or during a Post-mortem after a Mission is resolved, something will cause a trigger and characters will then express a specific Behavior keyword. These new keywords are assigned at random and certain Roles will have a higher occurrence of certain Behaviors over others.

Good Behaviors
Characters with these keywords tend to benefit the group as a whole.
  1. Enthusiastic - Provides bonuses to Post-mortem checks if had been deployed to Mission.
  2. Clerical - Provides bonuses to Supplies check. Specifically negates Sociopath.
  3. Wise - Negates two Bad Behavior keywords during Post-mortem.
  4. Friendly - Negates two Bad Behavior keywords during Mission when also deployed.
  5. Endearing - Trigger any Protective behavior if they are within Visibility. Bonus to Exploration checks.
  6. Protective - Rush nearest Zombie (if present) or move to base-contact with Endearing. Bonus to Exploration checks.
Neutral Behaviors
Characters with these keywords tend to not do anything more than what is stated.
  1. Talkative - Noise is generated. 
  2. Hunter - Attempt to be nearest in position to attack nearest Zombie from a safe or ideal location.
  3. Hoarder - If Alone** with cache, exit the board with contents.
  4. Drifter - If Alone**, exit the board.
  5. Suicidal - Rush nearest Zombie if Alone**
  6. Clueless - Must always be deployed within Cohesion of non-Whiner.
Bad Behaviors
Characters with these keywords will affect Group Morale and will also affect Post-mortem checks. 
  1. Coward - If Threatened*, Disengage if necessary and move towards nearest Cover.
  2. Shrieker - If Threatened*, behave as though with [Loud] disability. Acquire Fear token if Ordered.
  3. Killer - If Alone** with another model, attack it immediately.
  4. Sociopath - Prone to destroy Supplies or banish another member for reasons.
  5. Argumentative - Whenever within Cohesion of a Friendly model and while neither is Threatened*, check to see if they'll become either Talkative or Killer.
  6. Sycophant - When deployed, will cause -1 Modifier Initiative Test.
  * Threatened is if zombies are within 1 Turn of combat (normally a 4 MU movement).  
** Alone is when no other friendly models within Visibility and LOS.

Behavior Board
This is where all players list their characters which have Behavior Profiles assigned to them as a reminder.  
  1. When a behavior is triggered place a token for that character on it as a reminder.  
  2. Characters with multiple triggers place one token for a randomly selected behavior.  
  3. Remove tokens from the board if the conditions for concluding the behavior are met or when the character is not In-Play.

Group Morale

This starts at 10 which is the highest value, and will drop as supplies run short and as Members of the Assembly are Eliminated. At the start of each Mission a die roll is performed against the Group Morale and if the check fails, the Assembly will experience one or more levels of Dread during the Mission. Dread will cause Morale Tests and Initiative Tests for the Assembly to become penalized with -1 Modifier die each level.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Musings on Serial Campaigns during the Zombie Apocalypse

Overview

This is a concept inspired by a conversation with a friend quite some time ago. It's still in the ideation phase.

The idea is to have a campaign structure that would enable pick-up games and introduce certain thematic concepts such as resource management. This becomes the basis for Serial Campaign game structures, of which Exploration Campaigns are a sub-type.

This campaign structure can be adapted to any setting that can benefit negotiating terrain and making decisions about growing a troupe [ Assembly ] and hoarding equipment. So, it should fit pretty well with the Survival Horror genre.

Zombies are ever popular and they are a perfect fit for this genre. A zombie apocalypse is the typical implementation of what will be described here. The working title, using our naming standard, is currently "Of Zombie Hordes and Riot Gear".

Background

The genre's default setting is a hybrid of Dawn of the Dead plus 28 Days Later plus Resident Evil. Basically the campaign should have a long-term arc with some aggressive zombies, and some crazy military sci-fi aspects.

Each game session is played across battlefield which is at least two or three board lengths each 48 x 48 MU. The idea here is that the players control Assemblies of Survivors and these are always migrating. Within the campaign, they'll be migrating from city to city looking for supplies, recruits, and in general trying to locate a safer place to finally put up a sheltered enclave to retire. In game terms, each city becomes a short campaign within a larger arc of several campaigns which then lead to a grand finale battle.

More Detail
The setting has a small campaign arc with 4 campaigns each being of variable length. These campaigns end when a specific Mission within each is completed to success.
  1. First Week. Each Mission has an Interim Time of about 1 day. 5-8 Missions. Most of the action takes place within a single City and the idea is to get to safety. The Survivors will encounter standard Zombies, Militia, Law Enforcement, Opportunists, Military, Stragglers, Thugs and a few other types. 
  2. First Month. Each Mission has an Interim Time of about 1 Week. 3-5 Missions. The Survivors have established a base of operations in a township near their starting city. Here they'll start making forays for supplies and then start encountering modified Zombies and augmented Military.
  3. First Quarter. Each Mission has an Interim Time of about 1 Months. 2-4 Missions. The Survivors have learned of a military base along the coast that has been recruiting survivors and has promised food, shelter, and medicine. On the way through the wilderness they'll encounter Militia and Opportunists. Zombies are a rare sight but quite different and frightening.
  4. First Year. Each Mission has an Interim Time of about 3 Months. 3-5 Missions. The Survivors have a credible network of contacts up and down the coast. Missions will be fought between hordes of controlled Zombies and their Weapons Research Council controllers. The Military will support the WRC, and many ex-Military will have filled the ranks of the local Militia groups.
Risky Decisions
Within each city, what the Survivor player encounters will be driven by needs as well as by chance. Maybe the player decides to go on a supply run for food or ammo, or maybe the player want to take a short-cut to a safe-haven, or maybe go looking for vehicles or recruits.  Going into the deeper parts of the city an Assembly will find more zombies but also more supplies. Go out further into the wilderness, and there will be fewer zombies but also fewer supplies.

City Zone Effects
The City Zone in which a Survivor Assembly finds itself will affect what it may encounter during each Mission.

CZ   Zone            Zombies  Supplies  Recruits  Survivor
1    City              +4        +5       -3         +4
2+   Town              +3        +3       -2         +2
4+   Outskirts         +2        +2       -1         +1
6+   Rural             +1        +0       -1         +0
8+   Wilderness        +0        -3       +0         +0

The chart is fairly rough but the idea is that the chance to encounter Zombies, to find Supplies, and locate Survivors is higher in the City and less in the Wilderness. The inverse is true for Recruits; there's more in the Wilderness and fewer in the City. These would be skewed towards Militia groups and other Survivors.

Layouts

Geomorphic blueprints for typical layouts are available in the Layout Matrix which assist quick configuration of each board upon the battlefield.  Here's a link to the Layout Matrix which elaborates on what follows below.

So when a board is exited it will be quick to reconfigure a board for the next section. As a player's Assembly leaves one board, it is cleared and reconfigured to show the next layout. The models are then placed again at their owner's friendly edge.

The first 3 City Zones in the Layout Matrix

Arrangement

The most terrain encountered within this genre will be roads, buildings, and trees.  When the Campaign begins, the Survivors are in City Zone 2; the Main City. This zone has mostly buildings and few trees.
  1. Players note their current City Zone somewhere for each Turn of the campaign. 
  2. Then, when a new Mission is started, the Survivor player rolls and scores the successes for 2 Modifier dice, adding 1.  This is how long the Battlefield for the Mission will be; how many boards in length before the Mission ends.
  3. The layout for the board begins with a single die roll; shown in the images above in a black circle.  Layouts are are 2 by 2 sections, each 24 x 24 MU. 
  4. Grove icons show how many Groves to place in that section of the board. The standard is 8 individual trees to a single grove icon.  
  5. If a black rectangle appears; it is a single building. Urban and City City Zones have lots of buildings. The standard here is that 1 Large building is worth 2 Medium buildings or 4 Small buildings. It works both ways. If the layout shows 8 Small buildings; those can be replaced with just 2 Large buildings.
  6. Decorative terrain elements such as non-functional vehicles, billboard signs, and street-lights are optional. They are not necessary for game-play but sure make the game-play area look very nice.

Buildings

Mechanically, buildings are meant to channel movement of the Survivor Assembly down constricted areas of the battlefield. In additional what a building looks like and what it represents can be different things from Mission to Mission. What does matter is that most buildings should be traversable; at least the bottom floor to allow for the placement of rooms, doors, and perhaps caches and traps. The more buildings there are, the greater the chance for finding supplies or recruits.

Time

To put pressure upon the players, each mission begins during the day and there are 12 hours during Summer of light but 6 hours during Winter.  So the start-time may vary according to the season and can be set by the Survivor player, but defaults to sunrise or 6:00 AM.

In game-time is must also be tracked between the boards of each Mission. Traveling between boards consumes 1 to 6 multiples of 15 minutes depending on foot, on horse-back or bicycle, or if traveling by vehicle.  During game-play it will also be possible to get lost which consumes another 1-3 hours and randomizes the appearance of the next City Zone. All of this presumes the normal behavior during travel is caution.

Days will pass between early Campaigns, and then weeks will pass in the later campaigns. This represents the amount of cunning and safety the Survivor Assembly have gained.  However, during all of this passage of time, supplies will always be a critical factor. Lastly, there will be random events which can occur "off-board" that are intended to randomly benefit or penalize the Survivor Assembly.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Progress on the VSF Campaign Map

Overview

Here's the latest design for the Victorian Sci-fi Campaign Map. It has changed somewhat from the last time I showcased it a few years ago.

The Actual Map

Here's what I currently have for the "Of Werewolves and Tesla Coils" campaign setting.  This is a Region Map type of representation so that positions upon it are of high importance. The area shown is Central Europe

Campaign map for "Of Werewolves and Tesla Coils" setting within the Cold Steam Empires genre.

Tour of Changes

  1. I moved the year to 1876 because that's the year following historically where lots of machinations in Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and Serbia started bunches of turmoil. Well, that and, reasons.
  2. There are 10 nations represented, each is a Faction with their own sub-Factions. The nations in order of capabilities, for this early part of the war are; Prussia, Britain, Austria, France, Italy. Then follows the minor powers for this map; Serbia, Belgium, Nederlands, Poland, and then Switzerland. I didn't include Russia or the remainder of the Ottoman Empire, nor Spain for this campaign. Those I think will fit in better with the Network Map campaign type since they're pretty big. I'll draft something up for that later which can cover the expanded war which will also involve the Mars, Moon, and Venus expeditions.
  3. I've matched up the VIPs to the Resource Asset types. For example; Organizer VIPs provide the same benefits as the Recruits Asset, and Merchant VIPs provide the same benefits as the Wealth Asset. This helps me simplify the rules a little and actually gives me more freedom in creating variations upon them so they'll be easier to balance.
  4. I removed the "Negotations" column of the Travel Table. I think that will do better as a rules entry instead of being on the map to clutter it.
  5. I've moved the calendar which had been on the side to a separate play-aide. It will match the layout I presented for the Mythos Network Map. This also allows me to extend the range of dates cleanly without requiring that I print a new map each time.
  6. I added a lot more waypoint nodes on the map. So there's something like 400 positions so that I could have more travel occur across it daily. I'll try another version with fewer locations as well. Maybe I'll just identify the capital cities and the areas around them. There's a balance in there somewhere which causes the campaign go from a way to string battles together to a full-fledged board game.

Play-testing

The PDF in the link above is meant for an 11"x17" US Tabloid format to use as a pin-board. The idea of a pin-board is that the pins will store the state information of the campaign between battles. And the pins allow the players to track movement as well. Of course, such a pin-board will look a lot more impressive as a poster-print issued from a large-format printer. Here's one of my later drafts at 36" x 24" posted near the corner of my den.

36" x 24" test print of VSF Campaign map.


And here's what the game looks like during play-testing. I have Prussia with blue-pins and Britain with red-pins. The map and aides are from an earlier set of print-outs and are mounted upon two layers of foam-core. I'm currently at Turn 2. Across the years I think I've tried this thing about five times and it still needs some work.

Play-test in progress