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Wednesday, 8 April 2015

First playtest of homegrown Sci-fi rules

I have always been inquisitive about how rules are written to provide a subtle balance between playability, enjoyment and 'realism' (an often trod discussion pathway). Having played many game systems from WRG 5th edition ancients through to Cold War commander, I have considered the multiple approaches to representing figures and scenery on the table.

A system that I have thoroughly enjoyed, and adapted in many ways, is the 'Command and Colors' system by Richard Berg. I love the tension created by not being in total control (the card system) and the simplicity of outcomes (the unique dice system).

From that basis I have tried to take those precedents and change them into what I feel is a playable, interesting experience where the rules support the story-telling in as simple and elegant way as possible. The picture above is my current, and no doubt, changeable set of tools to achieve this.

I am particularly fixated with the use of coloured dice and specific symbols. I first came across this mechanism in a boardgame called 'Doom' by Fantasy Flight Games. I have seen this repeated in several other games, including the 'War of 1812' by Academy Games. I really enjoy how the symbols quickly replace consulting number tables, as they immediately give value to a player in terms of gaming meaning. Anyway, enough blurting on about my whimsical mind thoughts, let's talk about the game...

The game had a simple premise, the 'exterminators' were to breach the defensive line and destroy the gunS behind the ruined buildings.

Facing them were five groups of trained troops in defensive positions. The exterminators were in a simple line, with some Mk1 gun tracks and mk2 exterminators.

The exterminator plan was simple; to destroy the troops in the central building and continue towards the guns. The first turn saw the gun tracks suppressing the troops in the building, with the exterminators moving towards the trench lines. The troops responded with some suppressive fire from their right flank, 'disrupting' a unit of exterminators in the open.

As I was playing this solo, I modified my initiative draws to random. Each playing card used gives the face value in action points. These action points are then used on specific orders which are placed down next to specific units. The player then decides in which order to play those actions. The units are varied by having different action point costs for different actions. Within that, some units are denied access to certain orders; for instance the exterminators cannot suppress, but only engage in direct firefights or assaults.

The human forces stole an early victory by wiping out a group of exterminators. The robots were first suppressed, reducing their attack dice, and then engaged in a firefight. Here both sides roll attack dice and compare their hits, suppressions, flags and resists. The soldiers also included some terrain dice due to their trench lines. Once compared, the exterminators could not withstand the hail of bullets in the open, whilst a combination of terrain and natural resilience saved the troopers.

The troopers continued to suppress another unit of exterminators in the open, meanwhile the troops in the building attempted to rally with partial success, removing 1 suppression, but falling back a hex. On the trooper's right flank the soldiers prepared for action by going on overwatch.

The robots replied by laying down some ineffectual suppressive fire from the treeline, and slightly reducing their disruption. Acknowledging their vulnerability, the exterminators in the open used a move and assault order to try and get into the trench line.

The initial assault was checked, with the melee not decided. The exterminators, gaining the next imitative with 8points, decided to take swift action, by giving all the orders to a unit of exterminators in the tree line.

The unit strode into the open and was engaged by an overwatch unit on the human right flank, to no avail (only that the troopers lost their overwatch status). The robots reached the trench line and began a new assault. The outcome was decisive...

After the dice had been compared, the troopers were forced to leave the safety of their cover, rather than sustaining casualties. At this stage I decided to call a halt to the game; this was a test game and the robots had pierced the human perimeter.

All seemed to go well with this first run. I liked that the robots initially seemed vulnerable, but when they made it into melee, their 'metal' really seemed to make the difference.

I have lots more ideas to incorporate, including different robot types (thanks Ground Zero Games) and human types. Also simple hidden movement, and the inclusion of driven events chosen by the players using the picture cards from the play deck. Time for some more head scratching!



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