Sunday, September 15, 2013

New games, and successes (mostly)

Hey everyone, I played two games recently against my girlfriend Sarah. Sarah is actually really not a wargammer, but was curious about this game that I have been working on for so long (and is ridiculously sweet overall, and the type of person who would do something like that). Both of us played with the pre-made parties, and Sarah selected the wizard group. Basically, everyone in this group, except for one character, can cast spells. I was a little nervous about this, because one of the major benefits of spellcasters is that they are super flexible, and can use a ridiculous amount of magic. I was worried that she would get overwhelmed with all of the options. However, she actually managed really well, especially by game 2. I selected a group of characters that summoned creatures. Game 1 I got beat, terribly, and it was basically my own fault. I wasn't able to summon creatures to the board very rapidly, and I didn't do a good job of keeping my guys hidden. The end result was that I got mowed down by magic arrows before I could really do anything. She won in a landslide. Game 2 was a rematch. I knew I made some bone-head mistakes during game 1, but I was also worried that the wizards might be a little over-powered. So, we decided to try it again. Sarah actually looked forward to the idea. Basically, now that she knew how wizards worked, she was looking forward to trying a new game. In this new game, I kept my characters mostly hidden for the first couple of turns, to allow them to start summoning creatures. Then, I burst out and attacked. I ended up getting beat, but it was really close for most of the game. I think I lost because of a combination of bad dice rolls, risks (some of which I would take again) that didn't pay off, and small tactical failures that blew up. For example, Sarah had a character that ran around with 1 health for basically the entire game, and due to a combination of bad rolls, not throwing enough resources at her, and really good moves to defend her character, that character never died. I learned a few things during this game. First, it is not a good idea to have an entire team of characters with summoning powers. Basically, summoning creatures costs energy points (a very limited resource), and so if you have lots of them, you will never use all of them. Second, right now I have these things called "life towers" that allow you to bring some of your characters back from the dead. They don't seem super useful, and it might be better if it was a combination of bringing characters back from the dead, and healing non-dead characters. Third, right now I have it that wizards can cast spells while in melee, but then can't attack during the turn. The net result of this was that many of her characters got to attack before I was able to, and occasionally she would kill one of my guys and free herself from melee. I think I am okay with this as a rule, though I will see what happens in the next few games. Finally, I need to figure out a better way to do the end-game conditions. Right now, every turn you add up your "morale", compare morale scores, and then roll dice to see if the game ends. It takes too much time, and is kind of finicky, and doesn't make a whole lot of sense. As soon as you start winning a tiny bit (including before blood is drawn), you have to start testing, but then you need to be ahead by a ton for the testing to mean much. I might change it to each party getting three secret (or not secret) missions, and if they complete all three, they win. The one really good thing I would say about this game: It felt the way that I wanted it to. There were a lot of points in the game where I didn't know what to do, and had to really think for a while about where to commit my troops, and how to use them. This is the strategic wargame feeling that I wanted this game to make. Not to dis on Warhammer 40K, but as much as I have always liked that game, it often felt like after you build your army and place in on the board, 95% of all decisions are obvious. This didn't feel that way. After this, I don't think that there will be another direct rematch. However, I would like to play Sarah again with a different party. She has decided that she really likes her wizards.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A further simplification- Heroes & Soldiers

Happy 2013 everyone, I did a recent playtest, having implemented a new idea. One of the problems that I had always had with the game is that it is so darn complicated. This stems in part from the fact that each character has two dopplegangers, and each doppleganger has 2 powers, and each power bends the rules in a very special way (and often in a big way, like different monsters in Magic, except without the information always conveniently written on the card). I think I realized the full extent of this problem until a recent playtest with an old roommate. It felt like we spent a quarter of the game just figuring out all of the powers that each character had. This is not so much an issue in other wargames, because often, most character is just a slightly altered version of a generic archtype. In Necromunda, all of the characters are basically the same, except for their weapon (at least at first, and by the time they get specialized, you have played with them enough games to remember this). In HeroScape, each creature has a health, attack, and defense. A few have special powers, however, most of all that you need to remember is how many attack and defense dice that you roll (and even the super characters rarely have more than 2 powers). In Warmachines, it is fairly similar (I think), that except for your general and big mechs, most characters are their stats and their weapon, and maybe an ability. So, it hit me a way that I could solve this: Games like Warhammer got around this problem by having lots ordinary creatures with few abilities, and a couple characters with massive special powers. I decided that I would try the same thing. I split the characters into two groups: heroes and soldiers. Heroes were basically what all of my former characters were (they had lots of abilities to choose from). Soldiers, on the other hand, got 1 power each, and those powers were selected from a rather short list (like, I tried to have 1 archery ability, 1 summoning ability, etc). This way, if you had an army of archers, they all had the same bow (rather than this one having a pistol, that one spitting acid, etc). I even made it so that soldiers only existed in 1 world, thus avoiding the complications of multi-world characters. Having tried this, it actually worked really well. I playtested this recently with a close friend who had never played a wargame before (I was actually a little surprised that she liked it as much as she did). Despite me being a little rusty on the game, and despite her having never played a game like this, she actually had a fairly easy time keeping track of what each character could do. The only major problem I had in that game was again, there was not enough of a connection between the worlds. I think my way of fixing that will be to change it back, so that soldiers exist in both worlds. I have a couple other ideas, but I think I will leave them for a future post. Simon

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Hey everyone, So, I playtested Illeria again recent with my old roommate. He always pushed to make the game as simple as possible, although, this time for some reason the point sunk in more than usual. I guess it was this: During my early days of playtesting, a friend commented on one of the more complex aspects of the game (the old order system). He said that with all of its flaws, it made the game unique. And I guess I thought about that again: What about Illearia is unique, and what has to be kept? Above all else, it is a game about a battle across two dimensions. IS that enough? I have always liked how flexible the character creation system is, and I am hesitant to let that go. Additionally, this game is one where the kind of characters you play can change your game experience. That the rules for playing an archery party are different than the rules for playing a wizard party. And I think that is a really neat aspect of this game. It gives the game a really interesting feel to it. But beyond that, do I need any more additional complexity? Here is an example: players only get to make 7 actions each turn. The order system, as it stands, was built to make the game feel more strategic. I guess a good comparison is the difference between the games Magic: The Gathering and Netrunner (two collectible card games). Netrunner always seemed to require so much more strategy, and I think the reason was because every turn, you could only do 3 or 4 things. In Magic, you weren’t really limited, you could attack with everyone, and the only thing that stopped you is how much mana you could draw. With Netrunner, every turn needed to be carefully planned out, to make sure you had exactly enough energy to make an attack (and not too much, because that would waste time). This is why I limited the number of actions. But now I worry that it leads to unnecessary complication. Not only that, but it is kind of annoying only getting to act with half of your party, and it’s probably not realistic that in a party-based combat game, only half of the characters get to move. Maybe it would be better if one team got to act with all of their characters, and then the other did the same. Other than that though, I’m not sure how much simpler things can get. There are lots of little changes that could be made (Mike suggested using d6’s instead of d10’s, and simplifying what happens when you lose control of your summoned creatures). I’m not sure if those are enough, and if they are, if they’re worth the loss. I mean, I guess what makes a game complex is a lot of little rules, so the more little rules that can be erased, the better. Maybe I just need to go over things again with a fine-toothed comb, and really pare down the number of actions that can be made. I don’t know, Mike, I’m sure you’re probably going to read this. If you have any thoughts on what could be simplified, I’m all ears at this point. Simon PS Next post: the new morale system.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Four Major Renovations

So, recently I had a conversation with my muse, and a post on BGDF, that have really changed the way I think about the character class system and abilities. I think that most of the basic mechanisms can stay the same, but I have a few major changes to the class and ability system, and in a way a major change to the point of the spirit world:

1) Class systems- So, I’ve always been a little bit of the libertarian equivalent of a game designer, in that I want players to be able to do whatever the heck they want (and just hope that the game is set up in a way that promotes interesting play). So, for example, I wasn’t a big fan of games in the Warhammer series that required that one have X basic units, or no more than 50% of their points in tanks. So, in this game, I originally designed 13 Spirit World classes, and 13 Real World classes, and said that anyone could link to anyone else. I’m starting to see now that this was not a very good idea. Essentially, the problem with energy abilities in the last game came from the fact that one could make an archer link to anything else. So, between this, suggestions of my muse to make things simpler, and the fact that the classes were really haphazardly put together anyways, I decided to super-simplify things. In version 4.0, there will only be 5 classes per world, and each class can only link to 2 others. So, now if you are a Scholar in the real world (the magic/summoning class), you have to link to either a Seer (the magic/archery class) or the Trickster (the magic/crazy abilities class).

2) Abilities- So, not only were the classes originally designed in a really haphazard way, but so were the abilities. As a result, not a whole lot of them had any link between the world. My plan is to change that. Now, at least half of the abilities should do something in both worlds (or at least have the potential to). Some will be like Regenerate, which gives a benefit in both worlds automatically. Some will be like Summon abilities, where a character can give the benefit to the other by meditating. Some will be like Move Earth, where the player can spend energy points to use in the other world. Some will be like Soulblade, where a character must damage their doppleganger to use it. And finally, some will continue to be the same crazy split attacks (like Ice Knife or Deep Wound, which attack both a character and their doppleganger).

I think I might make the abilities slightly directional, with a tendency to help the real world more than the spirit world.

3) Energy Points- Someone on BGDF had a really interesting idea about the characters needing to be bound together to use abilities. Here is my thought: I will eliminate Luck Points (which can be used to reroll stats), and subsume them into Energy Points. I will also allow characters to use Energy Points to heal themselves, or reduce their residual magic (thus being able to cast more spells). Also, there will be a large number of abilities that require Energy Points to use.

However, I will also make it that having at least one Energy Point is required for a lot of abilities to function. Essentially, if your last Energy Point is lost, the link between your character is lost. This makes for a lot of interesting situations. First, now you can be stuck in the situation of, “Boy, I’d really like to reroll my damage, but if I do, my Aura of Wind will cease to function.” Second, now a character can do damage either by actually lowering an enemy’s hit points, or she can do damage by reducing an enemy’s Energy Points (thus cutting her off from her doppleganger). Finally, now there is a really strong reason to want to capture energy towers: a) to use your crazy abilities, and b) as insurance, in case your opponent hits you with a spell that takes your Energy points away.

4) Purpose of the Spirit Realm- Between 2 and 3, I’m thinking that the aim of the spirit world will be less a vital battle on its own, as much as something where you win it to help you win the real world. Thus, everything in the spirit world will somehow translate into being more of a badass in the real world.

What do you think? I’m really excited about this, and think I’ve finally figured out the problem of the worlds not linking enough.


“The opposite of bravery is not cowardice but conformity.” – Robert Anthony

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Recent playtest

Hey everyone (probably mostly Mike),

So, I had another playtest of Illeria last night. It was my first time trying out rules for Energy points. Basically, each character begins the game with 1 Energy point. During the game, she can spend an action to use it, and help her doppleganger. To get more, there are areas on the board that a player has to capture and hold called “energy towers.” If she can hold two of the 3 of these towers, then each of her characters near a tower gains 1 Energy point. This was also my first time trying out a new pre-made party, and my first time in forever playing with 7 characters per side (instead of 5). Last, it was the first time that spirit players were able to respawn after they died.

I have to say, the game was a lot more complicated than I remember it being. I had recently been playing Summoner Wars, and for some reason I was hoping the game would play like that. Instead, it played more like D&D (with a lot of math and remembering obscure rules). It probably made it a lot worse that all of my characters were wizards, so I was constantly needing to look up, “Okay, Fortinbras can cast Fire and Death magic. How much magic energy does Fireball take? What about Drain Life?” I wonder if I’m just getting less fond of wargames. I hope not... (although this makes me think back to another game I made once, where after a year of production, I decided that the game just didn’t feel any fun anymore)

So, here were the problems I encountered: First, the Energy points. As it stood, during the entire game, I think only one of my characters used his Energy point, and I think Matt only had two. There were a couple of reasons for this. They took an action to use, which players had precious few of. Because most of them granted only a small benefit, we were hesitant to use an entire action on them. Also, each character only had one “energy ability” that they could use, and not all of them fit all that well. For example, several of my characters had abilities which boosted the magical of their doppelganger. This means that if my character’s doppleganger could not cast spells, then that ability was useless. Originally this was intended to be a “feature,” if you want to be able to use these abilities effectively, you need to plan. As it stood, they were kind of obnoxious.

My thought on fixing this problem: give characters a generic set of energy abilities. It might undermine some of the uniqueness of the classes, but it will mean they get used. Also, Matt had a suggestion, which was to make it that energy abilities do not require an action to use. I like it.

Using 7 characters instead of 5 went pretty well, except that it slowed the game down significantly. I think I’m okay with that, because for some reason the extra 2 characters gave the game a full feel to it (if that make sense).

Also, I had a new idea for capturing energy towers. As the game stood, Matt captured two of them, and then did not bother going after the third one. Also, because of the way the game was set up, the all ended up being kind of close together, and not in good places. This went well, because as Matt put it, “now there was something to fight over,” but still, there might be a chance that it can improve. Here was my thought: What if, when your character are incapacitated, they respawn at the energy towers. This way, more towers could possibly mean more power, but also it gives people a reason to aggressively go after them. To keep this balanced, I will need to make it so that there will be one tower that each player can easily defend, but I think I’m okay with that. It should certainly make the game interesting, and will be something to try out next time.

Lastly, Matt had complained that the summoned creatures were too finiky. This is something I have been tinkering with since the beginning. Essentially, I really liked the idea of summoned creatures that were a struggle to maintain, and that could go berserk and turn on you if you were not careful. However, Matt kind of felt like I over-did it. What really set him off was that one of his characters was knocked down, causing him to lose control, and then before he could regain control, the creatures attacked and killed him. I mean, summoned creatures are really powerful, and my intention was for things like that to be possible, but if it makes it frustrating to play then it’s no good. I’m debating how to fix it. My idea for now is to make it that when you lose control of the creatures, that they are more likely to just stand around dumbstruck, and less likely to turn on their summoner. I’m not sure if that will be enough, and I’ll keep that in the back of my head, but for now that will be my fix.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

New ideas for linking the worlds

Hey everyone,

I playtested Illeria for the first time in forever last night, with my new roommate Matt. The game went decently well. I decided to use the new rules for orders (namely, that you don't need to decide what each character will do until the action phase), however I did not have group actions, and the spirit world characters were still weak. He seemed to like it, and had a number of good comments.

One of his biggest comments was that there was not enough of a link between the worlds. This is not the first time I've heard this, but he made some really good suggestions that I am hoping to try to run with. Basically, he said that there should be some way to send powers between characters, and that there needs to be some kind of reason to keep fighting in the spirit world (in that game, most of the spirit world fight occurred during the first 4 turns, then I realized that I had suffered too much damage and pulled back and hid, and the spirit world became kind of pointless).

Here are my thoughts:
Whenever a character's specter (their spirit world character) is incapacitated, they are not removed from the board, but just laid down. That character's vessel (their real world character) becomes shaken as normal. However, there is a new twist: every turn, the character's vessel makes a "shaken" check. On a 1-3, the vessel falls into a state of unconciousness for the turn. On a 4-5, they can act normally. On a 6, they immediately take d6 damage, but then their specter stands up, heals twice that many hit points, and begins fighting again. This will make it that the spirit world battle never really ends, but doing well sets you up to continue doing well. Also, it makes it that if a wizard's or general's specter is incapacitated, they are not permanently useless. I also might make it that the character can spend an action to reroll their shaken check.

I also might make a rule that at any time, a vessel may spend an action and lose d6 hit points to heal their specter d6 hit points. This would be less efficient than having them get knocked-out, but much faster.

Also, there should be a way for characters to send powers between the worlds. I think I'll create a new stat called "energy points." Basically, each turn, characters can spend an action and an energy point to perform a "Infuse Power" action (I'll come up with a better name eventually). This grants their doppelganger a temporary or small advantage, such as bonus hit points, a temporary luck point, or temporary stat bonuses. The exact bonus will depend on the character's class. And, I think I might make a way for characters to get more luck points. For example, I might make it that there are places in the spirit world that allow characters to gain more. Or, possibly that there are three of them, and the party that controls at least two gets the energy points.

Anyways, much to do. These are exciting times...


“Precision is not truth.” – Henri Matisse (impressionist painter)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Triumphant return of group actions

Hey all,

Thinking back to changes since my first draft of Escape From Illeria (which was at the time called “Game X”), I have had three major rules which I came to realize were a bad idea, and proceeded to drop. The first was meditation (in which each character can only be awake in one world at a time, and must spend the rest of the time meditating), the second was group orders (in which several characters could be given the same action, and thus players could get extra actions each turn by having everyone do the same thing), and most recently, disobeying orders (in which characters could change their orders mid-term). However, after lots of developing, I brought meditation back, but in a much different form. Now, characters can be awake in both worlds, but characters can choose to meditate to draw upon new powers. Well, group orders might be making such a come-back as well.

I was talking to my head muse, Mike, recently. I can’t remember how it came up, but he gave a suggestion that perhaps generals could specialize in actions. Then, when it is a general’s turn to act, instead of acting, he may have two other characters perform that action. So, for example, let’s say my general’s main action is “Archery.” Let’s say it is her turn. Instead of moving, using a special power, or making an archery attack herself, she could order two nearby characters to make an archery attack. This would in a way encourage coordinated parties. However, I think this will avoid my previous problem with group orders becoming too powerful (since these will be harder to use, and you will only be able to get 1 extra action out of it).

This actually might have a major added benefit: with all of the recent changes to leadership, I kind of nerfed the role of the general. At this point, being a general by itself gives no special powers (besides an extra ability), and makes you a liability (since killing the general hurts your party). This will give the general a reason to be in the fight. Additionally, it hit me that now there is more of a reason to have second-in-commands. Previously, all that they did was take over if the general died. I was never really sure if they were worth buying. Now, the second in command could command group actions as well. Maybe anyways, this one actually might lead down the road of being overpowered again. I’ll need to try it out, and see how it works.

I wonder if this means that some day I’ll end up bringing back intelligence tests and disobeying orders...


"A man is what he thinks about all day long." - Emerson