Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New Approach

After my last two posts, I was talking to my roommate. I think this was his suggestion, if not a direct descendent of his suggestion, but he said to just try playtesting it myself. For some reason this hadn't occurred to me, but it made perfect sense. What I am doing now is just that: I'm making groups of characters with a single ability battle each other.

I decided that, because the game is going to so rarely be about one-on-one, to test a 3-on-3 game. For all of my examples, I have had three characters with bows ('archers') fighting three characters with some kind of stat increase ('soldiers'). Basically, the characters would march forward as the archers were shooting them. I recorded how much damage they took before getting into melee, and then the end result of combat.

So far, my predictions have been mostly true. If a party has a high dodge, they dominate. If the have a high armor, they still win with some casualties. If they have an extra attack, it ends in a draw.

I wish I had thought of this before (and can't really believe I didn't). I see this as kind of the gaming equivalent of a lab experiment: everything is done under perfectly controlled (and closed) settings, and you can test one thing really well. What I'm going to start doing is testing how well different attacks fare against each other. For example, next I'll have a crossbow and see what happens, then I'll start using special attacks like "Life Drain," or even summon powers, and seeing who wins.

This has left me with two frustrations: First, this is something that I could do much faster if my computer was working better. Really I could just put all of the parameters in, then run it 1000 times, and see how often the soldiers beat the archers (instead of, "Yeah, I played 2 or 3 games, they seemed to go like this"). Maybe it's worth seeing if I could get Python working or something. Second, I discovered this magical development tactic two days before I move out of my current house and three days before I take a trip across the country. :( Oh well...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Anti-everything powers

Ok, was going to put this with my last post, but figured it was different enough (and the last one was long enough), that I should make a separate post.

When I was a senior in college, I saw this really interesting talk by a game designer who was trained as an engineer. I forget his name, but he was working on the City of Heroes CCG. The talk was about applying what you learn in college in novel ways. His example: a CCG is basically a chaotic system. As he put it, a set contains a couple hundred cards, each of which breaks the rules in its own unique way, and it's not possible to test out every card combination. You only get occasional times when you as the creator can control it (by releasing a new set, or by banning cards). So, how do you keep particular card combinations from being optimal? You put in negative feedbacks. In other words, he said about 10% of his cards are specifically designed to undo the remaining 90%. His example was, if a combination of blue power-ups gives you a super-super hero, you just put in cards that specifically destroy blue power-ups. Then, if everyone starts using that combination, people can win by playing an anti-blue deck.

In my game, in some ways I've tried to do the same. There are a lot of abilities, but for the most part there are ways of countering every kind of special ability (except maybe melee). For example, Aura of Chaos, Take Control, and Unsummon un-do animated creatures and summoned creatures; Aura of Mist and Sunbolt makes archery much more difficult; Antimagic Aura makes magic dangerous. Thus, if you base your group around any single type of attack, it can be undone by a single character.

So, the question is, what would stop a party from using these every time? Well, the answer is actually very simple, and I kind of discovered it in my last playtest. I made my group anti-summoned creatures, anti-constructs, and anti-archery. None of these abilities worked perfectly, but worked well enough that they could have shut down any of these types fairly well. The problem: nullifying all of these forms of enemy attacks required me to use most of my party's abilities. In the end, it was almost like neither of us had any abilities at all (or at least it would have been had I not spent so much time in hiding, see next post).

So the answer becomes this: When you plan your party, if you are particularly afraid of one form of attack, you can protect against it. However, doing so has an opportunity cost great enough to discourage you from trying to protect against everything.

Archery, again...

Okay, playtested another game recently. I'm trying to be better about selling the idea to others, even getting them interested, so I did this game at a local gaming store. Someone did ask about it, although I didn't go into much detail (mostly just answered what he asked). Next time I be more of a salesman, maybe even ask if they'd be interested in trying a playtest. Live and learn...

The game went pretty much like always. My friend got an army that was built for hiding and melee in the spirit world, and archery in the real world. I had the opposite (an army for melee in the real world and archery in the spirit world). The game was somewhat of a stalemate, with both melee groups hiding, hoping that the other would shoot. I guess same old same old at this point.

The game basically went like this: In the real world, I mostly hid, and he mostly did nothing. In the spirit world, I moved my archery up until I could get a clear shot at his characters, and he took advantage of this to counter-charge me. This ended in him killing my guys.

I guess that is one of the basic problems with this game, that if you are playing against an archery army, you can just hide. I think the problem is that I haven't had a good chance to really test out if a melee army could overtake an archery army.

Here is one philosophical test: let's say I have an archer with a bow (no other abilities), and you have a foot soldier (no relevant abilities), and they start 23" apart. This means that on average, the foot soldier will take 8.5 points of damage before he can reach the archer, assuming the soldier has no dodge bonus, no armor, and no cover (and assuming the archer shoots before the soldier moves). The average soldier has 15 hit points, so this would drain her of slightly over half her life. In an average round of melee, the archer will deal 3 points of damage, and the soldier will deal 4.2. This means that the archer is probably going to win. However, this in some ways isn't too surprising, since she has more abilities than the archer.

Okay, a few changes: let's say that the soldier can now get one ability, and spend it on the following things:
-> An extra attack: she receives the same amount of damage from archery, but now deals 8.4 damage per turn. This means they usually both kill each other after 2 rounds of combat.
-> +6 Hit Points and +1 Armor: in this case, she only takes 5.8 damage from archery, and then only 2.2 from melee, plus can absorb an additional 6 hit points worth of damage. In other words, her extra hit points will be absorbed by the archery attacks, and when melee begins, she will have the same number of hit points, but be on much better footing.
-> +5 Hit Points and +2 Dodge: In this case, she only takes 2.8 damage from archery, and then only 1.4 each turn from melee, plus has extra hit points to absorb damage. This is like the previous ability, only more so.
-> Aura of Mist (all characters within 4" gain +2 Dodge against archery): She and her companions each take 2.8 damage from archery before reaching combat. In combat, the archers deal 3 points of damage per turn, the soldiers deals 4.2. This means that after 4 rounds of melee, both will have dealt around 15 points worth of damage, and dropped dead. (maybe I should up this ability)

Ok, so on paper this looks fine. However, for some reason the game never works out that cleanly. First of all, this is one-on-one (which the game never is). It also ignores the effect of other characters (who might be standing by ready to charge), and assumes that the first character will just charge straight in. It ignores terrain and blocked vision (something my friend said could be a big factor). It also ignores luck points. Also, I'm not sure why, but the numbers here suggest that two competing soldiers would on average fight for 4 rounds of combat, then both drop dead. In practice, that never seems to happen.

I'm also never sure where when expected damage is an most appropriate measure. Here is my thought: the average soldier will take 8.5 damage before reaching the archer, but that only tells you what to expect over the course of 1000 games. What is the median damage? What percent of the time will she take less than 4 damage? What percent of the time will she be killed? Does granting +1 Attack actually make them evenly matched, or will the archer still win more than half the time? *sigh* There was a program I used to use on my computer to write code for simulations of this kind of thing, and it's not working right now. Stupid computer...

I don't know, I'd need to play this again, but maybe it is, as my friend suggested, mostly a psychological thing. You see an archer in the distance, you get scared, and don't want to run straight at it unless you have to. (I'm reminded of a movie of the French Revolution, where the peasants would charge, get shot, run away, charge again, get shot again, run away again. I couldn't help but think, if they continued to charge while the French soldiers were reloading their guns, they would win easily. It's just the panic that keeps the hordes at bay) I wonder what would have happened in my game if I really just had everyone charge? Oh well, maybe I should try that next time.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A distraction

Okay, I've been distracted for the past couple weeks on another game. It's called "For Science." It was created because of a contest on the Board Game Designer's Forum. In some ways, it is there to be everything that Illeria is not. It's a very light, simple game. The rulebook is all of 2 pages, it takes 30 or 45 minutes to play, and is just vicious and fun.

Strangely enough, one or two playtests and it's already going really well. I don't know, the guys who have tried it all love it, though I think it could use some work (they are not quite the critics or perfectionists I am; this is probably why every game design advice column says don't just play with your friends). All the same, it's not like I have to playtest for hundreds of possible rule combinations with this one.

On the whole, this has been good, I think. I just hope I don't get disheartened by how easy this one is...