April 29, 2013

Battlestar Galactica: the boardgame

Just today I had the chance to play the Battlestar Galactica board game, and to be quite frank, I was impressed. It full-heartedly embraces the paranoia and uncertainty that runs rampant across the rebooted series. Now, I am a fan of both the original show, and the new, and I won't discuss them further here.

By necessity, a solid chunk of the Cylon antagonism is mechanically driven, and, by chance, some players start as cylons, or will become them after a number of full turns. The game encourages distrust, and keeps everyone guessing, even if, by chance, no one player is a cylon initially. The cylon players must engage in a game of subterfuge for as long as possible, potentially having the human players harm their own chances of success.

The game we ran had the full six players called for. Being the new guy to the weekly game my coworkers run, I got first dibs on characters. And all the major characters one would expect were there, with a few (from the expansion) I wouldn't have considered, such as Gaeta or Molly. For simplicity's sake, and my liking of actor Michael Hogan, I played Saul Tigh. Every character has a benefit, a once-per-game ability, and one flaw. He could add a large bonus to any attempt at throwing someone in the brig that I wanted, once per game he could automatically brig someone, but was a drunkard, and would discard his skill chits whenever he held only one, on anyone's turn. The chits perform certain actions, but can be traded in to avoid or incur catastrophes drawn at the end of each player turn. Good stuff, and it really lost us the Galactica at the worst possible moment.

The whole game really sunk in. It left me thinking just how perfect the whole formula would fit for a John Carpenter's The Thing, the board game. That doesn't exist, but I wish it did.


April 5, 2013

Thought Experiment: Kinetic Barriers

Hello Blogosphere, t'is proof I'm among the living yet.

Anyhoo, for a while now, I've been pondering the several approaches one could take to mechanically representing force fields, personal shields, barriers, what have you. Some of this thinking first came from thoughts on how shields would come into play for a Mass Effect campaign setting, but would it become too fiddly to track, especially on multiple opponents. So it became the question; what could I do?

An obvious, easy and unobtrusive direction would be the 'plus' bonuses to armour, as if magical in classic DnD, subtracting from the foe's attack throw. It keeps things simple and abstract, and what would be better in an abstract game?

But that was not the direction I sought, no. The players needed to really feel the effects of a kinetic barrier, especially when fighting the Big Bad Evil Guy of the Week, or other tough opponent. And simply 'missing' their attack rolls round after round makes players feel cheated, as if their attacks simply do an absolute zero.

The first real attempt was instead, borrowed almost whole cloth from the game mechanics of the old skirmish/RPG game, Laserburn. In that game shields could negate the damage of a certain number of attacks (20) before failing, and they had the chances of failing each round anyhoo, just from the volume of attacks inflicted. Explosions could outright destroy or knock out shields. For simplicity's sake, I modified this to three grades of shield: 3 hits, 6, and 9 hits. Explosions took out shields 3 in 6 times. If knocked out, a shield would recharge to 1/2/3 hits at the end of each round with 1/6 chances. Simple right? Mechanically obvious, and dramatic when the Referee exclaims as shields burst and flicker out of existence. But one problem. Lots of logistics to manage for the Ref if a swarm of mooks have shields.

The above idea would work quite well if used in settings where such technology were very rare and/or expensive, especially if it's alien artifact tech.

So where'd I go next? I tried another obvious approach: shields as supplementary "Hits". And made up six levels of shielding, each recharging 1/3 Hits every round not attacked. These escalated by: 3/6/9/12/15/18. The last two levels were reserved for vehicles or shielded pieces of terrain/equipment. Sounded good, but still the logistics in a multi-man-melee bothered me.

Some other mechanics I have thought of follow:

-shield level blocks that number of individual dice of damage until depleted.
-shield blocks 1 damage per die by shield level.

The last two work particularly well for the firearms damage matrix I made, based somewhat on the number/hits inflicted from ranged attacks, from games such as Fokker and Chainmail's archery kills. However, Character Rank + weapon skill improve numbers as opposed to how many people fire. There are four small matrices thus for different types of damage potential.

So, in such a situation, what would you, the reader, do?