Tag: Rambling

Thinking about Battletech

Ah Battletech. What a classic. I got the 4th edition starter box when I was maybe 11 or 12 years old, then a few minis, and played a bunch with friends. I took a long, long hiatus on the game (long enough that I even FORGOT I had the starter box if you can believe that), and ended up picking up a duplicate second copy maybe 5-6 years later, played for another ~3-5 years, then moved onto other things. During that time we tried campaigns, we used an old program called “Design Depot” to make piles and piles of custom Mechs (step 1: max armor, step 2: put in XL engine, step 3: load up on weapons), and had a pretty darn fun time with the game. Later on I played Mech Attack, which uses a damage template system similar to the old old Renegade Legion (another FASA product). And even later after that me and my semi-original Battletech gaming group considered what our own custom version of the game would look like.

Because here’s the thing with Battletech…the rules are solid and simple to pick up. Roll 2D6 to hit, 2D6 for location, damage is flat (unless a missile system), you manage your heat, and you whittle down the enemy. BUT I have two big problems with the system though, that emerged over time and with repeated plays of all different types. The first is a 1vs1 type Mech vs Mech match up, especially with Assault tonnage, is really boring and not very tactical or interesting. Basically comes down to a roll off of shooting, damaging, crossing out boxes, and hoping for some good internal criticals. A huge part of this is a basic Assault mech has 3 movement, on a paper map that is traditionally about 18 hexes by 15 hexes. And changing 1 facing costs 1 movement. So you can imagine the glacial snail battle that emerges. We literally ended battles by standing beside each other and just rolling to hit until someone exploded.
So then you think “oh I’ll play Lance vs Lance (4 mechs per side) instead!” Except the game scales terribly as you’re shuffling sheets and micromanaging a lot of (kind of) dull information.
There just isn’t a happy middle ground. Which makes me sad because I have a lot of Battletech minis and fond memories of the game, and would love to be excited to play it again, but I kind of know what awaits. In hindsight, or maybe for future plays (if ever), I think having a scenario and different deployment/setup would help, as would using comparable designs from an early, non-crazy year like 3025 or 3050. But I’ve been singing the second part of that sentence for a long time now, as I ended up really disliking our super optimized, kinda samey custom designs, whereas I like the official designs that had flaws and failings you had to work around (like a real war machine).

Reworking Battletech

So what does all this mean? Well, I took a quick brainstorm this weekend and rough pass at some reworked rules. I tried simplifying each Mech sheet so that it could fit 4 to a page, and designing rules around a Lance vs Lance. Which meant a simplified to-hit system (instead of counting up a bunch of modifiers each time), and simplifying the internal slot structure of the Mechs. Then I tried a super duper rough playtest. And after some notes and messing around I decided Battletech done that way just feels like Dinosaur Cowboys but with hit locations and heat. Maybe it’s my own shortcomings, but I was already imagining porting over the different deployment types from Dinosaur Cowboys, after I basically setup my 4 Mechs half a dozen hexes from the edge of the paper map. Sure I could inject more interesting tactical decisions compared to actual Battletech, like having a simple reaction system (where you the defender can move, return fire, or hunker down), and I could get the location tracking to a single roll as part of the to-hit, but really it would just be a skirmish game but with Mechs instead of soldiers (or cowboys 🙂 ). And then I kind of lost steam at the idea of making that, because it felt like retread ground.

I was thinking that the fun part of Battletech, besides the pile of existing designs, is how there are parts where you feel like you’re managing a big stompy robot. So THEN I was thinking what about if I went the complete opposite direction, and instead of trimming the rules to work for 4vs4, I made them MUCH more interesting for 1vs1. Think of a game like FTL: Faster Than Light (a truly amazing, well designed, genre defining game). In that the developers considered having ship movement in space, but it didn’t add much. What if the movement in Battletech doesn’t actually add much? Especially in a 1vs1 situation. What about if the real game could be managing the power, heat, routing of damaged subsystems, targetting and firing, stabilizing, etc. of the Mech? Pushing the Mech to it’s limits, squeezing every ounce of performance from it like a true veteran pilot would. Almost like how Fickle RPG turned the actual act of dice resolution into a (for lack of a better term) minigame. All of which could have the interesting, meaningful decisions I so crave from a game.

Instead of trying to make a simple paper map with basic terrain and slow movement into some kind of super cool tactical simulator, maybe the focus should be on the Mech itself. How to do all that AND make it fun is the question, of course. But one I want to spend some time trying to answer.

My gut instinct would be a dice placement game like One Deck Dungeon or the computer game Dicey Dungeons (or Sagrada to a certain extent). Lots of space on a big record sheet for that kind of thing, and starting your turn by rolling a slew of D6s then messing around with them would be cool. Or a bag builder like Dice Masters or even a Yahtzee style roll-and-do-stuff like Dice Throne.

Quick dice system for roll-and-move racing games

I had ordered a simple kids game called Cars Risky Raceway and it arrived over the weekend so we were playing it. The game uses basic roll-and-move (well, spin-and-move) to get around the board. Which is a perfectly fine mechanic for teaching kids (like my middle son) the basics of games. But for my oldest daughter it gets a bit boring. The track itself is terrific with nice bridges and a good amount of squares:

So after some thinking I threw together a quick dice system that works with the game, or any similar roll-and-move games as a drop-in replacement for the ~5+ year old kids. The idea is to simulate the speed and rush of racing by trying to quickly match dice. And since adults are naturally faster at it there is a built in handicap for kids to keep it challenging.

Roll 4D6 of one color and 2D6 (we called them the “kid dice”) of another color. We used dice with pips/dots instead of written numbers.

We used a dice cup for this so the dice stay together (and we could roll them and count down from 3 before removing the cup for even MORE racing feel).

Reveal the dice and both players try to find any matches. ONLY the kids can match with the “kid dice”. For each individual matching dice you call out and grab, you get to move 1 square. If both players shout the same match at the same time, just re-roll.

For example we roll 3, 3, 4, 6 and 1, 6. The adult sees a match on 3s and calls that out before the kid can, but the kid calls their own match on 6s. Both players move 2 squares. They roll again getting 1, 2, 4, 5 and 2, 2. The poor adult has no available matches while the kid gleefully yells out 2s and gets to move 3 squares (for three 2s).

The “kid dice” handicap can be changed as needed, such as giving them more dice. We also have some colored dice from Monza (which is a great kids game on it’s own) so we also tried matching with colors, which I found my kids were able to do faster than D6s. And of course we expanded the system with Nitro Boosts and stuff, but those are simple enough to theme to what you want.

Neato Picture
Also a cool retrofuturism picture of “glowing roads” that’s ever so vaguely related to racing games, I guess?

Android Netrunner is going out of print

Not sure how I missed this extremely sad news, but Android Netrunner officially went out of print a week ago: Fantasy Flight’s blog post. Sounds like a licensing issue with Wizards of the Coast, which is not surprising. So yeah, that’s a big bummer. I need to stop at my local hobby shop asap and pick up any expansions and cards I want before they become expensive Ebay purchases.

I still try to play Netrunner once a month with my friend, and I don’t see that stopping. Just sad that it’ll be one more barrier to entry if someone else wanted to buy the starter set. Ah well, it won’t be the first out of print game I’ve played and loved (see also Silent Death and Car Wars).

Seems like FFG is going to continue the Android universe. They just announced a sourcebook for an Android RPG using their generic Genesys sytem. I’ve always though Genesys was bit like my own Fickle RPG, from being setting agnostic, to using a common dice pool pulled from a variety of stats, etc. I imagine Genesys has the flaws that annoyed me about Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion though (mainly scaling poorly, slow to resolve with no meaningful choice, and was confused between a crunchy combat game and a light narrative game).

Recent status

There’s been a real smattering of activity recently, plus I had a third kid, so you know how busy that makes life. Plus I tend to slow down on game design over summer since I’m spending much less time holed up by my computer typing stuff and more time enjoying the weather.

Unnamed Dungeon Crawler – now named Glowquest
I haven’t had an unnamed game in forever, but I just can’t think of a good title that encapsulates this game. EDIT: Finally did name it Glowquest. You can see more details on the rules page itself. But basically:

A dungeon crawler with a focus on combat, exploration, looting, and improving and advancing your heroes. Heroes will leave the comfort of their town to undertake expeditions to randomized dungeons, which are represented with square grid tiles from Advanced Heroquest. The game is designed for 1-3 players who each play a role from the classic “holy trinity” of Tank (Defense), DPS (Offense), and Healer (Utility). There is no requirement to have an extra player as a dungeon master who runs the game.

So my nostalgic homage to Advanced Heroquest, with many modern mechanics pulled from all the best systems and ideas. This is currently my focus, and initial playtests are promising (and a bit easier than solo testing other RPGs since the party size is only 3, and the game is meant to be DM-less anyway). I have pages of brainstorm notes and ideas, and I’ve slowly been compiling them into a roughly formatted rulebook. I want to start filling out the Activators (basically special moves/attacks) list for classes/races/equipment soon so I can really sink my teeth into playtesting. I also want to try it with my oldest friends near the end of the month (who literally played Advanced Heroquest with me way back in school), so we’ll see how that goes!

Blood Bowl
I’ve read White Dwarf since before I was a teenager. I remember seeing Blood Bowl way, way back then, and thinking “oh yuck a football game, I wouldn’t enjoy that at all”. I unfortunately have a bad habit of prejudging things before I try them.

Well with the re-release of the ~4th edition official 2016 Blood Bowl game I finally sat down and tried it with my friend. I played Humans (him) vs Skaven (me), and thought, “hey, this game is basically just tactical movement with an objective!”. I enjoyed it and was pleasantly surprised. Then we brought out the turn timer, and the game went up a few notches for me just from that, because then you had pressure and had to think fast. We did 4 minute turns and I loved it. Soon after I bought a copy of the game for myself, including the Steam PC version (on a deep sale of course). I fell in love with Lizardmen. And since them I’ve played probably half a dozen more face-to-face games and double that on PC. I’m thinking of putting together a proxy Lizardmen team of underwater fishmen from Reaper Mini. Anyway that’s been lots of fun.

Vermintide 2
Oh yeah and I’ve played like 300 hours of Vermintide 2 because man oh man, you wanna talk about a satisfying core gameplay loop?

Echo Death
A while back I got an actual playtest against a friend with Echo Death. We normally play a monthly Android Netrunner but he was nice enough to try out my half finished game for a night. The game held up pretty well, and has a few areas that definitely need improvement, but was overall a good time. I compiled some Echo Death Playtest Notes that I need to revisit and apply to the rulebook. But for now that’s on the backburner.

White Line Fever
My next game to work on was White Line Fever. I played it a couple of times against my wife, and although it was okay it didn’t feel like driving a car recklessly. So I changed the main mechanic to be a “push-your-luck” style where you can try to get more actions (movement, turning, and shooting), but potentially can spin out of control (wherein the opponent moves you – normally face first into a wall). I also added the idea of record sheets instead of a paperless system. Tough to balance between customization and how lightweight I want the game to be. Either way this version was much more enjoyable. I’ve updated the rules with this “second edition” on the White Line Fever page. So yeah, a bit more polishing needed there, as well as fully printable record sheets (I just scribbled some notes on paper when I was playtesting). But again, that’s on the backburner too.

The human brain and “roll under” systems

I’m a big fan of the voodoo and beliefs the human brain can attach to dice. From switching dice because certain ones are “rolling badly”, to feeling like you’re “due” for a good roll, to thinking you can downright force the dice to roll a certain number, to the rituals around blowing on dice before rolling or shaking them a certain way. It’s amazing what we can trick ourselves into.

Anyway recently I’ve been playing Warhammer Fantasy RPG. Just a few sessions in as a Zealot. It’s been pretty fun. The melee combat is enjoyable with the different stances you can enter and how you can split your attacks. A few of the other players don’t really get too in-depth besides “I full attack”, so that’s too bad. The system unfortunately uses D10s. As you know, me and hundreds of thousands of other people don’t like the D10. But I digress.

The point I wanted to make is the system is Roll Under. Which means if you have a Weapon Skill of 45 you need to roll 45 or under on percentile D100 dice. Games Workshop always seems to be torn in this regard as their other approach in Warhammer 40,000 and similar is to have a Ballistic Skill of say 4, and to figure out what you need to hit you subtract your BS from 7, so 4 BS = 3+ on a D6.

So the other day when I was playing we had many missed attacks. But I noticed something funny: people feel okay failing a check when they still roll high. There’s still something so natural about seeing a roll of 98 out of 100 and feeling good about it. “Sure I missed, but damn did you see that roll?!”. Certainly makes for an interesting look at human nature and our long standing relationship with dice.

Encounters and hazards for car chases and races

Here’s a big list that might be a useful reference for you when having a modern day car chase or race. You and the players can throw these curve balls into the mix to add some excitement.

  • Motorcycles or dirt bikes, perhaps a gang tour
  • Giant crowd or carnival
  • Person (old, homeless, kid) or animal crossing the street, bee or other insect flying inside the car
  • Drawbridge slowly going up
  • Detour due to bridge being closed
  • Train on tracks, or trolley car in road
  • Parking garage
  • Garbage truck backing out of alley
  • Rock slide, avalanche, mudslide along the road
  • Rain, fog, sleet, snow, hail, freezing rain, ice, dust storm, or other weather
  • Tunnels
  • Have to split across a few roads or blocks
  • Going into the opposite lane
  • Going down a dark alley and turning off lights and engine
  • Jumping an off/on ramp
  • Emergency cargo dump to try to gain more speed
  • Nitro boosts
  • Look away at distraction, look back and crash
  • Fruit cart or other market items in the (perhaps closed to cars) street
  • Semi truck rolling over to get out of the way or spilling chemicals
  • Sudden ambulance or fire truck
  • Rolling roadblock of semi trucks that have to be weaved through, or funeral, or old people
  • Oblivious taxi or drunk driver
  • Driving through construction site or wood frame houses
  • Workers crossing the street with a huge pane of glass, massive painting, moving a piano, etc.
  • Black ice, oil slick, or other slippery conditions
  • Spike strips or flat tires
  • Huge pile of cardboard boxes, could be full of packing foam
  • Having to drive through a fire (forest, maybe burning building)
  • Road closed due to a wreck
  • Pot holes, open manhole cover, or other debris
  • Police road block (for player or someone else)
  • Running out of gas or overheating the engine or even having the engine catch on fire
  • Hacker messing with the traffic lights
  • Airplane landing on the road
  • Water main breaking and flooding the road
  • Tire rolling across the road, or blown tire treads on the road
  • Driving through a corn field
  • Swarm of insects or birds hitting the windshield
  • Driving on 2 wheels (“skiing”) to go between a narrow space
  • Driving through a war zone or active police/SWAT scene
  • Going up or down stairs or through a hilly park
  • Damaged hood flies up and blocks the view out the windshield
  • Jumping between cars, or from an overpass to the roof

Thanks to some great suggestions from this Reddit thread.

Late night Fickle RPG brainstorming

Deep in thought, eyes closed with my headphones on and Phantogram pounding tunes (check them out!), trying to figure out defeated alternatives, Karma/luck dice, and a few other Fickle RPG tweaks.

btw Judge Dredd one-off went wonderfully! Real hoot, system held up well, was fun to play powerful folks with plenty of equipment. Pacing was a bit off, but that was my bad on having little experience with one-offs.