Wednesday, 26 June 2019

TITANOMACHINA: Effects without Dice

Doing a little bit of paper-work to check some of the math.

Limbs

Plantigrade Legs: Effect 2, Range 1, Charge 2
Digitigrade Legs: Effect 3, Range 1, Charge 2
Arms: Effect 1, Range 1, Charge 2
Big Arms: Effect 1, Range 2, Charge 2

Limbs get to divide their effect between moving, turning, and attacking. A Digitigrade Leg might turn 45 degrees, attack with light damage, and move forward in one action.

Turrets

Turret: Effect 2, Charge 2
Sponson: Effect 1, Charge 1

Turrets increase the arc of systems subsequently activated that round, with the Turret system increasing a 90 degree arc by two more for 270 degrees. The Sponson system increases a 90 degree arc to 180 degrees. These seem about right.

Shields

Shields: Effect 2, Charge 3
Deflectors: Effect 1, Charge 2

Shields allow a Titan to add or move shield tokens, and with a static Effect these are some of the only defensive options where Effect 3 can destroy a system. A single shield token is going to push Destroyed down to Heavy damage, and Heavy damage down to Light damage. Where Titans get a default 6 shield tokens at the beginning of the game, the ability to regenerate tokens, and to protect buildings with them should be important.

Sensors

Sensors: Effect 2, Charge 3

Sensors allow Titans to move buildings around the board, perhaps counter-intuitively. Alternately, they allow Titans to increase their initiative, and hence change the order in which they play and resolve the effects of cards. I've considered changing it up to be +2 because Sensors are Effect 2. This might warrant more investigation because I'm considering putting more rules into the game regarding deployment of buildings to handle them being represented by stacks of tiles rather than plastic buildings. There is also the option to allow players to increase their initiative and move a building tile.

Crew

Initiate: Effect 2, Charge 3
Adherent: Effect 3, Charge 3
Master: Effect 4, Charge 3

Crew repair damage down to systems in the same System Diagram square, with the option of moving to a new square in the Titan when resolving their activation. That means that Masters can repair two systems in the same square with Heavy Damage on both, which is something like the worst case scenario where those systems aren't destroyed.

Jump Jets

Plasma Jets: Effect 3, Charge 3
Thrusters: Effect 2, Charge 2

Jump Jets allow a Titan to move directly forward, and with Effect 2 that just about allows Thrusters to hop a Titan over a building or another Titan. Handy for breaking contact, and working board control. Plasma Jets take you slightly further, but it could be handy to hide behind enemy buildings before smashing them.

Capacitors

Plasma Capacitor: Effect 2, Charge 4
Plasma Cell: Effect 1, Charge 2

Capacitors allow a Titan to draw more cards from the top of their Titan deck, essentially giving themselves more option, and perhaps different options. Of course, for five cards you only get two new cards, but if those five are very useless it might be what you need. The Charge system is based on the opportunity cost of not being able to play those systems for a while, but as mentioned where that cost is actually very low, like having four crew on a Titan with no damage, I think it works out.

Extra Armour

Extra Armour: Effect 1, Charge 1

Extra Armour has no active effect, but it does have the passive effect of increasing initiative by 1 point if it takes damage. The attacking system allows a player to play extra armour to try and seize the initiative, or at least blunt an attack. I need to figure out how to simplify the attack system so this stays, as being able to catch and blunt attacks with cheap systems is an integral part of game-play. Right now the Effect 1 and Charge 1 makes for a nice floor.

Configuration

Configuration Cog: Effect 3, Charge 2

Just as crew can move around inside of the Titan's System Diagram, I thought it would be nice to have a system that moves other systems around, for a certain 'transformation' vibe.

Weapons

Hand Effect 1, Range 1, Shield Breaker 2, Charge 1
Claw Effect 2, Range 1, Shield Breaker 1, Shock 1, Charge 2
Buzzsaw Effect 2, Range 1,  High Explosive 1, Charge 2
Laser Blade Effect 2, Range 2, Armour Piercing 1, Charge 3

Rocket Pod Effect 1, Range 6, Hard Rounds 1, High Explosive 2, Charge 1
Mega Gun Effect 1, Range 4, Hard Rounds 2, Charge 1
Laser Battery Effect 2, Range 4, Armour Piercing 1, Charge 3
Gun Battery Effect 2, Range 4, Hard Rounds 1, Charge 2

Plasma Shotgun Effect 3, Range 3, Shock 1, Charge 4
Laser Macro Effect 3, Range 5, Armour Piercing 1, Charge 3
Macro Gun Effect 3, Range 5, Hard Rounds 1, High Explosive 1, Charge 2
Plasma Howitzer Effect 4, Range 5, Shock 1, Charge 4

So the Laser Blade, Laser Battery, and Macro Laser are all Charge 3 and all capable of giving an unshielded system a very bad time. The Macro Laser will give a system with one shield token a crunch. Armour Piercing gives them bonus damage against Titans, while High Explosive is bonus damage against buildings. Hard Rounds allows a player to scale the weapon's effect to requirements by adding an effect bonus at an equivalent charge cost. Shock affects cards in the target's hand. Notice that they're in three groups of 4, with the notion being that whether it's 2, 3, or 4 players there's a chance of drafting 'better' weapons and 'worse' weapons while there should be a balance of the various properties of each weapon.

Monday, 17 June 2019

TITANOMACHINA: Tokens and/or Cards and/or Dice

Something I noticed recently, all on my own, was that in TITANOMACHINA there's essentially three components duplicating the same thing, name the systems. Of course, I've carefully spread the load between some of the tokens, the cards, and the dice, but I don't actually like the way they've been kludged together. The cards distract from the board, the dice disappoint people, and I think the tokens are distracting overkill. The tokens used to have an Armour score on them, but that was discarded since it didn't really add anything to the whole business.

The tokens (the system, weapon, and crew tokens) represent the position of those systems on the Titan, and hence both its ability to address other elements on the board (enemy Titans, buildings) and be addressed by them. One notion was to have all of those systems present as modules on a miniature Titan, but the miniature Titans went over like a pregnant pole-vaulter. At present I'm happy to settle on a Titan token that's essentially the Titan model's octagonal base to indicate its direction.

The cards (the system, weapon, and crew cards) represent the order and opportunity cost of when those systems can be activated to resolve actions. This is already Rube Goldberg territory, and I can see why it is so unappealing. Players have a hand of cards they can draw from a deck of cards with a 1:1 ratio of cards to systems (and weapons and crew). They can pass on playing cards, risking a time-crunch and/or an aimed shot, or they can make a bet on what the result of that action might be. So there's an opportunity cost in playing cards, or not playing them as the case may be.

The dice represent that bet, with systems, weapons, and crew being more likely to get better results the more dice they throw, with certain minimum and maximum boundaries. Some are straight up 1-6 like the Limbs, Jump Jets, Shields, Capacitors, and others are 1-3 = 1, 4-5 = 2, and 6 = 3 such as Weapons, Turrets, and Sensors. Which means that Limbs and Jump Jets can move a Titan up to 6 squares in a straight line. A Titan can pop up 6 shield tokens, with Shields, or draw 6 cards from the top of its deck. On average it's 3.5 squares for an Arm, and 4.5 for a Plantigrade Leg, because it's 1D6 for the Arm and 2D6 for the Leg. Of course the notion of rolling multiple dice and picking the highest is a pretty steep hill for lots of people, let alone the notion of 1-3 = 1, which is probably where the request for custom dice came from. 

My first inclination is to ditch the dice, and not the least because they're a hassle. It's dice or cards, and the cards have the utility of holding rules on them for resolving their effects. If we just go off the cards then Jump Jets are reduced to 3 squares of movement, and Plantigrade Legs to 2. Likewise Arms produce a measly 1 square of movement, and light damage upon impact with an unshielded system or building. A Plasma Howitzer would inflict over-kill, four damage where three is enough to destroy a system or building. Where damage is designed to be cumulative it would require either the system to have taken heavy damage for a -2 effect, or the target to have two shield tokens to prevent it from being destroy and that's if it has not already suffered damage.

Movement wise it definitely slows the game down, as a Titan is moving maybe 2 squares a turn and that's not including turning. I suppose it gives some extra value to the Turret and Configuration Cog systems allowing systems to increase their arcs and change their arcs, respectively. Certain cool things may be lost unless the Effect of several systems themselves are re-jigged; a Titan would no longer be able to do a spin-kick with its left-leg to attack something on its right-hand side, although I suppose activating a Turret and then a Plantigrade Leg might work. It makes Capacitors utter crap though, as spending 4 to draw 2 is pretty bad unless those four are terrible and the two on the top of the deck are fantastic. Where so much of the risk in the cards is opportunity cost and situational, that might not be so bad.

Where the dice are removed, at least in terms of resolving systems, there are knock-on effects. I think that I would still want the systems declared in initiative order and then resolved in the same order. So weapons can acquire new targets if their intended target moved out of range or line of sight, extra armour can catch shots, and so on. It would be easy enough to let players play cards to interrupt resolution, supposing they don't want their opponent to get a called shot, but then they would have to commit to the action if the system has sufficient Effect left after resolving the attack.

TITANOMACHINA: Features and Benefits

One of the great things about designing a game, as well as criticizing what's already out there, is that you get to watch yourself making the same mistakes you've criticized others for making. However, like using a mirror when working out, I hope that the narcissism eventually gives way to an ability to use a tool for its intended purpose. One of the things I believe I've neglected in making TITANOMACHINA, beyond the failure of engaging in a marketing campaign, is clearly expressing the benefits of all of its features. And boy-howdy does TITANOMACHINA have lots of features. The question should not be what they all do, but what do they accomplish. Put another way, they all do something, but does that contribute to the player experience?

Board
9x9 squares: 1 per game

The Board gives the players a space on which they can maneuver their Titans, where facing, line of site, and range can matter. Squares give the Titans eight directions of movement and attacks. They also divide up easily by 90 degrees. With 81 squares it divides up relatively easily between 2, 3, and 4 players with relatively little left over. There's probably something to be said for redoing the squares as octagons, but in the meantime squares tesselate better. There's also something un-threatening, I hope, about a Board that looks like a Chess board. Also, depending on how the board is folded I should be able to fit it into a relatively small box if it's ~18" across. I can see how some game rules call them 'game-boards' or similar to mark out the item with a special term, particularly when there are player boards such as: 

Titan Dashboards
Including spaces for initiative, size, and 27 system slots in a System Diagram: 1 per Titan

The Titan Dashboards enable players to track the internal states of their Titans and match them to the external states on the board. They also provide a space within which the players can customize their Titans. Players can select both systems, weapons, and crew and their position on the Titan, with the top of the System Diagram putatively being the forward direction on the Titan token. The System Diagram has square slots to allow players to easily slot-in and lift-out tokens as they're arranged, moved around the diagram, or removed before they're destroyed. Where the system, weapon, crew, and size tokens slot in, the others are intended to float on top. The initiative die is also supposed to sit in the Dashboard so that it's not grabbed for other purposes.

Tokens
  • Titan token: 1 per Titan.
  • System tokens: 27 per Titan.
  • Shield tokens: 6 per Titan.
  • Size tokens: 3 per Titan
  • Damage tokens: 15 light damage and 15 heavy damage per Titan.
  • Weapon tokens: 24
  • Crew tokens: 16
As mentioned the system, weapon, crew, and size tokens slot into the Titan Dashboard. The Titan token goes on the board and is octagonal, with an arrow representing the facing it shares with the square System Diagram (in a note of irony an earlier version of the rules had Armour scores for each of the systems, weapons, and crew denoted using an octagon). In a sense the Titan token ties the Board to the Dashboard, orienting the latter against the former. I should probably put a grid pattern on it, but I think a portrait matching the portrait on the Dashboard works better.

The shield tokens and damage tokens get laid over top of the Titan Dashboards, and can also be placed on the Board proper. The damage tokens are short so they're not easily mistaken for the slot-able ones, and the shield tokens are round and matched to the Shield Breaker icon on some weapons. Originally I had planned for the tokens to be two-sided, with things like 'light' and 'heavy' on the respective obverse and reverse of the damage tokens. Shields were supposed to have a super-charged version. Systems/Crew/Weapons would have had 'destroyed' on the reverse. When it comes down to it, however, there was no over-riding game reason to retain it, and plenty to cut things like over-charged shields - the same thing can be done by activating shields two turns in a row, for example.

The size tokens are notable because in earlier versions the size was fixed on the Dashboard, putatively at 4 for each Titan. Where we're no longer limited by miniatures, the Titans can be from Size 2 to Size 6, with each Size token representing two size increments. These increments depend on the number of limbs a player chooses when drafting or strategy building. Rather than tying it directly to the limbs in the System Diagram it helps to fix the Titan's size, and so players can tell the size of their opponents at a glance. This will be useful because of what's going on with buildings.

Game Track
Actually I'm looking to cut this one. The Game Track provides a rather important limit to game-play, enabling the game to end before it drags on. Originally integrated into the Board, I decided the board would be smaller and fit more easily into a box without it, and it fit well on an A4 sheet of generic tokens including weapons and crew and the Deadline token (1 per game). Later I added a 'mercy' rule that one player ahead by 10pts automatically generated a game-over result, which was an interesting oversight in itself. But that doesn't stop two or more Titans from chipping each other into ineffectiveness without ever ending the game, so 18 rounds it is. It also creates something of a narrative arc, and a time-crunch. The usual 'backwards-induction' problem of fixed turn limits is disrupted both by the dice and the fact that rounds are composed of an unfixed number of turns. One round might just be one  player taking a turn, and another round might last three turns each. Notably, however, it's 18 rounds and given the proportions of the board it might be something to integrate the turn track with the board such that the deadline token travels on the board. It's ugly and kludgy, but it works to prevent the game from taking too long.

Cards
System Cards: 27 per Titan
Weapon Cards: 24
Crew Cards: 16
Personality Cards: 16
The system, weapon, and crew cards match the system, weapon, and crew tokens. Where the tokens are used to track position and damage, the cards drive the action. Collected into decks, cards can be played at the expense of other cards for a randomized range of results. I've had some thoughts about having players roll dice after absorbing an opportunity cost, but a straight conversion gets tricky, and the numbers on the cards configured to reflect the curves that rolling multiple dice and picking the highest gets you. Cards also drive interaction since they're played in order, with players either actively selecting the systems their attacker will damage, or not activating and allowing a called shot on a system they can see. It's another irregular kludge. I'd love to figure out a way to collapse it into just the tokens, as I feel like card-driven games should just be card games despite their utility in tying rules together. The cards are also an appalling bug-bear of a production disaster. What they achieve for the players seems to be moments of indecision where they look at their cards, and look at the board, and look at their cards again. I got back one of the preview copies I'd sent out and the cards were not even opened. Neither was the board, but you'd think they'd want a gander at the cards? When I started with the cards, and before I dropped them out of the design for a while, I got a lot of comments from people about why I didn't just make a card game. They got put back in because they took the decision and analysis paralysis experienced by so many players and crunched it down to something more usable. And, of course, the re-implementation of putting them a kind of time-out state was terrible and much better as a straight-up opportunity cost, but it's still an awful lot of moving parts to slow down play. What this combination of cards-tokens-dice does, however, doesn't seem entirely reduce-able to 2/3 of those. I'll change it if I figure out a way to drop them out of the picture entirely. In the meantime I guess the benefit is how it drives the action, and the hard part is figuring out how to change the feature...

Dice:
Speaking of play, what's the deal with the dice? After players play a card, having sacrificed other cards and actions, they get a situational choice so the action isn't necessarily wasted by the choices of preceding cards played in that round, and players roll dice. Essentially the players should be making bets on what they can achieve that turn, with the notion that they're fishing for 6s and each additional +1D6 adds something like a +1/6 chance to getting one while ensuring it's not a given. Which seems like overkill given how players pay an opportunity cost. However, having players all declare and then all resolve helps to balance out the call-and-response nature of the action. It also means that you can hope for a certain minimum result, or a maximum depending on where you are in the game. There is certainly the downside to the results when they're not what you want, when you're rolling 3+ dice and they just crap out. But as a benefit they do add excitement at the cost of additional  uncertainty. It's what dice do. Some suggestions from reviewers/previewers, like adding custom dice, however, make me wonder because I kind of hate custom dice. I want pipped dice with a high contrast to make them legible and usable.

Buildings:
In terms of changing TITANOMACHINA to an entirely 2D printed game is that I can both simplify and innovate. Originally the buildings consisted of generic wall parts and a roof part signifying who owned the building. They also had a pedestal that I grokked immediately, as it was produced, was completely superfluous. Where players just have a collection of 10-20 2" tiles these can be piled one atop another for three parts to a Size 6 building, matching the number of size tokens on a Titan Dashboard, and more importantly can be mixed in the same building as a feature. Where buildings are mixed, suddenly the math as to why a Rapacious or Gracious Titan might want to preserve a building changes. It might also be something to shift the bonus points to building sections rather than whole buildings. Or perhaps broaden them to be all  buildings since the ownership is in dispute. The benefit of buildings is, however, vast. They serve to shape and give narrative purpose to the game, to provide the Titans with reasons to shoot at things that aren't each other, and to make a-symmetrical play between different buy-ins of Titan more interesting because whether it's drafting or building strategies. Notably, and more of a feature than a bug, but in building strategies it's perfectly possible for a player to lose when they reveal their particular configuration of Titan and buildings because of the mercy rule. The benefit being, I suppose, that not only are players able to build extreme configurations, but they're actively discouraged from doing so.

Monday, 10 June 2019

TITANOMACHINA: The Second Way to Set Up

Strategy Building! You know what, here's the fun part. Not to say that the head-to-head duel of the draft isn't great, but now we broaden the set of optimal builds beyond that handicapping. And it does handicap players, because some systems and choices are optimal and the player rolling the highest initiative at the start of the game will have a marked advantage. This Titan gets a first-turn advantage by deciding to either take a pair of limbs, or to deny an opponent a choice of limbs, turrets, and so on in that order. They can, for example, take Big Arms out of the game. Instead, players have to buy systems out of a pool of Human Resources points, requiring them to have access to their own pools of Crew and Weapons.

Human Resources is the currency Titans use to manage their resources. These resources are usually spent on maintaining and growing their crop of hominid vegetables, but also put towards more aggressive use of resources like fashion and war. As well, no longer are the buildings ten tiles a side, but in proportion to the Human Resources 'spent' on them. Bringing more buildings means fewer points you need to score by destroying enemy systems. And you can't completely short a Titan on buildings as being 10 victory points behind at the start is an automatic lose condition. Alternately, the players need to spend 2HR points a pip on their Initiative so it neither goes over 6, nor ties with an opponent, with the implication that ties do cascade. So why not just spend 2HR on one pip? Because someone else can renege and pay +2HR points for two pips. It's a matter of position/terrain against initiative and likewise against material advantage.

Note that by Strategy Building using HR points a player can indeed field a Titan with four pairs of limbs, for size 8. Interestingly that's 16 HR points to a minimum of 2 HR points for a pair of arms. A Reaper Titan, notably, spends 8 HR points on limbs (a pair of Arms, and a pair of Plantigrade Legs). Interestingly this can lead to the issue of a size 0 Titan. I should make a note about this being a default loss. So you have to have a pair of limbs.

To expand the drafting to 3rd and 4th players, players can contribute a pair of arms and a pair of legs as 'buy-in' whereas in the 2-player duel it's the same pool of arms and legs. Where there's only two options, each player gets to throw in options for a pair of arms and a pair of legs to either be chosen or denied the field. It might be an idea to extend this to the Weapon and Crew drafting. Notably this allows the total number of systems and crew chosen in both drafting and strategy building. Smaller decks have the advantage of cycling cards more quickly, and having less to destroy. Imagine a deck of five cards including a Plasma Howitzer that can fire every turn. Pretty nasty right? Someone dumps four shield tokens onto a piece of Extra Armour, catches the shot, and then pulls a called shot on it. Once that Plasma Howitzer is destroyed in a potential 4:1 trade, the rest of the Titan is in a bit of a pickle. So how far ahead in terms of Buildings can a player go before they expose themselves to a reversal? Likewise, how many systems can a player forego before the advantage of rotating through their cards faster is made up by their ability to absorb attrition.

The advantage to drafting is presumably the job of being able to sit down and tack a half-hour onto game time to begin the battle at the beginning, with logistics, or to spend days if not weeks beforehand gently sanding down the perfect strategy with a spreadsheet only to be betrayed by the dice. Either way players can stretch the envelope provided by the game.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

TITANOMACHINA: Two Ways to Set-Up

There's two ways to set up the game. The drafting set-up and the strategy-building set-up. Where drafting expands beyond Crew and Weapons it gets complicated though.

Expanding the number of systems from 15 to 27, and adding the Configuration type, players may either choose a system from each type in the following order, or deny their opponent a choice from the same type. Think of it as the 'Accessory phase.' Think of the Titans assembling their bodies out of parts of their city.

Limbs
  • Plantigrade Legs (pair)
  • Digitigrade Legs (pair)
  • Arms (pair)
  • Big Arms (pair) 

Turrets
  • Turret
  • Sponsons (pair)
Sensors
  • Sensor
  • Sensor
  • Sensor
Shield Generators
  • Shields (pair)
  • Deflectors (pair)
Capacitors
  • Plasma Capacitor
  • Plasma Cell
Jump Jets
  • Plasma Jets
  • Thrusters
Extra Armour
  • Extra Armour 
  • Extra Armour
  • Extra Armour
  • Extra Armour

Configuration
All players get the Configuration Cog. The Configuration Cog allows players to move systems around the Titan's System Diagram, though unlike Crew who can move around when activated.