Thursday, 21 June 2012

Game Design: Sandboxing Space Hulk

Lately I've found the time to start gluing pretty printed detailing on my Litko Game Accessories Space Corridors. Which has, naturally, led to me fiddling around with models, and attempting to build a game that my partner is willing to play. In addition to Litko's Space Corridors, I also have a ton of:

Ammo Tokens
Biohazard Tokens
Blast Markers
Flame Markers
Smoke Markers
Gun Jammed Tokens
Hand Grenade Tokens
Skull Tokens
Nuclear Hazard Tokens
Targeting Reticule Tokens

Add to those my Terminator Squad, base-coated red, and my unpainted Genestealers, primed white, and five of those Tyranid multi-anuses on 40mm bases, as objectives, and I had some ideas. The first idea was the multi-purpose my Fog-of-War tokens, custom combination of Litko Scanner Blip tokens, Numbered Blip sets, Mine Field tokens, Barbed Wire tokens, Tank Trap tokens, Trench Works tokens, and a bunch of other symbols Jim, Litko's maestro of custom token design, hasn't passed onto the shop's regular product line. Presumably if you ask nicely Jim will make you Fog-of-War sets, but now is not the time to shill, however obliquely.

I mention the Scanner Blip tokens because, as anyone who has played Space Hulk can tell you, the scanner tokens are necessary for maintaining that claustrophobic atmosphere of not being able to tell how many Genestealers are lurking around a corner. Once line-of-sight is established, the token is flipped over and that number of Genestealers are placed on the board. However...

My experience with Fog-of-War suggests to me that such fog-of-war mechanics aren't very user-friendly, particularly for people like my partner that aren't into abstraction. Which is cool, because I too prefer having everything I need to know represented on the board to fiddling around with record sheets. That's why I have all that Litko stuff and plan to buy more, because it lets you read the game state from the board.

In addition, while fiddling with layout, I noticed that the corridors and rooms contained negative spaces, spaces which were as clearly delineated as the space corridors themselves. So I figured that these should be crawl-spaces, spaces in which Genestealers could move, but Terminators could not, rather than ignoring them. The corridors, rooms, and doors would, therefore, determine where and how the Terminators could move, and allow the Genestealers to move freely between sections of the board, so they could do ambush attacks as well as hope to run screaming around corners and so on.

Of course, this means that both players can see exactly where the Genestealer models are, but I determined that the amount of uncertainty based on what the other player can do was less (and preferable) to the amount of uncertainty based on what the other player is likely to do. Basically I decided to try and remove non-player random elements from the game as much as possible.

To that end, I decided that I wanted a very simple turn sequence: Instead of a Terminator turn, limited by time, or a Genestealer turn, I would have players alternate on a model by model basis. While this would allow players to keeping doing stuff with the same model, a la Chess, unsupported models would be vulnerable to be overwhelmed. So how would they be overwhelmed? Why would a player allow themselves to miss a shot, jam a Storm Bolter, and fail an attack?

Players will do these things if doing them gains them some sort of palpable advantage. It would be easy to engineer a system of perverse incentives, but the trick is making the system elegant and usable. Therefore, as an initial stab at it, I would think that each player should have a pool of dice, with the dice acting something like money, in that they can use the dice to purchase results, and invest in bad results to gain dice. Fumbling with a door, for example, might allow a player to turn a 1-result into a 6-result that can be used later.

The pool of starting funds and the return on investments therefore needs to be calibrated so that people aren't simply trading 1s for 6s, or 1s for more 1s. Or does it? Remember that being able to buy more ones will not be pure profit: the cost will be in the time it takes for your opponent to hit you with a Genestealer or Terminator with a 6. An easy way around this would be that dice results of 1 mean that you can roll the dice and use the outcome later.

So here's what I think would be interesting: A fumble allows a player to trade that 1 for any number of dice whose value adds up to 6. So while a player can trade that fumble now for a 100% success later (or a +1 bonus to a 7+ threshold later), that player going to run out of dice if they spend all of their dice rolls on sure things.

This means that they can be overwhelmed if their opponent can throw more at them than their dice pool can handle. You're going to want those 2-5 dice so that you don't use up your dice, so that you can replenish them. That's the theory at least. Providing a trading environment will be the players, where their actions can modify the thresholds required for success. Attacking a Terminator from behind, for example, might add a bonus so that a 3 can be a success against a threshold of 5+, or reducing movement by 1 square might allow a Genestealer to dodge overwatch fire set at 3 by increasing the threshold with a +1 penalty to 4.

To that end I need a list of actions that the players can have their models do when it's their turn, thresholds for those actions, and bonuses/penalties that might accrue. I also need to figure out a starting pool for dice, although I'm leaning towards 1 dice per model per action, requiring players to start generating extra dice from the outset rather than steaming ahead buoyed up by spare dice.

Presumably I'll revisit this soon.

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