Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Adeptus Titanicus: The Fun Part

When one starts designing games, what one really starts doing is designing the user-interface parts of games one has already played. Hence we see message boards and the like saturated with poorly thought out extensions to existing games, wish-listed elements that typically fly in the face of game design, and no design brief whatsoever. There is a reason why "home-brew" is derided as poor quality design, and typically because it lacks any particulars of design, either understanding the design it is supposed to extend, or how it extends that design. No over-enthusiastic 12-year old ever sat down and decided to write a design brief or game design document. No, they sit down (or were already sitting down...) and decide that the world is ready to experience the Primarchs on the Warhammer 40,000 board, or that Warhammer 40,000 doesn't involve enough arithmetic operations.

But it's fun! Somehow or other, and some games like Battletech accommodate this by providing in-game 'design' rules, getting outside the box defining a game provides some sort of visceral need to build and to assign stats, to build on the game. It's unfortunate then that often the numbers don't add up, and the perfect uber-unit someone spent a whole afternoon writing doesn't improve the game. But that's usually because the over-enthusiastic writer has cheerfully forgone examining the game and its design, adding something using the elements of that design (characteristic profiles and special rules for Primarchs, to repeat an example) but no understanding of how the values assigned to those elements contribute to the game experience.

So I'm hoping that I don't repeat those enthusiastic mistakes as I come back to the user-interface of Adeptus Titanicus, having defined the cards and their contents, it looks like I also need to define a record-keeping device for all those aspects of the game that are not going to be represented on the board. Alternately, I can design a record that works on the board, as aircraft-games might represent climbing, diving and turning by angling the miniature inside of a transparent box. It has occurred to me that the best part of Adeptus Titanicus, back in the first official Games Workshop edition with six robots and Styrofoam buildings, was that the Titans could be built by simply plugging in the weapons one wanted, and turning a wheel in the base representing shields. WizKid's collectible MechWarrior game, I think, took this notion of the base as recording device a tad too far with its dials and awful rubbery 'mech designs. The fact that Battletech is still going strong suggests that record sheets and game-ified accountancy still has appeal in some circles.

On the other hand, I know what needs to be represented, whether it's written on a sheet, or using some sort of tangible component. There is also something very very useful to be said for creating specialized game components, which is why Games Workshop re-produced its ornate blast marker and templates, and covered all its terrain in its trademark sheets of cranium: While you cannot copyright rules or radii or whatnot, you can copy-right specific instantiations, like copy and physical objects. If your game requires a particular physical object, then players will pay through the nose for that object, or seek third-party supplies if you can't provide that object in sufficient quantities. The additional problem is preventing knock-offs. One cannot sell Granny Smith-brand computers with a green apple logo, but one could sell Golden Delicious-brand shovels because those cannot be confused with the Apple trademark on personal computers and other Apple products.

Take the Games Workshop rules. Anybody can play any version of Warhammer 40,000 they want to, given that it's available for free via pirate copies and virtually for free via Ebay and discounters. You can play it with lego minifigs with only very minor modifications. Dice can be sourced from any manufacturer, hence the inclusion of specialist dice like the Scatter dice and the Artillery dice. The Artillery dice is easier enough to substitute, but the scatter dice requires at least a sharpie. Yet people still buy Games Workshop products because the official products offer a coherent vision, and a production-quality that enhances the experience of playing an otherwise mediocre game. The fact is that as an adult it is much easier to find a game of Warhammer 40,000 using official GW miniatures and equipment at a GW store, than it is to find someone willing to play home-brew rules using Lego in a basement. GW Hobbyists don't just want to play, they want to play with GW products, with GW's intellectual property, and in GW-provided environments.

In the meantime, naturally, I'll stick with separating content from user-interface unless anything jumps out at me in the development cycle. Forthwith, the guns!

Vulcan Megabolter
Munitions: 1-4 cards, per card: Range: 12", Power:x, Rate of Fire: 2
Gatling Blaster:
Munitions: 1-4 cards, per card: Range: 24", Power: 2x, Rate of Fire: 1
Quake Cannon:
Munitions: 2 cards, Range 24", Power: 3x, Rate of Fire 1
Hellstorm Cannon:
Munitions: 1-6 cards, per two cards, Range 24", Power 2x, Rate of Fire 1
Hydra Battery:
Munitions: 1 card, Range 36", Power x, Rate of Fire 1

Melta Cannon:
Munitions: 1-3 cards, Range 6"+6" bonus per card, Power: x+bonus per card, Rate of Fire: 1 per card
Inferno Cannon:
Munitions: 1-3 cards, Range 8", Power x, Rate of Fire: 1 per card
Tactical Missile Launcher:
Munitions: 1-2 cards, Range 36", Power: 2x, Rate of Fire:  1 per card
Strategic Missile Launcher:
Munitions: 2 cards, Range 36", Power 4x, Rate of Fire: 1

Plasma Blastgun:
Munitions: 2-4 cards, Range 12", Power 3x, Rate of Fire:  1 per two cards
Plasma Destructor:
Munitions: 2-6 cards, Range 12", Power 3x, Rate of Fire: 1 per two cards
Plasma Annihilator:
Munitions: 3-6 cards, Range 12, Power 4x, Rate of fire: 1 per three cards

Turbo Laser Destructor:
Munitions: 1-2 cards, Range 18", Power 3x, Rate of Fire: 1 per card.
Laser Blaster:
Munitions: 1-3 cards, Range 18", Power 3x, Rate of Fire: 1 per card.
Volcano Cannon:
Munitions: 3 cards, Range 18", Power 4x, Rate of Fire 1

On the defensive side of things we will have Void Shields (and Power Fields basically doing the same thing), Armour, and so on. But before Void Shields or Armour interact, there's Acquiring a target. That will be an interaction between the Titan's Auspex and its target's Shields (Silent Running) and its movement. Like movement and so on, a target is acquired until it isn't, a steady state kind of thing, denoted by a target reticule or similar marker. All Titans would have the following additional costs beyond their basic sensor system profile:

Additional Target Acquisition Costs:
Is it turning? +1 card
Is it shooting? -1 card
Is it or has it acquired by the target? -1 card
Is it silent running? +1 card

So the undamaged Auspex of a Warlord might require 1 card to acquire a target. Light damage would jack that up to two cards, heavy damage up to three, and destroyed Auspex prevents the Titan from acquiring targets! Of course, that Auspex doesn't just target Titans, but Titan systems. So that Auspex itself would be armoured, and let's set that at y2. I think allowing an additional card to be spent on a margin would be a good idea, because a target may de-acquire that target lock by turning in a later turn, or engaging in silent running, or something.

So suppose you spend three cards on Acquiring a target, Auspex System, giving yourself a one-card margin. Next round/turn/appropriate-nomenclature, the target may start shooting its own weapons, meaning you have a two-card margin. That two-card margin would multiply the Power of your weapons, giving a Volcano Cannon a score of 8, more than three times the target's Armour of y2. Fortunately for the target it has 3 shields protecting it, causing Heavy Damage to the outermost of those shields. Were the shield already labouring under Light Damage or Heavy Damage, that shield would either be Destroyed (able to be restored through Raise Shields), or roll over Light Damage to the shield beneath it (since 1st shield has 2x damage already, and 3x is destroyed, so 1x is light damage to the same).

Next turn the target may decide to Extend Shields to put undamaged shields outside the heavily damaged shield, and to perform Damage Control on that shield as it continues to move forward. Alternately it may decide to tank the heavy damage to its outermost Void to come to a Halt, assume a New Heading, and Arm its own Gatling Blaster.

Which puts me in the mind that an array of specialized dice around the Titan miniature would be cool, with the dice positioned by each arc marked out on the base, and with Light Damage, Heavy Damage, and Destroyed glyphs on the dice. Likewise a target dice with a reticule symbol on it, with a number inside the reticule denoting the margin of target lock would be cool. The backs of the cards would be images like Tech Priests at work inside the Titan, or cockpit shots of Titan crew looking suitably heroic so that players can play the action card face up, and the cost cards face down.

So Warhounds can use their mobility to threaten a Warlord from different directions, requiring it to split its otherwise invincible shields in two directions, and chip away at its shields by dodging (coming about), stalking (silent running), and other tactics beyond hoping its measly two shields can tank whatever weapon is carried by the Warlord.

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