Friday, 1 March 2013

Adeptus Titanicus is now Titanomachia

An update on my Adeptus Titanicus project. While I will always have a fond place in my heart for Adeptus Titanicus, I don't (yet) have the rights to produce anything called Adeptus Titanicus, and in general it's a good idea to come up with a generic name for any such work-in-progress. So I've decided to start calling the project Titanomachia, or "War of the Titans," which also has a wonderful notion of Titanomachina. Or something. I'll get it sorted out soon.

In the meantime I'm busy writing up the Strategy deck, and have a draft of the rules being written up. Once those items are complete: The action cards from the Strategy deck are completed, system cards have been drafted, and all I need to do is work up some battlefield conditions and objectives.

The action cards have a brief blurb on the action that they permit, and the rules further explore what happens when an action card is successfully or unsuccessfully played. The cards themselves have a brief list of the cost of success depending on the kind of card that an opponent plays. This reflects a 'cost-of-success' table in the rules I'm drafting. Originally I had attempted to make the table somewhat symmetric, but it occurred to me that symmetry isn't really necessary since both players would be using the same table, and the point was to avoid a zero-sum game in success and otherwise.

Anyhow, as it stands, the turn sequence has changed somewhat, with the notion of taking out extraneous or non-value-added steps. Nothing quite like technical writing to make the process of playing a game clear and to reveal errors and pointless cruft. Like anything to do with the crew. What exactly does an extra set of gears representing the crew add to a game where the player is taking the place of the crew in making executive decisions? There is such a thing as slavish attention to detail, and it rarely contributes to the experience.

The game starts with the players compiling Strategy decks, from which they bid cards to seize the initiative, or see who starts the game with the initiative. Basically an offset against advantages given to order in which players deploy their Titans on the board, kind of like how in Warhammer 40,000 the designers eventually figured out that if the players deployed by armies, and that the first army deployed got the first turn (with a slight randomization to increase risk) that it balanced out the issue of the first turn giving undue advantage.

So players can get the jump on their opponent by sacrificing strategy cards, actions, battlefield conditions, and objectives, and taking the risk that they won't need that advantage. In theory the players could just crowd the front of their decks with relatively 'cheaper' actions they can burn to seize the initiative, but that offsets against the advantage of the first shot, and the option of the other player to shrug and let them have the initiative. So the fact that they get to arrange their own Strategy decks is simply another mini-game whereby players need to manage immediate benefits vs potential benefits.

Players can do this at the start of every turn, providing that they can bid more strategy cards than their opponent, again sacrificing future potential for immediate opportunity. Running out of strategy cards is clearly bad, or at least should be, in order to make strategy cards a resource. I've decided that giving players a Command-type card (Strategic Insight) enabling them to return cards from the discard pile to their Strategy deck is a good idea since playing the card exposes the player's Titan to immediate risk while benefiting them in the longer term. Likewise, other Command-type cards include a card to pay for the next action with a card from the discard pile, essentially allowing players a 'null action' card to space out other actions - a kind of meta-card to encourage players to manage their decks and burn cards to seize the initiative; and cards to make their opponent's next action cost more, or to simply lose the next card in their strategy deck. Oh, and a card to repair Titan damage, and change objectives. There might be more. And, now that I think of it, there is probably something to be said for extracting the battlefield conditions and objective cards from the Strategy deck to their own piles, and to have those conditions and objectives flipped over as the result of actions such as Hiding (flip over a battlefield card) or New Orders (flip over a new objective card).

The real question is what to do when the Strategy deck runs out, essentially now just the action cards now that the system, battlefield conditions, and objectives are separated for game play purposes (but still part of the deck for deck-building purposes - choosing a system with light damage, or simply a weaker system, should give the player credit for more actions, or expensive actions, or whatever).

On one hand I kind of want to just draw the line there and say: The first player to run out their Strategy deck (I suppose I should just all it the Action deck or something) loses. The Princeps strokes out or something. That should encourage people to build decks with more cards rather than less, and would help manage the issue of what happens when the Strategy (or Action) decks are not the same size: What happens when a player can't play an action? It means that players can attempt to play defensively, waiting out the other player even if they haven't achieved their objective. Play putatively ends when a player has their objective, but I think it might

On the other hand, and depending on the size of the strategy decks, it might make the game kind of short and distort the game whereby players basically wander the board with their Titans, avoiding confrontation, and attempting to wait each other out. There is the Command-type Strategic Insight card, which lets players essentially tread water so that their deck lasts longer than it actually would otherwise, but doesn't increase the size of the deck, so there's a disincentive to discourage players from trying to wait their opponent out.

I think, insofar as development is concerned, I would go with the "First player to run out of Action cards loses" just to offset the tendency to front-load the Strategy deck, making the smallest, most 'efficient' deck. Also to offset the incentive to seize the initiative, and perhaps the tendency to engage in bidding wars in those circumstances where players would otherwise slug it out.

Long story short, if your Strategy deck is smaller, then you're probably going to want to play conservatively given that, as a player, you've probably invested in a big, nastier, better maintained Titan and you don't have as many cards to burn for successful actions. Alternately, a larger deck will probably enable aggressive play whereby a player can burn cards for successful actions, change battlefield conditions, and switch up objectives to make up for the beaten-up rust-bucket they'll be piloting. The point being to enable a game in which play is driven by the cards, but still very much as matter of players weighing and making choices.

It's probably worth mentioning at this point that while action cards may be successful or not, driving play, there's also a strong notion in game-play that Titans have states, like system-damage and shield-damage, position, and extension, but also in speed, direction, and target acquisition. A Titan won't need a Movement-type action card like Stride to be successful to go anywhere. It will need such a card to increase its speed, just as it will need the Come About action to be successful to change direction, the Halt action to stop, and so on.

Where Dan Abnett, in his novel Titanicus, has a Moderati (Titan executive officer) compare his job to spinning plates, I think the players should feel somewhat the same way. Of course, players also get to plan their strategies beforehand, so they can arrange for such action cards to be available if they want to be in position to use those Fire Weapon actions against valid targets. And, naturally, part of the fun should be watching a plan fall apart upon contact with the random element: The Enemy.    

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