Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Titanomachia: Nope, That Didn't Work Either

So the great idea that I had for the turn sequence bred more problems than it solved, but fortunately trying to solve those problems in turn generated more robust ideas. How did it do that? By causing me to print out the latest version of the cards, cut them all out by hand, and then curse a lot when they failed. Creativity, I strongly believe, is a matter of being exposed to constraints. I think it's no wonder that people seem, on the whole, less creative than they used to be. In part I think it's because we have a better perspective of historical creativity, and that perspective diminishes personal creativity; I'm certainly fed up with every good idea of mine having been thought up years ago. And I'm getting older too, which has a tendency to reduce creativity, and to make the world uglier and less in need of improvement than of exasperated hand-washing. Nonetheless, sitting down with a bad game has the wonderful effect of motivating one to think of how to make good on the experience.

I had started with a single "Strategy Deck" with the notion that players could build a deck, choosing and ordering the cards, and then play this deck against another deck. Of course, that broke down as before I even printed the cards, as had my inspirations (see other, earlier articles for details) when I would draw cards that would have no application to material under my nominal control, and no effect on whatever my opponent might be able to do. Which was the crux of the matter, in that the cards controlled my options, as well as weighting which options I might choose. Allowing players to play hand, rather than straight out of the deck, returned a degree of control while maintaining that Rumsfeldian sensation of playing the hand one is dealt.

So I went with the notion of each card having multiple applications, being playable as one of four options, and while that was kind of nice, the same issue arose (albeit less frequently) and deck-building became somewhat extraneous. Plus I was still dithering with how to integrate terrain, variable victory conditions, and record-keeping into the game. I came up with the notion of using cards for those too, but obviously the cards used for record keeping couldn't be part of the Strategy Deck. So I created the Titan deck.

Back-tracking I decided to re-state rules on the cards to reduce the barrier of looking shit up in the rules. That meant one action per card, and again the specter of dead cards and turns where nothing happened howled in the depths. So I made it so that playing a card could, at least, increase the cost of an opponent successfully playing a card. And that was cool! Okay, so maybe an action won't be successful, but a player can hold off enemy where actions need to be chained, like the Aim, Arm, Shoot chain for shooting I had established elsewhere in the vague notion of the game. This had the cool side effect of feeling like dueling, where you can feint, as well as punch and block.

But then what to do when a player would play an action against a terrain effect, or "Battlefield Condition" as a generic heading for stuff that didn't strictly involve model terrain (although having that pop up seemed like a nice way to speed up set-up and solve problems with parts of the board going to waste). Or against a change in victory conditions (here: "Objectives")? Here's where the turn sequence became stupidly over-complicated, and hence failed the minute I tried to put it into action. Instead of putting down cards there was all sorts of dithering with whether some actions carried over or whatnot, and given that some actions had continuous effects, since they involved accelerating, decelerating, changing course, and creating readiness to fire, that just created a combinatorial explosion of work for the players. And how would they fit into the duelling matrix of action and counter?

The answer was surprisingly simple: There are four kinds of actions: Attack, Defend, Move, and Command or Miscellaneous. Objectives and Battlefield Conditions could be played if certain Command actions were successfully played. The obstacle, I think, had been cognitive in the sense that Action::Command seems like it wouldn't be a change in objectives and a change in the battlefield, but Action::Miscellaneous makes sense in terms of hiding behind obstacles, or receiving new orders via encrypted message and so on.

This fit into the established notion that players bought the success of actions depending on the opposing action, and the cards they were will to burn out of hand for that purpose, a notion of initiative or order of play, and rounds consisting of combinations of actions. In addition, I had arrived at the notion of the Crew being a system that defined how many cards a player could hold in hand. Light damage, the usual killing of exactly three servitors, followed by Heavy Damage or the death of the Enginseer or Moderati, and Overkill being the excision of the Princeps, decapitation of the Titan, and so on. Although I think it would be better to call them the Command and Control system because some robots might be...autonomous! Similarly I had the notion of calling the Mobility system the Propulsion system. Yeah, I suck at names, so what?

So now players have Strategy deck that they can create, consisting of Action, Objective, and Battlefield (nee Conditions) cards, and a Titan consisting of System cards. They have to play their cheapest (and hence hardest to achieve) Objective card at the beginning of the game. Then they draw a hand allowed by their Titan's Command & Control system. Initiative goes to the player that has the fewest cards (and hence the fewest to burn on reclaiming the initiative) and deploys first, followed by the player without the initiative. The round starts.

At the beginning of the round, the players get to bid cards from their hand in capturing the intiative. The player without the initiative will have to bid higher to seize the initiative, weighing the advantage of resolving first against the cost in cards, and in declaring first. The player with the initiative then plays an action card, and the player without the initiative gets to play an action card in response. Then the player with the initiative resolves their succesful action first. Unsuccessful actions aren't resolved, but states in play are. For example, a Titan may be plodding along at 6" per round and attempt Move (Halt), fail, and plow into a building raised by an opponent successfully playing a Command (Battlefield Object: Building) card. Having plowed into the building, the Titan may be damaged, depending on which system it lead with, may be slowed down depending on its Propulsion system's traction, and the building itself may be knocked down.

What I think I need to do is have the turn sequence be sliced up like so:

1. Attempt to seize the initiative.
2. Declare actions (initiative 1st, ~initiative 2nd)
3. Buy success (initiative 1st, ~initiative 2nd)
3. Resolve events given successful action (initiative 1st, ~initiative 2nd)
5. Check whether objectives in play are obtained.
6. Restock hand from Strategy deck

Things to do:

1. Re-write main rules document. Actions no longer whole of events.
2. Re-write Strategy deck cards, particularly Command cards.
3. Change all instances of Mobility System to Propulsion system, create Command & Control System cards.
4. Print it all out. Conduct manual editing.
5. Play-test.     

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