Sunday, December 30, 2012

Campaign System December Updates - Part 3

In yesterdays entry I talked about the new game mechanism that will be added soon (probably in Campaign turn 6). With the new system, we´ll reintroduce Fog of War cards into our tabletop games. The twist is that the FoW-Cards are a ressource within the campaign system, that have to be earned and "distributed" on the scenarios, as players build their decks for every mission. Read Part 2 for more details, everything is covered there!

Today, I´ll speak about the balancing aspects of this system.  On the first glance this new mechanism probably doesn´t need too much balancing. The most important questions in this regard is the development of the FoW-Cards: We don´t want too much free resources (e.g. tanks or whole Fireteams popping up out of nowhere), but modifiers that give you an edge, a small tactical advantage or new opportunities to strike. On the other hand, I´d like to implement some tactical assets (Free Air Support, IEDs, etc.). 
This means we´ll have to make up some rought design philosophy of what is OK and what is not – and the distribution of cards has to be considered as well. Giving the Insurgents lots of IEDs and almost no Air Support for the US would probably cause some irritation. This is the part where balancing matters need to be considered. But that had to be done anyway, if we ever wanted to reuse FoW-Cards in our game. In fact, this system provides an elegant solution to the problem we had with FoW-Cards: Under normal circumstances, adding FoW-Cards would put another responsibility on the shoulders of the game master, as he has to choose which cards should be used as a deck for the respective mission and which are not applicable. This can easily go wrong and favour one side too much. It´s already hard to design the VP conditions, FoW-Cards would make things harder.

The system circumvents this problem, as the players are now responsible for shaping their FoW-deck. The game master cannot be blamed for wrong choices of the players. The system is transparent and known to everyone – no discussion about why that player got this card and vice versa. He earned them (by controlling villages) and draw them. He was lucky enough and was able to use the opportunity he had created by good planning.

Apart from this aspect of card design, the second aspect that needs some testing & balancing is: How many cards will be needed per game (and should be generated on average per campaign turn). Having too few cards available will have the system running below its capacity. Half of the systems intricacies will not come to bear, as resources would be too tight. There should be a small deck of cards in every game. The opportunity to buy additional cards from other ingame-currencies (COIN or Cells) could circumvent this problem, but this might also lead to positive feedback circles, so the price must be high enough (but not too high)...
On the other hand, we don´t want too many cards. Having too many available will make things boring, as the resource-management aspects of the mechanic won´t work properly. If you have the same card available for every mission, there´s not much choosing: You can use it anytime anyway and half of the cards wouldn´t matter anymore, because they´re lost in this turn but redrawn in the next one. You´ll hit the point where you can gather so many cards that you don´t have to manage anything meaningful anymore – only a huge mass of cards that are not really worth much. FoW-Card-inflation ;)

Apart from these two aspects, I can see no bad implications. For a start, I´d like to aim for something like 5-10 cards as player decks (per player & scenario). With 10-20 FoW-cards per game this is probably a smaller deck then normally used, but in my experience the number of drawn cards is somewhere in that range, which means players won´t build much larger decks than that anyway + maybe a safety margin. (I´m seriously interested in reports from more experienced players! How large would your deck be, if you had sufficient cards available?).

So far, we´ve played 4 campaign turns with 6 engagements, which equals 1.5 engagements per turn on average. Our current (5th) campaign turn will probably have 2 battles, maybe even three. That would increase the rate to about 1.6 to 1.8 scenarios per turn. Though more engagements have to be expected as the US pushed deeper into the valley we´ll stick with this observation for now.

With 5-10 cards per player – we´ll take 8 as a mean, rounded up from 7.5 – this means that approx. and on average 25-30 cards that should be available per turn. Right now, we´ve 9 built-up-areas on our map, which means that a support-value ranging from -2 to +2 would not be enough, as only a maximum of 18 cards could be provided this way. How do we tackle this problem?

  • Option 1 is to increase the range of potential support-values to a larger margin (e.g. -4 to +4). 
  • Option 2 is to introduce more built-up-areas (BUAs) into the map (adding some farming villages in the greenzone). 
  • Option 3 is to add a factor to each BUA according to its importance (e.g. factor 3 for the densely populated city center of el Qualeed, factor 2 for the outskirts of the city and factor 1 for the villages).
Option 1 would yield more cards on the extremes (up to 36 if every village is completely controlled) and it would require more effort per city to build up local support to the highest possible level. The problem is that it doesn´t change much if cities are not extremely supportive of either side. If all cities are contested and fought over, nothing changes from the initial problem.

Option 2 would introduce more objectives, which would require further resources to control – so this is probably not a good idea to implement as a “patch” into the ongoing campaign. Furthermore, it causes a new kind of problem: More areas → more fighting → more scenarios → more FoW-Cards needed! Ouch! That might not help to fix the problem but worsen it! 
Option 3 requires some more calculation, as each area has its own factor. But it is probably the least interference with the map as it is now and provides the best results. In my opinion, its the best way to solve the shortcomings of a campaign map that was not designed with this feature in mind from the start. It keeps the game scale limited and doesn´t cause nasty feedback-circles like Option 2. Furthermore, it adds some differentiation in the importance of the targets. Controlling key cities might be more important than holding rural strips of land – but urban combat is also harder and nastier, which is kind of a trade-off, as this part of the challenge is also present on the Tabletop!

With option 3, El Qualeed would provide a maximum of 14 cards if completely dominated by one party (2x3 for the city center, 2x2 for the two outer districts). The villages would contribute up to 10 cards and the dam and its hydroelectric plant should probably be valued with a factor of 2 as well, contributing another max. 4 points. That way, we reach a sum of 28 cards at maximum local support. Which is about right. Additional cards have to be bought! This encourages good management of your cards and keeps the size of the card pools below the threshold of burdening the player

Option 3 also adds some non-linearity to the control of different areas. Improving local opinion in a city can increase your card-generation by up to 3 cards per point increase in Support-Value, while it´s only 1 in a village.

 Coming back to our example from Part 2: 

Controlling Mayasaf, the US player gains 3 cards (2 for Mayasaf West, 1 for Mayasaf East) and needs to spend COIN on more cards, or he might run into unexpected trouble within the scenarios. Mul Qasr doesn´t yield any bonus. The Taliban would generate a substential amount of cards: El Qualeed would generare 12 cards (6 for the center, 4 for the western district, 2 for the eastern district), the Hydroelectric dam would contribute 4 cards, and Mursaba would generate another 4 cards. In total, the Taliban would draw 18 cards into their player pool for this campaign turn.
The exact values are still subject to testing & evolution, but I think they are a good starting point.

However, as we didn´t play too many game with FoW-cards, so I cannot make a very confident assertion in this manner. As I´ve hinted in the text, I´d be very interested in your experience with FoW-Cards. I know they are highly variable with some games almost having none drawn and some generating a multitude of events. But I´d still be interested if you agree with my reasoning or if your experience tells you that my assumptions are wrong. So, the questions for you, dear reader:
  1. How many FoW-cards are drawn in a usual FoF-game (6-8 turns, 2-3 Squads) in your experience?
  2. How many cards would you put into your average FoW Mission-Deck and what would be your maximum number considering you loose all cards after the game regardless if drawn or not?
Please answer in the comment section, your input would be greatly appreciated and could save us some development time that would be required for answering them by trial and error. And feel free to add some further comments or suggestions!

On the 1st of January, I´ll put up the promised group-pics from the christmas calendar.

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