Saturday, June 21, 2014

FIMP - The Last Building Blocks - Objectives

I´ve some time at hand today, so I´m using it to write down some of my thoughts on my set of Houserules for Force on Force  - the Force on Force Improvement Project (FIMP) - as this has been a good way to get some more structure into my thoughts in the past. Sometimes, just writing things down can help a great deal to develop ideas even more.

The Improvement Project has undergone a great evolution in the past few months, from a simple set of alternative rules to resolve firefights to a comprehensive and interlocking set of mechanisms that tranform the entire game. The overall experience of my last games using FIMP has been a great improvement over all the aspects that bugged me with standard FoF. You really have to pay attention to your positioning, how you advance your troops and who´s able to cover their advance. Just shooting at things will usually not kill it, only through maneuver (backed up by enough fire) you´ll make real headway against your opponents.

So after the last revision, my task has merely been balancing and tweaking, the usual finetuning of the major rule mechanisms that are in place and my attention has shifted more towards scenario design. In this field, a lot of aspects are still available for improvement. My ultimate goal is to build a scenario generator that allows you to put together a good and balanced scenario within a short amount of time and without investing hours of playtesting. It´s not supposed to become the usual "build up two lists of equal forces and slug it out", but a more subtle tool that involves objectives as part of the army list. I´m aiming to create a tool that allows the creation of balanced scenarios using imbalanced forces - a small force that defends an objective against a larger formation with the task of delaying it,  Insurgents who aim not to hold the ground but inflict maximum casualties before disengaging, and the like - all the while the scenario should be winnable by both sides.
It´s a daunting task, but if I can make it work it will be most valuable for the creation of scenarios. Some of the corner stones are already set, most of the work to be done is more balancing and valuing the objectives.

And another important point - game turn limits. While developing the FIMP-mechanisms, I dispensed with the fixed scenario time limit of Force on Force. One reason was that they where not compatible with the new command and control system that replaces lengthy turns by more shorter turns with less (and a somewhat random number of) activations. Any fixed turn limit would end the game before there´s any realistic chance to win the game for at least one party. So I threw it out.

The result was (predictably) that games tended to run for quite a number of turns until it was very clear that one side didn´t have a chance of winning. Often, the turning point wasn´t very clear at all and with some luck, one faction could have overcome the situation with some luck...
So the more I played, the more I realised why other systems do use turn limits, army breaking points or other clear cut conditions for ending a scenario, because the lack of a clear cut end point stretches the game to a lengthy affair up to a point where it´s not that enjoyable anymore.

Long story short: I think I need to re-introduce the clock. Even if it may feel artificial, it´s an essential part of the suspension in the game. Knowing the game can end before you want it to end can put some real strain on you and forces tougher decisions than having all the time in the world.

However, fixed turn limits still suck, so I needed to devise another method, preferably something that integrates well with existing mechanisms, something players can influence to some degree, with more choices to make...

Of course, anything ending the game should either have some connection to the morale and organisation of either force, or the objectives taken or controlled. I wanted to avoid the usual slugfest and carnage that is encouraged by mechanisms that aim at pinning or destroying enemy units, so my first approach was to look at the objectives to give them more importance.

The basic idea is that objectives generate some kind of token which accumulate over time while you hold them, until you ultimately reach the threshold to win the game. A proper canditate for these "tokens" immediately came to mind: Fog of War cards. In FIMP, they supply a little bonus (a bonus that does matter however small it may seem) and can be collected for later or used outright. Collecting a certain amount of them to end the game certainly adds another twist as there is a conflict between short term needs and long term wants.

So, basic vision: Any controlled objective generates a fog of war card each turn, which can be used in three different ways: Collect them either for later use or to end the game if you have enough, use them for their effect or discard a card to force your opponent to discard one of his (effectively giving you some degree of control over the game length while bleeding you dry of short-term boni). Holding objectives becomes important to force an opponent to attack and holding onto them long enough will automatically end the game.

One problem looms large here: How to handle the different kind of objectives? Simple take-hold stuff is easy, but how about objectives like "X VP per enemy KIA" - they are more like on-off objectives and should not generate tokens on a per-turn basis, as the situation cannot be reversed. Once you have suffered your KIA, there´s no way to bring him back to life. Same with destroyed vehicles, disabled hotspots, evacuated vehicles or dependents. Anything that´s not a terrain feature to be held.

Two ways to handle these are: Award no tokens for them - they just supply VP if you achieve the task, which ultimately decide the game.
The other way: Draw a card each time the objective is achieved - one card whenver a vehicle is blown up for a "per vehicle destroyed" objective, and so on.

I´m leaning towards option two, but I´ll have to test if that makes certain objectives too powerful, as they would not only supply the VP but also the means to end the game when you please. So the effect is doubled up and combined with the usually bad nature for the opponent, this could be just a little too much.

We´ll see. I´ll do some playtest tomorrow and see how it works.
Regular warfare with clearly defined objectives is so much easier to design than irregular warfare scenarios ;)

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