as you probably know, I´m still busy designing my own set of modern warfare rules named Code Red, which means I´m constantly thinking about cool mechanics and features for the game. Of course, you cannot possibly implement all your cool ideas into a single game...
And worse, once you start thinking about cool game design ideas for one game, you inevitably discover that you´re in a state of mind that produces a constant stream of ideas for other themes and conflicts while you do other things like watching youtube videos, documentaries, reading battle reports, playing other games etc.
Some of these ideas are fleeting, some stick around and clog my mind, distracting me from the game I originally set out to design. So I´m using this blogpost to dump them, hopefully getting them out of my head and storing them up safely, possibly even encouraging other designers to pick them up if I don´t find the time to do so.
First, I´ve been thinking about new ways to design a fantasy skirmish game, one that does not just result in a big mashpit and ends with total carnage. My inspiration for a possible game concept came from a mix of computer games and trading card games - especially Magic The Gathering. I´ve never delved deep into this game, but the fact that you control "land" (i.e. sources of power) and "creatures" (i.e. units on the battlefield), playing a powerful avatar yourself lends itself ideally to a tabletop adaption if you ask me.
Combining the aspects of strategic deck building and positioning of your units on the tabletop is an approach I´ve yet to see in a tabltop game (granted, I haven´t seem or played all the options out there, but I´ve never even heard of one). The concept is explained quickly:
Your only starting unit is an avatar representing a sorcerer or warlock of sorts. The tabletop is not only scattered with terrain, but also places of power that are required to cast spells and summon creatures.
The gameplay would focus on capturing these key places of power to fuel the expansion of your force (or reducing/debuffing the opposing force) by playing cards from your hand with the ultimate goal being something entirely disconnected from this battle over ressource points (depending on the game scenario, anything from killing the opposing avatar to performing an important ritual or investigating another powerful place on the map).
This would result in something entirely different from most tabletop skirmished, where people set up their fixed forces, move them up and clash somewhere on the map. Not only does it add a great deal of uncertainty (what exactly is the opponent bringing to the table at which point?), it also enables players to counter enemy strategies if they have brought a well balanced force. Your opponent is fielding a very strong and expensive units? Well, just avoid him and capture the places of power he cannot control for the lack of other units. But beware, if you try this, you might well find out that your opponent has a spell that slows you down and enables that big damage dealer to catch up...
To keep the game interesting, all units and spells would have to be balanced carefully - my idea here is to use a rock-paper-scissors approach with opposing aspects, possibly oriented on the typical attributes of the four elements. Fire = units with high damage output; Air = fleeting, quick units that focus on maneuver; Earth = resilient, tanky units and Water = delaying, supporting and controlling units to channel and contain your enemies strength.
Right now, it´s just a collection of ideas, but I think the concept has some potential and if I can figure out how to translate this into a good prototype... it might well be my next project after Code Red is done.
The second idea that has been floating in my mind throughout the last week is a mechanic idea, one that could be used for a lot of games. Here, I´m not quite sure if some games haven´t already implemented an idea along this line, but I still want to encourage the concept.
Did it ever occur to you that retreat in a game is rarely a serious option for a player? If faced with a bad outcome of a fight, players usually keep their units around, hoping to inflict maximum damage or delay the enemy as long as possible OR their units are forced into retreat.
The basic idea behind the mechanic I´ve been thinking about is to make retreat a viable choice. Problem is: Tabletop Wargames are usually over at some point and unless you´re playing a campaign, there is little incentive to retreat and preserve your units.
My idea to remedy this problem is to introduce a mechanic that actually reduces damage as you retreat your units, giving you an incentive to fall back long before your unit breaks because the rules forced that result upon them. Implemented properly, this would facilitate more maneuver and conscious commitment of units, leading to a more fluid games are objectives are taken not only by annihilating units, but also by forcing the opponent to fall back in order to preserve his fighting strength by trading ground for casualties. Maybe not so much a skirmish mechanic, but suitable for bigger, grand-tactical games.
The last concept is even more abstract and builds on my experience with Naval Wargames. All naval games I´ve heard of put the individual warships into the focus of the game, which usually ends up with a detailed damage simulation of individual ship stats, rolls to hit for each gun and subsequent target effects. This is fine for smaller skirmish games, but becomes very tedious in larger games - and as Dreadnaughts and the grand navies of WW1 have been my favourite Naval period so far, I frequently run into trouble with engagements that are either small and very nice but lack the grandeur of WW1 naval warfare - or running into walls with the game systems as they require so much management and bookkeeping, even if they achieve to reduce the die rolling to a playable amount.
So, I´m proposing a game that focuses on the grand fleet actions, with ship formations as your basic unit of combat resolution rather than focusing on the single ships and clogging my table with detailed sheets for each of my hundred units. In my vision, such a game should convey the same feeling as reading a wikipedia entry on the battle itself, focussing on maneuvers of squadrons, on the overall damage state of your ships and critical events worth reporting in a history book. To do this, I don´t care if my cruiser has 346 out of 398 hit points and his two secondary turrets on the left are disabled. If I cannot display all the data I require to play the game on 1-2 sheets of paper, I´m either playing the wrong game or with too many ships.
I must admit though that I did not do much research, there might be a game out there that does just what I´m asking for - if anybody knows such a system, please leave a comment with directions where to find it :)
Now, with all these ideas written down here, I hope I can focus on designing good mechanics for generating interesting scenarios in Code Red...