Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Updating Our Project Design Goals

Welcome back everyone! Now that we're resuming work, we need to discuss an updated list of goals for the project.

I think that there's a general consensus that we no longer want to compete with 40K in terms of sheer scale. The casual (BoLS) crowd has always seemed to be more comfortable with 1500 points or less in 40K, and my own experiences with Flames of War has convinced me that we could have a great game at 1000-1200 40K points on a standard 6'x4' table. Where instead of pushing around 15-20 'things' around (troop units, heroes, transports, tanks/mechs), we concentrate on between 5 and 9 for a typical game.

Instead of 'Company Sized' battles, we'll have 'Platoon Sized' ones, with a couple of support options. Thus limiting the number of tanks, fliers, and whatnot to flavorful, but not overpowered, levels. Much as the new Bolt Action WWII game has done. Which was designed, BTW, by Rick Priestly and Alessio.

This also will allow current 40K players, who are used to 2000 point games, to more easily try our system. Since they'll be able to cherry pick appropriate models from their collection with a minimum of new purchases.

With that in mind, I'll list some design goals for our project:
  1. Be Appealing To Current 40K Players
  2. Be Clearly Written And Unambiguous
  3. Avoid The Use Of Game Mechanics That Lead To Subjective Arguments Between Players
  4. Create A More Deterministic Game Than 40K By Removing Inappropriate Randomness
  5. Make Sure That All Missions Are Competitively Balanced
  6. Provide Clear Terrain Guidelines For Competitive Play
  7. Provide A Standardized Tournament Scoring System
  8. Reduce Play Time By At Least One-Third Over Similar-Sized 40K Games
  9. Provide Ways In The Core Ruleset To More Meaningfully Differentiate Factions/Races
  10. Introduce More Interesting Weapon And Defense Mechanics Into The Game
  11. Competitively Balance All Factions And Update Them Together
  12. Update Rules When Problems Are Found By The Community
I'll now discuss these in detail...

Be Appealing To Current 40K Players

Let's be honest, we all want to play games with monsters, lasers, and robots. But 40K just isn't a fun way to do that anymore. Yet we still play it because there's no better option available. We aim to be that option.

Yet we can't, as a game, fall too far from the 40K tree. We still need to be 28mm. We still need to roll dice and be compatible with GW/Mantic/Chapterhouse models. If someone walks up and sees 2 guys playing our game, they should at first confuse it with a game of 40K. But then wonder why the models aren't moving and fighting the same way. They should then become impressed with how much more tactical the game seems. How the leaders and heroes seem more important to the action, and how the forces each player uses seem so much more interesting than taking 5-6 of the exact same unit/transport. And finally, how the aliens move, shoot, and fight differently from the humans. Or how the little dudes in power armor really do seem like walking tanks instead of cannon fodder.

And finally, how little it would cost them to try out this interesting new game.

This is what Mantic achieved with Kings of War, their Fantasy alternative.

Be Clearly Written And Unambiguous

Fifth Edition 40K was bad enough, but 6th is an absolute nightmare in this regard. While the structure of the rules presentation saw some improvements, the rules themselves are even more of a mess. As much from their impenetrable grammar as from their flawed conception. Literally, no two people can read them and come away with the same understanding of the game.

My gold standard in terms of rules clarity (for a 40K-like game) right now is Flames of War V3. Where each rule is explained casually, then specifically, then with diagrams just in case a particular rule might not be clear.

Avoid The Use Of Game Mechanics That Lead To Subjective Arguments Between Players

Basically, we're going to remove all of the big argument starters from these kinds of games. Both to speed things up and to reduce stress.

For instance, we'll modify 'True Line Of Sight' much as Flames has done. Where certain terrain features (woods) will block anything behind them beyond a certain range. Instead of arguing about which model is closest for wound allocation, we'll lay down a template and prioritize the models underneath it. Instead of having blast weapons scatter, we'll just lay down a template and roll to hit any models covered by it. Simple.

Create A More Deterministic Game Than 40K By Removing Inappropriate Randomness

I think that ideally, we should only have dice rolls for shooting, close combat attacks, psychic effects (not casting), and leadership. Movement should be set amounts. No rolling for distance in difficult terrain or number of shots from a gun. No ramshackle tables. No random damage charts for vehicles. No random 'Warlord' powers, or other such needless randomness.

The purpose of randomness should be to provide a carefully designed degree of uncertainty for an action. Randomness should never be used to provide 'flavor' or 'fun' results for mere laughs. Because we want player skill to be the most important decider of who wins a game. Flavor and fun should come from the core mechanics of the rules. Where actions can be made different and interesting for a unit/faction without being randomized nonsensically.

Make Sure That All Missions Are Competitively Balanced
Provide Clear Terrain Guidelines For Competitive Play
Provide A Standardized Tournament Scoring System

Competitive play requires clear standards in order for the results of competitive events to have any meaning. Therefore we need to provide these. It will also allow us to dictate terrain standards that don't simply devolve into uninteresting paintball-arena layouts such as those found at the NOVA Open. As well as allow us to define a variety of missions that mix up how the game is played at competitive events without the missions being 'Ard Boyz style random garbage.

Reduce Play Time By At Least One-Third Over Similar-Sized 40K Games

Parts of 40K, such as wound allocation and flyer mechanics, have gotten bogged down in overly-complex procedures that grind the game itself to a halt. While other parts of 40K are much too simplified (such as Morale).

We'll aim for a simpler overall game that plays faster. Though some parts may become more complex than their corresponding 40K feature, it's because we're balancing out the complexity and providing additional options for interest where they didn't exist before.

Introduce More Interesting Weapon And Defense Mechanics Into The Game

40K has gotten into a rut where new weapons and defenses only seem to affect the number of dice you use to penetrate with or give you additional saving throws (Feel No Pain, Look Out Sir!).

We'll seek to bring some imagination into these stale mechanics and, for instance, make a laser weapon meaningfully different from slug-throwing weapons. Lasers, for instance, might roll a to-hit die for each point of strength. Making them very reliable hitters, but less reliable at wounding. While slug weapons would be less likely to hit but be more likely to wound when they do.

Competitively Balance All Units/Factions And Update Them Together

Every unit should have a purpose and be good in some context. Every army should be competitive. Like Flames, we won't publish just one Force Org or list template per faction, but many. Accommodating the various ways that folks want to play with their forces. While limiting the options available to each so that you can't simply spam the best units.

You want infantry? That's cool, but your tank options will be limited. You want Tanks? Cool, but you won't get a lot of great defensive options (infantry) to go with them. Basically, you'll only get multiples of whatever unit type is core to a particular list template.

Update Rules When Problems Are Found By The Community

This is the biggie. M42 is going to be a collaborative community effort, not something developed in secret and handed down from on-high. I can't do this alone. Nobody can. We'll make all sorts of mistakes and bad assumptions in the course of our development efforts. But if we listen to the community and communicate with them openly and honestly, we'll fix our problems as they arise and make a great wargame that no company following an traditional closed process can hope to match in quality.

That's it. What did I miss?

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