Last time, we talked about setting the groundwork and guidelines for your game by developing the concept, creating design goals, and doing your research. You probably recall that we are going to continue to explore the concept of creating a Dinosaur Fighting game. You may also recall that as part of my process I like to develop a working title and a cover as inspiration for myself. I decided to call this project: Only the Strong Survive. As a working title, this may change through out the project if something else jumps out at me.
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Before you continue and begin to flesh-out the 4Ms, it is important review and re-consider your design goals. Remember, these are the guidelines for your project. If you forget those then your project will go off the rails and be in danger of never being finished. To me, that is the worst possible outcome!
Our design goals were:
- Gameplay that flows quickly and easily between players
- Lots of decision making for the player
- Clear differentiators between Dino types
- Scale and model agnostic
- Combat that flows freely, not locking you in
- Positioning is key
- Interesting battles between Dinosaurs 1-on-1 or in very small groups.
After reviewing the design goals, it is time to start filling in the 4Ms for your game. The 4Ms is short hand for Movement, Melee, Missiles, and Morale. They are the basic building blocks of any war game. The last step of the Concept phase of your war games project was to go do your research both on historical information but also on how other games work and play. This research will form the backbone of the mechanics you are going to put into place with the 4Ms. When this stage is done the skeleton of your game will be complete.
For a long time, my ideas around movement had been static and unchanging. Only recently have I begun to realize that movement can be cool. In addition, or design goals stipulate that positioning should be important in this game, and positioning is accomplished in the Movement phase of a game.
If you look at my other games, I tend to use 45 degree pivots, limited combat arcs, and inches/base widths to determine movement distance. These were ways to try a make Tactical Gameplay. You can see how these mechanics worked in The Games: Blood and Spectacle. At a high level, a gladiator game and a Dinosaur fighting game could have very similar mechanics.
However, for this game, I decided to go a completely different route. Since my game was scale and model agnostic, people would be bringing all different sizes of Dinos to the fight. Therefore, my usual tricks of inches and base widths would not do. Most Dinosaur toys/models are not based. After watching the tutorial video for TANKS! By Gale Force 9, I was convinced to go a different route.
Instead, I decided I would use a Movement template. Movement would be very simple. The template would be placed straight forward touching the Dino's front feet. The Dinosaur could then be placed anywhere along the template facing any direction as long as the back feet were touching the template. The template would be a simple 8 inch long template that was about an inch wide. If necessary, I could also subdivide the template so some Dinos would move different speeds such as slow, normal and fast at 4”, 6” and 8”. This handled movement and how a Dino could position itself.
A couple things to note about this movement mechanic.
- Model and scale agnostic per the Design Goals
- Different Dino Types could have different movement
- The player can decide where the Dinosaurs final position, which is a decision point
- The player has to decide which way the Dinosaur will face, a decision point
- The facing of the Dino will dictate where it can move next so positioning is key
- Movement is a quick and easy mechanic to apply
After reviewing the ideas of the mechanics with my design goals, I feel very confident that my design is on track!
This will be the heart of Only the Strong Survive. Indeed, for most Pre-gunpowder games Melee is the most important mechanics to get right. Therefore, these mechanics are critical to think through and make sure they align with your design goals.
First thing, when thinking about Dinosaurs one thing to keep in mind is that all their “weaponry” is naturally part of the beast. They can not be disarmed and all of their attacks are an extension of where their bodies can actually reach. So, a T-Rex can only bite in front and a Stegosaurus has to rely on his spiked tail's reach. Therefore, how you position the Dinosaur will have to dictate where it can attack.
To simulate this and support decision making and positioning I will need to use Combat Arcs. A combat arc is simply where a model can effectively attack due to limitations such as vision, flexibility, etc. For example, a fixed mounted gun on a WWI bi-plane can only fire ahead of the plane, while a cannon on a tank turret can be rotated to fire in any direction. Again, these arcs force players to make decisions on how they position their models and is a way to force tactical play.
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This will also apply to Dinosaurs as we talked about above. In many games, you establish combat arcs by slicing the models views into 2 or more “arcs” or zones of combat. Typically, these are forward, left flank, right flank, and rear. So, realistically we could use 4 arcs. However, after thinking through Dinosaur anatomy 4 seems like too many. Typically, a Dino could either fight to the front and his sides thanks to bending his body, or to the rear and the sides thanks to his tail. Therefore, it makes sense that the combat arcs for our Dinos will be splitting them in half to either Front or Rear arcs of 180 degrees.
Now that we know where our Dinos can attack, now we need to know how attacks will work mechanically. Typically, for basic attack and defense mechanics I prefer to use Stat lines as opposed to special rules. Stat lines hold true for all models and work the same for all models, while special rules can be unique to each model. However, my preference for stat lines does not mean that I can't layer on special rules later.
In addition to deciding how to represent melee mechanics as stats vs special rules; it is also good to consider the different phases you would like for your attacks. Typically, an attack needs to determine if an attack was successful and how successful it was. Thinking about Dino combat the core elements are did an attack strike the other Dino, and if it did how does it effect the Dino being struck. There maybe other elements to consider as well such as how does the struck Dinos armor protect it? How often can a Dino get hit by an attack? What if there is more than 1 Dino to attack in the combat arc? These are all things you will want to answer for in your game mechanics.
So, how are we going to do this? Thankfully, our research of game mechanics at the concept stage and our design goals are ready to show the way! A set of mechanics that I love is the dice pool system from the Supersystem, Chaos in..., and Blasters and Bulkheads rules. Basically models have a set of dice that can be used to both attack and a pool they can use to resist attack. They might have Brawl 4 and Endurance 3 allowing them to roll 4 dice to fight with and 3 dice to resist attack. These pools can then be used in opposed skill tests looking for a set target number of 4+. Every 4+ is considered a success. You then compare the number of successes to see who won the combat.
This is a solid core mechanic to use. It allows us to differentiate between Dinosaur types very easily and without a ton of special rules. This is a good start, but I feel like it could be better. We need more player interaction and decision making in this process to avoid it feeling like a simple dice rolling competition. One way to do this I learned from Ronin, In Her Majesty's Name, and the Batman Miniature Game. In these games you can allocate your dice pools to different actions or abilities during the game therefore forcing decision making by the player during the actual combat. This turns dice pools into more than just a fancy game of Yahtzee as you have to decide how you are going to use your dice pools.
Therefore, I envision Only The Strong Survive providing each Dinosaur a number of instinct dice that they can allocate into various stats such as attack, defend, move, special moves, etc. Certain Dinosaur types may also have limits on how many dice they can apply to various pools. So an Allosaurus might be able to apply more dice to Attack, a Raptor more to movement, and a Triceratops more to defense. In addition, a player could split these dice between different Dinos if there was more than one they were attacking or defending against. So the first T-Rex may try to chomp a Raptor with half his dice, and then try to chomp the second with the other half.
So, we know fighting will be an opposed roll between Attack dice and Defense dice. The player with the more successes wins the roll-off. In addition, the player can allocate dice before/during the fight. So, how does this meet our design goals:
- It is easy to differentiate between dino types using this system with dice pools and stat limits
- The player has to decide how to allocate and split dice
- Combat flows freely as both players need to participate by allocating dice and rolling opposed
- Positioning is important due to combat arcs
- The system can be used effectively in 1-on-1 fights as well as group battles
So far, we are on the right track. We have determined how a Dinosaur can hit another one in combat. However, we also need to determine what happens when a hit occurs? We all ready have a skeleton in place with our core mechanic of opposed dice rolls based on number of successes. The player with the most successes wins, so the question is what does having more successes allow you to do for damage, and how does a Dino that has struck reduce damage? For example, many dinosaurs have defensive plates, crests, or armor to help protect them? How do we account for this?
Armor is not an ability. It is a natural extension of the beast. Armor is always there and always working. In many Games Workshop games, after hitting you need to roll a “To Wound” roll, and then the defender gets a “Saving Throw” to ignore any hits that wound. So essentially you need to hit twice as the attacker and the defender gets a final chance to negate the hit. I like the defender being able to do something in the combat, but we have that element in the Opposed roll. Plus, I don't like having to hit twice. Finally, I all ready use opposed dice rolling as a core mechanic. Therefore, I think we can discard this approach.
However, what if we modified it? To hit, you need to roll more successes than your opponent in defense. The difference is the number of hits. If you look at Lion Rampant you need to have more hits than the armor of a model before you cause damage. So therefore, the armor can simply negate a certain number of potential hits? It is simple and easy with no extra mechanics except eliminating potential hits.
To finish off the Melee section, we need to know how getting hit impacts or injures a Dinosaur. For this, I look to games like Arena Rex, Walking Dead: All Out War, and Shadowrun. Each Dinosuar will have a “Damage Track”. Each hit will fill in a box on the Dinosaurs damage track. When so many boxes are filled in different injury effects or special rules can be triggered. When they are all filled, the Dinosaur is dead. This allows me to differentiate between Dinosaurs and build in future Chrome if I want with different effects and triggers and special rules linked to a Dinos injury state.
So, let's review our new proposed Armor and Damage track abilities with our design goals:
- It allows us to easily differentiate between Dinos
- It is scale and model agnostic
- Free flowing and easy
- Where a Dino is on the Damage Track will force decision making about what the Dino can actually accomplish
There is one final element I want to call out. In most games Melee can do one of two things. It will either “lock you in” or allow you to “Move Freely”. If a game “locks you in” then once you enter melee you can not leave until you or your opponent are dead. “Move Freely” systems allow you to move in and out of combat as you wish. Some Move Freely systems still force you to take some sort of penalty for moving out of combat. For Only the Strong Survive my design goals dictate that I use a move freely system as I want Combat that flows freely and does not lock you in.
Thankfully, Dinosaur combat does not involve a lot of missile weapons such as arrows, thrown spears, machine guns, etc. That means I will not build any unique mechanics for it in this case. However, missile rules should generally follow pretty close to your melee rules. The added element is determining who you can see and shoot at.
I can think of some Dinosaurs who can spit acid or other blinding attacks. Instead of creating more core mechanics around missile attacks to handle 1 or 2 dinosaurs, I will leave that to special rules for that Dinosaur in particular. I think it is called a Dilophosaurus and is not uncommon to see as a toy thanks to Jurassic Park.
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The final of the 4Ms and perhaps one of the most interesting. Many games do not give it much attention. However, in most wargames it is the difference between victory and defeat. Morale is basically what will make your units act in a way counter to your wishes? The most common form is when a unit or model runs away from the battle. However, it can also take the form of Command and Control and simple battlefield friction. This is the Psychological aspect of war and battle.
Only the Strong Survive will not have a strong Morale component to it. For the most part Dinosaurs are fighting for survival. Carnivores are fighting to eat, and Herbivores are fighting to stay alive. Any morale will be simply base instincts for survival.
That being said, I feel like the Damage Track could have some interesting effects built in as a Dinosaur gets injured. I could see some Dinosaurs trying to break away off the board if they get to a certain injury point such as a T-rex not fighting until they died and instead breaking off and looking for easier prey. I could also see some Dinosaurs stampeding forward or turning and fleeing such as Duck-billed or crested herbivores. I could also see some of the slower Dinos going into a rampaging frenzy when injured like an Ankylosaurus. However, these effects could be unique to each Dinosaur and built into their Damage Track.
There you have it. The Skeleton rules for Only the Strong Survive our Dinosaur Fighting Game are complete. From here, you can start formatting them and getting the basic information written down. It is possible at this stage to do some rough play testing and see how it all hangs together. However, after filling out the 4Ms you still have a long way to go to have a complete game. As you can see from out descriptions there is a lot of work to do on specifics such as Dinosaur profiles, how the units interact in a turn sequence, adding chrome to help theme the game, potential campaign systems, and scenarios are all still needed for a complete game.
Next time, we will take a closer look at activation and turn sequence and see how our basic 4Ms will work and function together within the design Goals. I look forward to this discussion as turn sequence and activation mechanics are the most interesting aspects of a games design. A good place to go to prepare to think about this is back to your research in the Concept stage and see how others have done it. Until next time.....