Monday, May 22, 2023

Battle Report: Darkest Knights- Breakthrough!


This will be a playtest of the most recent solo/Co-op/Versus game I have been working on tentatively called Darkest Knights.  The game is based on a group of specialist agents assembled to face off-against the growing threat of monster incursions across the globe.  The key ideas of this game is that it is completely scale and model agnostic, all games happen at night or dark places of the world, escalating tension, and players do not have a clear vision of what they will encounter until the game is being played.  That means a lot of blinds and random components as you play.

So with that preamble out of the way, this playtest features our brave monster hunters trying to get one side of the 36MU board to the other side before the Terror Rating hits 12.  I'm not sure if it can be done, so let's see how it goes? 

The Darkest Knights
Today's group of heroes features 4 models: 

Officer Dan Friendly 
Shoot                  Fight                   Brawn                Brains                Awareness
d12                      d4                        d6                        d8                        d10
Archetype: Leader                                                                  Keyword: Awareness
Starting Equipment: Battle rifle, Low-light goggles, pistol

Professor Stan Ellsing
Shoot                  Fight                   Brawn                Brains                Awareness
d6                         d8                        d4                        d12                        d10
Archetype: Magician                                                                  Keyword: Awareness
Starting Equipment: Magic Tome, Occult Hand Weapon, Pistol

Agent Red
Shoot                  Fight                   Brawn                Brains                Awareness
d10                       d8                        d4                      d12                        d6
Archetype: Face                                                        Keyword: Brains
Starting Equipment: Pistol/Suppressor

Ms. Jones
Shoot                  Fight                   Brawn                Brains                Awareness
d4                       d12                        d10                      d6                        d8
Archetype: Warrior                                                        Keyword: Fight
Starting Equipment: Hand weapon, Pistol, Light Body Armor

First three are Reaper Bones, last is Reaper Metal

The Foes
The Foes are a series of Deep One style opponents using models from a variety of sources: 

D4- Frog Swarms- Horde
D6- Mutants- Aggressive
D8- Deep Ones - Stalkers
D10- Savage Ones- Beast, Aggressive
D12- Magus- Occult or Tentacle Beast - Beast

These are from Mantic, Hell Boy Board Game and Blood Bowl

In this game, the board develops during play.  I am using a 36MU by 30MU table, with 1 MU = 1 inch. 

In addition, I grabbed 3 large pieces of terrain, and 6 small ones.  The large ones are a big mountain, a building, and a barn.  The smaller terrain is rocks, destroyed walls, and some other low walls. There are also 4 shadowpoints to start with. 

The Shadowpoints are gate looking models from the Hellboy board game.  Threat markers are black,  and the Terrain markers are clear.  The white markers are used to track Fear on the side board.  I wish I had brought my Cigar Box Battles mat for this game.  

It looks like there are a lot of Shadowpoints where the team needs to Exfiltrate from the board. <Gulp!>

Turn 1- 0 Terror Markers
Ms. Jones is activated first.  The first question is if I want to try to get LOS farther than her normal 6 with an activation test.  However, I decide not to risk it, and just move towards the closest threat marker to see what it is.  Not a good start as it spawns 2 Frog Swarms, and that causes 1 Terror token! 

Officer Friendly activates next, and chooses to use his Command ability to have Ms. Jones attack the Frog Swarms.  She rushes forward and attacks.  Things do not go well, and she fails to cause any damage to the hordes of frogs with her axe.  That was her Primary ability, so another Terror token is added, bringing us to 2. 

Agent Red rushes forward her full move to the center of the board.  She is followed by the Professor.  

The Monsters go next, as the Knights did not fail any activation checks. The Frog Swarms successfully lock Ms. Jones into combat, so she can not disengage, but fail to cause any injury.  However, Ms. Jones is not rolling well as she is now suppressed. 

The remaining Threat Markers move around the board.  No new Threats are spawned..... this time. 

Turn 2- 2 Terror Tokens
The Players can activate first.  Professor Ellsing tries to activate special so he can get a further view forward in the dark.  However, he fails and is paralyzed by fear.  The Terror tokens go up 1 level.  

This also allows the Monsters to take over.  This time, the Frog Swarms attacking Ms. Jones manage to score a hit, and I must choose an attribute to reduce by 1.  I choose her Brawn to go to d8.  However, now she can try to disengage in her turn and is no longer locked.  

Instead, Ms. Jones chooses to attack again, but another terrible roll leaves her in a bad place.  Terror goes up another level due to the flub!  It was in her primary attribute!  

Officer Friendly moves forward and goes "Eyes On" with his low-light goggles.  However, no markers are in range.  Agent Red rushes forward.  

Despite now having 4 Terror Tokens, no new Threats are spawned.  The remaining markers move about the board randomly but none enough to reveal any markers.  

Turn 3 - 4 Terror Tokens
Officer Friendly moves forward, and his "Eyes On" status reveals 4 Mutants coming in.  That adds another 1 Terror token, up to 5.  After the reveal, Agent Red moves forward to the closest Shadowpoint, and prepares to seal it with the arcane rituals she was taught before the mission started. 

This time Ms. Jones manages to pull herself together and manages to smash several of the frogs and scatter 1 of the swarms!  Yippee.  Finally, Professor Ellsing casts a Teleport spell and successfully moves up next to the Shadowpoint with Agent Red. 

The Shadowpoint near Agent Red and Professor Ellsing ripples and swirls, putting the two nearby on edge.  However, it is a false alarm and no new enemies come through.  However, the Terror level is now 6.  

The Mutants move forward aggressively, with half heading towards Officer Friendly, and the other half going towards Agent Red.  One of the Threat Markers reveals 2 Deep One stalkers which adds 1 more Terror Token.     

Turn 4- 6 Terror Tokens
Agent Red tries to seal off the Shadowpoint in front of her, but she fails using her primary keyword.  That raises the Terror Tokens to 7.  Officer Friendly opens fire on the mutants with his battle rifle. With burst fire, he easily takes out one of the mutants.  However, he is now considered "lit up" and easily seen. 

Ms. Jones finishes off the last Frog Swarm she is facing.  She prepares to seal the Shadowpoint before her with the arcane words she was taught prior to the mission, but they are hard to remember.  Professor Ellsing uses a Fireblast spell and toasts one of the Deep One Stalkers, with the other skittering out of sight. 

The Mutants race forwards, with two attacking Officer Friendly.  He takes two wounds and his Awareness and Shooting both go down 1 level to D10 and D6 accordingly.  The last one attacks Agent Red, but fails to hit her and causes her to be suppressed. 

Two more threat markers are spawned.  The one near Ms. Jones spews out and reveals 2 Stalkers and 1 Savage One.  The other spawns near the second Shadowpoint.  

Turn 5- 9 Terror Tokens out of 12! 
Officer Friendly tries to break-off, but the mutants thwart his efforts.  Agent Red fails to fight off the Mutant attacking her.  Professor Ellsing fails to cast a Hold spell on the mutant, raising the Terror Tokens to 10!  Ms. Jones sprints away from the enemies by Shadowpoint 1. 

Officer Friendly fends off the two mutants attacking him.  Agent Red is hit by the mutant and has her Brains reduced by 1 to d8.  

A Deep One Stalker manages to jump the sprinting Ms. Jones and attacks. However, it fails to hit her.  The Shadowpoint 4 spawns two new Savage Ones right on top of Professor Ellsing and Agent Red.  Another threat appears near Shadowpoint 3.  

Turn 6 - Terror Token 10 out of 12! 
Well, we better get moving as a unit!   

Professor Ellsing casts teleport and moves 7 MU away from the Shadowpoint.  He ends up right next to a wall.  This also spawns an Occult Leader!  Ms. Jones tries to break past the Stalker attacking her, but fails and is pinned in combat.  Officer Friendly also failed to break way and got pinned fighting with the mutants.  Agent Red killed the Mutant fighting her, but is about to be swamped by Savage Ones! 

The two Savage Ones easily team up on Agent Red and make her Unconscious and Possibly Dead.  The Mutants on Officer Friendly hit him and reduce his Brawn by 1.  Professor Ellsing is hit by a Firebolt from the Cult leader and is reduced by 5 stats, which brings him down across the board 1 level, and Awareness 2.  The Stalker also reduces Ms. Jones another level in Brawn. 

A new Threat appeared outside of Shadowpoint 4, near where Agent Red went down.  

Turn 7- 11 out of 12 Terror Tokens! 
A battered and bruised Professor Ellsing casts teleport again and gets to the edge of the board, but will need one more move to get off completely! Ms. Jones manages to pushback the Deep One Stalker and turn to face the oncoming threats.  Things look pretty bad.  Officer Friendly manages to kill one of the Mutants fighting with him up-close.  

The Savage One attacks, while the Stalkers scatter into the shadows to try and get around Ms. Jones' flanks.  It manages to cause 1 wound on the warrior, thanks to her armor she is still up and fighting.  The mutant on Officer Friendly fails to hit him.  

The monsters move around, and one of the threats turns out to be the Tentacle beast, near Ms. Jones. Two more threats are generated by Shadowpoint 2, and that puts us over 12 Terror Tokens.  There is one last disengagement turn. 

Turn 8- Disengagement Turn
Professor Ellsing manages to walk off the opposite board edge, clutching at his wounds.  Ms. Jones manages to pushback the Savage One attacking her.  However, it is only a small reprieve.  Officer Friendly is not so lucky, and the mutant stays on him.  

Ms. Jones is charged by a Savage One, a Stalker, and the Tentacled Beast and quickly dispatched to Unconscious and Possibly Dead. The Stalker and Mutant on Officer Friendly fail to injure him. 

Not a good result for our heroes! 

With that, Dawn breaks and the monsters flee back into the Shadowpoints while the portals themselves shimmer and dissipate.  A new day shines as Professor Ellsing stumbles to his destination beyond the monstrous guardians. It was a minor victory, as two of his companions have fallen.  

Now, let's talk about how the game played, then I will talk about what I did wrong as a player.  First off, the game really needs a battle mat, or the board just looks bare.  The idea that terrain spawns as you approach it seems fun and interesting, but in practice it takes away from the spectacle of the game a lot.  This may be a compromise I am not willing to make.  

This game will absolutely need a QRS to play.  The different rolls for running the randomization can be hard to recall.  However, there is a clear "escalation of threat" as the monsters appear more frequently and are harder to kill as you move on.  I also failed a surprising number of 4+ rolls on d12s and 10s this game which caused me to rack up Terror Tokens fast in the early going.  It will also help to have Character Stat cards handy when you play, as damage is attritional and can be hard to track without a small character sheet.  This makes the game feel much more RPG-lite as each Knight is a very unique character with their own skills and abilities.  

The game is intended to be a solo/co-op game and the mechanics are built around this premise.  There are a few Hooks including escalating terror and constant darkness where managing LOS is critical.  For a Solo game like this to work the key factors are, does it force me to make decisions, did it surprise me, and was I playing the game more than operating the game?  

1. Did it force me to make decisions? 
Yes.  There were a few decisions that derailed my efforts to accomplish the mission as I had to decide between movement, shooting, or fighting.  In the end, I got bogged down by the monsters and closing Shadowpoints instead of getting to the opposite board edge.  These decisions were made complicated by a combination of action options, limited number of actions to take, balancing mission vs. approaching threats, and time as the Terror Tokens stacked up.  This part of the game was successful. 

2. Did it surprise me? 
Maybe?  I am not sure it counts as surprise when monsters spawn out of the Shadowpoint you are standing on!  However, when I did generate monsters, it was normally a lot of them!  I am not sure that is typical, as there were a few times where a threat ended up being nothing, instead of monsters.  The monsters also ended up being much tougher than I expected.  However, the LOS/Darkness aspects hampered me less than I expected, and the terrain generation never really came into play.  However, the escalating Terror really forced me to change how I was operating as it stacked up really fast and things got more and more dangerous quicker than I expected!  

3.  Did I spend too much time operating the game?
This was the biggest pain point and failure of the game in my mind.  I spent too much time generating the board, generating and moving threats, and then operating the threats that had become monsters.  I spent more time doing that than running the Knights that were my characters!  There was also a lot of dice rolling for little or no result such as moving Threat markers around than were not factors in the game, or making failed monster attacks.  I am not sure how I am going to streamline this aspect of the game yet as these elements are also a key part of the experience right now.  I am open to suggestions in the comments. 

Final Thoughts
Close, but not ready for post-production yet.  The central darkness conceit needs work.  Perhaps allowing players to place d3 light sources in the set-up phase?  Maybe remove the random terrain generation? Change how Threat Markers operate on the board?  Still a lot of things to think about.  

However, there were also things that worked!  Each Knight felt like a unique character with their own special powers and abilities.  The escalating Terror worked as well, and the increasing monster difficulty was good.  The core mechanics for fighting and shooting worked well too, and gave the Knights some resiliency, but they were not unstoppable. 

In addition to working out some of the chrome, I still need to add some campaign play elements and finalize the missions.  Missions are particularly important in a game like this.  Otherwise, it loses a lot of replayability.  Plus, missions are what adds that extra level of tension and decision making.  

Overall, the game continues to progress but still needs some more TLC before it is ready for prime time. Probably another 2 years work at the rate I am going!  

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the insight in to your process.