Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Six Of A Kind

After a short break in development progress, last night saw the biggest solo playtest yet.

Using my new muddy gaming mat (yay, no more Guild Ball pitches!) I set out to try a full 6-a-side game with weapon abilities. This was pretty much the full playtest rules.

Board set up – blue areas are deployment corners
I had not prepped for the game and decided to construct my two warbands on the fly before I started. I purposefully chose similar builds – each included axes, hammers, crossbow, bow, spellcaster and sword/dagger combos.

The 'blue team' deploy by the chapel
For those of you interested I used models from my Zombicide Black Plague collection again: Morgan, Morrigan, Scowl, Cadence, Thunderguts and Johanne on the 'blue team' (due to dice colour used) – Ariane, Megan, Glynda, Rodney, Hitch and Xuxa on the 'orange team'. Their profiles were thrown together in haste and were a little underpowered in the main, coming in at around 300-330 points per character. But that was not the point of the game – I was testing weapon rules and 6-a-side.

Glynda and Rodney charge out to meet Scowl, already at the Shrine
The board felt small with so many characters and terrain when I set things up, but that was not the case once the game started. With the main focus being the Glory Shrine in the centre of the board (Aetherium Node on a 50mm base) I also worried things would get bogged down, but given the different roles that characters had, that too was not an issue until the final turn or two when everyone piled in to try and tip the balance of combat.

Morrigan lurks by the chapel, waiting to pounce on Xuxa
The game itself was fun – considering I was playing by myself. In the opening turn Scowl ran for the Shrine and Morgan used Repulse to push him into contact. Hitch and Xuxa ran for the Glory Tokens whilst Cadence tried some cheeky early bow shots.

Xuxa grabs the Glory Token, but needs to get back in the fight!
Glynda and Rodney made it to the Shrine to prevent an interact, then jumped into combat with Scowl, forcing Morrigan to change his plans and charge in to support. Hitch and Xuxa both picked up the Glory tokens unchallenged but only managed to roll 1 Glory each. Had it been worth it to lose two characters from the main fight? Time would tell.

Combat at the Shrine gets nasty
By this point, I had noticed a couple of things. First of all, I was forgetting a lot of the little rules, due in part to the break since gaming but also because the weapon rules weren't written on the character cards, and juggling 12 characters was a lot. Must be better prepared next time. The other thing was that there was not a lot of damage being inflicted. This was down to some amazing dice rolling in defence (or poor attack dice rolling), but also down to the fact that a lot of characters were LVL 5+. Something else to think about – too many Soldiers and not enough Champions!

Thunderguts smells blood
After a good round of Shooting by Cadence, Megan found herself in a bit of trouble and Thunderguts smelled blood. He went racing across the table to take down the caster next turn, supported by more Cadence bow shots. However, the Activation cards were not complying and Megan got to go first, healing herself and walking out of line of sight and charge range. Thunderguts decided he was better off grabbing Glory from the Shrine that had been strangely vacated.

The first casualty – Glynda
Things then got intense in the middle of the board. With Thunderguts and Johanne now in contact with the Shrine, the opposing war band jumped into action to prevent any more Interacts. Hitch came screaming in out of nowhere to attack Johanne, whilst Ariane and Xuxa jumped into the main combat. Alas, it wasn't enough as Glynda became the first casualty – Scowl's Bleed inflicting the final damage.

The game grinds to an end
Things started to grind a little from here as I found myself going through the motions of combat to see how it turned out. Scowl did technically kill Ariane – she had 1 STA left and 2 Bleed counters meaning she would die in the End Phase – but she was Healed by Megan before the end of the turn and survived. Johanne and Rodney were both taken out but that was it for casualties. The blue team finished the game with three characters on 2 STA and another on 1 STA, but the orange team just couldn't do enough to finish them off and grab the Glory.

The game finished 11 – 4 to the blue team.

Megan watches and waits for her moment to strike

Having 6 characters in a war band was great. It felt more like a team and with everyone having specific roles to play, there were moments of great teamwork. We also got to see some great outnumbering in combat. I did get distracted from the main objective of gaining Glory at times, in favour of a good fight but, all in all, it was a good game. A few more lessons learned.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

It's A Kind Of Magic

Magic The Gathering

The rules for The Dark Crucible have reached a point where I have a completed first draft. The combat mechanics and the Stamina mechanic have been tested a lot and though the points values for creating characters are still a bit arbitrary, it works in a clunky kind of way – enough to create a warband to play at least.

Battle at the shrine of the Lego Fish god
There was no playtesting last week, but before that I had a quick blast through one evening. A no-frills match up with multiple ranged weaponry on either side and no terrain. I tested crossbows for the first time (that were way too strong at first) as well as corner deployment, which went better than I thought. Having no real room to deploy meant you pretty much just dumped the figures in the available space – no strategy involved – and they looked like they were getting out of a lift.

Whilst this may seem on the surface to be a bad thing, it fits in with the 'quick game' aesthetic of The Dark Crucible and cuts out a lot of time wasted while players mull over deployment positions for individual figures.

I also changed the amount of Glory claimed by players both at the shrine and from killing opponents. Using a single D3 here made things a bit more level and meant that one warband didn't race out in front.

From what I recall the game was finished in record time (no surprise there then!) and there wasn't much in it at the end, a couple of Glory tops. Despite the quick game it turned out to be a very valuable session and probably caused the lull in activity the following week as things felt like they were falling into place somewhat.

Today's shrine is the Nefarious Clone god

Tonight, however, I wanted to take things up a notch. Not only did I use 4 characters per side, the new additions were spellcasters. I wanted to see exactly how much impact they would have on proceedings. In true scientific style the casters were effectively identical in terms of stats (although Grim looks mighty different to Baldric).

First of all, having four characters bobbing around the 2'x2' arena was an interesting development. I'll be keen to try 6-a-side just as a one off experience and see if the area feels too small. I have no doubt it will be more brutal. With the extra person there was a bit more ganging up in melee, so much so I ran out of dice for the bonuses.

The big thing that was observed was that characters were surviving much longer. I only lost three all game, which is unheard of so far, thanks to the spellcasters. There will be a danger that the spellcaster becomes the linchpin to the warband, as the Heal spell is very valuable indeed. Both casters also had Repulse, which allows them to push a model directly away, and this was used (or attempted) against both friendly and enemy models. Interestingly, it was often saved by the enemy models, mostly due to the few number of dice rolled by the casters (who were both AGI 3 so only rolling 2 dice). The same thing happened with their STR 2 Arcane Bolt Attack – it was saved most of the time or missed completely.

Lightly armoured, higher AGI casters – AGI 5 would give a third casting dice – could be more effective. It also highlighted the desire to have casters LVL 3+. Maybe the same focus rule used for Ranged Attacks could be introduced for Magic – if the character doesn't move they get LVL +1 for the action.

Spellcasters join the warbands

As expected, the casters were low on STA quite quickly, despite only being able to cast each spell once per turn, and both used at least one Rest action. Magic certainly didn't feel over or under powered, just an alternative set of actions to the normal Melee/Ranged Attacks.

The game ended 8-5, which was pretty close. In fact the winning team was running away with it until a good roll by their opponents late on. It showed that you need to think about the easiest way to attain Glory at any given time. The Shrine can be a red herring, once it gets surrounded and you've no chance of getting a clear Interact action. Repulse can come in handy, or simply going all-out against the weakest enemy character.

Morrigan goes down under sheer weight of numbers

Melee did prove to be a beast again today, especially for those geared up for it. Take Morrigan for example – he has a Sword and Dagger, giving him +1 dice on top of his AGI of 5… that's 6 dice needing 4+ to hit. At times he was hitting with 5 of those! At one point he was in combat alongside a friendly character and got to roll 7 dice. His AGI 5 also helped him in defence – even with a poor 5+ save, rolling a minimum of 5 defence dice with a single re-roll (thanks to his sword) meant he was saving a lot of incoming hits. I did wonder if this was too much but it does fit in with his character, ducking and dodging attacks at lightning speed.

In today's game it took almost the entire opposing warband to bring him down, but they did in the end. Ironically it was Baldric the spellcaster who dealt the killing blow…with his staff… how embarrassing!

Exciting times. I feel within touching distance of having a playtested version up online for people to take a first look at.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Playtesting Actions & Stamina

Another day, another village to ransack

Up to this point, actions within Project Warband (The Dark Crucible) have cost a variety of Stamina (STA) Points, usually dependent upon their impact upon the game. My most recent playtest involved changing this up a little.

Given that the resource we're using to take actions during a game is Stamina, it occurred to me that actions should be progressively more difficult the more you want to do during a single activation. The door has purposely been left open regarding how many actions you can take in an activation – the idea that a player can decide to do more or less in a turn appealed. However, there were concerns that this could get silly if a character was in melee and could just spam melee attack until their opponent was dead. At that point the reward outweighs the risk significantly.

The current solution is that the cost of an action is not set against the individual action, it's set against when it's used during an activation. So, the first action a character takes will cost 1 Stamina, the second costs 2 Stamina, the third costs 3 Stamina, etc. Actions have a progressively bigger cost to the character (and by consequence reducing their Stamina) the more they try to achieve.

While there is still no cap on the number of actions a character can take in a single activation, maths dictates that they are not likely to be able to afford more than five, and that would leave them terribly vulnerable as a consequence. A more likely scenario is that they will take one or two on a regular basis (topping up with heals and food/first aid) then pull out three or four when an opportune moment arises.

The Haters went straight for the Shrine en masse

Then throw into the mix the Zero Action. Some actions have been designated as being zero (0) actions, in that they have no STA cost attached to them even within our progressive framework. A basic Walk move is a good example, or picking up a food/first aid token. This then adds a strategic aspect to the order in which actions should be taken during an activation, trying to save the zero actions for later in the turn when they might otherwise cost 3 or 4 STA.

With Nelly gone, the Original Zombiciders are in trouble

The latest playtests trialled this new STA system and I have to say it worked quite well. I found myself carefully choosing action order – for example, moving into base contact with a food/first aid token for zero STA, then taking a Ranged Attack for 2 STA, and only then picking up the token for zero STA. If I had picked up the token before taking my Ranged Attack, the latter would have cost an additional STA. When you have less than 10 STA left, every one you can save really counts!