Thursday, April 18, 2013

On Red Dice

So let's talk about Black Sky.  4x Space bag game, which feels supremely unoriginal now that I've seen the Kickstarter for Burning Suns.  But I feel that my game, which arose from a free-ramble based on mechanics, is a different enough game that I'd like to keep pursuing it.  I could re-post the original stream of couscous that lead to the game, but enough has changed since then that it seems off-topic.  What I want to examine today is a problem I'm facing with a particular subset of ships in my game: the Reds.



From the current Living Rules Document for Black Sky:

"Conquest

Red “Armada” dice are used to subdue Hostile Planets, and to defeat enemy Forces.   When a Hostile Planet is encountered, the Planet has a Defense rating.  The total amount rolled by your red dice must match or exceed the Defense rating in order to subdue the Planet.  If the Planet is not subdued, your blue dice are destroyed, and your green dice, if they have not already Produced, cannot use the Planet to do so.  When you encounter an enemy Force, both Forces first make note of their Firepower, and then roll their red dice.  A Force’s Firepower is equal to the maximum total amount that can be rolled by its red dice.  After rolling, the Force with the higher total amount rolled is the winner.  The loser loses all of their red dice, and the winner loses Firepower equal to or greater than the amount rolled by the loser.  The winner chooses which red dice survive.  [Alt. The loser loses Firepower equal to the amount by which the Winner’s total roll amount exceeded the loser’s, and the aggressor has the choice to either leave the space or attack again]  A natural roll of ‘1’ on any die (that is not a d20) results in the destruction of that die, and returns it to your supply."

So as you can see, I'm in two minds (at least) about how to handle inter-player combat, and it has to do with how long I want conflicts to go on.

One thing I strove for in this design is near-simultaneous game play, which I've talked about recently, via super-short turns.  Every turn, you roll ONE Force, and while you can handle the timing of the phases as you see fit, you take only one true Action, and have a minimal number of decisions to make beyond the initial choice of which Force to play.  Works fine for Ranger and Colony ships.  And I'm okay with how Armada ships handle Hostile Planets.  The Problem du jour is that when it comes to PvP interactions on the Black Sky playspace, how do I handle space battles?

Perhaps I can incorporate something involving the #dicerolled/totalamount mechanic I use for my Rangers.  And perhaps total decimation of a Force isn't a bad thing; after all, your Force can only ever attack one Force per turn.  You shouldn't get Risk-style rolling blitzkriegs while the Defender sits, powerless.

How about if the average of a Force is its passive firepower? Mm.  Nope.  That involves fractions.  And more mental math than most would care to do.  But I think I want to reward going on the offensive, if only to spur on gameplay.  Ok.  Let's put these pieces together.  For logistical purposes, I also need to reward larger dice, otherwise we're going to see nothing but swarms of red and blue coins.  Something about ties destroying ships? Hm.  You know what, I might be overthinking this.  Perhaps every red die that rolls its maximum (or better than half?) can destroy an enemy die of its denomination or lower.  In a way, that turns every die into a coin; heads, I win my engagement.  If 1 is a critical failure, though, I need to reward critical victories; if you roll the highest amount you can roll on a die, you can destroy a die one (two?) denominations higher.  Well, if I want to punish coins in combat, I definitely can't raise that to two denominations.  Ok, I feel that this actually, surprisingly, models space combat now; the system favours larger ships, but makes them targets, whereas the natural chaos of war will prune away the swarms.

Now, does this deal with my original problem of gameplay slowed down by PvP? I think so.  When a Force attacks you, yeah, you've got a reactive roll.  I think you have to.  The reactive roll makes it, for the PvP Combat phases, truly simultaneous, because while general troop movement can be near-simultaneous, I cannot tolerate semi-simultaneous combat.  So you get a reactive roll.  Hmm.  How about the reactive roll is of ALL of your Force, including the Colony and Ranger ships, and those that roll their maximum have executed successful evasive maneuvers, and are not viable targets.

So your reactive roll does two things; potentially protects certain targets, or defends against an enemy Force.  The only real advantage to the attacker is that she chooses when the battle is; which is nonetheless a not inconsiderate advantage.

And besides, this slightly deeper (but, I think, less "complicated") mechanic encourages deeper strategy.  You're not going to get anywhere in this game by only having one or two huge forces, which always stick together.  You need to split and combine your Forces, and array them to your best advantage.  Every "Turn" is just one roll (maybe two with the reactive rolls), so you have to think several turns ahead, and you can, too.

Ok.  Let's take a whack at a Red Dice Rules Rewrite.

"Conquest

Red "Armada" dice are used to subdue Hostile Planets, and to defeat enemy Forces.  Hostile Planets are encountered with a Defense Rating.  The total amount rolled by your red dice in order to subdue the Planet.  If the Planet is not subdued, you can not claim the Planet as your own, and if your green dice can not produce there.
When you encounter an Enemy Force, your opponent rolls her Force as well, defensively.  Your rolls are then compared.
Your Roll - Your red dice are evaluated as follows: Any red die that rolls higher than half of its maximum amount makes a successful attack.  You may destroy an enemy die of the same denomination or lower.  Any red die that rolls its highest value makes a critical attack: The die it destroys may be of one denomination higher.  Any die that rolls a 1 suffers critical failure.  That die is destroyed.
Your Opponent's Roll - Your opponent's red dice results are evaluated in the same way yours are.  The results of their blue and green dice defensive rolls are resolved as follows: Any green or blue die that rolls its maximum value has executed successful defensive maneuvers, and is not an eligible target for your red dice.  Any green or blue die that rolls a 1 is NOT destroyed as part of its defensive maneuvers."

As I wrote that, I went back and forth on that blue green 1's-don't-insta-kill thing.  Everywhere else in this game, rolling a 1 is death.  But I figure that from a thematic standpoint, these dice are not running their reactors or hurtling through space at high velocity; they're just turning, or raising shields.  Since they're not trying to execute their function, the chance for critical failure should not result in their destruction.

From a mechanical balance standpoint, Player One could just send one solitary blue coin in and cause a massive roll of the entire defending Force, and reap the benefits of all those 1's.  Seems unfair.  Especially since you can still pull that trick with an enemy's red dice.

Yup, this still benefits the attackers more.  But not, I think (and hope) unbalancedly so.  We'll go with this for Prototype A, which should actually be just about complete.  I've got the cardfile just about done (it's almost more a tile-file, as the map is generated via random placement) and I've come up with what I hope is a component solution: Either RGB "pokerships" (came from a typo: Pokerchip stacks representing Forces) or paper-standup minis ala this.

I'll keep you posted, loyal fan.

Slan!

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