Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Adapting Two Game Elements

I’m working on the third iteration of a Battle of Britian-themed board game and examining two mechanics from other games I’m looking to use in modified form. I’ve toyed with the game for a few years now, tentatively titled Hell’s Corner for the region of southeastern England that bore the brunt of the Luftwaffe assaults in the summer of 1940, when the Germans sought to wear down the RAF in preparation for its cross-channel invasion, Operation Sealion.

At first I envisioned a two-player card game where one side played the Royal Air Force and the other played the Luftwaffe forces; this version focused on deploying cards and rolling dice based on the strength of attackers and defenders. I quickly set the head-to-head play model aside in favor of a cooperative game in which one to four players each commanded an RAF sector, intercepting attacks from a Luftwaffe deck and protecting local targets, hoping to last long enough for the Germans to lose interest (i.e., run through the deck once or twice). While pursuing the cooperative game play I dropped the die-rolling in favor of a seemingly simpler system in which defending units cancelled attacks, with any Luftwaffe squadrons that weren’t intercepted (or stopped by anti-aircraft emplacements) dealing damage against targets. I encountered balance issues as well as a lack of tension, which was limited to the revelation of Luftwaffe squadrons randomly drawn from the deck (or the cancellation of attacks for a turn by a “Bad Weather” card, enabling the player a turn of reprieve to effect repairs and redeploy forces).

Now I’m re-examining the game with several changes in mind: implementing a new attack resolution system, converting the card format to tiles, including a player mat to organize locations and squadrons deployed and track incoming Luftwaffe squadrons to intercept. I’m still wedded to the number and composition of the pieces, as I originally based them on historical elements (numbers of squadrons, targets, radar installations, etc.), and hope to retain that feature; but overall I’m seeking to redefine how locations, targets, attackers, and defenders interact.

Graphic Damage Tally

The first element I’m adapting is more of a graphic design notation than an actual game mechanic. Since each tile in Hell’s Corner can withstand three hits before it’s destroyed -- radar installations, port and factory targets, RAF and Luftwaffe squadrons, airfields and anti-aircraft emplacements -- I wanted an intuitive and easy way to note how much damage each took. In earlier playtests I’d set cards on their sides and then upside down to show they’d taken one or two hits respectively. Aside from the oblong cards making this somewhat awkward, it lacked a certain graphic reminder on the piece itself.

Enter Columbia Games’ “wooden block” wargames. I’ve always known about them but didn’t quite understand the specifics until I watched the video for the Napoleon wargame Kickstarter campaign (a game that piqued my marginal interest in the period and board-wargaming format, but with too high a price tag for the basic purchase of the game). I’ve always liked the games’ “fog of war” concept of concealing troop composition and strength on upright block pieces, but never realized the pieces could rotate (and still stand upright) when damaged, displaying the current hits or damage-modified stats on the upright orientation. I’m looking to include a graphic element on Hell’s Corner pieces -- one and two damage “pips” along two edges -- to better track damage by turning the chit each time it sustains a hit. I’m not sure I’ll lower the attack strength of damaged units, but we’ll see how this implements in practical terms.

Dice Pool Results

I’m returning to a die-roll resolution for combat in Hell’s Corner, but don’t want to rehash the separate rolls for each side in confrontations. Instead I’m having players roll die pools representing the strength of Luftwaffe squadrons, yet reading results differently: 1-2 the squad takes a hit (from flak emplacements or anti-aircraft measures guarding the target); 3-4 the squad spends time evading British countermeasures with no effect (or possibly scores a hit on any intercepting RAF squadrons); and 5-6 scoring a hit on the target. Each die counts as one result, so a squad with a strength of 2 could easily roll two hits, sustain two points of damage, or have any combination of the three results. Intercepting squadrons and flak emplacements automatically inflict one hit, though I’ve not yet decided if the hit simply damages the Luftwaffe squadron or converts one of its dice to a hit, therefore eliminating the possibility of rolling a successful attack.

This development emerged from dabbling with Steve Jackson Games’ “press-your-luck” games Zombie Dice and Dino Hunt Dice, where results indicate a success (eating brains or capturing dinos), a neutral (victims running, dinos hiding in the jungle), or harmful failure (shotgun blast, dino stomp). The concept takes a twist on interpreting dice results not as numerical values totaled, but as symbolic successes and failures; and not summed as an aggregate of positive, negative, and neutral, either, like Fudgeor FATE dice, but as individual results, such as one positive, neutral, or negative per die, each of which having an effect on game play (well, not the neutral, of course).

Other Revisions

The latest iteration of Hell’s Corner requires some extra revision and reformatting. Cards require conversion to a smaller tile format, including implementation of the “hit pips” as mentioned above and a re-design of the placeholder graphics (much as I’d love to have the resources and contacts to use actual Royal Air Force archival photos…). I’m developing a one-sheet player mat with spaces for locations and RAF squadron tiles in play, an area to organize and intercept incoming Luftwaffe units, and arrows to show which targets bomber squadrons attack. The game seems ideal for cooperative or solitaire play, though I’m fiddling with mechanics determining how long the game lasts (measured in how many times the German tiles are recycled after attacks) and when the infamous mass assault of “Eagle Day” (“Adlertag”) occurs. We’ll see how this falls together and then send it off for playtesters to put it through its paces.

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