Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Worked to Death

Callea’s coughing was a regular fixture in the mines. She never could afford a breather and they aren’t standard issue. Instead, she wore a damp bandana over her mouth while she worked. She labored hard, pickaxe in hand, pausing to violently cough here and there. When she worked it through she just swung harder to keep pace with the other miners. She never wanted to be perceived as weak or lesser than despite her illness. Today the coughing fit started and it wouldn’t stop. Worrying about quotas, Overseer Billins told her to get back to work, an impossible request. Kollis dropped his shovel to go to her aid. That’s when he saw the blood staining her hands and mouth. Still she coughed. Then she choked. Overseer Billins was yelling for Kollis to get back to work, and Callea was on the ground, eyes vacant, blood dribbling from her mouth. He didn’t think. Kollis scooped her up and put her into the ore cart she was filling and he started pushing toward the exit. The words “Stand Down!” echoed in his ears but he ignored them. He had to. It was the right thing to do.


Monday, April 28, 2014

IX. Developing Scenarios

Solo play testing from last Thursday to feel out if the scenario would work, and actually visualize how it will play. This is an approximation of the board sections for 'Get Kellerman'. The black rectangle would be a giant fan, the grey rectangle is a freight elevator, and a couple of those tunnels will end in rubble/active mining area.
In my mind, scenarios are what keep a game varied and interesting. Games like Necromunda and Zombicide, though very different games, got a lot of their personality from an ever changing play environment defined by the scenarios themselves. With that in mind, I knew that linking the scenarios to create an ongoing narrative would be one of the defining characteristics of Broken Contract, but that would only be of value if the scenarios themselves were varied, interesting, and thematic.

Thus far, I've play tested a half dozen different scenarios drawing off of the general narrative and the constraints of how I envision the mines. The initial scenario I brainstormed, 'Its Time', was penned based on a piece of background narrative I had written to introduce a section of the rule book, and its about seizing an opportunity to turn on your masters. I played it a bunch of times by myself, tweaking it, and the board it was played on, before I had others play it. I went on to start toying with 2 more, but the initial results felt bland. 'Its Time' had an alarm, a closing hydraulic door, a key card to try and steal off of a guard. Long story short, it has options that give the players a degree of "free will", and now that I've watched it played by others a bunch of times, I've seen that the reason I like this mission so much. It can be handled a bunch of different ways by the players, giving it depth and also making it re-playable. The other couple of scenarios I had tried were strictly dependent on getting the Breakers from point A to point B while fighting their way through Security Officers. In the end, those missions were fun but not unique or interesting. Reflecting on them, they were like Pac-Man. You run through different mazes avoiding your enemies while they try to capture you. Now a certain element of that is going to pervade all of the scenarios. There is an element of The Fugitive to this story line that means the Breakers are always going to be on the run and the Security Officer's are going to be coming after them, but it's very clear that including additional objectives that are optional to complete are the way to keep the experiences fun and engaging.

Last night I tried out a scenario tentatively titled 'Get Kellerman' that has Security Officers pursuing you, a miner Technician named Kellerman that you can choose to get to and then convince to join your break attempt along with you (through Dealing checks - a negotiating related skill), and a door to get through that you can't without a key card or Kellerman,  I played it out and it felt like it had a story to it - and choices. It was also challenging enough that I dropped something else that was supposed to be part of the mission, deciding to save it for a different one. All told, I'm really excited about it.
I feel like this sketch would make a good Kellerman. Add a tool box on the ground and change the baton to a wrench. Or leave it as is? It could be a baton made from an old shovel handle that she keeps in her tool box.
Now, it not only needs to be play tested to death, but it needs to directly follow 'Its Time' because the starting characters in campaign play are dependent on who escapes the initial work area. Ah, variables. But on the initial play though I found it very enjoyable so I'm looking forward to trying it a bunch more times to see if it is a suitable second act to the pilot episode box set. Which if you can envision the game like a pilot episode to a TV show, it should have an introduction to set up the story, and then 3 distinctive acts to follow, left open for future story lines. It should be able to be played out in its entirety over several hours if someone wants to invest the time, or it can be spread out over several sessions.

Currently Deep Underground follows the story line of introducing the mining crew leader, Kollis, along with the Gen-Mod, Trest, at the moment their friend, Callea, works herself to death. Kollis wants to get Callea to the infirmary and loads her body into an ore cart,but the Security Officers, led by Overseer Billins, refuse to let him stop working. Billins knows that the daily quota will not be made if there is work stoppage, so he demands that Kollis get back to work. Kollis tries to force his way through the guards and takes a sound beating. This is represented in the game by a short scenario to introduce the rules for Movement and Combat. Kollis is sent to "the box" as punishment and his thoughts turn to insurrection as he lies contorted in his 3'x3' concrete and iron cell. 'Its Time' takes place a couple of weeks later, when fueled by rage, Kollis tries to make a break attempt with Trest and a number of others. Their success or failure colors the events of the next encounter, but 'Get Kellerman' gives them the opportunity to introduce another mining character, a Progen Technician named Kellerman. As a person descended from an original colonist, they are afforded slightly better wages and quarters so she will require some convincing.What happens next? Well that's yet to be determined. Don't fret though, I have plenty of ideas.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Tangent III. Gen-Mods

Early Trest concept art by Sam Alcarez. Possibly too "human"? I think so.
This bit of color text probably won't see print, it was written more as me thinking out loud. One of the main characters in Broken Contract - Deep Underground is a Gen-Mod Brute named Trest. Trest is your archetypal ogrish character with high strength and a really big weapon. While working on concept sketches of Trest, Sam had questions that forced me to think a bit harder about how I envisioned Gen-Mods, how they came to be, and their role in this dystopian future. This is my attempt to articulate that. -Nick

Science. The quest for understanding and the ability to change destiny through its application has led to wondrous advances in civilization. But science always has an element of fumbling in the dark, as mankind tampers with the unknown.

Advancements in Genetic Experiments

Genetically modified organisms became a commonly accepted scientific advancement in the 21st century. In an effort to control agriculture, mega corporations began creating seeds that were more resistant to pests and extreme conditions; but in exchange they were also engineered to not reproduce more seeds. This meant farmers could not reap the benefits of using these new more resistant seeds year after year. Instead, they had to buy new seeds every season. This was bound to happen anyway, as each season the pests would adapt and overcome the dominance of man, and progress was forced to race ever onward. Untested crops were grown from these seeds imbued with pesticides and warped to entice us, as consumers, with their extreme size, interesting shapes, and vibrant colors. The health risks were obvious, but science was always trumpeted as the solution. As these advances became accepted, they created more negative side effects, leading to the creation of more products sold to cancel out those side effects, however those products brought a slew of new side effects with them. This ultimately led to scientists modifying human genes. When the modification of human genes first became accepted, it was an extravagance only the wealthy enjoyed. If you had enough money you could ensure your offspring's genes were of the highest quality. They would be smart, beautiful, and resistant to disease. And if they failed to be born with those traits even after they were paid for, then more money could be thrown at correcting the errors. However, when the governments dissolved and corporations took their place, the expectations changed. Genetic science was no longer just used for keeping the wealthy at the top of the human pyramid, it was also used to keep workers at the bottom.

Approved Reproduction

When the colonization of space began, the corporate executives had to maintain strict control over reproductive rights. A wave of births would create more mouths to feed and could compromise the colony. Instead, reproduction was and is strictly controlled. The work force is currently comprised of a balanced mix of men, women, and trans folk, designed to be able to adapt to a variety of circumstances; however the water supply is mixed with hormones to both deaden sex drive and tamper with the reproductive cycle. This is done in an attempt to ensure that the only way to have children within the colonies is under strict corporate approval. Upon approval you must comply to specific contracts regarding the cost of upkeep, education, and other resources that must be dedicated to this additional mouth to feed. Occasionally, a person will get pregnant without proper approval. Or, they will receive approval, sign their contracts, and something will go wrong forcing the constraints of the contract to change - such as being injured on the job and missing work. Suddenly, the debts incurred by the pregnancy will need to be collected in some way. Sometimes, a couple just wants to have a child, despite knowing they cannot afford it, and volunteer for a number of intrusive programs. When this happens, the corporations will offer up the option of experimental programs in genetic modification. The children born out these programs are called Gen-Mods.

Purpose Driven Modification

Most genetic modification is done to accommodate maximum profit, through the efficiency of specialty. Genetically modifying corn to adapt to alien soil and an atmosphere with a slightly different make up of gases takes something that might be functional but inefficient, like Earth corn, and helps maximize its potential in its new environment. The corporations do the same thing with humans. A common modification is to purpose build workers to excel in their work environment. Unmodified humans populate the FeSky iron mines, working their 14 hour day for minimal pay, but they have limits on their strength and endurance. Thankfully, unmodified humans are cheap. However, a miner brute, requires considerable additional expense. Brutes are a common modification. Through selective breeding, increased testosterone, and other modifications, hulking beasts of mankind have been created. They have the strength and endurance of two people combined, but also consume more resources, and have to be fed a steady supply of mood altering and performance enhancing drugs to be maintained and controlled. Hormonal imbalances make them prone to violent outbursts that need to be contained, so Gen-Mod Brutes are kept in a constant euphoria. An unfortunate side effect of this euphoria is not knowing when exhaustion or impairment are setting in, so monitors will regulate the brute's daily activity by administering narcotics when injury occurs or adrenaline when an energy boost is needed. In the unfortunate circumstance that their heart overloads and stops, they will even receive a direct injection of adrenaline to the heart. Brutes are the pinnacle of miner efficiency, but they are also more expensive to maintain, which is why they don't outnumber the other miners. Much like the 21st century terminator seeds, they are also deliberately engineered to be sterile so that they may not reproduce.

-Nick Baran. Edited by Lisa Quintero

Friday, April 18, 2014

Broken Contract - Play Testing Rounds 3.5 and 4.

Will Blood analyzing the board, probably relating the events to some obscure peroid in history, or just wanting gratuitous violence to ensue. He's a complex man.
Preparing for AdeptiCon had pushed Broken Contract to the backseat for about a month. Art was being worked on and editing was still happening as I commuted on the train, but there was no time for play testing with myself and many of my play testers immersed in AdeptiCon related projects. Regardless, I brought all of my Broken Contract stuff with me to AdeptiCon in case anyone asked to try it out. A few people did ask, but with the fervor of everything else going I kept my play testing gear up in my room most of the time. On Saturday, however, there was some downtime and Dave Koszka from my old home town of Buffalo, NY asked to give it a go.

I was lucky enough to have an hour or so to meet up with him right after his dinner break on Saturday so we sat down to give it a whirl. I gave him the option of trying an already "tested" scenario, or something new I was considering for a demo game. He opted to try something new.

The demo that I had concocted for him involved a miner injured on the job. The brutal Security Officers wouldn't allow the other miners on site to stop work and take him to the infirmary. They were told to get back to work. After some insistence, the Security Officers sent one of their own to get a medic. The scenario began with two miners deciding they couldn't wait any longer, so they had loaded their wounded comrade into an ore cart and started pushing him out of the mine and past the remaining Security Officer. Now Dave is a savvy 40K player having taken 14th in the 40K Championships just days before, so he immediately saw the best avenue to complete the mission. He used the Breakers in an alternating order to take turns pushing the cart past the Security Officer, and ignoring the Security Officer completely. Ultimately there was no combat, only movement, and the game was over in 10-15 minutes. It was a great length for a demo, but didn't teach him much about the mechanics other than movement, which was sort of a failure in my book. Maybe it would have been a good quick mission that was sabotaged by a particularly cunning fellow? Regardless, it was back to the drawing board.

Since AdeptiCon I've been fired up to get back to work on Broken Contract - more blogging, play testing, scenario writing, editing, art development, social networking... the whole deal. I got this blog added to the Bell of Lost Souls Blogger Alliance, grouped my various friends into several play testing circles, and started reaching out to people on play testing and art development. This culminated in some interested parties making themselves available last night to do some play testing. Daniel Kessler, Will Blood, and James Nolastname came across town to give Broken Contract a go for the first time.

In anticipation, I wanted to try a stat card system similar to Zombicide in order to keep the Characters organized. Each Character had clearly marked spaces to keep track of Wounds, Equipment, Initiative, and Re-Rolls. I had whipped up the initial card as I was getting ready to head to work conditioning (I'm in the end stages of recovering from ACL surgery)  and then I ran to the copy shop on the way home to run a bunch off. Unfortunately, I forgot to include a space for an Action Point tally, so sometimes there was confusion as to whether Characters had Action Points left. Otherwise, I feel they were a pretty beneficial addition to the game and will be keeping and improving upon them.

We ran through two scenarios last night. The first was a new attempt at a demo or introductory scenario to introduce the mechanics of the game. It was titled, "Over, Under, or Through" and involved a lone green Security Officer trying to hold a mining passage on their own against a small onrush of Breakers. Rather than pulling a Dave Koszka and trying to out think the Security Officer, their initial plan was to mob them. Without the more lethal weapons on either side it turned into a slapstick slap fight that culminated in everyone eventually giving up on combat and running off when the Security Officer got a bad Initiative Draw. This was a completely viable strategy and possibly a valuable lesson. Combat is not always the best strategy in Broken Contract.  Still, we're trained to crave the decisiveness of beating our opponents and moving on. I think a little bit of slap fighting is cinematic - the dropping of weapons and stumbling around. I've been in more than a few fights in my day, for better or for worse, and they often involve being off balance and rolling around. However, that's not the image of triumphant heroism that we get from single roll decisive combats. Its a hard balance.

While I had a captive audience I decided to keep the momentum going and grabbed the tried and tested "It's Time!" scenario that has been used in all of the other play testing. In, "Its Time" the Gen-Mod Brute, Trest, starts bugging out on the job in an extremely dangerous dig location. The Security Officers hovering by a small area of retaining wall instruct their greenest recruit to handle the situation. With the Prods spread out, and all of the miners desperate to get out, they seize the opportunity to make a Break attempt.

This game flowed in a much more exciting way with a Security Officer being pulverized with a pneumatic drill and another one set on fire.The expected people falling over and weapons breaking were commonplace as well, but they were tempered by those truly grand moments and there was lots of laughing and carrying on, which I consider a success. The number one rule for designing a game in my book is make it fun! Daniel, who was running the Security Officers, was having a rough go as his weapons weren't quite as effective as he hoped and he focused too heavily on taking Breakers down than on sounding the alarm and closing off their escape route. Still, it felt like he put up a good fight and was enjoying himself.

All told, I'm pretty happy with "It's Time!" The results are highly varied based on course of action and die rolls - it can be anyone's game. Though it uses a functional victory point system, I've been thinking a lot over the last 24 hours on how to make it a little more themed to the environment and support the continued narrative as you go from scenario to scenario. More on that as I work on developing it further this weekend.

I'm eagerly awaiting feedback from last night's play testers. Their ride arrived just as "It's Time" was wrapping up so we didn't get to go over the breakdown of people's thoughts, so I'm flying high on their emotional reaction to the game, their enjoyment, rather than their intellectual analysis which could be very different. We'll see. Thank you very much to the three of them for coming over on a Thursday night and hopefully they'll assist further in the process of getting this game ready for market consumption.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What is Broken Contract?

Broken Contract is a science fiction miniature strategy game filled with action and adventure. It is set in a dystopian future where humanity has begun colonizing the stars. Most folks live in indentured servitude to draconian mega-corporations. Though most accept their lot in life, there are those who yearn to be free of their masters. They break free from their mining colonies, agri-domes, and factory cities in the hope of starting a new life on the frontiers of backwater planets like Hathor. These once contracted laborers are called Breakers for short. Not surprisingly, these corporations hire overseers from shadowy security firms like Black Squadron Security, and keep them on site to prevent work stoppage and labor revolt. Two or more players take on the roles of Breakers and the Black Squadron trying to either make their great escape or stop it from happening.

Ferrumsky Mine. Art by Filip Dudek,

Game play in Broken Contract combines elements of traditional board games, tabletop wargames, and RPGs. The mechanics are meant for fast and exciting play with the ability to leap over obstacles and dive roll under closing doors. To facilitate these ends the Characters have a multitude of stats to help determine how well they can do things from fighting in hand-to-hand to patching up an injured comrade. Each Character can perform multiple actions per turn so that they can jog to a better firing position and shoot a gun, or they could jump over a mining cart and hit that officer they’ve been mean-mugging all day with a shovel. To keep everyone engaged in the game, characters who haven't used all of their actions can interrupt attackers by dodging, defending themselves or fleeing; among other things. Everything is resolved by performing Stat Checks with a roll of a 6 sided die to keep the game simple and flowing. Finally, order of play is determined by a numbered deck of cards that is shuffled and dealt each turn so that the order of action changes every turn swinging the advantage of going first from Character to Character instead of from Player to Player.

Currently there are Broken Contract Black Squadron and Breaker miniature sets to help get you on the road to collecting and playing the game. They are available through the Breaker Press Games webstore.

The Broken Contract Rule Book gives all the rules for game play, equipment, character creation, a mini campaign to play through, and a Crew Roster sheet that you can photocopy.

The Broken Contract Initiative and Equipment Deck provides all the cards you need to play the game including Initiative Cards and cards for all of the equipment from the rule book, including multiples of the most common items.

Broken Contract is an engaging fusion of gaming genres meant to focus on action and adventure rather than simply pummeling the enemy, and that provides the greatest depth when shared among a group of people, rather than two head-to-head strategizing minds. So gather your team of rabble hell bent on escape, or put on your mean mugs and fire up your shock batons to put down the coming uprising. Broken Contract is almost here.

Thanks for reading!

Learn more about Breakers and Black Squadron.
Learn about the planet Hathor.
Learn how to make your own Broken Contract Mine: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V.
Learn more about What is a Miniature Adventure Game? 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Tangent II. Would a Pilot Episode Work for a Game?

Concept art by Sam Alcarez. Some tweaks and they would make a great Breaker. They're in some sort of nether realm between Breaker and Security Officer with that baton. Perhaps its stolen?

When I envisioned the eventual kick off to Broken Contract and the type of boxed game I wanted to strive for it to be, I was really targeting the Zombicide model. They ran a Kickstarter for this large 12"x12" square box packed full of high quality game tiles, miniatures, and cards. I've studied both of their Kickstarters (and the games themselves) in depth and they really had a lot of the art development done and miniature sculpts in hand. Much of the development was done and they just needed capital to cover manufacturing to launch Season 1. I, on the other hand, have the game mechanics pretty well set and have stumbled upon sketch artists engaged in "realizing the dream," willing to work in hope of some form eventual reward - but I don't have money to pay sculptors yet, and that's the principle hang up getting us from where Broken Contract is now, to the point where Zombicide was when they launched Season 1. Still, I had an idea...

"A "television pilot" (also known as a "pilot" or a "pilot episode") is a standalone episode of a television series that is used to sell the show to a television network. At the time of its creation, the pilot is meant to be the testing ground to gauge whether a series will be successful, and is therefore a test episode of an intended television series." - Wikipedia

If some games are now be presented to the world in Seasons, where in a cyclical fashion games evolve and expand breathing new life into people's investment, then is it possible to hook would-be game backers with a pilot episode of a game? Its a question I've been asking myself for a couple months now.

How would a pilot episode of a game work? Essentially, it would be very similar to a pilot episode of a TV show. It would introduce some interesting core characters as well as the setting, and work the players through an abbreviated story line with those characters to see if it can engage the gamers enough to want more. This would mean that it would give you the core mechanics to the game, some of the background, a handful of characters with models to represent them, and 3-4 scenarios to get a feel for the game. Ideally, unlike an hour long show, it would give you a few evening's entertainment. Hopefully, it would be enough to generate interest in the game and setting, and inspire people to fund future projects. I have already had plans for what I want to do with Season 1, Season 2, and Season 3 for months now, which gives us plenty to expand on for years to come.The question still stands: Would a pilot episode work for a game?

Image gratuitously stolen from the internet.

At AdeptiCon this past weekend I picked up Project Pandora: Grim Cargo from Mantic Games. I have to admit, I was mostly interested in it from the standpoint of packaging, presentation, and content than actual game play. I had known about the game since it was released but after its initial release there wasn't much banter about it. I was curious about it because it seemed like it might accurately emulate how I envisioned packaging a pilot episode of Broken Contract. The key points regarding Project Pandora: Grim Cargo include:

- Abbreviated background
- Contains only a handful of models
- Shortened 24 page rulebook with minimalist art centered mostly around concept sketches
- Simple 4-6 scenario mini-campaign to get you playing
- Small selection of card stock board pieces and counters
- A handful of dice

I took a look at reviews to see what people said about this sort of format. The two major complaints I saw:

1) Mantic Games hasn't supported the game with expansion material, FAQs, or any other form of support.
2) You have to put together the models so you can't just pull it out and play.

As I see it, Mantic (consciously or not) created the pilot episode to a game, much like I envision for Broken Contract, and then left it dead in the water since they had so many other projects in development. However, it does lead me to believe, that if I could successfully Kickstart a pilot episode, the backers would likely want to see the game expanded and supported which means that if I get the seed to germinate, the expectation from others will be for the plant to grow. Additionally, it also leads me to believe that at least in the inception of Broken Contract, that single piece models are the way to go.

What might the Broken Contract Pilot Episode look like?

- Abbreviated background
- 32 Page 8.5 x 11 rulebook
- 8-12 models (Breakers and Security Officers)
- Simple 4-6 scenario mini-campaign to get you playing
- Stat and initiative cards
- A handful of dice

Thus, it would be slightly fewer models than Grim Cargo, but a slight upgrade in other areas - hopefully - but largely a similar format. The important thing is that the rules and characters be fully compatible with the eventual Season 1 of the game.

Why do an abbreviated package at all? Just like a pilot episode of a TV show, to get funding to keep the project going. What I learned from Project Pandora: Grim Cargo, is that maybe it is a feasible option that people will take to. The nice thing about Kickstarter is that if the initial project fails, I can always regroup and try again and nobody loses any money. That's it for today's tangent. As always, comments are welcome.