Thursday, December 22, 2016

Game Designer's Notebook: Playing a Campaign Part 2

My Breakers taking a beating in Act III: As Good as Dead.

Over the last two months Hal and I have worked our way through completing the three Act Broken Contract campaign from the upcoming rulebook. It's been a great experience with a lot of great information gleaned and bits reworked to make it a better experience. Collected are a bunch of thoughts from Act II: Escape Route and Act III: As Good as Dead. -Nick

There's obviously a huge difference in quality between
these 2 tiles.


The Constraints of Cost and Play Area

Before we get into the scenarios themselves I want to talk about play area. Broken Contract was designed to be played on a very small area. Most of the games I've played have been played in anywhere from a 8" x 20" area to a 24" x 24" area. One of my long standing plans was to create a pack of 10 double sided game board tiles so that 24" x 24" was a pretty standard size. Over the summer I finally acquired 8" x 8" game tiles in two thicknesses. One was heavy card stock, the same as the game cards, and the other was a heavy chipboard "board game tile". Universally, everyone preferred the chipboard tiles. I crunched the numbers and they were just too expensive to manufacture in packs of 10. I would have to charge people way too much. After a lot of hand wringing I scaled the tile pack down to 6 tiles. This meant changing all of the scenarios in the rulebook to accommodate a smaller area. One of the most consistent lessons I've learned in game design is asking yourself, "how much is this idea going to cost?" Some of my early design decisions have turned out to not be cost effective and have been reimagined several times. Just because Fantasy Flight can pack a million high end components into a box does not mean that I can do the same. Where you manufacture and economy of scale are both huge considerations. I manufacture in the USA and currently I'm producing on a very small boutique type scale, so my costs per piece are very different than the mid-sized and large game companies.

Image I sent to Sam to sketch out how the scenario maps
should roughly look in the book.

Long story short, all of the scenarios in the rulebook had to max out a 16" x 24" play area, because that's what you can get out of 6 double sided tiles. This meant compacting all of the scenarios and tweaking their special rules to make them still convey the same ideas. All of our games on the smaller play areas have been tense and close so I'm very pleased it's worked out. The plus side of this for hobbyists is that not only is your average game like 4-6 models per side, but you can also slow grow your scenery collection as well so you'll initially only need to cover a small area with terrain.

Your Crew as a Character Toolbox

I mentioned in Part 1 of Playing a Campaign that you create a 100 point Crew but each of the Acts are based on 50 points. I talked a bit about Crew Creation and though you end up with a somewhat random assortment of upgrades and Special Abilities, you tend to end up with a toolbox of diverse characters. This has panned out as I took my fastest and most agile Breaker characters in Escape Route, and I had a Character more adept at Intellect checks that I brought into the crew for As Good as Dead which has multiple coded doors to try and get through (you can also fight your way through Black Squadron through the only open passage or steal a key card, so there are other ways to be successful at the scenario, but the sneaky route is a much better play.) Needless to say, I feel good about this as a design decision.

Escape Route and As Good as Dead Water Cooler Moments

Both games had some fantastic moments of both the LOL and triumphant variety. The rules allow for Characters to Throw and Catch objects, and I tried throwing a shovel to Breaker surrounded by Black Squadron Security only for him to miss and have it land where it was of no benefit to anyone.

At one point in Escape Route a group of Black Squadron Officers and Drones were pursuing my Breakers who were about to exit the board. The lead Officer in pursuit was standing on the threshold of an overhead door. I gave Hal two Victory Point by sounding the alarm myself, dropping the door on the Officer and cutting off the rest of his pursuing friends. It was a completely unexpected action and I felt very clever for a few minutes. I scored VPs for most of Characters by exiting the board. It was a worthwhile trade-off.

The other night, during As Good as Dead, I thought I was going to get that clever feeling again. I had one of my Breaker Characters end the final turn of the game 2" away from the Exit Point. With my final Initiative of the game, I had another Character Rush and perform a Push Action on the Character 2" from the Exit. If I had been successful I could have Pushed that Character off the board for a VP and then used my final Action with the Pushing Character to Walk off the same Exit Point. It would have been glorious. Instead she failed, and neither Character made it off the board. My glory turned to tragedy, and it still felt fantastic!

If every Character ends up Recovering, how do I know if the
campaign rules for serious injury rules work?

What Didn't I Learn?

There was one thing that was conspicuously absent from our mini-campaign: injury. It's not that rules for serious injuries do not exist, it is that in every game we both made conscious efforts not to kill each other because we'd lose Victory Points. Without beating Characters while they were down, and a lack of particularly lethal weapons, Characters almost always Recovered by the end of the game. This meant no serious injury rolls or deaths. This means I need to replay the campaign, not be afraid to get a little blood on my Character's hands, and see what happens. I put an emphasis on non-lethal weaponry for a reason, but for when it does happen, I need to know that it feels "right".

I've been thinking long and hard about Act II: Escape Route. Though the idea of a scenario that has a different board every time that the Breaker sets up is something that will definitely be a part of the game, I think that with a 6 tile set players will usually end up creating layouts that are roughly straight runs that the Breakers need to fight their way through, with no way to out maneuver their enemies. We had a great time playing the scenario, but I just think it would be too fiddly for new players, so I think it needs to be replace in the rulebook. I'm sure it will make it into the FerrumSky Campaign book in some fashion.

It's time to get back to writing and testing. Thanks for reading!
-Nick

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Game Designer's Notebook: Named Characters and Points

This is approximately 100 points of Black Squadron. 

Points in Broken Contract have actually been a rather recent development, with the early playtesting done with a Character ratio of roughly 3/5 (three Black Squadron models for every five Breakers). The plan back then was to just indicate in each scenario how many Characters each side should take. All of the Characters released as part of the last Kickstarter were sent out into the world without any sort of point values because of this. In fact, the very first mention of points was in May of 2016. This means that everyone who owns the Character models that have been produced have to piece their way through the Character Creation rules I posted up in May to try and figure out how many points each named Character is worth. I figure I should rectify this until the FerrumSky Campaign Book is released some time in 2017.

These are the points values for each Character without any of their equipment.

Black Squadron Characters (Unequipped)

Naria Anlika - 13 points
Wire Billins - 13 points
Kal Hickley - 12 points
Sarie Moerta - 13 points
Overseer Smythe - 13 points
Speaker Drone - 10 points
Surveillance Drone - 10 points
Lamal Tulson - 13 points
Xer - 21 points

Breakers (Unequipped)

Grippe Candera - 13 points
Micha Donelly - 12 points
Ari Gaylen - 12 points
Adesi Haddonis - 12 points
Talla Kellerman - 13 points
Will Kollis - 14 points
Trest - 15 points
Nells Turnbull - 13 points


Sarie Moerta with her standard Equipment Cards.


Adding Equipment

Each piece of Equipment is 1 point unless it is duplicated in the Crew, with a few exceptions like Shovels for Breakers, and Shock Batons/Restraints for Black Squadron. Each Character model comes with the Equipment Cards for the items depicted on the model. For example, Officer Sarie Moerta has an Arc Pistol, Shock Baton, and Restraints. If you were to take all 3 pieces of equipment, she'd cost 16 points (her unequipped points value of 13 + 3 for her equipment).

Some Notes on Points

I've mentioned this in previous articles, but currently all Equipment is 1 point per item. You're probably thinking, "how come an Oversized Rock Saw is the same amount of points as a Knife?" This works out because the lethality of the Oversized Rock Saw makes it as likely to lose you games, as it is to win you games. Rendering your opponents Critical or Dead will lose you Victory Points. The only time points for Equipment escalate is when multiple Characters in a Crew duplicate items. This discourages spamming and building strategies around Equipment and not the Characters themselves.

This is the model for Grippe Candera with a head swap and
one of his Pickaxes removed. Converting your own Characters
is fun, but it's not required.


A Final Note on WYSIWYG

All of the Character models that have been released thus far have come with the cards to equip them as depicted by the model. However, Broken Contract encourages acquiring, stealing, and sharing Equipment, so "what you see is what you get" expectations are low. A Character may acquire a piece of equipment during Turn 2 of a game, and accidentally smash it to pieces 2 Turns later. The point is, equipment will always be in flux, so the players don't need to stress about how their Characters are modeled. However, if you love painting and converting, there is nothing stopping you from going all out!

Thanks for reading!
-Nick

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Broken Contract Faction Box Sale!

Black Squadron Faction Set
Hello all! As we get closer to finishing up the Broken Contract Rulebook and jumping into FerrumSky Campaign Book next, I'd love to commission some new art. With that in mind, selling a few Faction Sets would go a long way toward reaching that goal. To that end, I've reduced the price on the Black Squadron Faction Box Set and the Breaker Faction Box Set from $35 to $29.75 on  breakerpress.storenvy.com The sale runs until Wednesday December 7th. All packages will ship with whatever cool bonus stuff I have laying around, so you'll be receiving more than just the 15% savings. :)

Thanks in advance!
-Nick


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Game Designer's Notebook: Playing A Campaign Part 1

Sometimes you end up lying in the dirt.

Last week, Hal and I started playing out our first Episode. In Broken Contract each individual game is called an Act, and three games are called an Episode. I feel like this sort of structure encourages campaign play by breaking it down into manageable bites. We started last week by creating crews and playing Act 1. Here are some thoughts on the design decisions that have gone into this process starting with what we did during Week 1. -Nick

Anyone who's played any of the classic skirmish games knows, one of the greatest joys of skirmish gaming is creating your Crew (gang, team, or other cool "group" vernacular) and watching them evolve from game to game. One of the biggest frustrations though is seeing one player's Crew grow so rapidly that they dominate the campaign or league from day 1, and their spot never really gets challenged. Additionally, being wiped straight off the board isn't really much fun for either side. The question becomes: How will Broken Contract approach campaign play differently to mitigate these effects?

My Crew Creation notes. I need to sketch out a Crew Creation
sheet for my graphic designer, Sam Alcarez.

Creating a Characters

When I designed the Crew Creation rules for Broken Contract, my goal was to undermine traditional list building min/maxing dynamics. I feel like there are plenty of games out there for list building fans who enjoy the puzzle of trying to win the game before the first die is rolled. However, Broken Contract is designed for people like me who enjoy the puzzle of, "what can I make happen with what I have on hand?" I find this type of structure to be much more enjoyable, but I've never really liked optimized list building. I came to miniature games from 1st Edition AD&D where you rolled up the stats for your Character and you made them work the best you could, and I loved that. So how does all of this translate into Broken Contract?

I already posted a version of the Crew Creation rules a while back, but just as a brief overview, each Character has a starting point value and can pay points for upgrades. These upgrades you then draw out of a deck. You don't get to pick them to build optimal characters. Instead, the deck has upgrades to various stats, access to drawing an Ability out of a separate deck, and of course - Re-Rolls, which are effectively Re-Draws. These give you opportunities to potentially tweak a Character that isn't coming together quite as you may have hoped. The only time you get to personalize your upgrades a bit is when you draw an "Ability Upgrade". When this happens you build a deck of 8 Abilities of your own choosing and draw one from that. This allows you to attempt to compliment your stat upgrades with useful Abilities.

One of the discussions I had with Hal about this before we started the campaign was that he was concerned that it took away the feeling of choice. That was until he was introduced to the campaign structure where we were about to create 100 point Crews to draw models out of, rather than the 50 point Crews he was used to for our one-off games. Suddenly, he recognized that his seemingly random collection of Characters had turned into a toolbox that he could draw from. And any artist or craftsman has favorite tools for performing different tasks, and that feeling creates attachment. His concerns were allayed.

We each sat down and created 100 point Crews. He built a Black Squadron Crew and I built Breakers. His crew was composed of a Crew Leader, 4 Adults, a Gen-Mod, and 3 Drones decked out with various weapons and equipment. My Breaker Crew was composed of a Crew Leader, 5 Adults, 3 Teens, 1 Child, and a Gen-Mod. We looked at our respective cast of Characters and picked out 50 points worth. As dictated by the Episode, my Crew started out with no weapons; we had to take them by force. At the close of six turns we had a great, tight game that ended in a draw.

Break the padlock and pull everything useful out of the Storage
Container that you can, and get off the board within 6 Turns.


Victory Conditions

We had played Act 1: From Nothing from the rulebook. This mission awards Victory Points for stealing equipment from the FerrumSky Corporation and for capturing Breakers. One of the key differences between Broken Contract and other games is that killing your enemies is penalized rather than rewarded. Each Character rendered Critical or Dead by the opposing side removes one of their Victory Points. This discourages decimating your opponent and instead encourages the Players to play to the objectives. Yes, it can be satisfying to cut your enemies in half, but that doesn't make it wise.

Another detriment to executing a crushing victory is that your opponent receives +5 points to work with in the next Act for each Victory Point that they are beaten by, The losing side is constantly rising to the challenges issued  by the victors. This should temper the compulsion to keep beating on Characters when they are Down, and it also takes away the need to hike up the points for more powerful weaponry. An Oversized Rock Saw is awesome in a pinch with it's ability to cut down an opponent in a single swing, but the likelihood that they will sacrifice a Victory Point by using that Weapon at all should change the role in which they are used.

At the end of Act 1, Hal had earned 2 Victory Points for Sounding the Alarm and Restraining one of my Breakers. I earned 2 Victory Points for having one model Escape from the Exit Point with a stolen sledgehammer. We tied and it was tense until the end. It was a good game.

After the Act

With the game ending in a tie, and with none of the Characters Down, Out, Critical, or Dead there were was no post-game sequence to resolve other than adding points to my Characters that stole equipment. This meant that I'd have to alter my 50 point Crew list in the next game.

All told, Week 1/Act 1 went extremely well and helped to reinforce my design decisions. What do you think?

Thanks for reading!
-Nick

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Broken Contract Update

Hard copy of the Broken Contract Rulebook.

The Broken Contract Rulebook is getting very close to a completed state. Pictured above is a hard copy of the current incarnation with graphic design by Sam Alcarez. He's currently working on the 3rd draft and I'm still going over the 2nd draft looking for corrections and changes that need to be made.

The new Critical Successes and Fumbles Chart.

One of the key changes from the first draft to the second was the inclusion of this chart. If you've looked at or played older incarnations then you may know that most Actions and Interruptions had special rules for Critical Successes and Failures, triggered by rolling natural 6's or 1's. Some of these had their own mini charts under their entries in the Actions and Interruptions section of the book, and this resulted in a lot of page flipping. It also chewed up a lot of space with needless repetition throughout the section. This chapter went through a complete re-write and the chart gives a concise presentation of the information so it doesn't slow down the game.

My favorite part of this chart was the opportunity to expand the Critical Success and Failure results so that the action is heightened and the dramatic moments are more varied. So far I feel like this has made games even more dynamic and interesting. Yesterday I played a game where a Character attempted to Strike one of my own Characters and I elected to Dodge as my Interruption. I got a Critical Success on my Dodge and that triggered a 2nd free Interruption, which I used to Defend and hit back at my opponent. I like this sort of interplay better than something like an Ability that allows me to always Defend after a Successful Dodge. It just feels more uncertain and interesting.

A glimpse inside the rulebook.

There's still a lot to do. For example, the sample cards and counters pictured above don't cover some key bits of information, like the Action Counter that is used as a dial during game play. So there's some stuff that is strictly graphic design oriented that needs to be done, and then there are larger sections like the Equipment and Scenario chapters at the back of the book that need to be significantly tightened up.

All said, we are getting close. I'm behind the schedule that I had intended, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Black Squadron Security models.

In other recent news, I've been busy working on a bunch of models for the three Kickstarter Backers who pledged for the custom painted models and terrain. I've been working steadily along and progress is being made. I'm spending a bit more time per model than I intended but I can't help myself. I have to put another coat of primer on the drones I'm working on so I'll wrap up here.

Thanks for reading!
-Nick

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Game Designers Notebook: Kickstarter Prep

Kickstarter build in progress.

Building a Kickstarter is a complicated beast. In my time developing Broken Contract I've built several that I have never launched, and I have pulled the trigger on two. I learned a lot from both of those experiences, but there are so many variables at play that it is always hard to feel ready - even when you know you are more ready than you've ever been!

With getting ready for the next Kickstarter I wanted to take some time to reflect on some of those lessons.

Broken Contract - Deep Underground 
Cancelled Kickstarter 09/2014

I can still remember how I felt going into that first Kickstarter. I had been working relentlessly on Broken Contract for a year. Most of that time was while I was on worker's compensation from an ACL tear on the job. I had a strong vision and what I thought at the time was a lot development put into art and sculpting. Most importantly, I had calculated what I needed to launch a boxed game and I had exhausted my financial resources at the time. I felt like, "I do this now or never!" so I created my own video with my rudimentary video editing skills, and I used my equally amateur Photoshop skills to create some semi-attractive looking headers out of part of the Broken Contract logo. Looking at what I listed as the box contents, it would have made a fun little game set, though it would have been released woefully behind schedule had it succeeded. I knew where I was headed, and I was impatient to get there. I had read all of the Stonemaier Games Kickstarter Lessons and knew I wasn't entirely prepared but when I was looking at the thought of needing to move onto the "next thing" in my life and being out of money to continue on the path I was on, I just needed to launch and succeed.

History shows, it didn't play out like that. My vision and execution were not conveyed strongly enough to warm the hearts of a weary gaming community. By 2014 so many had been burned by a bunch of other dreamers like myself. I understand now that I just didn't have enough development to show. I had a playable game with some art and sculpts, but I had only a fraction of what I needed to make a strong presentation, I had no traction in the community, and I had very lofty goals. Those aforementioned Kickstarter Lessons told me I needed to make 25% of my Goal by Day 7. At the end of Week 2 I had only reached less than 10% of my $30K Goal. I cancelled the project, absolutely devastated. Still, I needed that money to reach the next stage of development and it didn't come. I gathered myself together and found it in me to pushed on.

The Broken Contract Miniature Starter Set KS
had a lot of pics like this one.

Broken Contract Miniature Starter Set
Successful Kickstarter 04/2015

Impressed by my drive, even if it resulted in failure, my family took notice and gave me some investment capital to work with. I spent the next 8 months pressing forward. My graphic designer, Sam Alcarez, was churning out versions of cards, and character dashboards. My sculptor at the time, Tim Barry, kept sculpting more and more Breakers and Black Squadron models. My artist, John Gendall, kept concept sketches coming. And I continued to develop the game. Most importantly, I continued to refine the Kickstarter.

I started to think really hard about the words Minimum Viable Product, something I had learned about in another Stonemaier Games Kickstarter Lesson. At this point, most of the investment capital had gone into models, and the models themselves, even without the game, were a viable product and the best way for me to recoup some of the investment already put in. With that in mind, Kickstarter attempt number two would be for me to complete the development and manufacture of the models, with a tiny financial goal of $2000.

My real goal though, this time, was to create a "can't lose" Kickstarter. This was meant to be a confidence builder. I needed to show the world what I was capable of, and build trust with the gaming community. I also needed to build confidence in myself and my dream. I needed to know that this was something worth pursuing. The emotions you go through during and after a failed Kickstarter are difficult. I've seen others go the same route as I on that first Kickstarter and then give up their own dream. In my mind though, this was the sort of game I wanted to play, and I had put in too much to give up.

Once again, I slapped together my own Kickstarter video, a little more honed than the one before but still amateur. I had just started working with a new artist, Filip Dudek, and his pieces built great atmosphere to supplement the concept sketches and sculpts I had amassed. Rewatching it now, with this blog post brewing in my head, I can see that I actually did a solid job of highlighting exactly what I had developed, and had to offer people. It was a video designed to sell a set of models for the Broken Contract setting, and it does that as best as I could muster with my skillset.

It was still a stressful experience, but I focused hard on keeping in communication with my artists and sculptors while maintaining constant communication with my Backers to keep them enthused about the project and every development that entered my inbox. It succeeded in three goals: 1) Giving me a success to build confidence. 2) Giving me valuable experience to carry into future endeavors. 3) Giving me capital and time to keep the development process moving forward. In all those regards it was a success.

Aerial shot of a game of Broken Contract 
with the current components.

Broken Contract Rulebook
Kickstarter Coming in September (Hopefully)

During the process of getting everything complete for the last Kickstarter, a whole stack of play aids were created to coincide with the Broken Contract Rulebook. This week Sam sent me his first draft of the rulebook itself without art and it looks great so far. Of course, there will still be proof reading and last minute rules tweaks, that's expected, but we're almost ready to launch this Kickstarter and move onto the next phase of development.

The reality is, we've been preparing for this Kickstarter for a year now. In September of last year I thought we were "wrapping up" the last Kickstarter and I sent out the Backer Surveys and started planning, "the next thing," but the gears of progress sometimes grind more slowly than anticipated with nothing shipping for another 6+ months. I remember using some of that time to start structuring the next Kickstarter, pricing things out, and building the new page. Since then, my printer has offered new and exciting options, pricing has been recalculated a couple of times, and everything has been refocused and refined over and over again.

The next Kickstarter isn't going to focus on models at all. Once again it will be another minimum viable product KS with all of the materials developed during and after last year's Kickstarter. It will push the Broken Contract Rulebook as it's focus and give people access to the game tiles, character dashboards, custom dice, rulers, initiative deck, game chits, and fleshed out ability and equipment decks. Most of this work is completed. If the Kickstarter goes well I'd like to include a couple more models, but that isn't the focus here. I'm working with what I have developed, instead of pushing for something that needs substantially more time and investment.

I started work on a prototype of the next Kickstarter's video, and I'm struggling to decide if I go with my own work, or use the prototype to have a legit video editor take a crack at it. I have some promotion lined up to coincide with the Kickstarter as well, but it's hard getting all of the ducks in a row. As I started the post with, building a Kickstarter is complicated. It's more than throwing an idea out there and hoping it sticks - and the better I understand the process, the more I wrack my brain trying to cover all of the bases. I almost miss my ignorance. It made me more fearless!

Concerns and fears can be the mark of wisdom though. We've learned so much and this Kickstarter will be bigger and better than the last because of it.

Thanks for reading!
-Nick

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Game Designers Notebook: Six Sided Dice and Design Philosophy

My first round of custom dice for Broken Contract. The -# dice
are for Critical Fumbles and the 7/8 dice are for Critical Hits.

I watch a lot of "how to play" videos on YouTube. I think it's important to know what's going on out there even if I don't have the opportunity to try every game available for myself, so this is a great way to stay up on the industry. One of my favorite sources for these videos is the "Let's Play!" series on Guerrilla Miniature Games YouTube channel. By demand, Ash did a video of a game of his own design that he's been developing called, Last Days: Zombie Apocalypse. It's a great looking game and the video is very entertaining. It just seems like it will be very fun to play. But a question came up in the comments: "Why D6?"

Ash didn't answer that I saw, but I'm sure there will be those out there who will wonder the same thing about Broken Contract. I figured I would take the time to discuss the D6 design decision and also go into some detail about the custom dice I'm working on because these choices tie into each other.

The biggest reason to choose the D6 as the basis for Broken Contract was familiarity. The six sided die is comfortable to most people. Almost everyone has played a game or rolled a D6 at some point in their life. Unfamiliar elements make new experiences seem more complex and/or alien. That feeling creates a barrier to entry.

My feelings on this were recently reinforced. I started playing D&D with some friends here in Milwaukee and not all of them are experienced with either D&D or the polyhedral dice used to play the game. As DM, I'd say "Roll a D8" or "Roll a D12" and they'd look at me confused and say, "is that this one?", often holding up the wrong die. Long time gamers don't have that issue, but if you want to court new people, it is a serious consideration.

Some of you will balk and say, "But D10 and D20 systems give way more options, and allow for more modifiers for more gradual bonuses and advancement." I agree, this is all true. but more modifiers mean more math, and that can be a barrier to entry too. The one area where I will clearly agree is that simple D6 systems with target numbers that only fall in the 1-6 range do severely limit character advancement. We worked around that by having a robust collection of characteristics that could be advanced so that a character can continue to improve in skill over time. They just will progress in a more well rounded way instead of just being a Shooting or Close Combat expert like most people try to devote their increases to. At the end of the day, the D6 keeps things simple, but it has limitations. That's where simple charts can come into play.

The original ruleset for Broken Contract had a general 1's and 6's rule, where 1's on a D6 were always a Critical Fumble, and 6's were always a Critical Hit. This rule existed to give a heightened sense of action where things went really well, or could go really badly. The problem was that Fumbles were so frequent, games sometimes felt more like slapstick comedy than action movie glory. This needed to be fixed. My solution was to make it more nuanced. Fumbling meant rolling a 2nd D6 to determine the result. Originally, all of the D6 results were bad, but in this new incarnation 1 was awful, 2 was crappy but not as bad as 1, and a 3 was just an inconvenience. Any result from 4-6 was just a miss. This meant that on natural 1, something bad only happened 50% of the time, and when something bad happened, it didn't always have to be something awful.

First sketch of a Critical Fumble and Hit Chart in my own
game shorthand.

Along the same thinking, a natural 6 was always awesome, and in some cases that didn't fit because the Character might need a target number of 6 just to succeed in the action - so why should it be Critical? This was rectified by adding a D3-1 roll to the result. For those of you not familiar with a D3 roll, a D3 is simply rolling a D6 and halving the result. So 1-2=1, 3-4=2, and 5-6=3. Subtracting 1 from this result gives you a range of 0-2 which is then added to 6, giving a final result of 6-8. This is the kind of math that can push people away from gaming as feeling too complex, so I decided to get some custom dice made. This 2nd roll meant that a natural 6 could still just be a 6, or it could be bumped up to a 7 or 8. And that means that a 7 could be designated a soft critical hit and an 8 could be an awesome critical hit.

In the final incarnation of these dice that go along with the Kickstarter, I may switch over from numbers to symbols. The Fumble dice might have 3 blank sides and then 1 exclamation point, 2 exclamation points and finally 3 exclamation points to indicate the severity of the fumble. The Critical Hit die would have 2 blank sides, 2 sides with small explosions, and 2 sides with large explosions, once again to indicate the magnitude of the critical hit. By switching to symbols it should reduce that confusion. In fact, a player could roll three dice for one attack all at once, the Critical Fumble die, Critical Hit Die, and D6 and ignore the results of the two Critical dice unless a 1 or 6 are rolled, just to speed up game play.

Which brings me to one final note that you may have picked up on... Critical Hits are more frequent than Critical Fumbles. There is a 50% chance of the 2nd roll being a fumble and a 66% chance of the 2nd roll being a Critical Hit. It's only a 16% improvement but you might ask, "Why?" The answer is that players prefer to be rewarded than punished and I want the game to capture "action movie glory" over "3 Stooges slapstick" and this was a nuanced way to do just that.

That's my take. Thanks for reading!
-Nick

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Troublemakers Card Game and Skirmish Supremacy Podcast

Troublemakers prototype.

It's been a busy summer and I've been jumping from project to project based on time, weather, and availability. I was working on a bunch of Broken Contract scenery projects and the custom boards for a few of the Kickstarter Backers but it just got too hot in the attic to work up there, so I moved on to the painted models for those same backers, and took up temporary painting residence in our living room.

We've also had a lot of visitors and a few short trips of our own to go on. My partner, Lisa, and I, went out to Cincinnati, Ohio to visit our friend Jami. Jami requested we bring Broken Contract and Troublemakers with us because she wanted to try both of them. Troublemakers was a project that had been sitting for a while untouched so it was a little thrilling to crack it out and play it with fresh eyes.

Our Harlow, illustrated by Blutt. 

The Genesis of Troublemakers

I lived in Chicago from 2006-2014. During my time there I would see stickers everywhere I went from a street artist who went by Blutt. When my band, Poison Planet, got stickers, it was common practice to sticker the poles outside the places we regularly visited. I picked up on the fact that almost everywhere we went, Blutt and Poison Planet stickers were side by side, so I became really curious who this mysterious street artist was. Lisa and I were both fans of his art and started following him on social media. Little did I know that 1) we had met and 2) he lived a few blocks away from us.

When I noticed that he was posting pics of commissioned art pieces I hit him up to do the above art of our dog, Harlow. His art features a lot of skateboarding, bad kid antics, and dogs, so I thought he'd be a great choice to capture Harlow for Lisa's birthday. Above is that very birthday present.

It was right after I gave Lisa that gift I thought to myself, "Blutt's art would look fantastic in a card game format." I promptly pulled out my notebook and started sketching out a card game featuring the subject matter of his cards. I remember pulling the notebook out on a summer day in the car and Lisa and I brainstorming card ideas back and forth as we drove on some now forgotten errand. Troublemakers was a game inspired by Blutt's art, not a card game that was cleverly structured in advance. In that way, Troublemakers is an homage to one of our favorite street artists.

An outline of a game and possible cards were detailed in my notebook and ready to be prototyped in some way. I was immerse in gearing up for the Broken Contract Faction Set Kickstarter, so those ideas sat in a spiral notebook for another year untouched. We moved to Milwaukee a few months before that Kickstarter and I hadn't fallen into a steady group of miniature gamers just yet. Instead, we did make a bunch of casual boardgaming friends, so once the KS was over my thoughts turned to Troublemakers as a project to explore further.

This is what my early prototypes look like.

The original prototype was 50-60 cards written out on black cardstock with a white fabric pencil. (Why? Because the black cardstock was what I had laying around in abundance, and the fabric pencil was more visible that the normal pencil I originally attempted.) It featured a list of words, symbols, and numbers, some representative of my experience as a young adult, and most of it based upon bits of Blutt's art. The cards were mostly items that had subcultural currency, like skateboards, rebel jackets, and fixed gear bikes. This incarnation was played quite a bit to kick off board game nights before we dove into something heavier, which was part of the design philosophy: Create a simple, fun, quick game that will bring some laughs through cool, clever art and sometime ridiculous circumstances, with Blutt's art being the driving force to facilitate it all.

During this stage we talked to Blutt and he was amped on the idea but gaming is a world he's never explored. The coolness and excitement was tempered by a lack of familiarity and confidence with the execution. You can tell someone, "just draw what you normally draw" but with a massive list of card names and icons staring you down, it can be overwhelming. With me now full-on immersed in working to deliver those Broken Contract Faction Sets to the backers, I just had to put Troublemakers aside. So it went back into the closet for another year.


After Jami encouraged us to bring Troublemakers to Cincinnati, we settled into a weekend of gaming and played a half dozen hands or so. We also showed Jami samples of Blutt's art. Through it all, we just got hyped talking about the ideas behind the game. When we got home I shot Blutt a message and he said he was still excited about the idea, but just felt stuck on the execution. This is when I took matters into my own hands. I wanted him to see that what he does every day is exactly what we wanted. I raided his published images and constructed cards based around them just to get a visual prototype he could use as a guide. The above cards are not final cards, but all of the art is his. Everything from photos of gallery pieces he's done to sketch book doodles were remixed to create a 72 card deck over the span of 3 days, drawing from 100's of images he's created over the last 2-3 years. A professional prototype was then made through TheGameCrafter so that I could send one for him to hold and use as a basic guide.

He has since received the cards and he's looking forward to exploring the game further in the autumn when his schedule frees up. I think this will be a really fun project. I know I had a great time putting together this prototype and I have even more ideas for the future.

Before parting I want to direct you all to an interview I got to do with Skirmish Supremacy Podcast. They took an evening out to talk to me about Broken Contract and gaming as a whole and I had a stellar time rambling on about a bunch of gaming related subjects. If you are into that sort of thing you should give it a listen. Thanks for reading!

-Nick

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Act: From Nothing

This group of FerrumSky miners has been plotting their escape for months, watching and waiting for their moment. Tonight is that night. Gambling, distracted security officers and a malfunctioning drone have created a golden opportunity to slip out of their barracks chamber. The only hitch is, the crew has already returned their tools for the night and are completely unarmed. Without tools or weapons this break attempt can only be made through their abilities and determination.

Breaker Goal: Get off the board with as much equipment as possible, with as many Characters as possible. Try not to let your enemies become Critical or Dead.

Black Squadron Goal: Sound the Alarm and Restrain as many Breakers as possible. Try not to let your enemies become Critical or Dead.

Points: Breakers and Black Squadron 50. The Breakers may spend no points on Equipment other than required Equipment like the Gen-Mod Apparatus. They are starting the episode with nothing.

Set-Up
Place the tiles in a 3x3 grid of all 4 way tunnels. The Breakers start in their Deployment Tile in the upper left of the grid. The Black Squadron Characters start in their Deployment Tile in the upper right of the grid. A storage container full of tools should be placed on any wall of the center tile (Breaker player’s choice. If there are multiple Breaker players they should each draw a card from the Initiative Deck and whoever gets the lowest card gets to place the storage container.) The Black Squadron player may place D3 Barricades across any passage outside the Breaker Deployment Tile, at the line where two tiles meet. The Black Squadron player must split their Crew into two groups. Roll a D6 with Group A (1-3) and Group B (4-6) being placed on their Deployment Tile. The Group not placed at the start of the game may come on the board from any board edge passage after someone Sounds the Alarm. The alarm should be placed on one of the far walls of the upper center tile by the Black Squadron player. The last thing to be determined will be the Exit Point. The Exit Point will be one of the passages along the bottom board edge on the grid. Roll a D6. Bottom Left (1-2), Bottom Center (3-4), Bottom Right (5-6).

The board will also have D3 Barrels (1-4) or I-Beams (5-6) littering the area. Take turns placing these starting with the Breaker player. These can be placed anywhere on the board that isn’t in a Deployment Tile.

Breaker Deployment Tile
Alarm Tile
Black Squadron Deployment Tile

Storage Container Tile

Exit Point
(1-2)
Exit Point
(3-4)
Exit Point
(5-6)

Special Rules

Barrels and I-Beams: Barrels and I-Beams are Oversized Equipment. Barrels are Range: 6”, Str: +1, Push (as Action) or Reach: -, Str: +1, Push (as Action).

Barricade: Barricades may be 2” or 4” long and may be placed at least 1” from any tile edge, including exit points. Barricades are 1” tall obstacles that must be Jumped or Climbed. A Jump of 1” will not clear the Barricade and the jumping Character will stop at the point where they intended to cross. Walking and Climbing are separate Actions so it will take an Action to get to the Barricade and a second Action to Climb over it.

Exit Points: If any part of the base of a model crosses the over the edge of an Exit Point they are considered to be Escaped! And are removed from the board.

FerrumSky Mine: The FerrumSky mines are littered with large rocks. At any point a Character may pick up a Rock for 1 AP, no Search Action required.

Sound Alarm (1AP): When a Character is in base contact with the Alarm token the Character can spend 1 AP to sound the alarm and cause any open hydraulic doors to emergency release and close in an instant. After the button is hit the door immediately drops with a crash. If any part of the base of a model is on the hazard stripes when the door seals the model takes a Strength 3 hit doing D6 Wounds. This does not require a Key Card but will alert the control room of the mining facility that there is a problem in this sector.

Storage Container: Storage Containers are always placed along a wall so that they do not block through-traffic. There should be a 1.5” path around the Storage Container so that it narrows the route but does not block it. Storage Containers may be climbed and stood on top of. Containers may also be entered by breaking the padlock with a Strike Action from a Character with a Strength stat of 4 or better, or a weapon that would allow the Character to succeed on a 4 or better. The padlock is considered Prone (+1 to hit) for the purposes of Striking it. It takes 1AP to enter or exit the Container. A Character may also Search a Container for 1AP. A successful Perceive check will result in potentially spotting something useful. Roll a D6 if successful: 1 Lose an Additional Action, 2-3 Nothing of Value, 4 Shovel, 5 Sledgehammer or Big Wrench, 6 Pickaxe or Rock Hammer, 7 Oversized Rock Saw or Mining Drill, 8 Choose any 1 item from the Equipment Deck.

Act Length

The Act lasts 10 turns. If at the end of any Recovery Phase all of the Breakers or Black Squadron are Restrained, Shocked, Down, Out, Critical, Dead or have left the board the Act ends and the game is over.

Winning

Tally up Victory Points. The Breakers earn 1 point for each Character they get off the board from the designated Exit Point. The Breakers earn an additional point for every piece of Equipment they get out of the Storage Container and off the Exit Point. The Breakers lose 1 point for every Character they leave Critical or Dead on the opposing side.

The Black Squadron officers or Loyalists earn 1 point for each Breaker Restrained at the end of the game, either in Restraints or Grappled. They also earn 1 point for Sounding the Alarm. They lose 1 point for every Character they leave Critical or Dead on the Breaker side.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Making Mine Scenery for Game Mats


Last year I ran a sixteen article series on Making Mine Scenery, but it revolved around fully modeled 8"x10" board sections. This idea pre-dated my decision to switch to 8"x8" board game tiles, similar to games like Zombicide. These newer game tiles were still based on my original designs, but going square just made them more flexible to use and easier to design. However, that isn't the only drive behind revisiting Making Mine Scenery. 

A more recent incarnation of the board game tiles with their
3D equivalents.

In the last year, roll out game mats have taken the wargaming world by storm. Yeah, they started to make an impact a few years ago, but now they are everywhere and they are incredibly varied. A lot of the early ones didn't make me go, "WOW!" But Guerrilla Miniature Games Widgets and Wonders series on Youtube and their weekly programming of battle reports using these mats has showed me it was time to present another way of creating BC scenery to accommodate the game mat crowd. The GMG 'Widgets and Wonders' video linked above shows a 3'x3' wasteland mat that looks like it would be perfect to combine with the blocks I'm about to show you how to build.

2"x2" strips of pink foam.

I started with my usual pink foam. I used 2" thick foam and cut it on a table saw into 2" wide strips. Now I know most people don't have access to a table saw, and honestly, the occasional kickback it occasionally delivered when it bit into the foam was sort of terrifying. You can use a break away blade knife or a foam cutter if you prefer. 

Foam blocks cut to different lengths and textured with "V" cuts.

Next I cut up my foam into 8", 6", 4", and 2" length sections. These were cut in rocky patterns making "V" cuts. This technique can be read in greater detail in Making Mine Scenery Part II from last year.

First coat: Citadel Rhinox Hide.

Once the batch of cut blocks were done and read for painting, they were given a coat of Citadel Rhinox Hide/Citadel Scorched Brown. This was actually matched at Home Depot in their paint sample sized container for a few dollars.

Second coat: Citadel Rhinox Hide (again).

Next they were given a second coat to ensure maximum opacity. Off to the right hand side, out of view, was a box fan drying the paint quicker so I can move stages along.

Third coat: Zamesi Desert drybrush.

The next stage was a very heavy drybrush of Citadel Zamesi Desert/Citadel Bubonic Brown. I drybrushed largely in one direction all the way around, then flipped the block over and went in the reverse direction. If you wanted the light to come from a specific direction you could change that up and just do downward strokes or whatever.

Fourth coat: Citadel Ushabti Bone drybrush.

Next I followed with a drybrush of Citadel Ushabti Bone/Citadel Bleached Bone. This was done more lightly to allow some of the Zamesi Desert to still be visible.

Fifth coat: Stippled Apple Barrel Graphite.

These are supposed to be iron mines, so to give them some of that character and tone I started targeting areas with other colors. This stage was done with a jabbed stipple of Apple Barrel Graphite, but could be easily replaced with Citadel Mechanicus Standard Grey. I tried to stick to recesses and other areas to draw out interest.

Sixth coat: Stippled and drybrushed Citadel Ironbreaker.

The Graphite areas were stippled/drybrushed with Citadel Ironbreaker/Citadel Chainmail.

Seventh coat: Stippled and drybrushed Citadel Ryza Rust.

To finish it out, I did a liberal drybrush and stipple of Citadel Ryza Rust, though any orange would do.

Close up of the colors.

As you can see there is a whole lot of color on the finished blocks.


I don't actually own any game mats so I set up some shots using one of my finished flat desert boards.


And I threw in some bits like this Wreck-Age shipping container for good measure.

24"x24" board made out of these blocks and a some prefab terrain.

This 24"x24" area was set up using entirely the set of blocks that I batch painted throughout those pictures. I'm still a little short of what would make what I would see as a perfect set capable of making a hugely flexible board. To do that I need to cut a lot more of the 2"x2" cubes and get them painted up.

Two level set up.

As I was playing around with the blocks, I also saw the creative options combining these with game board tiles could provide. This is actually a two level board built out of blocks and game board tiles.


You can see it from a model's eye view here. I think this could make for some fantastic gaming options!

Thanks for reading.
-Nick

PS. If you want to check out the original series to see more things you can do with your mine scenery, here are the links:

Making Mine Scenery Part I - Project Overview
Making Mine Scenery Part II - Making a Chasm and How to Do "V" Cuts in the Foam
Making Mine Scenery Part III - Colors Compared to a Real Iron Mine
Making Mine Scenery Part IV -  Chasm Continued and Secret Tunnel
Making Mine Scenery Part V - Building and Painting the Secret Tunnel Seal
Making Mine Scenery Part VI - Secret Tunnel/Chasm Complete and Hydraulic Door Begins
Making Mine Scenery Part VII - Scratch Built Hydraulic Door
Making Mine Scenery Part VIII - Painting the Hydraulic Door and Caution Stripes
Making Mine Scenery Part IX - Making Rock Piles and Cave Ins
Making Mine Scenery Part X - Building an Elevator Shaft
Making Mine Scenery Part XI - Scratch Building and Painting an Elevator Cab
Making Mine Scenery Part XII - Detailing and Painting the Elevator Area
Making Mine Scenery Part XIII - Feature on Playtester, RobH's Mine
Making Mine Scenery Part XIV - Building and Painting Fencing from Horizon 3D
Making Mine Scenery Part XV - Horizon 3D Detailing Continued
Making Mine Scenery Part XVI - Building the Cavern from 'It's Time'

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Act: Escape Route


This is the first Act (scenario) designed for "matched play" games of Broken Contract. It's random set up is meant to make the Act endlessly replayable. Though Broken Contract was designed for narrative play, this scenario will allow for pick up games, or a great "mid episode" game as Characters move from Act 1 to Act 3 of an Episode of your own crafting. Give it a try and let us know what you think! -Nick 


The Mission: The Breakers have established one or more viable escape routes and are making a press toward their exit. Black Squadron Security or Loyalists must try to stop their attempt to break through.

Set-Up: The Breakers know their viable exit points. Roll a D3 to find out how many exit points they may choose from. Next roll 3D3 to determine how many 8”x8” board tiles they may set down to determine their potential exit routes. The Breaker player sets down one tile as their start point and then continues to lay tiles until they are happy with the layout. Next the Breaker player must declare where the exit points are. There must be at least one tile between the Breaker start tile and a tile with an exit point. The opposing side may roll a D3 for the number of obstacles they have to slow the Breakers down. Roll a D3 for what these obstacles are: 1) Storage Container 2) Barricade 3) Hydraulic Door. Place the obstacles in any tile that is not the Breaker start tile. For specifics on how they may be placed see the Special Rules below. The Breakers may be placed anywhere in the Breaker start tile, at least 3” away from any obstacles. The opposing side may distribute their models on any tile with an exit point. Finally, place an Alarm token along a wall on a tile that was placed adjacent to the Breaker start tile.


Example Set-Up #1: Rolled one Exit Point, three tiles, and one Hydraulic Door. The Alarm would be placed somewhere on the middle tile.


Example Set-Up #2: Rolled three Exit Points, six tiles, and three Hydraulic Doors. The Black Squadron player would place the alarm somewhere on the "T" section tile in the center.


Example Set-Up#3: Rolled two Exit Points, seven tiles, two Storage Containers, and one Barricade. The Alarm would be placed on the tile with the Barricade.

Special Rules:

Storage Container: Storage Containers are always placed along a wall so that they do not block through-traffic. There should be a 1.5” path around the Storage Container so that it narrows the route but does not block it. Storage Containers may be climbed and stood on top of. Containers may also be entered by Lock Breaking. Lock Breaking is 1AP and requires a successful Strength Check. It takes 1AP to enter or exit the Container. A Character may also Search a Container for 1AP. A successful Perceive check will result in potentially spotting something useful. Roll a D6 if successful: 1 Lose an Additional Action, 2-3 Nothing of Value, 4 Shovel, 5 Sledgehammer or Big Wrench, 6 Pickaxe or Rock Hammer, 7 Oversized Rock Saw or Mining Drill, 8 Choose any 1 item from the Equipment Deck.

Barricade: Barricades may be 2” or 4” long and may be placed at least 1” from any tile edge, including exit points. Barricades are 1” tall obstacles that must be Jumped or Climbed. A Jump of 1” will not clear the Barricade and the jumping Character will stop at the point where they intended to cross. Walking and Climbing are separate Actions so it will take an Action to get to the Barricade and a second Action to Climb over it.

Hydraulic Door: Hydraulic doors may be placed across any 4” passage that is not on the Breaker start tile. A Key Pad token must be placed on an adjacent wall within 2” of the Door. Doors may be Opened or Closed at the Key Pad token by a standing Character with a Key Card (1AP) with automatic success, or by Crack the Code (1AP) which requires an Intellect Check at -1 to the roll, with a success activating the door.

Hydraulic Doors do not Open/Close instantly. These hydraulic overhead doors are slow and take 3 Recovery Phases to Open/Close fully, sealing or being fully open on the 4th Recovery Phase. It closes narrower and narrower each Recovery Phase after the door is activated. Place a D6 next to the door. When closing on the 1st and 2nd Recovery Phases Characters may pass through the door without a problem. On the 3rd Recovery Phase Characters may only Crawl or Dive Roll under the door. On the 4th Recovery Phase the door is sealed. If any part of the base of a model is on the hazard stripes when the door seals the model takes a Strength 3 hit doing D6 Wounds.

Exit Points: If any part of the base of a model crosses the over the edge of an Exit Point they are considered to be Escaped! And are removed from the board.

Sound Alarm (1AP): When a Character is in base contact with the Alarm token the Character can spend 1 AP to sound the alarm and cause any open hydraulic doors to emergency release and close in an instant. After the button is hit the door immediately drops with a crash. If any part of the base of a model is on the hazard stripes when the door seals the model takes a Strength 3 hit doing D6 Wounds. This does not require a Key Card but will alert the control room of the mining facility that there is a problem in this sector.

Act Length: The Act lasts 8 turns. If at the end of any Recovery Phase all of the Breakers are Restrained, Shocked, Down, Out, Critical, Dead or have left an Exit Point the Act ends and the game is over.

Winning the Act: Tally up Victory Points. The Breakers earn 1 point for each Character they get out through one of the Exit Points. The Breakers earn an additional point if all of the Characters exit out the same Exit Point (safety in numbers). The Breakers lose 1 point for every Character they leave Critical or Dead on the opposing side.

The Black Squadron officers or Loyalists earn 1 point for each Breaker Restrained at the end of the game, either in Restraints or Grappled. They also earn 1 point for Sounding the Alarm. They lose 1 point for every Character they leave Critical or Dead on the Breaker side.

Here it is in PDF form: Escape Route PDF