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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

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