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