Post by: Grant Rodiek
I’m in the business of space battles lately, because even Space Xenu knows that the world needs another fleet battle game. Snark aside, that line of thinking is what brought me to my current line of thinking. I had the realization that the world didn’t need the game I was making. Yes, it was going to be fine, but it wasn’t enough to stand out. I started thinking about space and what I could do uniquely to stand apart from Summoner Wars or Memoir ’44.
Before we discuss my current line of thinking, I want to catch you up on the gist of the game.
- 2 player tactical fleet battle game with a focus on being an Admiral. Directing squadrons of ships (capital and fighter), not “this ship shoots this ship.”
- Scenarios that you play within a persistent overarching campaign mode. Telling a story and evolving the game is key.
- Ships will be identical in a rule sense, i.e. you don’t need to learn different behavior for a dreadnought or a fighter. Instead, I’ve designed a simple system where different ships will roll different dice (green, yellow, or red d6) and require different dice to be hit. So, a fighter may shoot weak green dice and only take a green to be destroyed. A dreadnought may shoot red die, which can’t hit fighters, but will pop destroyers quite nicely.
- Formations play a big role in providing combat bonuses.
One of the biggest problems with the old system was that ships were represented by cards. If I had a fleet of 20 ships, that meant 20 cards. So, for two players that could mean 30-40 cards spread around that table. They took up far too much space and that limits the playability of the game.
There was also too much to read with too many orders scattered around. I knew I needed to fundamentally revise how the game was presented (what components, what the thing looks like) AND I wanted to do something to set it apart from flat, 2D battle games (like the two I mentioned above).
Space is 3 dimensional. There is forwards, backwards, left, right, but also up and down. How can I introduce an up and down without sending players screaming in anguish and pain? Attack Vector does this, with facing in all three dimensions (see below). But wow, it looks difficult.
I also thought about components. Could an entire squadron just be a single miniature? Is that satisfying? Can I stack cards or punchboard tokens? Would that even make sense? How would players even see the information. Stacking became the key verb. Stack. Stack. Stack.
Then I thought about Jenga. Specifically, Jenga‘s blocks.
These blocks have thickness, enough for simple shapes to be displayed. They can stack, which lets them be put in three dimensional formations. I started playing around with various ideas and shapes.
Firstly, I needed to figure out how I’d present the information. On the card version, the top would show color cubes to indicate what your rolled for combat. For example, 2 green squares would indicate you roll 2 green dice when firing. The bottom of the card would indicate what dice were needed to cause damage (and FYI, a 3+ is a hit for any color). For example, a fighter could be destroyed with a single yellow or green hit.
With the block component I introduced two new concepts:
- Facing: The direction of your block indicates where it is heading. Which may dictate what weapons can fire.
- Broadsides: Ships can fire lightly from the front, but much heavier from the side. In a game with laser batteries (not missiles), a good broadside made sense.
To me, this basic setup would allow me to quickly read ships and see what was going on. I then started creating basic formations. Just to see what shapes I could make that would make fictional sense.
I began thinking about conveying this information. Firstly, how do I bake defensive or offensive benefits into things? Change up rules, like a defensive formation requires hits of 4+ instead of 3+? That’s not too complex, but if you both have 3-5 squadrons, each with variations, that means a lot of double checking. Lame.
Also, yes, over time you would remember the shapes and what they meant. But for several games you’d…play a card down? “What does that formation do again?” “I dunno, check the card.” Lame.
A friend and long-time tester of my prototypes randomly threw out the suggestion that ships could have a “soft spot,” the Death Star exhaust ports that are vulnerable. This led us to discussing positioning. How do you cover your soft spots? And what’s the trade off? I started to think that your ship might have gun ports and soft spots. You can cover them with other ships, at the cost of losing firepower. Here’s a quick mock:
The ship next to the “1” has 3 Yellow batteries. That’s pretty impressive! But, it also has a soft spot, indicated by the red dot, in its center. Okay, well, I position my smaller ship alongside it to cover the soft spot. However, now I only have 2 Yellows firing, instead of a possible 4 between both of them combined.
This simple example led me to believe I could completely eliminate my designer created formations and rules. Instead, by creating ships with varying soft spots and armament I could let the players create their own formations. My hope is that player creativity and simply reading the UI on the ship guides you. The formation in the example is a very defensive formation. I could cover up this ship further, or string them along in a line so that all the guns are brought to bear. It may cost you, but that’s a risk you’re willing to take.
Let’s talk about fighters! A squadron will consist of 1-3 capital ships (longer blocks) and any number of fighters (square blocks, traditional war game shape). Each player will control (typically) 3-5 squadrons per scenario. Squadrons move together, rotate together, and will fire together. They are the control unit.
Whereas capital ships will move and maneuver sluggishly through the battle space, fighters will zip around willy nilly. They will be a finite and volatile resource that will turn the tide in a battle. My hope is that a good player will maneuver his capital ships such that he is bringing immense fire against his target while his fighters move against its flank to give him that 20% edge. Capital ships will be more strategic, fighters more tactical. I think stacking these little blocks on top of your enemy’s squadrons will be satisfying and visually exciting.
I’ve zipped through this in order to be brief. I haven’t even talked about squadron commanders, the story and campaign, and other elements. I’ll get there. For now, I wanted to write about the blocks and how the fleets will stack.
This is still fuzzy, so stick with me. Thoughts? Comments?
As a gift for reading, I invite you to take a visit to the Danger Zone.