Blockade fared well at GenCon. My goal was to bring forth a nice core rule set to demonstrate maneuvering, combat, and my nifty little formation mechanic. I think this went well. But, I heard repeatedly that players want more variety. They wanted to see new objectives, variant means of setup, and so forth. Since then, I've also been asked to consider alternate ship and fleet building options.
Well, you're in luck. Scenarios were planned from the beginning! In this post, I'd like to discuss scenario design at a high level in the hopes the thoughts are useful to other designers. I'll be using examples from games like Memoir '44, Robinson Crusoe, Mice and Mystics, and Blockade.
Note: The rules don't yet incorporate my card-based presentation idea mentioned here. However, some scenarios tell you to "draw the <ship name> reference card." I hope that isn't too confusing.
Scenarios exist to provide structured and planned variety in a game. Scenarios can easily add spice to an intentionally simple core design that might otherwise lack replayability. Much of the complexity in York, a game without scenarios, is to allow for flexibility so that not every game is the same. Alternate goals, faction abilities, dynamic fort placement -- all of these help make different plays unique. Were it scenario driven, the core could perhaps be simpler.
Scenarios can also provide a framework for telling a story, which is something you'll see more and more of in games.
To satisfy these goals, here are some of the components of good scenario design:
Scenarios provide new goals. One of the best ways to vary a combat driven game is to shift the goal from "destroy everything" to something else. Starcraft II does this masterfully. Yes, in every mission you're going to be building bases, commanding units, and engaging in combat. But, why you do that changes almost every time. Some of my favorite Memoir '44 missions force me to capture an objective or protect something. Yes, I'm still fighting, but I'm doing so with a purpose other than annihilation.
In Mice and Mystics, sometimes I need to fight specific monsters, or take specific actions (like Search) in certain rooms. Am I still mostly fighting as I move through the level? Yes, but now I also have something else to do.
Every scenario in Robinson Crusoe gives the player a new goal, which is often an entirely new mechanic. These are cleverly given their own boards to visually reinforce what needs to be done. I have only played this once, but I think it'll be a good teacher for me.
So far in Blockade, most of my missions end when a point total is reached by one of the teams. Points are primarily earned by destroying the opponent, but I've introduced alternate methods to distract you, like defenseless merchant ships you can destroy (and escort), or precious cargo containers that you can board and steal.
Good goals should present a new experience without forcing me to re-learn the mechanics. Things I've learned in one scenario should transfer to another, but how I use this knowledge can shift.
Scenarios twist the rules. Scenarios in many ways are like cards -- they let you break the rules within reason. Memoir '44 does this in a few brilliant ways:
- Players defending in a surprise attack begin with fewer cards to represent the commander being surprised and having fewer options.
- Soviet players must select their move one turn in advance to represent the commissars restricting the freedom of battlefield commanders and generally obstructing the victory.
- Winter rules make some terrain types deadly, when in summer, no such rules exist.
These rules need to be introduced lightly and sparingly. At most, 1-2 per scenario. Remember, the player shouldn't have to revisit your rule booklet every time a new scenario is played. Bend the rules, twist them. Don't erase them and start from scratch.
In one Blockade mission, I allow the Martian ships to escape from a pre-defined jump point. To do so, they must hit a difficult roll. That's it.
Good scenarios give me a new way to experience the core I love without hurting my head or confusing me.
Scenarios change a player's tool set. Military games do this really well. In new scenarios you can define:
- The number of units a player has available
- The type of Units a player has available
- The location and setup of these units on the board
Blockade uses all of these, because it just makes sense. Fantasy games like Mice and Mystics alter the enemies you fight or the members in your party.
You can also change the actions available to a player. Perhaps a lieutenant in this situation can order a squad to use smoke grenades, which isn't always available. This way you limit and customize a player's actions to add variety within reason, but don't overwhelm them with 50 actions available always.
In Robinson Crusoe, different scenarios change the tools (literally, like rope) available to you. This means you don't just use knife, traps, and chemistry every scenario. You have to branch out!
Good scenarios give the players a new toy to play with. Something exciting that sparks their imagination. Good scenarios force players to get out of their comfort zone and pursue a different tactic.
Scenarios change the scenery. Scenarios are a great opportunity to transport players to a new part of the world you've created. With just a few boards and hex tokens, I can fight on any battlefield in the world in Memoir '44. Similarly, Robinson Crusoe adds volcanoes, or Mice and Mystics moves me from the guard room to the courtyard.
In Blockade, I'm dealing with space, so I can't just add trees. However, I CAN introduce asteroid belts, debris fields, space stations, defensive lasers, planets, and anything else you've seen in Star Wars. This can easily be done with a handful of generic tokens and event cards shuffled into the deck to power them.
Using the items above, this scenery can introduce new rules. For example, asteroids add protection when you're inside a belt, though if they crash into you, they can also hurt you. Watch out!
Continuing on this, the scenery can add new goals. I may have a scenario where one side needs to protect a space station. The other should destroy it.
Therefore, scenery isn't just a set of new curtains, but a medium by which to enhance and vary the experience.
Good scenarios take players to new places and change the rules in a thematic and exciting way.
Scenarios change the difficulty or provide an advantage. This isn't a primary one, but it's something I like. Scenarios give you a chance to handicap a great player by putting him at a disadvantage, or giving players an opportunity to see who does the best in a bad situation.
Personally, I think it's fun to see who can hold the Alamo the longest. Can you beat 13 days?
One of my favorite examples is the Battle of Hoth. The Imperials clearly had an advantage here. A superior fleet, the element of surprise, and superior ground forces. The Rebels were always going to lose. Really, the question was how badly? Based on the movie, I'd say they did quite well! With relatively few loses, the fleet and majority of their resources escaped with only minor casualties.
That's the type of thing I'd like to see in Blockade. There are going to be times when the Martians, for example, should lose. But, how badly will they do so? Can the Martian Admiral change the course of history, or at least give himself a better footing in the next mission when the tables turn?
Good scenarios let you change the balance of things. Balance isn't always required. Really, the only requirement is that the scenario is fun and reasonable. 50 against 1? Lame. There's an obvious level of silliness, but getting it just right is the hard part.
What do you think a good scenario should do? What are some of your favorite scenario based games?