Battle Report: Mars Rising

GameSetup

I've been busting my butt for a few weeks to get Mars Rising (previously Blockade) re-designed, re-built, and ready to test again. I had a friend over today for a long 2 player game day, so after a few games of the delightful Mice and Mystics and Vampire Empire, we setup Mars Rising for a quick play.

The image at the top of this article is the game setup from my vantage point as the Martian player. I'm going to walk you through the battle to hopefully give you a taste for what took place.

The Setting

The sovereign star nations of Mars and United Terra are uneasy enemies. The setup is not unlike our Cold War here on Earth in the present day. Mars and Terra are the dominant forces in the Sol System, with a few fledgling star nations and groups in between. For the first campaign in Mars Rising, I'm focusing on a short-intense conflict where Terra catches Mars off guard with a surprise assault on their holdings in the Jovian Lunar Belts.

However, today's battle takes place in the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars. The Martian Defense Fleet has a small outpost manned by a few fighter squadrons in a station just off the Ceres dwarf planet.

 

This posting is a lazy waypoint for merchants. It's slow and most sought by pilots on their way out, or those who don't want to be busy. Nobody in the Martian forces were expecting to find a Terran Battle Fleet  here.

At the start of this mission, the Terrans have an overwhelming force:

  • 2 Interceptor Squadrons
  • Battlecruiser Squadron
  • Battleship squadron
  • Potential destroyer reinforcements (Event)

The Martians are overwhelmed. They have:

  • 4 Fighter squadrons (player's choice of splitting between interceptors and bombers)
  • An immobile and largely defenseless space station
  • A lone Merchant transport

The Terrans win when they destroy 4 Martian units, one of which must be the station. In the unlikely event the Martians destroy 4 Units first, that will also end the mission. The Martians have a few secret goals: navigate the Merchant ship safely to a point on the map, at which point it can warp out to warn Martian forces at Io (this will benefit the next mission). And, hurt Terran ships -- the Martians can fight desperately to force the Terrans to begin the next mission with a bit of a bloody nose as far as ships being weakened.

If you're curious about approximate balance, Interceptors are best against other Interceptors and Bombers. Bombers are good against capital ships, terrible against fighters. Destroyers are generally balanced and nimble. Battlecruisers are heavy and meant to kill other capital ships. Battleships are death machines.

The Battle

FightersCards My Fighter Squadrons
StartingFighters My fighter squadrons on the board around the station.

Early I began moving the Merchant ship away from the enemy battleship. I also tried to distract him by sending my bombers in the middle of his formation.

BomberAttack!

You can see the lone Square with the red marker and the "A" on it (to note Alpha Squadron). I dropped his battleship's shields early! (The battleship is the narrow rectangular strip with the A to the right of my bombers).

The asteroids (brown circles) offered limited protection, but his fighters chewed me up.

The wooden blue and red circles? These are command tokens. You place these on your units to denote that they've been chosen for this turn. The trick is, you need to alternate and cannot pick units with a token.

Merchant

The triangle with the red mark and an A on it is my Merchant ship. If you look just behind him in the foreground, you can see the battleships aren't too far away. I chose here to hold off, but I should have kept moving him. As a result, that Battleship moved in range and devastated the merchant ship. He died -- no warning would be sent to my fleet at Io.

StationDeath

You can see his Battlecruiser squadron, the blue triangle with the B, next to the station. The battleships are just to the right. My bombers were wreaking havoc, but I couldn't stop him in time. The station fell, as we all knew it would. Notice the blue shield token -- that denotes a defensive bonus. This is a learning from a previous prototype.

Ultimately, the squadrons at Ceres were devastated and the Terran fleet plowed through as we expected. I was a bit too hasty with some of my early moves and did not play for the long game. Lessons learned!

Development Notes

This was a good test and it told me a few things. Firstly, I'm on the right track. I liked the game and my friend liked the game. We talked about it quite a bit afterwards and he texted me when he got home asking for my email so that he could send me some ideas. That's a good sign!

There are a few things to massage. One, Events should trigger on doubles, not triples. As it stood, they only happened once. I'd like them to happen about 4 or 5 times to really add variety.

Secondly, Battlecruisers in general have too many shields. Easily fixed.

The system failure tokens were really cool. When your shields go down, you draw one at random. It dings one of your four systems by 1. It can be really bad, just bad, or completely harmless, which I think is fun. It's also thematic: "Captain, we lost battery four!"

I just needed to add 2 simple rules to balance out the current ship bonuses . You can never have more than 1 type of ability in a squadron, so, you cannot have 2 attack, or 2 defense. Furthermore, only 1 passive formation bonus per squadron. A third, mostly tuning philosophy, is to make the passive abilities less powerful. They are practically free, so don't make them nutty good.

This was one of my first scenario tests and it was generally good to see my thoughts for how to handle them are on the right path. The game was short, explosive, and fun. I dig it.

One Wild Idea

My friend offered one really awesome idea that I'm toying with. The idea is, there are movement penalties on the outer rings. This would represent the size of space as you go farther from the center. An example is that the two inner rings would be 1 Movement, but the two outer rings would cost 2 Movement.

I'm curious how it would change the game.

Update: The wise Jerry Hawthorne just suggested I split the outer spaces into multiple spaces. That way, the rule doesn't change -- there are just more spaces. Smart guy!

He also had some fun scenario ideas, such as making the center a sun at times. Flying near it on the closest ring would cause shield damage (maybe!).

Conclusion

I'm very happy to be back into testing with a game. Blockade saw a bit of a hiatus while I waited to hear feedback and then rebuild it. Being able to test and iterate upon data and the experience is like a drug for me and it makes me really happy. I love developing an idea.

As a side note, I have about 15 clients left to tune for Flipped and it'll be ready to play as well.

Comments

I'm excited to hear about this new version and your progress, Grant. Your description of The Setting really struck me and I can't wait to try it out. (I should have more time to print and play it after Thanksgiving.)

You may be tired of answering this question, but I don't remember seeing it explained, what was the impetus to move from big blocks to little tiles?

Summary: The game is already a tiny niche as it's sci fi tactics. No publisher is going to spend the money to use blocks, which are very expensive.

Secondly, I was challenged by a publisher to find ways to have more ship variety, fleet building (as in the composition of squadrons), etc. Ultimately, I realized I wanted to make a more complex game than the blocks allowed.

Finally, they were a fiddly component. Yes, they were toy-like and fun, but they were tedious beyond the initial enjoyment.

By taking a step back and examining a game driven by cards, simpler dice, and flexibility, I have a much stronger design built on the cool core of the blocks game.

Does that answer it?

Very cool, Grant.

You might also consider having extra areas close to the center representing the gravity well of the planet. Perhaps overlays for different planets, asteroids, or the sun?

You might also have non uniform radii?

Also, your visual design is starting to make me think of a radar screen which could be fun.

You're precisely on my wavelength! I put a planet in the center just to fill the empty space, but the ultimate idea is to make that blank and fill it with tokens based on the scenario. Precisely as you noted: Planets, stations, suns, asteroids, whatever I need.

Non-uniform radii is a very cool idea. Let me see how this first change goes and I'll toy with that. Good idea.

The radar screen is PRECISELY what I intend. I'm really glad that, even at this awful art level, you see that. That was my idea even when it was an octagon, but obviously, you never see octagonal radars in sci fi (or any fiction). Now, I hope it's far more clear. The presentation I'm trying to convey is that you are fleet admirals looking at your tactical display and giving orders to the blips that'll be destroying each other.

And, of course, a Death Star :)

Naturally! (Though for the sake of full disclosure, the Death Star is beyond the current technology level of the universe :) )