Re-Re-Re-Re-Re Sol Rising

I have been working on some version of Sol Rising since the spring of 2013. It started with a block based game called Blockade, in which you moved formations of rectangular blocks around the board. You would arrange the blocks in a Tetris-like format to cover weak spots and expose weaponry, rolling all dice that were facing the enemy. It was sorta neat, pretty shallow, and a bit fiddly. You can see it below being tested at prototype night in San Jose. 

From there, I moved the game a bit closer to scenario based tactics games like Memoir '44. I preserved the formation mechanism and dug deeply into the campaign. I worked for a very long time and designed a 12 mission story with persistent effects, branching paths, and more. But, the core combat was a bit derivative and the setup was onerous. 

Then, I completely overhauled everything. I cast aside the circular board and created a simple navpoint based system. Tiles were randomly tossed out, greatly simplifying setup. You gained the same variance I desired without the precise requirements of "one Asteroid in A4, one space station in C3," and so forth. Instead of formations, you just had groups of ships. They were represented on the board by a single token, and individual ships were cards. Below, you can see a grid of tiles. Ships move betwen blue dots. Quick, simple, varied. 

For a long time I had a rock-paper-scissor notion in combat, and I preserved that with a very simple twist: advantage. Basically, every ship had a purpose in the fleet. Interceptors killed bombers. Bombers killed big ships. Destroyers killed all kinds of fighters and shielded big ships. And so forth. The ships would indicate a specific condition that, if met, would execute a devastating move. I think simplified combat with a really cool dice drafting mechanism. You'd roll a pool of custom dice, then take turns drafting, and executing a die. I might draft a gun die for my interceptors to hit your bombers. You might draft a radar for your destroyer to force me to re-roll. It was meant to simulate the real time back and forth of combat. You can see a card below.

Alas, there were too many dice, and too many powers. I simplified it yet again by streamlining it to just a few symbols. 

Well, I'm at it again. To what end? At this point I have no clue. I had an idea the other day that I really liked, and I followed it to its execution. Today, I'm going to quickly detail the idea behind the game. All of this began with the question: what if every ship were a die? Using a single die, can I encapsulate a ship? From there, I thought about the notion of squadrons of ships. Combined arms has always been at the heart of Sol Rising, as the game has always been largely inspired by Homeworld. I'm less interested in ship versus ship, much more so in fleet versus fleet. I quickly put together a mock of several formations, each with squares denoting a possible space for a die each, and a bonus if the formation is filled. Like this.

With this, I had the basic structure in mind. It is as follows:

  • Ships are represented by custom die.
  • Every ship will have bonuses - and downsides - that abstract the approximate role of that ship in a fleet.
  • Every ship has a major benefit, indicated by a double version of a facing.
  • Players roll their fleet at the start of the scenario. They then assign ships to squadrons.
  • The combined attributes of the dice indicate the squadron's combat strengths and abilities. 

I set about designing the ships and thinking about what faces and distribution they would need. Interceptors are incredibly fast, provide guns, but are a little vulnerable. Bombers are very vulnerable (slow, unshielded), but provide a massive punch with missiles. Destroyers shield the larger ships and act in a support role. A bit of a swiss army knife. Battlecruisers throw a ton of missiles. Battleships bring the hull to stand in the fight a long time, as well as more guns.

For fun, I thought I'd show you my excel that I used to create the distribution of the dice.

 

I have a bunch of the Rattlebones prototype dice, and I bought some more. These let me customize the dice to my liking. I used a sticker to indicate the double facing. I created four different formations, each of which provides a simple bonus, like plus speed, or plus missile. But, why do I need these bonuses? Well, they feed into combat. I wanted combat to be simple, fast, and for players to have an edge based on how they built their squadron, but not a lot of rules. Thinking back to my advantage idea from a few iterations back, I thought about three bonuses: Speed bonus (being the faster squadron), gun bonus (having the most guns), and missile bonus (having the most missiles). Shields and Hull already provide an obvious value, so they didn't need additional massaging.

When two squadrons engage, they each get 3d6, representing their guns. If a squadron has any missiles showing at all, they also get one red missile d6. However, the bonuses then contribute. Once, and only at the start (I didn't want a lot of fiddly tracking), players check for advantage. If you have the most speed? You get one more d6. If you have the most guns? You get one more d6. If you have the most missiles? You get two more missile d6. I made a really simple chart to track all of this. Players each grab their dice on their own side. Then, you figure out who gets the dice in the middle. Note that I show the colors of the die facing. At this early stage the dice don't have symbols, so they'll just use colors. As the design firms up, I'll get stickers or something to use icons. 

The combat that follows is quick and simple dice chucking. There's the missile phase, where you throw missile dice. Missiles hit on a 4+. Then, the squadron with speed advantage may end the fight, allowing for a quick in and out missile volley. If nobody has speed advantage, or speed advantage declines, you then roll the rest of your dice twice for the gun phase with hits on 5+. Two gun phases may be too many, but we'll see. 

Next is another idea of which I'm very proud, because it's so simple. Typically, you track health for individual ships. Or, you have lots of rules for them. Not here. Everything is tracked on the dice. If you take a missile hit, you can degrade one shield. If you take one gun hit, you can degrade one hull. By degrade, I mean you turn one die in the affected squadron to a worse setting. Dice have four tiers: Double side (as in, two Hull), single side (one Hull), blank, and negative. After negative, you simply remove the die as the ship is destroyed. What this means is that as your squadron takes damage, you need to lose its stats. It also means that bigger ships like the Battleships have multiple degrade points, whereas Bombers have fewer. This means on average Battleships can take more damage in a fight. It's a simple, fast choice. Doesn't include components. Doesn't include a lot of  rules. 

I made a simple reference for the damage model on the bottom of the initiative card. 

Commanders have always factored into the game. Like the rest of the game, I've simplified them. They now factor into the more strategic aspect of the game, which is how you arrange your ship dice. There are no mitigations in combat. You roll the dice, they do what they do. But, outside of combat is where your commanders factor into things. They can be used twice. The first time is stronger. The second time is weaker. For example, Lt. Bheka Jacobs, a South African pilot.

The final thing I wish to talk about is the map. I've come a long way since the initial version. Inspired by the point to point notion, but going even simple, I created little hexagonal tiles that have passable spaces and impassable spaces. When randomly dealt in an approximately 4x5 arrangement, you get a map filled with corridors and blocking points. It requires almost no rules. You can see it below.

In summary, I think this can be neat. It should be lightning quick, have a handful of neat decisions, and simply abstract the notion of a fleet of different ships. It can look great without breaking the budget. It requires a small number of cards or punchboard cards, some tiles, mostly normal d6, and the big visual splendor of some custom dice. 

If this initial version works, I'll tweak it and begin applying the campaign framework to it. It's a good story, with fun characters and twists, and I refuse to let it go. If it doesn't work? We'll, I'm sure I'll stick with it.