The Blockade of GenCon

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’ve been steadily testing Blockade for months now. It’s also taken a quick loop through the PPP with a visit to Madison, WI and was PNP’d by some kind folks in Arkansas. It’s been generally well received and people get it.

I’ve had some issues with it for a while. Little things that could be better but I wasn’t quite sure how to address them. Instead of constant, head against wall, smash through the breach iteration, I sat back and just kept testing on the same build. I thought on it.

Here were the issues as I saw them:

  • Not enough breadth. Really, the only dominant tactic was to close with the enemy, grind them to bits, and hope you have more bits than they do at the end.
  • Not enough flexibility. A continuation of bullet 1, but players didn’t have enough options.
  • The initial phase of the game felt tedious. Why plan initiative when it isn’t a problem?
  • Do I need rounds at all? Can’t I just make this a turn based experience? This one was hard. One of the things I don’t like about Memoir ’44 is the habit of players to pick a unit and grind them forward until they die. Then, they select their next death squad from the back, waiting patiently. It seemed odd to me to have a single squadron doing all the work while the rest of the fleet is sitting idly.
  • Prevalent opportunities to simplify the design.

I had quite a few ideas. My favorite was to add tech modules to the ships, which conveyed new abilities. Things like a shield generator, an ECM radar, special engines, long-range missiles, and carrier bays. These all sound neat and would work with my ships’ UI, but it would require people to memorize a lot of new icons and their functionality. I just didn’t want that.

I thought on it and had a eureka moment. I mostly removed a lot of content and introduced more flexibility. If you wan to read the updated rules (and leave comments), CLICK HERE. Or, read below for the summary.

  • The game is now turn-based. On your turn, you activate a single Unit by placing one of 3 tokens on the chosen Unit. After you do things with it (next bullet), it is your opponent’s turn. You must place all 3 tokens before re-activating a Unit with a token already. Once all 3 are placed, you can remove a token from an already ordered Unit and then order someone else. This has a subtle strategy of thinking ahead to which Units you’ll want to use, and which Units you can be okay not using for a short time. It also forces you to use most of your ships.
  • As a result of the above change, there are no more rounds. No more initiative phase, no more activation phase, no more clean up phase. This just simplifies the game significantly.
  • Previously, your activation phase was very rigid. In order, you had to: Move or Rotate 1-2 times, then change formation, then attack. Now, you can do these things in any order. This means I can fly in, attack, fly away, then change my formation to improve my defensive options. Flexibility without adding more rules.
  • Ships now have variable movement options. Destroyers and Fighters can use 1-3 maneuvers (move, rotate) every turn. Battlecruisers, the lumbering beasts, can only move 1-2. This allows the smaller Units to outmaneuver and execute some fun hit and run tactics.
  • I didn’t not remove debris, which was added when ships were destroyed and exploded at the end of the round to deal damage to nearby Units. Now, there are event cards shuffled into the deck. Some of these will cause the debris to explode. Simple, fun events. Others will be introduced based on the scenario being played. I think this gives me GREAT flexibility without too much complexity.
  • Many of the cards have been simplified. I’ve outright removed the cards that caused questions or had questionable value. For example, I used to have cards that gave you an extra move or an extra rotate. Now, I just have cards that say “Gain one more maneuver.” Do either.
  • I removed the black dice, but not black damage. This means that no ships will fire black dice anymore — it was too powerful. Battlecruisers still require black damage to be destroyed. The only way you can do so now is to combine 2 green hits OR successfully hit with a critical hit die. This puts more emphasis on the weak spots being exploited, which is good as that is something that supports the most unique element of the game.

If you look at the image above, you can see the old sticker (left) versus a new sticker (right). Previously, ships could take damage from black or green dice. Now, without black dice, I could simplify the damage info in the center. Also, the back of the ship has a number of arrows to remind you of their moves. The stickers aren’t AMAZING but they’ll be effective.

In summary: Turn-based gameplay, flexibility in how you execute your options, fewer dice to simplify combat, slight differences in ships, simpler cards. MORE strategy.

Thoughts? See some of you next week at GenCon.

6 thoughts on “The Blockade of GenCon

  1. This made the designer and gamer in me twice as excited about Blockade: “As a result of the above change [the game becoming turn-based], there are no more rounds. No more initiative phase, no more activation phase, no more clean up phase. This just simplifies the game significantly.”

    That sounds awesome.

    I’d like to play this at GenCon.

  2. I’ll second Jamey’s comment. When you have a eureka moment that simplifies the gameplay but doesn’t degrade the decision space, that’s just gold.

    I was confused by this: “I didn’t not remove debris…” But I didn’t download the rules, so maybe it would be more clear if I read up on it.

    The game piece iconography seems a little abstract to me, but perhaps, again, I just need to read rules for their function to become clear. (And I recognize that in a prototype, simplified functional art is normal and appropriate.)

    Yeah, again, I’m with Jamey: “Blockade” is looking exciting.

    • Here’s a quick run down of debris. Previously, when a capital ship was destroyed, you removed it and placed a debris token. At the end of the next round, debris tokens “exploded,” which cause 1 damage to any units in their space.

      This mechanic existed to force people to move around and not just use the same few spaces. It’s really simple and works well.

      Now, there isn’t a round structure. There isn’t a cleanup phase. Ships still explode and still leave debris tokens. But now, the debris tokens explode if, at the end of a player’s turn, he draws an event card that says “debris explodes.” It’ll work very similarly to the old system but be slightly less predictable.

      Make sense?

      The game piece IS abstract right now — it’s purely functional, zero art put into it. The red versus blue background color is Earth/Mars. The arrows in the back are “engines” that indicate a.) facing and b.) # of moves. The circles in the center are filled with pegs and indicate the color needed to cause damage. The yellow/green colors on the side are the lasers you shoot, which correspond directly to dice. So, if I attack from the right side and have 2 yellow lasers on that side, I roll 2 yellow dice to attack. The orange colors are weak spots. In a final version there’s a lot of room to make these look more thematic and exciting, but I am confident in finding a publisher and do not intend to pay for this art myself.

      All make sense? The art right now is very easy to use to play the game. It doesn’t enhance it, but in my tests it doesn’t hold it back either.

  3. These changes sound great! I think the game will be much more streamlined while still maintaining the feel of an epic space battle. I’m definitely looking forward to playing this at GenCon!


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