Lego town mixed with normal terrain

Been a long while since my last post! I had a kid, so that’s definitely shifted my focus elsewhere :) As life starts to settle back down I’m hoping to get back into tabletop gaming.

In the meantime I’ve noticed my Lego Lone Ranger post gets a lot of hits from searches. So I figured it would be fun to eventually try a battle report using the Quickdraw posses, but in a Lego town and with Lego minifigs.

Here’s the table I setup to get a feel for how viable the idea is, complete with a dinosaur towing a Lego cart, a jail cell at the end of the road, some rooftop planks to climb between buildings, and various Lego chests scattered around the map (which I’ll use as some kind of Crate feature in the game):

Brick-Junction-1
Brick-Junction-2

A rough and fun naval supplement for Dinosaur Cowboys

ShipsFor the Coos Bay campaign battle I knew I wanted to have the posses fight each other from the back of Swimmers. For those that aren’t familiar, traditional boats and ferries aren’t used in Dinosaur Cowboys. Instead in the spirit of the theme giant ferries and ship decks are strapped to the back of various dinosaurs, such as a ferry on a Thalassomedon or Mosasaurus, whereas a smaller sloop would be on a Nothosaurus.

Soooo you kind of end up with a ship deck, but in your imagination it’s on the back of a dinosaur. In terms of game mechanics that makes the boat MUCH more maneuverable since you can go backwards without momentum, cross small islands (since the dino can clamber across), etc.

Nathan-Swimmer
Mockup of a Swimmer provided by Nathan, one of the campaign players

In terms of the rules I mapped out decks for the Sloop and Skiff (which can be launched from the Sloop). The actual passengers ferries would be much larger. You can see the layout of these to the right, or in the rules themselves.

Otherwise the rules provide a framework for moving the ship, using various stations on board (like going “Below Decks” to heal, firing Swivel Guns and Cannons, etc.). There are also rules for boarding via boarding planks or grappling hooks. Also for swimming in deep water, and everything else necessary to add boats to a standard game of Dinosaur Cowboys.

In terms of balance and tweaks, we’ve only played the rules once, but they seemed to work well. The biggest complaint was that there wasn’t much incentive to fire a Cannon. So I’d consider tweaking those to Reload None (instead of Auto), giving it a bigger arc, maybe a different damage scheme (like 1D12 Attacks, D6 Damage), etc.

Download the Swimmer Naval Rules PDF for Dinosaur Cowboys

Anyway the rules are fairly one off so I don’t think I’ll revisit them again. I’ve been loosely brainstorming a new naval game in the back of my mind so this was somewhat an outlet for that. Plus it’s fun to have a unique battle every now and then!

Possible Variant rule: Trailblaze

MarchingI was thinking of a fun idea of a “Marching Order”, where basically if you are in a safe position you can move further. Now for the sake of fluff I’d probably call it Trailblaze, since marching brings to mind images like the right (which are still awesome, just not very cowboy-esque).
There are two options I could use. Either a Variant Rule OR a new Trait. How I envision it working is one of these ways, which are valid for either a trait or variant:

Trailblaze: Double Speed if no enemy entity is within 24″. Remove Defense bonus until the start of next Activation.
Trailblaze: For this Movement Phase use double Speed if no enemy entity is within 24″. Cannot perform an Action Phase this Activation.
Trailblaze: +4 Speed if no enemy entity is within 24″.

Pretty neat right? I could see this really giving mobility to entities who aren’t in the fight, but need to be. Sort of like if you deploy badly and need to reach somewhere you can. The downside is either the variant or trait could be exploited in some ways. For example a maxed out Runner being 24″ away and getting double Speed and going 10×2″ in one move. A maximum or cap on Trailblaze would help with this, such as “Double Speed up to 12″.

Game balance exhaustion

balanceYou know what is an unfun process? Trying to balance a game, specifically this one :) You would think by now, after years and development, this game is relatively balanced. And in the sense of “it’s symmetrical, so everyone has the same resources”, you’d be correct.
Where the problem really comes into play is when one strategy dominates the game. This has been especially noticeable in the Battle to Seattle campaign. Initially two posses were focused heavily on rifles. But in yesterdays game the third posse reworked a bit to also try to focus on rifles. In the end this meant 3 players independently decided to bring 300kW Twin Rifles and build a similar character to wield it.
Now this is not technically unbalanced on it’s own, since everyone could buy the same rifle and use the same stats. Where the unbalance and problem comes in is that’s now how I intended the game to be. I never meant for each game to devolve into a “sniper match” where everyone lines up and doesn’t move very much. I figured the mechanics and choices supported this, such as having tons of pistols to choose from and dinosaurs that are only effective up close. But what actually ended up happening is a sniper “arms race”.
You might have heard the term “kill your darlings”, which basically means don’t just coddle an idea because you spent a long time on it. But what’s really hard is killing someone elses darling (which sounds really dark and morbid). What I mean is the initial rifle users enjoyed shooting at long ranges and outdistancing everyone. But because the game isn’t designed around that, it sort of has to change or go.

A few important points have come out of this:

1. Neodollars on their own are not enough of a balancing mechanic. A lot of guns are priced $10-$20 different from each other, with the idea that each player will be strapped for cash. What actually ends up happening is everyone buys the biggest gun they can, regardless of price, and based purely on the stats, and then just builds a posse around that. Either that or they get flush with enough cash, such as halfway through the campaign where we have $1500-$2000 to throw around, and then money is no object. Armor suffers from the same problem, which is why I had to add a Speed penalty to try to balance, because money alone is not enough.

2. Skirmish games are actually pretty hard to balance and to prevent a dominant strategy, especially in a smaller play group. If a strategy doesn’t have a valid counter besides one-upping the same strategy, that’s a problem. But all this thought on balance brought me back to thinking of Mordheim and Necromunda. Now that I think about it people always complained about the balance in Mordheim, saying mass slings were overpowered, armor was too expensive, etc. That is basically the whole idea of the Coreheim fan project. I’d like to be able to achieve a playing field where most combinations of weapons work and are feasible.

3. Playtesting on your own is not enough. It’s like quality assurance for software in some ways. Subconsciously I think when I playtested I might have thought rifles were overpowered, so I tended to keep just 1 in a posse instead of having that be the focus. Similarly

4. I need more terrain. Now that we have two 3’x4′ games going simultaneously (which was awesome by the way) I realize I need more terrain. I was happy with the amount of terrain I had for ONE such board, but two just means everything is spread way, way too thin. I’m going to try to get my friend to bring over his terrain which should help build some line-of-sight blocking avenues. I think this has helped demonstrate the power of rifles when you can get a pretty clear shot right up to your max range.

So what to do?
Well, tweak. Try to bring rifles to a point where they are support weapons, instead of basically high damage weapons that are always shooting you from further than you can shoot. My ideal situation is a midrange battle in the center of the table, since there are the most guns available at that range, it gives some leeway for close combat to happen, etc. But due to point #3 above I think I overlooked rules and weapons that prevented this from happening. It’s tough because even when I try to build a posse different than what I normally do, I still feel like deep down it’s influenced by my play style and choices.
Which is why public playtests are great, and also why this longer running campaign with friends is perfect. The one-off games we’ve done in the past normally had prebuilt posses from me, so there was sort of a natural balance. Whereas now it’s “winner take all” and everyone understands the building rules well enough to capitalize on any holes or flaws in the rules.

A good related quote from “The Art of Game Design” on balance:
“…balancing a game is nothing more than adjusting the elements of the game until they deliver the experience you want.”
So in summary right now a sniper arms race is not the type of gameplay I envisioned for Dinosaur Cowboys.

Drylands Expedition reworked to v2.5 – Windy River

Drylands-Expedition_textAs you know I’ve been working on some new weapons for the upcoming v2.5 release.

Although the live Saloon version is still using v2.3 (at the time of this post), I’ve been testing internally with building posses using a v2.5 instance of Saloon.

What that means is I got to tweak the Drylands Expedition from my Windy River test campaign to use v2.5. I tried to keep the overall flavor of each member, but was happy to be able to use some new weapons too. For example Quidel changed from a Heavy Pistol (which no longer exists) to a LeDuc Revolver and cheap Break Action Shotgun. Gibson dropped his aging Laserbow to try out a Variable Pulse Rifle. I even used some minor changes like Salve being the same price as Small IRP to buy one of those for Crazy Rhodes instead of his old approach. With all the new pistols available Sarah Love was finally able to get started on a brace of different types. So she has a Volcanic Pistol for up close and a Peacemaker for slightly longer shots. Her old dual Handcannons went to Crazy Rhodes, who has a better RTN anyway, and his figure matches the dual wield look well.
And so on and so forth.

Anyway here is the PDF roster of the v2.5 Drylands Expedition. I just thought it was neat to see such an “established” posse being updated to the latest weapons.

What I hope to do at some point in the future is revisit this campaign. Maybe not to play it for many more games, but one big finale would be great. Maybe the fight at the Night Dagger camp itself is the finale. That’ll be after the Battle to Seattle campaign wraps up of course. So nice to have all this Dinosaur Cowboys gaming going on.

Also I’m away this weekend so no Battle to Seattle game or other posts this week. Back at it with a fun fight at Lake Tahoe on March 6th though!

Updating close combat weapons too

Melee-WeaponsWell after the grand overhaul of range weapons the last couple of days, I sat down and brought melee weapons in line too. More variety (well, not quite to the medieval list pictured right), better prices, bigger selection, and a few new weapon abilities unique to close combat.

Lance: This weapon can only be used while mounted. Add +1 damage when performing a Charge with this weapon.
Opportunity: Add +2 Attacks when performing a Snap Attack with this weapon.
Poacher: Add +1 Attack against Dinosaurs.
Sap: On a hit of 2+ total damage the attacker heals 1 Hitpoint (cannot exceed their starting Hitpoints).

Also I used some of the new special abilities for range weapons to make new close weapons, like the Energy Sword which uses Power Settings.

Now we’ve come a long way from knife + broken bottle + hatchet (aka the only close combat weapons real wild west cowboys used), but variety is the spice of life, and it’s fun to have some sci-fi stuff going on. Also if you have trouble visualizing a Duster wielding an Energy Sword, just think of some Neotechnoist in his high tech armor riding out through The Wall mounted on a custom breed of dinosaur, with bright banners everywhere and gun bearers scurrying behind. Besides…it’s fun!

As before the prices for equivalent Attack/Damage stats on close combat weapons is cheaper than range weapons. Because you have to get up close to hit someone in the face with them. For example the 3A-7D Long Sword is $130, 4A-4D Axe is $80, 6A-0D Spine Blade is $40, and the 2A-2D Bar Stool is $5. Compared to say a 400kW Six-Shooter at 4A-4D for $110, or 6A-2D Ultra Repeater for $150.

Anyway here is the PDF snippet of the new close combat weapons. These will be in the upcoming v2.5 release of the main rulebook.

I have another Battle to Seattle game tonight, set in Death Valley. Should be a grand old time! I’ll post some pictures asap. Also we are having a “bonus game” this Saturday, which is a pleasant surprise. It will be at the race track in Pahrump (east of Death Valley), which of course will be ruined.

Some weapon ideas

Dual-WalkerSee the end of this post for an update!

For a long time I’ve had this item on my TODO list:

- Calculate weapon stats using math instead of off the cuff

It’s a big one though, just because of the sheer number of existing weapons. However right now a lot of those weapons aren’t really choices since they are junk (Throwing Knife) or way too expensive to ever see actual play (Flamethrower). What I’d like to do, besides making sure each weapon is mathematically balanced, is add a bunch of NEW weapons as well, touch up the old ones, and give players a lot more choice.
I’m going to aim this for a v2.5 release, again a slight version jump because of the significant changes. It’ll also ruin a lot of old Saloon links if I remove weapons, but that’s the cost of progress sometimes. I wouldn’t worry about releasing these changes until after the Battle to Seattle campaign, just to not rock the boat too much with the existing players. So that would mean end of April maybe.
Here’s my brainstorm doc transcribed from a scribbled note sheet I wrote very late last night:

- Flare Gun
— Min range 2
— Halve target Defense until start of attacker’s next Activation
— Apply to whole allied team, so you can “mark” a target
— Need high tech version too (Holotargeting Marker?)

- Sonic Gun or Bronto Gun (like Elephant Gun)
— 4A-0D, force Bravery Test on 2+ total damage

- Variable Pulse Rifle or Flux Rifle
— 5A-1D base, but can change before each attack, as long as total is 6
— For example 4A-2D, 3A-3D, 1A-5D, 6A-0D, etc.

- Lever-Action Rifles
— 3A-4D stays, 3A-5D (or maybe 6D) becomes 2A. Current 3A-7D becomes 1A-7D.
— Remember to adjust Reload as well
— Maybe minimum range to 5 (from 4)

- Shotgun
— Can use Buckshot (“Rippershot”) for 4A-1D (or whatever)
— Or can use Slug at 1A-4D
— Can choose at start of game and on a Reload, or manually spend an action to change types

- Different Six-Shooters, styled after real world
— Volcanic for example is 5A, less damage
— eg 5A-0D entry level is equal to 4A-1D six-shooter
— LeMat revolver (renamed to LeDuc or something)
— Can fire buckshot in the real world, not sure how to account for that
— Walker pistol, high caliber (+Damage)
— Peacemaker pistol, long range

- Need more $10 entry level options as an alternative to 80kW Six-Shooter
– Need to remove junk weapons
– Need more close range shotgun variety, instead of just the three types
— Maybe add wattage ratings to shotguns? Or whatever rating plasma capacitors use
– Maybe need a new way to display similar weapons so the list isn’t just 10 different wattages
– General new rule: Avoid anything that does 10+ damage
— Exception are “Heavy Weapons”
— Such as cannon, flamethrower
— Heavy Weapons maybe have “Ponderous” (or something, maybe just “Heavy”) special rule which is -1 SPD, no Hustle, no Charge
– Need slightly more Medical Devices, specifically a $10 Delayed type

Update with a PDF
Well I actually wrote this post yesterday and scheduled it for this morning, and in the mean time I went through and did a first pass at revising the weapons! I’m really happy with the changes. The various pistols provide different approaches to Attack/Damage, while remaining thematic to their true world counterparts. I also like the shotgun revisions, updates to Twin Rifles, tweaks of Lever-Action Rifles, improvements to Laserbows, Throwing weapons, etc. Plus who doesn’t love the name “Bronto Gun”, which is like an Elephant Gun, but for Brontosauruses. In addition the balance between weapons for their cost and stats is a lot better now.
Anyway you can take a look at the revised weapons and items here: Revised Items PDF. I’ll be tweaking these more as I go forward, so like I said look for a full release after the campaign, so sometime in April. Remember of course you can always see the latest rulebook in the bleeding edge Dropbox which is synced with my computer.

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