More Papo dinosaurs

No real time to game recently and very little to design, but I can stare at some new Papo dinos! Two are recolors, and two are some really slick dynamic poses.

Pentaceratops – Great skull size, and I’d be interested to see how it looks if put on all four legs, since it seems like the toy could be repositioned that way. Definitely more detailed than the Triceratops I have.

Gorgosaurus – Cool but pretty T-Rex-ish.

Allosaurus recolor – Really like this one as the original was pretty muted in color. I remember the toy not being super stable though.

Stegosaurus recolor – Interesting camouflage style recolor from the previous green model. Now they just need to repaint the Ankylosaurus.

Four amazing 2017 Papo dinosaurs

Happened to check in on Papo dinosaurs and they have some pretty cool new releases that I’m definitely gonna keep an eye out for at my local stores. Some are just recolors, like a blue velociraptor and “egg stealer” oviraptor, but those are likely reliable sellers for them.

First of all my favorite: the humble and almost-smiling Polacanthus. In other words a different Armored version for me.
polacanthus

The other dinosaur I’d most likely buy is the Cryolophosaurus, for his upright, almost birdlike pose. Very unique look for a predator, and depending on the size a cool alternative to a t-rex.
cryolophosaurus

Very nice looking Acrocanthosaurus (brutal name to say though). I didn’t hugely like the tail-in-the-air pose from a few previous Papo designs (namely Carnotaurus and Dilophosaurus because I found it unbalanced depending on the casting. But it’s certainly a dynamic pose. Very nice blue/orange skin too.
acrocanthosaurus

Then a Ceratosaurus. Very nice coloring and skin detail, but I worry about how well he’d balance since it looks like only one foot is the point of contact. Interesting take on the crested head though.
ceratosaurus

Battle Report: Operation Black Box

Finally a battle report! The elapsed time since my last game session here is criminally long, and well overdue for some new content. So I wrangled together a few posses, grabbed a pal, dug up an old childhood F-14 Tomcat airplane model, and set out to play some Dinosaur Cowboys v2.6!

Also some of the inspiration for one of the posses comes from the Defense of the Ancients computer game. In other words the moba Dota 2, which just had a huge 7.0 patch update. The largest tournament for professional e-sport players of Dota 2 has a prize pool of $20 million plus. So yeah, players of that game should recognize some familiar names and roles, like Vanguard the tanky leader, or Desolator the ranged sniper.

Also I realize I mix up my past and present tense when I write these. I really don’t mean too, but it’s such an ingrained bad habit I have trouble breaking. I think it’s because I writing the session report after the fact, so I tend to the past tense, but sometimes think of new information and use the present tense. Hopefully it doesn’t throw you off too much.

Background
Rumors have started of a strange new allegiance in the wasteland: Ascendants. Some sort of sky people…old tech scientists drifting down from on high…power and concepts beyond Dusters and even Neotechnoist reasoning. Word of an artifact spreads to eager ears in the noble, wealthy circles in the city of Hope. Some kind of aerial war machine was found. Records were searched in secret, and a highly specialized and trained commando squad was dispatched to recover a “black box” from this old tech airplane.

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But the commando squad was not quite as airtight and flawless as their Neotechnoist hirelings would like. One of the members, fearing the corrupting influence of old tech, went rogue and started trying to raise a posse to fight off the commando squad, destroy the black box, and stop any war machine from being recreated.

Setup
dc-operation-black-box-0019The central feature of the table was the crashed and decaying F-14 Tomcat. I used a bunch of trailing rocks to make a slide/crash zone and hopefully give some sense of weight to the plane. The pilot was likely heading for the softer jungle at the edge of the table, but fell short and crashed into a solid stone hill. Otherwise an old corral/pen containing barrels and a sabertooth skeleton, a few hills and the usual trees, and the table was set.

A simple “Edge” deployment would be used, along the long table edges, to really start close to the airplane.

A turn limit was set: 6 turns, with a situational 7th if either the black box or engine parts were still in play at the end of the 6th turn.

Objectives
dc-operation-black-box-0016For this game Secret Objectives would be used. Specifically the Delta Commando Squad had to “Smash & Grab” the black box and engine pieces from the airplane. The Eastwood Rovers had to “Demolish” the same pair of objectives. And there was a main public Objective of “Capture” with the F-14 Tomcat being the contested objective.

dc-operation-black-box-0024The black box and engine parts were represented by pieces of actual computer RAM, which looked pretty neat and fit well! They would have DEF 2 and HP 10.

Features
As for Features a few “Weapon Emplacements” were used as part of the airplane. Specifically a Flare Gun (represented by the black minigun on the model), and a pair of Wagon Blazer equivalents (basically flamethrowers) which originated from the missiles hanging under the swing wings.


Posse: Delta Commando Squad – 130 IP, $1,700 ND, 4 traits – PDFSaloon
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I busted out some old, old figures for this posse. Like high school era Plague Marines from Warhammer 40,000. One of the few times I tried to do a consistent, matching color scheme. I also used my new-ish Dilophosaurus toy dinosaur, made famous as the “spitter” from Jurassic Park.

As mentioned above the intent was the mirror some of the functionality from Dota 2 items into Dinosaur Cowboy characters. Starting with Vanguard (a shield in the computer game) who is represented here by DEF 3, HP 14, and the Thick Skin trait (a one time boost of +2 DEF). Next up was Bloodthorn, a midrange damage dealer with a Volcanic Pistol and Coil Gun for utility. Then the sniper Desolator who has a Twin Rifle, but the miniature has a massive lascannon haha. And finally Skull Basher, a melee monster with a Claw Axe and one of my favorite close combat traits: Onslaught (+4 Attacks instead of +1 on Charge). The Dilophosaurus was bought as a Raptor, in this case named Iron Talon, who is Feral but has no traits.

The strategy and plan was to rush and capture an objective and hurry it off the table with Skull Basher. Sort of a trade off since he ideally wants to be moving forward into melee, not away from the violence. But he’s also significantly faster than the rest of the human members. Otherwise the rest would setup a perimeter, rain down fire, and let the dinosaur distract and hold off the enemy.

Posse: Eastwood Rovers – 130 IP, $1,700 ND, 4 traits – PDFSaloon
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dc-operation-black-box-0004I think this is the debut of one of my new-ish (notice a trend?) miniature that looks vaguely like Clint Eastwood from his spaghetti westerns. I mean not as much as another mini I have, but certainly a generic looking cowboy fellow. I had painted a “fan the hammer glove” on his hand, to help grip the hammer. Otherwise the miniatures should look familiar, except maybe the defector Plague Marine. He was actually from an old, old game I wrote called “Twilight” (yes, before the movies), which is why he’s customized for an RPG and on a hex base.

Also yes I know the posse picture above is washed out. I didn’t have much luck, but the rest of the photos are spot on, thankfully.

Anyway to celebrate the newly painted miniature the rest of the posse is somewhat Eastwood themed. The leader is named Pale Rider and has a massive Ranch Blaster, with the usual plan of using Fan the Hammer weapon ability then the Speed Reload trait to be ready to rock. Alexander Keith is my recurring bartender character, and a paintjob I love. He had the mighty Streetsweeper Shotgun and the dicey, but potentially life saving trait Inspire. Sister Sara is the medic, because I really like the healer type traits like Doctor. D12 times two is a lot of potential healing. Powder Monkey was a funny case, since he looks like a Savage but is actually a Neotechnoist. So a reversal of the usual “going native” empire soldier, and is instead a naturalized wildman trying to meld with the upper classes. And finally the defector from the Delta Commando Squad was represented by Dominator (from the Dota 2 “Helm of the Dominator”). He had a Cutlass but likely not enough Defense or Hitpoints to reach combat with it. The dinosaur was a Fin, one of Papo’s better sculpts (which is saying a lot considering their high quality!) who is named after a less popular Eastwood movie: Eiger.

The plan is simple: shoot objectives. Pale Rider will be the main attacker in that case. Sister Sara will move forward with Keith, Powder Monkey, and Dominator, and try to keep them all healthy. Eiger will likely shield Dominator, or try to get into close combat as a team.


Turn 1
The Delta Commando Squad setup first, opting for the right side, or east, or kitchen-ward, haha. They were able to deploy Skull Basher far enough forward that he could reach the black box objective on the first turn. On the opposite edge the Eastwood Rovers set up in a fairly tight formation, since there were no explosive weapons to fear.
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The first turn more or less nullified the Secret Objectives, which was kind of funny. Pale Rider and Alexander Keith were able to destroy the engine parts objective on their side of the table. And Skull Basher grabbed the black box on the other.

In terms of shooting at living things Powder Monkey managed a lucky hit on Iron Talon that caused Panic. The dinosaur had edged forward around the hill, but still presented a fairly big target. Iron Talon attempted a far 5″ Charge against Eiger, but failed and was a bit exposed. From on top of the hill Desolator hit Alexander Keith for 6 damage. The bartender then failed his Bravery Test and would be Fleeing. The Commando sniper had a fairly good view of the battlefield, but the F-14 Tomcat did a good job of blocking line of sight for some of the approach.

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Turn 2
This turn the dinosaurs met in combat. For all the thematic dinosaur training and discpline, and both player’s idea of using the dinosaur to distract human enemies, the beasts still went right for each other and started tearing in. Iron Talon succeeded at his much closer 1″ Charge, hitting Eiger quite handily. Bloodthorn mounted the tall hill the F-14 Tomcat had crashed into, and fired down at Eiger. The Fin dinosaur took a pounding and was quickly down to 6 HP.

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Meanwhile Skull Basher rushed the black box towards the table edge, as was the Delta Commando Squad secret objective. Vanguard mounted the plane, trying to draw a bead on an Eastwood Rover. The leader trusted in his DEF 3 to keep him safe in the mean time.

Sister Sara did her medical duty and healed Alexander Keith back to full Hitpoints, thanks to her Doctor trait and Small IRP. Keith had fallen back from Fleeing. The pair were a bit away from the plane, under the wing of which Dominator advanced to try to avoid shots from Desolator.

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Turn 3
Both dinosaurs were in rough shape after being the focus of various attacks. Dominator rushed out from under the plane wing, used his Berserker trait for +2 Attacks, and managed a Charge against Iron Talon. The Cutlass did solid work, hitting for 9 damage, which left the surprised Iron Talon with a mere 1 Hitpoint. The dinosaur Panicked at this.

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dc-operation-black-box-0073Unfortunately for the Delta Commando Squad player, Iron Talon had a 1A-5D claw, Eiger had 6 Hitpoints, but because Iron Talon had 1 Panic he suffered -1 Damage. Amazingly though the attack was a Critical hit, resulting in exactly 6 damage, so Iron Talon killed Eiger. But Sister Sara was quick to finish up Iron Talon, similarly killing the wounded beast.

At this point Skull Basher successfully captured the black box objective by bringing it to the table edge. Hooray for them!

On the deadly hilltop, Powder Monkey hit Bloodthorn quite hard, making the commando Flee. In return Pale Rider takes a tiny shot from Vanguard, who then ducks off the exposed top of the airplane.

dc-operation-black-box-0077dc-operation-black-box-0079dc-operation-black-box-0083
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Turn 4
dc-operation-black-box-0094So far Dominator has been called a defector. But from the Delta Commando Squad point of view, he’s a stone cold traitor. The voodoo of dice agreed, as Bloodthorn lined up a pretty tough shot from his elevated perch. Then proceeded to 1-shot Dominator with an amazing roll. He hit for 10 damage, and Dominator only had 8 HP. So that was a surprising turn of events.

Unfortunately for Bloodthorn this was also his doom, as Powder Monkey returned fire and avenged Dominator’s death by killing the enemy commando. So far Powder Monkey’s Bronto Gun hasn’t been hugely needed, as he’s shooting DEF 0 or 1 targets.

Meanwhile Pale Rider hugs the rear fin of the airplane, and not to be outdone, returns the 1-shot by outright killing Desolator. There was some concern for the Eastwood Rover player whether they’d ever be able to safely advance under the sniper fire of Desolator. But a solid roll with a Ranch Blaster sorted that problem out right quick.
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In response to the unspoken leader-to-leader challenge, Vanguard boldly stepped onto the top of the airplane. He activated the Thick Skin trait, which gives +2 Defense until the start of his next activation. So total DEF 5…wow. Call the Bronto Gun pronto!

As if to demonstrate how feebly the enemy shots will be, Alexander Keith climbs up the airplane wing and tries to hit Vanguard with his Streetsweeper Shotgun…on a 13+. Needless to say he doesn’t have much luck with 2 Attacks.

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Turn 5
The Delta Commando Squad started the turn with just Vanguard and Skull Basher left, whereas Eastwood Rovers still had four survivors.

The use of Thick Skin by Vanguard was interesting, since as mentioned the trait stays in effect until the start of his next Activation. Which means he wants to delay activating as long as possible, to tank as many shots as he can.

The turn starts well in that regard as the Eastwood Rovers win initiative and have to activate first. Powder Monkey moves to the edge of the stone hill and tries his Bronto Gun, needing a mere 8+ to hit. No luck, a miss!

Pale Rider sees the armored beast of Vanguard, and decides to switch targets to Skull Basher instead. He moves to Short Distance, grips his Ranch Blaster, and uses Fan the Hammer for a brutal 6 damage hit that makes Skull Basher Flee.

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Vanguard is still trying to hold his activation, so Skull Basher runs away due to Fleeing, then tries to Hustle back. Certainly not the most effective posse member due to spending half the game herding an objective, then getting shot in the face when it’s time to chop things.

The Eastwood Rovers win the next initiative, so Vanguard gets possibly the best value out of Thick Skin ever as he maintained it through 4 enemy activations. However Alexander Keith and Sister Sara are focused and on a mission to roll some hot dice. Keith hits for 7 damage, even though he needs 11+, and this makes Vanguard Flee. Then Sister Sara hits for another 7 damage (at 10+ to hit) which outright kills Vanguard! And to add insult to injury Skull Basher fails his Bravery Test for having his leader taken out of action and is Fleeing.

Turn 6
At this point the game was pretty much over, but the Eastwood Rovers player wanted to get a bit showy in how they kill Skull Basher. First they won initiative, and moved Alexander Keith to the Flare Gun mounted on the F-14 Tomcat. The intent was to get the Illuminate effect on Skull Basher, applying a -2 DEF penalty to make the rest of the posse hit a lot easier. But instead Keith got a Critical hit on the Flare Gun attack, resulting in 4 damage which killed Skull Basher!

So a win for Eastwood Rovers by both objective and posse wipe!

dc-operation-black-box-0127


Conclusion
Quite an interesting game. The F-14 Tomcat made a great centerpiece with lots of nooks and crannies to block line of sight in. The game certainly spiralled out of control for the Delta Commando Squad player. Pretty rough having Skull Basher moving the objective for a lot of it. And of course the luck of Keith and Sara both hitting such unlikely, highly damaging shots on Vanguard. Just goes to show as intimidating as high Defense is, eventually weight of fire can bring the target down.

Anyway hopefully you enjoyed the battle report! And maybe the black box will make another plot appearance in a future session…

Looking ahead to v2.7

incremental-changeDinosaur Cowboys v2.6 is amazing. I’m super happy with the rules, which is why I haven’t felt the need to touch them for over a year and a half. And I know I’ve been saying it for 5 years (since v1.0), but I’m almost done tweaking the rules. I mean at some point I have to be. And I’m very tempted, like a 50/50 split, on whether I should even do a v2.7. But I have accrued a minor list of changes. No timeline for this, and like I said I’m still on fence on whether it’s even worth doing.

Savage Allegiance: The biggest one (and impetus for a possible release) is around balancing the Savage Allegiance, which if you “zero them” back to Bandit status (of having no stat changes) they actually GIVE you +2 IP. So you could recruit and entire posses of Savages, zero them to normal, and get +10 IP. Like I said, minor…but also very annoying to have. I’m a bit miffed with myself for even missing it this long. Dusters technically have the reverse problem (of resulting in -2 IP to zero), but that’s mostly due to Hitpoints costing 6 IP to increase but only giving 4 IP to reduce.

The fix for Savages is simply to change Speed to cost 10 IP to go from 4″ to 5″, instead of 12 IP. This has the side benefit of bonus movement being cheaper and easier to attain. I always want entities to move further. Heck it’s one of the main reasons the base number of squares someone could go in Life of a Dinosaur Cowboy RPG was a generous EIGHT!

Otherwise a few style tweaks to the rulebook, a bunch of trait adjustments and trivial rewords, and maybe a few new weapons or features. Here’s my entire list:

Other Changes
– Add an image to the footer
— Small dinos, jungle grass (similar to Saloon), cactus in the corner, maybe image wrapping page number, etc.
– Add some “Rain” features?
– Add some alternative weapon names for famous mountain men, like the Jeremiah Blaster or whatever
– “Turtle” trait needs to say “apply Stopped to self _next Activation_” in the same way “Rush” does
– “Try Again” should say “re-roll an entire set of attacks”, as should “Lucky”. Maybe “Attack Roll” to be consistent with things like Hail of Shots?
– Whirlwind should specify Close attack affects all adjacent enemies, since otherwise it sounds like a free/bonus attack. Maybe should be Attack – Whirlwind?
– Shake it Off should be applicable to nearby ally as well. Maybe be 2/all instead of 1/2 negative effects? Also rename to “Shake it Off!” (exclamation mark for shout)
– Attack – Forceful should be buffed to +4″/+6″
– Attack – Punishment should just be +2/+4 damage (lowercase too), not specifically saying _weapon Damage_
– Attack – Headshot should say (instead of 12+) in brackets
– Eagle Eye should be +4″/+6″. Should technically be an Attack – Eagle Eye?
– Rush and Turtle should say “but apply” instead of “and apply”
– Add second tier Racer for +2/+4?
– Add an Attack – Quick Shot that gives a free attack at -4/-2 Dam (min 0)?

Saloon Updates
Of course there are also a few Saloon bugs I’ve run into, or improvements I want to try:
BUG – Selling weapons still show up in inventory?
BUG – Dino selling is not saved to the URL or reloaded at all
IMP – Allow dinosaurs to “buy” Trample and Gore beast attacks
IMP – Add an option to select Variant Rules to apply to a PDF?
IMP – Generate QR codes for The Saloon links?
IMP – Make a mobile version of The Saloon pages?

Recent fan posses

lead-adventure_game-postRecently I noticed a few hits coming from Lead Adventure Forum, specifically a thread about cowboys vs dinosaurs where my game was mentioned. I always like free exposure for my game. The cool picture to the right (with some of the nicest buildings I’ve seen) unfortunately used a different ruleset, but is still in the right genre.

Simultaneously some fans created almost ten posses on The Saloon. So I’m gonna go with my gut and say these items are related. If the fans wants to speak up and comment here I’m more than happy to hear from them – see if they played any Dinosaur Cowboys games, and how their posses worked out. :)

EDIT: I was way off, the forum post and posses were unrelated. See the user comment below for details of a cool battle report and setup!

Anyway I thought I’d highlight a few of the posses (much like I did with Doom Eagle’s creations), since I see a lot of interesting and fun elements, and you may not check The Saloon as regularly as I do.

  • The Bloody Rustlers – Some real cowboys in this posse. The Leader is armed with a Rope Lasso and Harmonica, which is an interesting combo, especially since they also have the Wrangler trait. Nice to see a unique approach to combat beyond “pistol and good RTN”. I also like the hardcore member who has a Stick of Dynamite and a focus on Punching. I can only imagine them running forward, throwing the grenade, and following up with some savage melee. Anytime the Boxer trait is used I consider that a win.
  • Exodus – Posse built around the massive $1,000 Titan dinosaur, but also having a powerful leader with a Grenade Launcher and the Strong Rider trait. A brutal combination to be mounted on such a beast. I like the remaining member being a support type character with a Flagstaff.
  • Jungle Gentry – I really like the name of this posse, and the split of 2 Neotechnoists and 1 Savage. Especially because the Savage is a “by the books” doctor statistically (Triage and a pair of IRPs), except I like to imagine him themed as a rustic shaman hired by a pair of foppish nobles.
  • Dem Bois – Cool gang with lots of elements I like. First of all a minor doctor character with Triage and a Large IRP. Second an Energy Sword…enough said (love that weapon). And of course the Big Game Hunter with a Bronto Gun. Even the name “Myrtle the Turtle” for the Armored dinosaur (who hilariously has Sprint for a nasty surprise). I could see myself playing a posse like this.
  • Professional Funyuns – A bigger posse with some solid members. Nice to see the Broken Bottle and Serrated Knife being used…both of which seem like pretty brutal/vicious weapons. Another good Boxer trait usage. And a member with dual 100kW Six-Shooters, perfect for the “Dual Wield” Variant Rule. I’d be interested to know if the intent was to pile on the Ducky dinosaur to move into melee, or slog forward (as the Speeds are a bit low) and try to survive on healing and high Hitpoints.

Project status, aka what have I done for 8 months?

my-posts
Been a while? Yes, it surely has! Last post was about 8 months ago. What have I been doing since then? Where are all the projects I was so excited about? How can time fly this fast? In summary to every question you might ever have: I wrote and extensively played 2 RPGs, I combined all my rules into 1 blog, and was repeatably interrupted and distracted by general life stuff.

Overview

house-of-the-dying-sunHorizon Games Blog Consolidation – Done – This is related to my new project Fickle RPG (mentioned below). Long time readers or the especially observant might notice a new logo and link in the right sidebar. Well I was about to create yet another WordPress blog for my Fickle RPG rules when I realized I would have over half a dozen blogs if I did. That’s ridiculous.

So instead I painstakingly consolidated ALL my projects, rules, and ideas into one place: Horizon Games. Seriously that was quite an effort, but I’m happy with the result.

I collected content from all my childhood games, brainstormed projects, and rules in progress and put them onto Horizon Games. I covered Life of a Dinosaur Cowboy and Dinosaur Cowboys there as well. So for any non-DC related news or updates check out that blog instead. In other words if posts and content are dead here look at Horizon Games as I might be working heavily on another game at the time.

Bad News

Life of a Dinosaur Cowboy RPG – Cancelled – Perhaps “postponed indefinitely” would be more accurate. I still like a lot of ideas in this game, but two issues are holding me back:

  1. Playtesting: Nearly impossible to solo playtest 4-5 unique PCs plus enemies. A large component of the DC RPG was the idea of turn collaboration and that’s also lost in a solo test.
  2. Too Many Mechanics: From the neat D&D Next style advantage/disadvantage, to Echo Death style skill/power lists instead of classes, to allocated damage dice pool, to shared action points/orders per turn, to codified non-combat solutions, DC RPG has a TON of unique game mechanics thrown in. And I say thrown in very specifically, as I more or less dumped every single cool mechanic I had thought of or seen in the past while into this game. Which results in a mechanically overwhelming game, and one that is arguably doing a lot to achieve very little.

What I instead am doing is splitting a lot of the neat mechanics out into separate games, namely Echo Death and Fickle RPG.

Skies and Slums Expansion – Postponed – This is basically my “catch all” for future Dinosaur Cowboys development. I’m pretty tired and fatigued with tweaking the core rules, which I’ve mentioned before (basically the past 2-3 years have been “this is the last version”). If I ever DO get the urge to add or tweak a bunch to this game, it’ll be under the guise of the Skies and Slums expansion.

So until I DO get that urge, I’m going to postpone this expansion. I could add a whole bunch of new features, allegiances, weapons, dinosaurs, etc. But I want to do so only if I’m excited with the idea, and involved with the project. Which right now I’m not. My focus is elsewhere.

Mixed News

Dinosaur Cowboys v2.7 – Soonish – Although I just said I don’t want to tweak these rules much longer, I actually admittedly have a few minor changes and balance updates I need to do. They are so incredibly minor that I could realistically call it version 2.60001. Also because the changes are so small I’m not hugely motivated to do them.

Regardless I’ll cover the specifics in a post very soon, and look for the release a bit after.

Good News

Dinosaur Cowboys Battle Report – I want to sit down and play DC again very soon, mainly to use a childhood jet airplane model (specifically a swing wing F-14 Tomcat) as a center piece for posses to fight over. I also want to do my “Civil War” style game with the same posse on both sides.

So with luck I’ll get my table setup, wrangle a player, and get a battle report going before the new year.

fickle-logoFickle RPG – Released – What is Fickle RPG? Well if you paid close attention to the DC RPG mechanics, you might remember the concept of “fickle” vs “flat” allocation for a damage dice pool. Great mechanic! But as mentioned above pretty much tacked on to a cumbersome, overburdened RPG.

So instead I split that mechanic out, polished it, and made a (get ready for buzzwords) light cooperative narrative RPG with interesting and choice-drive mechanical resolution ready for any genre/theme. That game is Fickle RPG

Quite a history behind the game. You might remember a year or so ago I made a post about game design, and asked the critical question “what if there was a tabletop game where combat resolution was as involved, interesting, and full of meaningful and unique decisions as the movement phase?” I think Fickle RPG answers that by having an interesting resolution system full of choice.

I had the basics bouncing around my head for quite a few months. Meanwhile I was playing a Star Wars RPG called Age of Rebellion (Fantasy Flight Games) which my friend was running. But they needed to take a hiatus. So my weekly gaming night was free. On a whim I asked the other players if they wanted to playtest a light RPG I had been working on. The interest was there…the rules weren’t. As in I hadn’t actually sat down and written the rules. So having scheduled a session for a game that didn’t exist, I hastily wrote the rules, and we played.

This initial session of Fickle RPG went really well and gave me hope that I was onto something. So I ended up running the game many more times in the past ~3 months, for around a dozen different people, between 4-5 campaign threads. Some of the players hadn’t even touched a game more complex than Settlers of Catan.

So anyway if you take one thing away from this blog post, it’s that Fickle RPG has been my focus for over half the time since my last post.

Party of Light – Played – Somewhat related to Fickle RPG, I also made another light RPG called Party of Light. The intent was to play a one-off session with my family and nieces. So the core concept is to teach roleplaying basics, different dice, etc. to kids. I’ve since played this game 4 times (so far!) and it’s been great at achieving all those goals. My nieces have had a lot of fun with it, and the game is still engaging enough for adults. Win-win all around.

If that sounds interesting be sure to read more about Party of Light. Notice how handy that Horizon Games blog is already?

Other News

Besides that what have I been doing? Preparing for my wife to give birth to our second kid. That’s been a pretty central focus. I’ve switched office locations with my work, which added a lot of commute. I’ve been running a lot of Fickle RPG nights with friends. I’ve been playing a ton of computer games like Heroes of the Storm, Vermintide, and Zombasite. I failed miserably at writing Nanowrimo this month. All in all plenty of non-Dinosaur Cowboys stuff. :)

I’d probably write more here, but I literally just finished describing my new rules on Horizon Games, so I’m tired of repeating the same text.

[RPG] Preliminary rules prototype

As I mentioned in my last post this idea is on a bit of a hiatus. But I figured for completeness I’d share the rules so far. What’s funny is my favorite part is actually the combat resolution system, just like how that was one of the core features to survive in Dinosaur Cowboys skirmish from inception to today.

Anyway without further ado check out the very early Life of a Dinosaur Cowboy rules PDF

Some-RiflesAs for the resolution system I like, let me pour out some info on it:
The main idea is you roll 1D12 and try to get above a number. That number could be set, or based on the enemy skill, or against a statistic, etc. You can do the action quicker (“Hasty”) but then you roll 2D12 and choose the lowest, or take your time (“Focused”) and again roll 2D12 but choose the highest. In the case of combat there is a second step if you succeed on the roll. That is to allocate your Damage Pool between Fickle and Flat damage. Fickle means you roll dice, Flat means it’s added on. You’re rolling against the target’s Grit (say an 8). But the fun part, and where the mechanic really shines (and fulfills my hope of “resolution being as interesting as movement”) is you need to succeed with at least 1 Fickle roll to do any damage. But the Fickle rolls have a chance to fail, whereas Flat damage always comes through. Fickle can also Crit (on a 12), but can also Fumble (on a 1). So there’s a balancing act of how much Fickle vs Flat to choose depending on the target’s Grit.
That might have been a rambling explanation, but that’s why I’m posting the rules. So say I have a 6 Damage Pool and the target has 4 Grit. 4+ on a D12 is pretty easy odds, so I’d probably allocate only a single Fickle point and the remaining 5 pool to Flat, meaning I roll 1D12 looking for 4+, and if I succeed I do 1+5 damage. But what if their Grit was 9? Do I go all in Fickle? What if I had a skill that increased my Crit chance? Would I want more Fickle or would the potential Fumble not be worth the effort? So some neat decisions there.

[RPG] Example character sheet

I honestly CANNOT believe it’s been a month since my last post. Talk about time flying, that’s just unreal to me.

So what’s been happening with the Dinosaur Cowboy RPG? Well first of all I did get a solo playtest in with some rough mechanics. Like I said I like to get a playable prototype done asap. I ended up with a pretty well fleshed out character sheet, which you can see (and download) below:

dc-rpg-sheet-001
Download the DC RPG Sheet PDF

The playtest revealed a few stumbling blocks for me. First of all simulating 5 players plus enemies in a combat situation is extremely tough. Especially as a large part of the shared turns is the idea of player banter and group decision making, which is obviously lost with a solo playtest. And second I think I’m letting mechanics and ideas bleed over from one of my other recent brainstormed projects.

So what am I gonna do about this? I think I need to convince at least one or two friends to playtest with me. But it’s tough to get enough dedication or interest to try a prototype for any length of time. But seriously playtesting an RPG is really hard otherwise.
As for the mechanics the “activation pool” spent freely in a shared turn is very similar to the diceless Hackers game I mentioned before. Again in a wild sense of time flying that post is almost a year old. Normally if I’m starting to implement mechanics from another game it means I should finish the initial project first instead of cludging it into another game.

So I think I’m going to focus on that. Which means I’m as flaky as a high school teenager as I flip flop between ideas. I think having a blog like this is an upside for motivation, centralizing ideas, and putting down some concrete material. But the downside is I feel obligated to my imaginary readers to finish what I announce. But I think the playtest was pretty demotivating, and all it really did was make me want to finish the Hackers game.
Update: The game is called “Echo Death” and you can see the early workings at http://echodeath.wordpress.com/

I guess I’m saying I don’t know where the Dinosaur Cowboys RPG will end up, or whether I’ll fully finish the Hackers game, or what. But yeah, just not feeling it right now. We’ll see where we end up by the next post.

[RPG] Example skills from early brainstorming

ndynamiteLike I mentioned in the announcement yesterday, I really like to get an early playable prototype for all my games. I think it contributed a lot to the success of Dinosaur Cowboys skirmish, in that I could sit down and roll some dice within weeks of the idea being born.
So with my RPG I want to do the same. Which means besides filling out a skeleton of a rulebook so far, I’ve also been working on the general list of Skills. I narrowed down the Jobs a bit to have actual names, cut a few, etc. I’ll be doing some re-theming to make some more suitable for the universe/history/theme. Obviously the document will get hugely formatted and touched up too.
At this point I’m going to try to sit down with some of my D&D maps that I drew before, grab some DC figures, write some stats on a page, and try playing the game. So exciting!

Anyway here is the PDF document with a big mishmash of skills. Should give you an idea of what I’m going for: Brainstorm of RPG skills (PDF)

One big TODO, and often the deciding factor to players who are glancing at each RPG system, is the character sheet. A beautiful, functional, well thought out sheet can make or break a game. I remember my first RPG (called Horizon) and how the sheets developed and improved over time as we codified common shorthand and notes.

And of course pictures from the PDF, because some people don’t have those 15 seconds to download a file and read it. Plus the easier it is to get you excited about this RPG the better.
early-skills-1early-skills-2

Announcement #1: Life of a Dinosaur Cowboy – new RPG game!

Dark-Dungeons-ComicOverview
I am sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo excited about this project. First of all the name is a work in progress (I’m all ears for suggestions!) but I’m going to try my hand at a Dinosaur Cowboys RPG, tentatively called “Life of a Dinosaur Cowboy”.

“But wait”, you might say, “didn’t this game ALREADY start as an RPG?!”. Yes, yes it did. You might remember a bit of the way into my original brainstorm I decided to rewrite Dinosaur Cowboys as a skirmish game. And that worked wonderfully. But with all I’ve learned, combined with all my recent RPG experience with my weekly gaming group, means I want to revisit the idea of a pure RPG. Historically as a teenager I played a ton of RPGs, and that was basically all I ever designed/created. Then I had a long lull in my late teens / early adulthood. Recently though with D&D Encounters at my local gaming store, Edge of the Empire with friends, and running my Servants of Molagrath D&D campaign means I’m back into RPGs.
The problem with my initial 2009 design, and why it ended up working better as a skirmish, was I went for a “light RPG that handles big fights well”. Looking back that basically screams skirmish, but I didn’t see it at the time.

What will this new RPG bring to the table? In keeping with my focused design ideas, let me list three core points:

  1. Player involvement is critical. I want minimal downtime between turns, I don’t want to see wandering eyes and the glow of cellphones and disinterest or inattention. Some players are prone to this regardless of the rule system, but it can still be minimized.
  2. Characters will be a flexible collection of skills, maintained on a single-page sheet, with a unified D12 system (mmm I love the picture below to the right from Marc Orphanos).
  3. The game should follow Dinosaur Cowboy history and some of it’s naming conventions, but not be afraid to break from them.

Dodecahedron-D12Another important distinction is I’m going to design this game mainly for myself and my gaming group. So the rules may not be as “fresh read friendly” to outsiders, which in some ways mirrors the original old timey roleplaying systems. The reason for this is people very rarely pick up a new RPG system. On the surface traditional RPGs look fairly indistinguishable (big books, some kind of resolution system, lots of classes), so there can be a bit of “what’s the point in switching” demotivation.
Notice I said traditional RPGs. I’m not talking about indie style RPGs that have come out in the past 4-5 years, like Dogs in the Vineyard or FATE, with a focus on fewer dice, less combat, cooperative storytelling, and freeform discussion. Those might fit some groups, but like I said this game is primarily for me and my friends, and we’re a combat-on-a-grid kinda crew with the odd lockpick or persuasion in between. So D&D 4th edition has been a great fit, and for simplicity I’ll reference it a lot below.
Similarly my core group is 5 people + someone to run it (the Sheriff, normally called a Dungeonmaster [DM]), so guess what the target number of players will be?

So far I have several pages of brainstorming and even a loose rules document smooshed together, since I hugely subscribe to the idea of “playtest early, playtest often”. If I don’t have a working prototype within a month of the initial seed of an idea I can almost guarantee I won’t have the energy and motivation to finish a game. Which means I’m hoping to do a rudimentary playtest and system test in the coming weeks.

Main Game Features
Let me distill some of the ideas so far, all of which are subject to change of course:

  • The game will be set in the same era as the “Skies and Slums” skirmish expansion, so all the new Allegiances can be used
  • Every ability (even moving) is a Skill, almost like a “power card” from D&D. This means Lockpick, Move, Fancy Attack, Big Wide Attack, etc. will function within the same framework of rules. Similarly some Skills are passive like +1 Speed or +2 Hitpoints. All Skills will be listed in a horizontal table format for easy reading/sorting
  • Square grid based combat, with nebulous out of combat situations
  • Positioning matters a lot inside combat. As a result the basic number of squares moved is a lot higher. There will be motivators to move around, such as randomly appearing buffs/effects on the field (gonna be hard to theme WHY though)
  • Cooperative turns instead of a traditional D&D style initiative order. Get a pool of Activation tokens (almost like Orders from Infinity) at a rate of 2 per 1 player, so 10 for a full group of 5. These can be spent to perform Skills.
  • There is a rotating “Shotcaller” each player turn who has the final say on what to do in case of arguments. But ideally the group would talk and plan together with everyone involved the whole time.
  • Ideally the Sheriff/DM turn is quite quick, to keep the action and focus on the players
  • Every scene/encounter should have an objective, which is a bit of a departure from the standard “kill everything” seen in combat encounters
  • Using a Skill can be done in a “Normal”/”Standard” way for the listed Activation cost, then roll 1D12 against some kind of target number (could be from an opposing roll, set by DM, based on character skill, etc.). But you can also spend 1 more Activation to use the Skill in a “Focused” way (such as “Focused Knee Shot”) which lets you roll 2D12 and choose the highest. Similarly you can spend 1 less Activation (to a minimum of 1) to have a “Hasty” usage, which is roll 2D12 choose the lowest. This means most combat skills are 2 Activations, to make players have some tough choices.
  • Attacking has a second step of rolling for damage. Yes I’ve harped on multiple-roll resolution systems in the past, but that’s for wargames, not for RPGs. It’s okay to have more rolls and depth per character. Sort of a roll to-hit >= target Defense, then roll to-damage >= target Grit. I’m considering each weapon having a flat Damage value, and you can choose how you want to allocate that damage between flat & dice. You need 1 dice to succeed over Grit for ANY damage to happen though. So it’s almost a gamble/push-your-luck system of “I need 9+ to wound, do I roll 4 dice or 2 and do 2 flat damage, but have a chance I do NO damage?”
  • Wild-West-Town

  • Characters have Attributes to define their abilities, ranging from -2 to +4. The Attributes are Might (melee and strength), Agility (ranged and quickness), Sense (intelligence and willpower), Bravery (courage and mental toughness). Every character starts at -1 for all attributes
  • Characters also have derived Statisics. These are Speed (number of squares), Defense (target to-hit number), Grit (target to-wound number), Hitpoints (track until death)
  • Character sheets should be a single page (or worst case double sided), most likely landscape instead of portrait. There will also be a group sheet that handles equipment, the dinosaur, activation pool, etc.
  • Every group (Posse) of characters has a single dinosaur
  • Dinosaurs are meant to fill gaps in the group, so there will be melee, ranged, support dinos. Dinos grow in size (Pokemon style) and have their own set of Skills available.
  • Instead of fantasy style races Allegiances are used instead. These modify Attributes and also have a couple of unique Skills and features.
  • Instead of classes there are Jobs (or Professions) that each Skill comes from. You can mix and match Skills from different Jobs to make your dream character. The generic Job is called Cowboy.
  • Instead of levelling up you get Improvement Points (IP) that can be spent outside of an encounter on new Skills. Enemies will be matched against the total Posse IP.
  • Equipment is abstracted, as is money. Instead there is a “Tier” system. 3 lower Tier items make 1 higher Tier, or vice versa 2:1 ratio. You get Tier rewards that represent your ability to purchase new equipment, or the actual items themselves. For example someone might have a Tier 1 Six-Shooter. Then they find two Tier 1 slots from an encounter, which means they can “trade up” those three Tier 1 items for one Tier 2 item.
  • Similarly weight/encumbrance isn’t managed, and every character has item slots. 3 Weapon, 1 Hat, 1 Neckwear, 1 Holster, 1 Clothing. Any excess equipment is put on the dinosaur. Minor items are not tracked or managed, or are already included in a Skill (for example Apply Bandage just has a bandage, you don’t need to manage them).
  • Weapons that are ranged will have an “Ideal” distance (in squares). They can shoot the entire board though (since counting above 5 or 6 squares is tedious). If the target is within the Ideal distance you get a bonus. If they’re EXACTLY at the Ideal distance it’s called the “Perfect” distance and you get an even bigger bonus
  • Weapons have a different area of effect pattern based on their type. Shotguns make a Wave, Sniper pierce in a Wave, Machinegun hits multiple, etc.
  • There will be the concept of Crossfire, brought back from way, way earlier in Dinosaur Cowboys. If you are attacking through an enemy with an ally on the other side you get a bonus
  • Conditions/buffs/debuffs/effects are tracked in an easier way than a turn limit. There is a “Short Effect” (lasts until the end of your next turn) or a “Long Effect” (lasts until the end of the encounter). I envision tokens with the effect written on them. Short go beside the miniature, Long go on the character sheet. For example Burning or Reload would be a Short Effect, whereas Get in There speed buff would be a Long Effect. There are Skills that can be used to “save” vs effects
  • Healing will be a factor (some Jobs are built for it), but Hitpoints will automatically restore outside of combat, which means no throwaway fights or 15-minute adventuring days.
  • Depending on the Allegiances and group members the Posse will travel around the continent, exploring and adventuring, and doing all the usual RPG things

Allegiances
If you made it this far I’m pleased, since reading a dump of brainstorm ideas like that can be tough. Let me reward you with a more clearly defined list. First of all Allegiances:

  • Duster: -1 Speed, +3 Hitpoints
  • Neotechnoist: +1 Agility, -3 Hitpoints
  • Crusader: +1 Agility, -1 Defense
  • Savage: +1 Might, -1 Agility, +1 Speed, -1 Defense
  • Ashlander: +1 Might, -1 Sense
  • Ascendant: +1 Defense, -1 Bravery, -1 Hitpoint
  • Slum Dweller: +1 Grit, -1 Sense, -1 Hitpoint
  • Vagrant: +1 to chosen attribute, -1 to chosen attribute
  • Nomad: +1 to a random attribute at the start of each encounter, -2 Hitpoints

Jobs
And an even bigger list of Job/class archetypes that you can mix and match from:

  • Cowboy (generic, or just call it Basic or Generic)
  • Doctor (heal)
  • Preacher (prot)
  • Gunslinger (pistols)
  • Sniper (rifles)
  • Bruiser (slow melee, single big damage attacks)
  • Stabber (melee fast low damage attacks)
  • Artillery (aoe)
  • Sneak (stealth guy)
  • Planner (move others)
  • Demotivator (move and debuff enemies)
  • Mazes-and-Monsters

  • Status Guy (apply status)
  • Runner (super fast)
  • Delayer (long actions that are very powerful or take effect next turn)
  • Interrupter (better at interrupt stuff)
  • Tank (high defense)
  • Spiky Tank (sorta high defense with retaliation)
  • Dino Wrangler (uses minions)
  • Friendly Guy (ally buffer)
  • Map Guy (use terrain or get more benefits)
  • Tough Guy (okay defense but really good Grit)
  • Planter (put down lasting zone buffs, can’t overlap?)
  • Trapper (similar to Planter, but instead of buffs are damage zones)
  • Sacrificer (spend HP for bonus effects)
  • Stance Guy (enter stances with effects)
  • Aura Guy (buffs to nearby allies)
  • Kung Fu (bare handed melee)
  • Improvisation (throws rocks and stuff)
  • Combo Guy (skills work off each other)
  • Gambling Guy (skills vary based on dice)

Conclusion
Anyway I’m extremely excited about this concept. Logistically I’ll keep the RPG stuff on this blog/website. And like I said I’m hoping to get a crude prototype together asap so I can start playtesting and seeing how it’ll all fit together. While this is happening Dinosaur Cowboys Skirmish will take a bit of a backseat. But as we saw from the Skies and Slums announcement yesterday I do still have plans for the original “branch” of the game.
So stay tuned!

Announcement #2: “Skies and Slums” Expansion

HelicarrierI’m happy to announce plans for a Dinosaur Cowboys skirmish expansion called Skies and Slums. I first considered this idea last year in March, but I’ve decided to make it public now. When I was a kid designing games I used to make expansions that included a bunch of outlandish rules or crazy stuff that changed the game. Skies and Slums won’t be quite as drastic but there will be some neat new mechanics and ideas introduced.

First of all some off-the-cuff fluff to set the mood:
The year is 2291. Dusters and Neotechnoists are still in a stalemate, with people switching sides fairly evenly, and no real land grabs or differences there. However new slums and shanty towns have organically sprawled outside around The Wall. Most of the occupants are desperate outsiders who want to get back in to New Hope and the safety of the Neotechnoist allegiance. Others are born and raised outside The Wall and make a pilgrimage for their chance to go inside. These Slum Dwellers are resilient but poor.
But the biggest change are the Ascendants. Once the scientists, politicians, and other important officials of the world they escaped Eruption Day by taking to the skies in solar powered Sky Barges. These massive ships are like floating cities capable of sustaining a population for years. As society collapsed below they retained advanced knowledge and studies. However as new generations were born aboard the Sky Barges the knowledge was slowly lost and became a misunderstood magic. The most notable are the solar panels of the Sky Barges, which slowly began to fail in the year 2290. As this happened dozens of Sky Barges drifted to the ground. The Ascendants have managed to train Flappers for combat, as the skittish dinosaurs see the sky people as kindred spirits. From the ruins of the Sky Barges the Ascendants emerge in their Exosuits, nervous of bacteria and germs and with weak immune systems from generations in an enclosed environment.
As the communities outside The Wall become wealthier and want more entertainment travelling circuses have popped up across the country. These shows are staffed by roving performers of the Nomad allegiance.
From the ashen wastelands of the north that was once Canada comes the Ashlander allegiance. Rugged individuals have been surviving under the cloud of ash and dust from Eruption Day. Although unaccustomed to large cities and tending to seclusion and secrecy, the Ashlanders have started to spread further south in search of food and supplies. They tend to be extremely brave except for a strong fear of capture and closeness.
And finally an oversea presence has finally landed on North American shores. Hailing from the ruins of Europe the Crusader allegiance braved the rough seas to pay respects to the focal point of dinosaur activity.

Time-to-Fly_alexandreev
From http://alexandreev.deviantart.com/art/Time-to-fly-163578668

So what does all this mean in game terms? Well first of all the timeline will be moved forward 6 years to 2291, whereas the core game is set in 2285.
The expansion will add 5 new Allegiances:

New Allegiances

  • Ascendants: +1 Defense, +4 Bravery Target Number. Wearing Exosuits to protect from ground viruses and bacteria makes the Ascendants durable, but years aboard the safe Sky Barges has made them cowardly. Or maybe they don’t have stat mods and instead get a risk-reward movement mechanic via jumpjets/jump packs?
  • Slum Dweller: Grit mechanic (like a saving throw), first weapon costs $50 more. These poor scrappers are resilient from a tough life. Grit will work like some kind of shield/saving throw where incoming damage can be negated.
  • Ashlander: -3 Bravery Target Number, cannot attack in melee. Brave for almost every situation except having someone near them. Alternatively so skittish and good at hiding that if attacked at 5″+ treat that attack as 5″ further (so 6″ is really 11″, 14″ is really 19″, while 3″ is just 3″), but then have to take a Bravery Test every single time they take damage, regardless of the amount.
  • Nomad: Roll 1D12 at the start of each encounter, check table to see which statistic is temporarily changed. There is around a 60% chance a statistic is improved but a 40% chance it’s worse. Nomads are unreliable, flighty people who tend to shine unexpectedly.
  • Crusader: Follows laws and codes. Such as no ranged weapons, won’t exercise a Snap Attack, won’t attack an enemy in the back, but are nigh indestructible due to fanaticism and devotion.

UPDATE: I think I’ll call rename the Ashlanders to “Uplanders” instead (yes, you can thank the Chevy van in front of me for the inspiration). This avoids multiple Allegiances started with the same letter, or sounding similar.

Obviously the stats and ideas are in the brainstorming phase. I really like Ascendant, Nomad, and Slum Dweller and think they bring something neat to the table. I’m not as sure on Ashlanders and Crusaders. I do want to include at least 4 new Allegiances in the expansion though to mirror the original amount.
I did consider the “Sky Warden” allegiance that is the military/police/tough guy branch of the Ascendants, as compared to the scientific/nerdy branch. Sky Wardens could even be robots or androids that were built before Eruption Day and have just been maintained since.

I also somewhat wanna rename the basic “Bandit” allegiance to “Cowboy”, which would be a bit of annoying find-and-replace in documents and The Saloon.

Tiny-CompyNew Dinosaurs (including Flappers)
In addition to the Allegiances the Flapper dinosaur type will be hireable now. I’m thinking if your Leader is Ascendant or the majority of members or something. I think of the Flapper as a mobility dinosaurs with incredibly far movement and the ability to launch into the sky (taking them off the table) and land at a later turn.
There would be a slew of other new dinosaurs, but more focused on specialization and unique niches. For example a tiny type (can’t even be mounted) that is super fast and has a single strong attack, almost like a “missile” that is launched across the field. Sort of like the Compsognathus from Dino D-Day. I’d like another type that is faster/easier to mount. Also maybe going wild and having some ranged dinosaurs.

New Weapons, Features, Traits, Objectives
I want to add some oddball weapons, stuff like The Tombstone that functions in a neat way. Maybe an Airstrike that can be called in from Sky Barge drones or something. Or single use or dangerous-to-use jumppacks / jumpjets from Ascendants.
I could see Allegiance specific weapons too, just technology and abilities that are unique to each group, to further distinguish them beyond stats.

There would be lots of new Features as well. Having some that are Allegiance specific (especially around Sky Barges and slums and travelling wagons) would be cool. Obviously some new Traits too, again with an Allegiance specific leaning. I could see some weapon specific Traits too, like expert/specialization/training named stuff around a class or type of weapon. Maybe a new Objective or two if I can brainstorm them up.

Drugs-and-StimsDrugs and Stimulants
I’m thinking of having drugs/stimulants available for purchase, sort of like a mix of existing Healing items and Active Traits. They could even do Hitpoint damage for some good effect. I could imagine the Ascendants having totally different social standards from their isolation, where recreational drug use is just part of life. Almost like Plasmids in Bioshock. Similarly some new Healing items could be cool, since the Ascendants do have somewhat advanced technology in comparison to the ground.

Similarly the Slum Dwellers might add poisons and toxins to the mix, that have debuff or negative effects when applied to enemies.

Conclusion and Timeline
I have no idea when this expansion will be done. But I figured the current v2.6 of the rules is great, stable, and with no glaring issues. So any further changes or tweaks I want to do should be moved to a separate project. Also if I’m under the umbrella of an expansion I can add in wild, possibly gamebreaking stuff, or rules that change the tone or feel of the game. For example having new Allegiances that have a bunch of custom differences beyond just stat modifications. Or dinosaurs that you don’t even mount, or can shoot/spit projectiles.

Either way I wanted to share, because like I said I’ve been sitting on this for a while, and it’s pretty exciting. Not as exciting as tomorrow’s announcement though…stay tuned…

Original Brainstorm List
In case you want to read my original brainstorm notes, or in case I need to reference them when I start work on the expansion, well, here they are…
Read the rest of this entry »

Battle Report: Coastal Raid of New Iberia

Background
the-bayouIn the year 2285 the small Louisiana town of New Iberia is now coastal property, thanks to the floods after Eruption Day. The location is far enough east to avoid the wasteland temperatures of the desert, and surprisingly wealthy from pelt hunting of rare bayou dinosaurs. A ragtag group of ex-sailors and dino hunters have established themselves as the Coastal Defense Force. Their leader is Ronan Cioni, a descendant of the Cioni family who were the original post-Eruption reclaimers of the town.
Although their wealth is not advertised in a flashy or grandiose way, one eager and angry man knows all about it. Dash Cioni, the only brother of Ronan, was exiled from the Coastal Defense Force and the town of New Iberia after a messy situation deep in the swamp that resulted in the death of a travelling merchant and his family. The details are hazy and rumors are whispered behind Ronan’s back about the split.
But now Dash wants revenge, and he has used the promise of New Iberia’s riches to lure Captain Pellham and his Murkfoul Raiders, a rough band of pirates and poachers.

Table Setup
I decided for this battle to use my new naval ocean looking cloth from Sails of Glory to represent the watery swamp along the outer coast of New Iberia. I used the underside of this very same cloth for my last Christmas battle report. The downside is my camera gets a bit confused and tries to balance the colors to a yellow/orange tinge, which you’ll see in the pictures. Just think of it as the gross, unbearable humidity of the southeastern USA coast.

For the table setup I went with an open ocean on one edge, where the Murkfoul Raiders would have their small sailing ship. Then inland from that a series of shoals and sandy beaches. I setup an old iron cannon on a high cliff surrounded by sandbags, which ended up looking great. Then the rest of the map is scattered islands, old ruins, a mishmash of bridges, and eventually the Coastal Defense Force “clubhouse” that is a rundown, swampy looking shack.

I decided to start this battle after the Murkfoul Raiders had left their ship and successful taken the cliffside cannon. Meanwhile the Coastal Defense Force would be responding and further out from their bayou shack. This meant a slightly modified Deep Corner deploy, in that each posse could deploy up to HALF the table width. Which made for some immediate, deadly fights.
For Features the water is Populated Water (2A-2D CTN 7 attack if you end in it). This wouldn’t affect dinosaurs who are used to living in the swamp environment, but would somewhat dissuade characters from entering the depths.
To balance this and still allow mobility I did a houserule that if you could move from island to island (across the water) you could basically “jump” and ignore the Difficult Terrain. This meant all the middle islands were easily traversable as you could hop from landmass to landmass.
For Objective I considered something fancy, but went with a straight up Shoot Out (aka kill ’em all). There is a Turn Limit of 5 for this battle.
DC-Coastal-Battle-0021
DC-Coastal-Battle-0013DC-Coastal-Battle-0018DC-Coastal-Battle-0028
DC-Coastal-Battle-0024DC-Coastal-Battle-0015DC-Coastal-Battle-0019

Posses
The first thing you might notice with the two posses are they have a lot of money, to the tune of $3,000 each. The reason for this is to play the rarely utilized “top tier” dinosaurs of Titan and Longneck. The Titan would be represented by the old crocodile toy I bought for the Battle to Seattle campaign, and the Longneck would be the Papo Brachiosaurus from the same campaign.
I can imagine the Titan crocodile swimming alongside the Murkfoul Raiders skiff, then bursting from the depths to bite an enemy in half. Similarly the Longneck would be at home in the swampy terrain, with it’s long legs carrying passengers clear of the muck.

Posse: Coastal Defense Force (310 IP, $3,000)
Get the PDF Roster or View in the Saloon
DC-Coastal-Battle-0011As mentioned this posse is lead by Ronan Cioni. I wanted to get the “pelt hunter” feel so I went with my newish scale cloak wearing pistol and warhorn guy, in this case a Carbine and Totem.
Ronan’s two closest friends also happen to be brothers, just ones who are on better terms than Ronan and Dash. Arnold Bridgers is a sniper who is very far from his Neotechnoist home. In his travels south Arnold discovered a bit of a medical leaning, so he has Triage. The Try Again trait he also has fits pretty well with the “all or nothing” 1 Attack rifle. Luke Bridgers is the opposite of a sniper, preferring an Enforcer Shotgun and a bit more toughness. I could see the two of them having a storied past from their ~1,700 mile trek from New Haven. Also a note on miniatures, I LOVE the old Space Marine Scout sniper that I used for Arnold, he reminds me of a Ghost from Starcraft, and I’d really like to get and paint a new one. I can’t strip the old one because it has so many memories (playing cards on the shoulder because I was obsessed with 58th Wild Cards in Space Above and Beyond, kill markers on the gun barrel cause that was 1990s cool, bright green nightvision because what other color would I ever do, cliche camouflage cloak, etc.).
The next member is an old timer named Donato the Blue who is the one true sailor, having built and used his own ships for decades. His nickname is from his love of the ocean. He uses a decommissioned Rotary Rifle found in an abandoned silo, and keeps a Clark Airgun handy to push foes away if they get too close to him and the gun.
The final member is Ali Paek, an ambitious youngster from New Iberia with plenty to prove. He wields a hand-me-down Ultra Repeater and tends to be the happiest and most motivational of the group, thus the Get In There! trait.
For the dinosaur the Coastal Defense Force got a Longneck, rightly named Queen of Iberia. I could see this gentle beast covered in streamers and flowers while parading down main street. She’d be fiercely loyal and have many years of experience hunting smaller dinosaurs as part of the New Iberia pelt trade.
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Posse: Murkfoul Raiders (310 IP, $3,000)
Get the PDF Roster or View in the Saloon
The Murkfoul Raiders have a loose ship crew feel to them with various named ranks. Captain Pellham is the natural leader with a Rustler Revolver (a suitable pirate/bandit-y gun), and wears extremely sturdy armor as a sign of his station.
First Mate Quinn is older than the Captain, but still loyal and happy with his lot in life. He mirrors the Captain by using a powerful Stampede Pistol. Somehow after years raiding and pillaging and living in muck and swamps Quinn hasn’t died yet, so the Lucky trait fit well. Speed Reload seemed like a neat story point in the sense of a quiet, unsuspecting old man who can rapidly load a gun out of reflex from some past military service.
Quartermaster Hank is potentially more loyal to his Laserbow 80, lovingly named “Starfire” from some sci-fi book he found as a child. Hank is the prime poacher in the group, preferring to use Attack – Surprise and a single arrowbolt to kill a foe in one shot.
Officer Russell is a disgraced serviceman who is dour and unhappy as he drifts from one depressing raid to another. He uses a Superior Bronto Gun, wears a dark, grumpy cape and big Witch Hunter style hat.
The final member is Dash Cioni, who motivated the Murkfoul Raiders in the first place to attack New Iberia. Unlike his brother Dash focuses on melee with an aptly named Feudbreaker. He’s ripped the Harpoon Gun from the Murkfoul ship and plans to skewer the first enemy he sees. His combination of traits is set to work WONDERFULLY in the swamp, as cliffs will be no problem to climb, especially in combination with his faster-than-a-dinosaur base Speed of 8″.
And as mentioned the dinosaur is a Titan named The Deep One (very Cthulhu vibe), carrying a swarm of ravenous young on it’s back as it waits to feast on entire villages after the Murkfoul Raiders attack.
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Game Summary
Instead of turn-by-turn notes I wanted to highlight some fun parts and then show a bunch of pictures.

  • Like a cheesy horror movie the upbeat and hopeful whippersnapper died first. In this case Ali Paek got charged by The Deep One on the first turn and died in a single hit. Thematic as heck, but sad to be Ali!
  • Donato the Blue then had an ongoing battle against both The Deep One and Dash Cioni. Dash failed a 2″ Charge up a cliff, which was hilarious. Even more so when Dash was STILL trying to be greedy and Charge (1A-9D Feudbreaker to 2A is so tempting) and failed AGAIN. Basically Donato survived an extra turn or two thanks to Dash’s ineptitude. Eventually Donato did get cornered in melee with The Deep One and couldn’t use any of his guns (minimum on Rotary, and Push wouldn’t work on a dino in melee), so he tried to escape combat and died to a Snap Attack. Donato did at least mow down Dash first.
  • The middle of the map was a bit of a positional shoot out, with Ronan doing his best to fight there while still supporting his right flank. He was against a mix of Quartermaster Hank and Officer Russell (who also split his attention until The Deep One had the situation near the shack under control).
  • Quartermaster Hank missed his Attack – Surprise shot that could have done 12 damage, and died soon after from Ronan’s Carbine.
  • Since the big dinosaurs had deployed on opposite sides of the table they didn’t end up in a massive fight. Instead they did huge damage to the lowly humans. Both were more or less ignored for return fire and took less than 10 damage apiece.
  • Arnold Bridgers the sniper was the most sniper-y sniper I’ve seen in a while. He stayed planted on top of the hill he deployed to and consistently hit his Lever-Action shots. Near the end as The Deep One closed in (after killing the entire left flank) Arnold even busted out his shotgun. By that point BOTH his guns ended up needing a Reload, but that was right at the turn limit so he survived.
  • Luke Bridgers had less luck than his brother, taking an early shot from Captain Pellham and then scrambling the rest of the game to reload, heal, and survive. He didn’t get to use his Enforcer Shotgun to it’s full potential unfortunately, as the Murkfoul Raiders had such a commanding position to assault on the right flank.
  • Captain Pellham was fearless the whole game, moving forward TOWARDS a Longneck dinosaur to secure the kill on Luke Bridgers, then Fleeing melee after getting Trampled by the dino, only to heal using his Small IRP and survive a whole extra turn. Him Fleeing was especially beneficial as the Rustler Revolver has a minimum range of 1…always keep a way to shoot people in melee! Eventually the Captain was sniped by Arnold though as revenge for the death of his brother.
  • First Mate Quinn had the best use of Lucky I’ve ever seen, although he still did eventually go down. After being engaged by the Longneck the Quartermaster managed to turn a 1-hit kill into surviving with 1 Hitpoint thanks to Lucky. Quinn even managed to Flee and keep away well enough to survive (with 1 HP) until the end of the game.
  • As for the “special weapons”, the Harpoon Gun of Dash was never used (sadly), and Ronan’s Totem was but failed to hit enough to trigger Terrify. The Rotary Rifle (in combination with Attack – Dire) did a terrific job of consistent damage though. The Bronto Gun, even with the post-BTS-campaign nerfs, was excellent as always, especially in these higher level battles with more Defense.
  • The Populated Water resulted in the only damage Officer Russell suffered. The underwater dinosaurs also tried to bite Dash Cioni (after he failed to Charge up the cliff) but didn’t manage to hit him. Jumping between islands work wonderfully and meant the middle saw lots of movement and action.

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Conclusion
In the end the turn limit was reached before a decisive victory either way. The Coastal Defense Force was down to Arnold Bridgers (unwounded but with two empty guns) and the Queen of Iberia with 27/37 HP. The Murkfoul Raiders had First Mate Quinn on 1 Hitpoint, Officer Russell with 7 HP, and The Deep One relatively untouched at 28/32 HP.
So a technical win to the Murkfoul Raiders for having more survivors, or really to Quinn for escaping death that whole time. I think given another turn or two Arnold would have been eaten, Quinn would have been shot, and the dinosaurs would have ended up duking it out. That would have been an interesting fight, especially since both still had their Attack – Inspire left (they could eat/stomp a character with it and recover HP) and the Longneck’s lower damage profile was balanced by her Big Game Hunter trait.
Regardless the Murkfoul Raiders broke through the Coastal Defense Force just enough to grab a bit of loot and damage the clubhouse shack, but certainly not enough of a rout to completely pillage New Iberia.

Anyway the game was lots of fun and I liked the varied terrain and background story (amazing how much a little story adds to the tenseness and excitement of a situation). I had these posses built over the holidays and meant to play back-to-back with my Christmas report, but didn’t find the time. So I’m glad I got to the battle report pretty soon after.

v2.6 rules are feeling terrific, no glaring changes that I want to do. I might have finally tweaked and modified the game to it’s final state?! What does that mean for this blog? Well…an exciting announcement soon will shed some light on that.

Game Design: Randomness in tabletop vs video games

I’ve been ruminating on a few game design thoughts for a bit, as I tend to do when I haven’t tweaked Dinosaur Cowboys in a while. Those creative energies have to go somewhere! Then I realized I had a few topics I wanted to talk about, so I figured I’d make some posts covering each.

Randomness and the Purpose of Dice
The topic of pure determinism vs random elements is endless and has been discussed on forums since the first boardgame (I’m sure of it). Basically there are two main camps:

mmm-dice– Deterministic: Minimal or no random elements allowed, if the player chooses to “execute XYZ” it succeeds as expected. There are no percent to-hit or miss chances. Chess is the best example. These games have a lot of planning and quick execution. They can also become “solvable” where the best, most rewarding play can be absolutely decided because there is no random chance. The better player will always win. That Hackers game I was working on is the closest personal example I have.
– Random: There are random elements in the game. Normally categorized as “input randomness” (drawing from a deck of cards, having a generated terrain setup, etc.) that players see, accept, and have to deal with. And “output randomness” like dice rolls to succeed that players have little to no control over. Sometimes this means a worse player will win. A lot of people in the Deterministic camp will accept Input Randomness (normally for replayability and variety) but scour and scoff at Output Randomness. So that’s the one I wanted to talk about.

What it boils down to is you either like rolling dice in a game, or you don’t. And like I said this topic has been talked to death, so I won’t talk too much about either approach. Instead I want to highlight and interesting thought I had today: I don’t hugely like output randomness in video games, but I adore it in tabletop games. But why? This entire section will be dedicated to answering that, so don’t construe it as anything else.

xcom-please-hitThe easiest way to tackle this question is to look at video games first. The modern X-COM remake is a good example of output randomness that can be frustrating. In that game you have a percent chance to hit the target you’re firing at. The chance varies based on soldier skill, weapon, range, and enemy cover. All that is calculated and abstracted and you see the percent chance before you shoot, click the mouse and a little animation plays showing whether you hit and did damage or not. Maybe your soldier has an audio file that plays when you miss, as you sit alone in your quiet office.
Ever miss in that game with a 90% hit chance? How did that make you feel? Frustrated and like it was out of your control?

DC-Cavalier-Border-Battle-0115Now let’s look at a tabletop example, of course using Dinosaur Cowboys. You physically pick up your hand painted miniature, move into Short Distance to hit easier, and try to improve your odds further by choosing to shoot an enemy who hasn’t moved yet. You ask your opponent across the table what their Defense is, add that to your Ranged Target Number, factor in a few mods, and figure out what you need to hit. Let’s say 9+. The chance to hit feels a bit abstract, but at least you know how you arrived at it. In terms of a percent chance you know you have a 4/12 chance per dice…but your Six-Shooter has 4 attacks, so you’re rolling 4 dice. Hmm remember your math class on probabilities? Silently hope to not roll any 1s, in fact a full roll of 12s would be perfect. You pick up the dice, get a nice tactile feel from their edges, shake them in your clenched fist. The pleasing sound of clattering dice fills your games room. Both you and your opponent are staring, waiting for the roll. The dice tumble, building anticipation. 1, 5, 9, and 12. Your eyes see the 9 and 12 first and your cheer a bit. Your opponent sees the 1 and 5 and also cheers. A hit and a Crit! But also a Reload! You curse the dice that rolled a 1, consider putting it back in your bag and getting a different one.

Those examples were a bit embellished, but they hopefully highlight my point. And that is dice and randomness in tabletop games are not just about cold numbers, chances to hit, and reflecting player skill. They’re about a tactile element, and that impossible human nature feat of thinking we can control the outcome of falling plastic if we really believe hard enough. Also depending on the system the randomness covers a lot more than just hitting the enemy, such as above with running out of ammo for a Reload and the excitement and bonus damage of a Critical Hit.
Somehow it’s less frustrating in a tabletop game to miss a shot with a 90% hit chance when it turns into a talking point or good story with your opponent. Miss that kind of shot 5 times in X-COM and you’ll probably take a frustrated break for the night. Have it happen in a tabletop game and you’ll be laughing while gnashing your teeth and bantering with your friends.

dice-shaming-why-a-thingA lot of the deterministic vs random discussions don’t account for this. And a lot of the randomness DOESN’T translate well to computer games because of all the positive elements surrounding dice on the tabletop. Not just computer games, but even online software for playing tabletop games virtually, like Roll20. Seeing a virtual result of 12 isn’t the same as the whole ritual and process of rolling a 12 on a physical dice in the real world. Or boiling down a fun and unique dice system with multiple side effects into a single dry percent chance resulting in “hit” or “miss”.

Do dice objectively make for a worse game (don’t get me started on “game” vs “toy”)? Or do they represent everything a computer game can’t capture, and the tactile elements we keep coming back to boardgames and wargames for? While it does sometimes make for a worse determination of player system knowledge (not really “skill”), is that the be-all-end-all measurement for every game?
Does anyone talk about their crazy 7 Wonders or Puerto Rico win where they added up a bunch of points in a deterministic system? “Dang I really built that Market and figured out the Science combo!” Or do gaming friends talk about that time Peter rolled six 1s in a row, then came through with a Critical Hit at a key moment?

More on the topic:
Our Destructive Love Affair with Random Number Generators
and
Games, Randomness And The Problem With Being Human
Mainly for:
“Perhaps, once again, this difficulty with true randomness in video games is down to our cognitive biases; in board games and tabletop games alike, it is we who roll our own dice. Therefore, we perhaps feel some sense of control over the outcome; as though, by rolling the dice, we are the masters of cold, impartial randomness. However, with video games, the computer rolls our dice on our behalves.”

Game Design: Throwaway Fights

I’ve been ruminating on a few game design thoughts for a bit, as I tend to do when I haven’t tweaked Dinosaur Cowboys in a while. Those creative energies have to go somewhere! Then I realized I had a few topics I wanted to talk about, so I figured I’d make some posts covering each.

RPGs and Throwaway Fights
not-me-playingThis section is specifically in regards to Dungeons & Dragons (4th edition), but the concept applies to many other RPGs (both pen-and-paper and computer games). Before I get too far into the topic let me say a brief disclaimer that yes, I am aware a lot of people don’t like D&D, or 4th edition, or “it’s like an MMO”, and the rules don’t lend themselves to roleplaying. And let me just say D&D isn’t meant to be some artsy fartsy indie RPG where you collectively tell a story and have quirky characters and stuff. When people say “D&D is a bad RPG” they aren’t far from the truth, because although you play the role of your character, there aren’t a ton of in-game rules or systems to do so (I don’t think you need many, but that’s beside the point).
But what people should focus on is D&D is a great cooperative fantasy battle system. 4th edition is meant to have balanced classes, combat roles are interesting and focused (Defender, Striker, etc.), every character has a lot of neat choices on their turn (as compared to other D&D versions where a Fighter would eventually be outdone by a Mage, without fail), there is a team element of combining abilities and planning, positioning matters, and the mechanics and rules for combat are clear.
So to the above topic, D&D fulfills that vision and design very well. In some ways this focus on grid-based combat means D&D is closer to a skirmish game with a campaign system than a full fledged RPG.

But that’s leads to my one complaint: throwaway fights in RPGs.

snoozeD&D has some elements of resource management. You have limited consumable potions, you have “Daily” powers that can’t be used every fight (so you often save them for the big boss fight), Hitpoints and healing wears down slowly from damage, etc. The rulebook recommends around 3 encounters per day before the players get a chance to fully recharge their resources. And a common problem is avoiding this 3-fight rule of thumb by resting after each fight, resulting in the term “15 Minute Adventuring Day”.
As an adverse effect of this some of those 3 fights would be throwaways meant to grind down resources. In these fights the players weren’t in any real danger of dying, being defeated, or failing to complete their goal. Instead a group of goblins would throw a few spears, shave off a few Hitpoints and potions, then die/flee.

Going back to video games this problem still exists and is endemic to the genre.

Action RPGs like the Diablo series, Torchlight, Path of Exile, etc. might suffer the worst. You kill hundreds of thousands of monsters that are little to no threat.

This throwaway fight concept spans the globe, right into Japanese RPGs (JRPGS) like the Final Fantasy series. There are numerous encounters in that game which you can autoattack through with no thought at all, just to get more experience points in a grindy fashion. You also had consumable potions and items you didn’t need for the easy stuff and wanted to save for boss fights.

Are throwaway fights fun? Maybe once every 10 fights it’s nice to just steamroll your enemies and completely crush them, to give a sense of power and progression (especially if the fight used to be hard). But after idly clicking and sleep walking through the twentieth easy, meaningless fight, it can be a bore and really turn people off the genre.

What can be done? Well the long titled Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4 had a few neat concepts I thought I’d mention here. First of all potions and items aren’t traditional consumables, instead they are available on a per-fight basis. So they aren’t single use items anymore, but instead single use PER FIGHT. Similarly Hitpoints and Mana/Magic is restored after each fight, instead of grinding down the life of characters in a feeble attempt to make a later fight more challenging. And best of all the majority of fights are life or death affairs where you need to pull out the big guns and can’t just autoattack your way to victory.
An older, quirky game Earthbound tried to avoid the throwaway fight problem by having enemies automatically flee if you were high enough level above them, thus avoiding the boring part of going through the motions when you know the outcome.

pa-fight

But what could be done for D&D 4th edition? Try to make almost every fight matter, and every fight be a life or death, success or failure affair. Flatten out the resource grind down, let the players recover all their abilities and Hitpoints because they’ll need them for the next fight!

What I find very interesting is if RPGs get to that point, their combat starts to resemble that of a skirmish game. Which means the RPG/skirmish distinction is even closer. In a skirmish game you have a complete, rested, fully ready force at the start of each battle. The battles are normally one-off, so consumables don’t matter as much. Normally the opponents are more closely matched in strength, meaning either side could prevail. There is no concept of wearing down a player through throwaway fights. Multiplayer online battle areans (MOBAs) like Dota 2 and League of Legends have adopted this match approach and fresh start idea.
But for some reason those elements haven’t caught on in many RPGs. There is still this taboo about having “match based” RPGs fight where all the cards are on the table and there is no saving (or any need to save) for some future conflict.

Game Design: Focus Your Concept

I’ve been ruminating on a few game design thoughts for a bit, as I tend to do when I haven’t tweaked Dinosaur Cowboys in a while. Those creative energies have to go somewhere! Then I realized I had a few topics I wanted to talk about, so I figured I’d make some posts covering each.

Execute Your Concept
focus-upThis could similarly be titled “Fulfill Your Vision” or “Have a Clear Design” or the blog post itself of “Focus Your Concept”. But basically when making a game decide what you want that game to be, what it should do well, and who it should appeal to.
To me the worst games (both virtual and table) are those that try to appeal to everyone, or are a mishmash of unclear ideas. The best games realize a laser sharp vision the designers had. In some ways good games should be divisive: either you like the topic and concept and thus the game, or you don’t. There should be no middle ground of “I didn’t like the shooting but I had fun capturing animals”, because you know neither of those executions were as fleshed out as they could be.

ets2On the video game side you might know I play a lot of Euro Truck Simulator 2. If you aren’t familiar with the game you drive a semi-truck around Europe, completing jobs and tasks for money which you use to buy different trucks/upgrades/garages and so on. When I talk to people about this game I get a lot of strange looks, like “How is that fun?” or “That seems boring”. And to those people ETS 2 probably IS boring. But that’s because they don’t like the topic and concept, and the game isn’t designed to appeal to everyone. Whereas I love the romanticized road trips of semi-trucks, so ETS 2 fulfills that niche very well. Let me list your options in ETS 2:

– Drive, buy, and upgrade a semi-truck
– Sleep in the parking lot of hotels and gas stations
– Take your truck on a ferry
– Do quick jobs in a company truck or choose your cargo
– Buy garages and hire drivers

Notice how the list entirely relates to truck driving and the simulation of supporting tasks? You can’t get out of the truck and choose food at a restaurant and have it affect your character. You don’t have an option to drive a car instead or walk around a town sight seeing.
So if you LIKE simulated truck driving, you’re in for a real treat. And if you don’t the game is CLEARLY not for you, and you move on.

gta5-just-stuffOn the opposite side would be a lot of open world games, namely Grand Theft Auto 5. GTA 5 tries to appeal to everyone, and ends up with a foggy concept and half-hearted implementations of mechanics. First of all imagine an elevator pitch for GTA 5, and what you’d say the game is really about. Then let me list a few things you can do in the game:

– Play tennis, golf, or darts
– Go base jumping off a mountain or for a skydive
– Manage real estate properties
– Go hunting for deer and other animals
– See short films at the movies
– Go for a ride on a ferris wheel or rollercoaster
– Run a triathlon
– Play in the world as a bird or cat
– Fly an air blimp
– Go out for a drink
– Go scuba diving or for a jet ski
– Complete the storyline missions and watch all the cutscenes
– Play the stock market
– Drive around listening to the radio
– Rob a convenience store
– Steal cars and from people
– Shoot people

Is the hunting of animals as good as a dedicated, single purpose hunting game? No, of course not, because it’s just one of twenty bullet points. Do you think riding the rollercoaster is as neat as Rollercoaster Tycoon? Yet again it’s just another feature to make the game seem like it has a ton of depth. In fact this type of game has very little depth, but a lot of breadth. And in this way the game can somewhat appeal to a lot of people, while not truly satisfying anyone.

super-meatboy-not-for-me-but-for-someSo where am I going with all of this? My summary would be if you’re going to design a game choose your concept and stick to it. Do one concept really well, per game. If you want a realistic modern military shooter you might have bullet drop, armor penetration, cover vs concealment, gun attachments, etc. But you don’t tack on zombies and a survival mode and laser guns. You don’t throw in robots after the fact because deep in your heart you wanted to design a robot game. Keep your concept, delivery, and execution of a vision as clear as possible.

Apparently I’m not some genius who is the first one to think of this (imagine that!). Read some similar articles written by actual journalists with talent (found accidentally when searching for images for this post). Note the issue I’m talking about is not just for open world games, I just happened to use GTA 5 as it’s well known, and most of these articles happened to be about similar games. There are plenty of messy, unfocused, confused linear games too.