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.

Game Design: Melee thoughts

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.

Melee and a Vikings Game Idea
For the past week I’ve been considering a skirmish game that focuses on melee. Yes it’s tempting to make a modern military style game (I’d love to capture the tense firefights of Black Hawk Down, and have wanted to for a while). But I also want to try my hand at swords, axes, and spears. For whatever reason Vikings seem like a natural fit.
I did make fantasy medieval RPGs when I was a kid. So it’d be a fun exercise to try to apply my skirmish knowledge from Dinosaur Cowboys to the medieval melee arena.
And although I don’t think it’d be a good fit for a hypothetical Viking game, I do want to make an asymmetrical wargame sometime soon here. I’m sure I could shoehorn it in with Vikings (one side plays villagers who focus on healing, surviving, and win by that, compared to Vikings who go for kills and destruction) but I don’t think it’d be a great fit. I just like the idea of drastically different (but balanced) sides. Space Hulk was one of the best for that, and in fact I ended up getting a 1st edition copy off Ebay partially for that reason.

Vikings-on-the-Shore
There is one glaring problem though: melee is boring. I touched on this concept briefly before at the bottom of my last game design post.

Basically movement and positioning around the table (especially with cover, line-of-sight blocking obstacles, flanking and facing, etc.) is a lot of fun, and very thought provoking. You can see the skill of a player come through. Even firing ranged weapons can similarly have the same level of depth and player choice, as you try to get elevation on the target, shoot at someone out of cover, choose the right weapon for the job, find the best target with the best odds, etc.
But melee has none of that. Most close combat systems have two or more people standing adjacent and just wailing on each other. A lot of the time it’s just a big group in the middle of the table (especially without objectives or a reason to split up). Strangely enough a lot of systems resolve those melees entirely differently than shooting, like having BOTH sides attack, when the same game might have no concept of a return fire on ranged attacks. Other systems have locked close combat, so once you’re in you can’t leave. Others have melee take FOREVER until it’s a giant bog of soldiers. Once you’re in melee there is no more movement or positioning, so it can sometime devolve into a fancy roll off.

Vikings-ChargingIf I was to make a Viking themed, melee focused skirmish game I’d really have to think about how to avoid this problem. My ideal melee system would look something like this:

  1. Decisive, end the combat in one or two blows/attacks/turns (whatever scale fits)
  2. Escapable, perhaps at a penalty, but still have a way to move out
  3. Choices, in that players have something exciting and interesting to do to fill the void of movement

I think Dinosaur Cowboys covers the first two points well enough, unless maybe a huge dinosaur is involved to wreck the first point. So I imagine I could solve those same problems with Vikings.

So the real question is #3, how to give players meaningful choices beyond “figure out what you need to roll and do it”.

Vikings-WeaponsI kind of like the idea of Shields playing a big part, and almost making a bluffing “minigame” out of that. Maybe the defender with his Shield chooses a 1-6 number to block or parry, but has to say low (1-3) or high (4-6) block. This could represent the Shield being leveraged to cover a certain part of the body. Then the attacker could declare the style of their attack routine by choosing a number they’re aiming for when they roll. This would represent maybe an overhand chop (6), to going for the legs (1-2), maybe coming in for the ribcage (3), etc.
Likely none of that was clear. But I think the key to having an interesting melee is removing some abstraction. Instead of just two people hitting each other with swords, get into choosing attack/defense patterns, bluffing, looking for hints in the enemy’s posture, etc. Maybe there is already a game concept out there which executes this idea, but something like translating the art of fencing to a dice/card/resolution system.

Battle Report: Fight for the Tree (Merry Christmas!)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone! I hope you had a great winter and a great year. I printed a bunch of posse rosters before my Christmas vacation, and intended to play a game of Dinosaurs Cowboys during that time. But family, friends, and general life got in the way, so I’m retroactively scheduling this report for Christmas day (when I really wrote it January 5th :) ).

Christmas-Vacation-TreeWhen you think of Christmas a lot probably comes to mind. If I mentioned Christmas movies the memories might narrow a bit, and definitely vary by person. For me Christmas Vacation is a classic (not quite as classic as the original Vacation, but that’s because they nailed family road trips so well). One of my favorite scenes is in fact the opening sequence of the Griswold family driving their car to chop down a Christmas tree, quoted from the movie as:
We’re kicking off our fun old fashion family Christmas by heading out into the country in the old front-wheel drive sleigh to embrace the frosty majesty of the winter landscape and select that most important of Christmas symbols.
I actually cut down my own Christmas tree annually with my family, because it’s a really fun tradition, and until I got a van it was hilarious fitting the tree on the roof of my subcompact. This years is pictured below to the left.

My-Actual-TreeSo translating this to Dinosaur Cowboys was a snap: the Objective would be Capturing a Christmas tree in the middle of the field. The four Griswold family members would be involved and their dinosaur would be blue and named the Front-Wheel Drive Sled.
Who to fight though? Surely not Santa, for his powers are too great (for some reason I could see Will Ferrell saying that line, haha). How about Santa’s Helpers? What about if they’re led by an old Battletech miniature renamed the Iron Arm of Santa? Maybe there can be some elves and a nutcracker?

Anyway I meant to do a Christmas report last year too, but really didn’t find the time. This year I was able to find a winter-y enough looking fabric sheet by flipping over my naval ocean mat. Why do I have naval stuff? Why for the terrific game pictured here called Sails of Glory. Then I used some small ornaments on my classic model trees, had a Christmas tree that fit well from a craft store, and put a few statues and bells out for cover.

Oh, and in case you’re still thinking of Christmas movies…there might be a Home Alone related surprise…(aka my favorite Christmas movie)

Anyway onto a battle report that turned out to be everything I hoped it would.


Festive Table Setup
I gotta admit, I’m super happy with how the table turned out. I took the leaf extender out of my games table to get back to the classic, homely, warm feeling of my traditional 4’x3′ kitchen table.
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DC-Christmas-0010DC-Christmas-0008DC-Christmas-0005DC-Christmas-0004

Posse – Griswold Family – $2,000 and 160 IP
Download the Griswold Family PDF roster or see it in The Saloon
Pretty hard to not cheer a little bit for these guys. Clark spared no expense for his O’Sullivan Sixer (one of my favorite pistol names as of v2.6), and has a motivational speech prepared with the “Get in There!” trait. And unlike the movie, this time he did remember a way to cut down the tree! A terrific Mountain Man Axe.
DC-Christmas-0011His loyal wife Ellen is one of the classic female minis for this game I often name Trista (in fact she was in the first official playtest report of the game). For some reason I can’t make her anything but a sniper, so a Bolt-Action Rifle it is. She similarly has a speech ready for her family, but it’s more calming and soothing (aka “Shake it Off”).
Then comes daughter Audrey with a bunch of gizmos and gadgets like a Flare Gun and Stun Grenades.
And finally Rusty, who has grown up enough to become a fine shot with the brutal sounding Streetsweeper Shotgun (yeah, it’s a nod to a Quake 2 mod I played ~17 years ago that had a minigun firing shotgun shells). In a pinch he can use the Flagstaff to Motivate and heal the rest of his family.
And like I said the dinosaur is named the Front-Wheel Drive Sled. I had bought a new feathery, crazy eyed dinosaur recently, so this gave me a chance to use him.

Posse – Santa’s Helpers – $2,000 and 160 IP
Download the Santa’s Helpers PDF roster or see it in The Saloon

First of all let me explain the mini used for the leader. As I mentioned it is a Battletech mini, a game I played a ton in high school and still own and would play again. The exact Mech is a Warhammer IIC (considered “unseen” due to lawsuit issues with FASA and an anime). I gave it as a present long ago to my Grandad, say when I was 12 or 13 years old. Then when I got back into Battletech when I was 18ish he was kind enough to give it back. I repainted it from the original winter camo (which would have actually been so suiting here) to a nice red/white color scheme with a bunch of dirt and ding marks.
DC-Christmas-0017And yeah, I basically love the mini, the sentimental value, and the actual stats in the game (more so the original 3025 Warhammer…WHM-6D for life). Anyway he would be the Iron Arm of Santa, with a Klondike 7000 (a pretty Christmas sounding weapon).
Then for my Christmas elves and helpers I went more to the fantasy shelf. Plum Appleseed is an old D&D RPG thief I used (he has red and purple coloring to match his name). Gaston the Cook is his pal, and the chicken topped staff the mini is holding is perfect for the rarely used Dinocatcher. I have a bunch of dwarves, but I dug up an old old old plastic single-pose Chaos Dwarf I painted when I was ~14, and this guy would represent the Nutcracker (with a suiting Greataxe). Then to wrap it up an Elf, which I hummed and hawed over for a while since I used to be hugely into elven archers/rangers for RPG games, so I had lots of options.
This posse would have a Triceratops for their dinosaur, because I actually really like his in-game stats.
Some detailed pictures of the various minis, since I don’t think I’ve used any of them before for this game. They sure do show their painting flaws up close though :)
DC-Christmas-0022DC-Christmas-0023DC-Christmas-0026

Objective and Deployment
I decided to go with no special Features for this game, just to keep it simple for the New Year.
As I mentioned the Objective is “Capture”, with the goal being the Christmas tree in the middle of the table. I decided on a “Corner” deployment (instead of the traditional “Edge”) for a bit of variety, and to encourage flanking/splitting up.

To fit with the movie the Griswold’s started mounted riding in their car…um…dinosaur. Which actually works well for the game because the ol’ sled has the Racer trait, which is arguably the best closing mechanism for melee focused entities (tied with “Climber”). Basically Racer doubles your Hustle speed, meaning the dinosaur could go 6″+5″ (ignoring Difficult Terrain of course as a dino). Not too shabby for a Raptor.
The intent was to launch forward, unload everyone, and quickly secure the objective so Santa’s Helpers almost have to assault the high ground, instead of the fight being on even footing.
DC-Christmas-0036DC-Christmas-0038DC-Christmas-0043
Also I’m happy to say the snowy base I painted for my red jacketed RCMP officer finally suits the table (far right picture above).

Santa’s Helpers deployed next, in the corner opposite the Griswolds. Plum started mounted on the Triceratops, to better utilize his Carbine (thanks v2.6!). The Iron Arm of Santa was out front, hoping to activate last and maybe sneak a shot in. The remaining members were organized in a flying-V behind a tall hill. Their plan was to edge around the cover, cross the nearby fence, and storm the objective.
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Turn 2 – Nutcracker Captures the Tree
Well, call it a day! Except there are still 5 turns to go. But thanks again to his Racer trait the Nutcracker managed to reach the base of the Christmas tree objective, well within the 4″ necessary to capture it.
DC-Christmas-0059Before Plum could activate Ellen fired on him, hoping to frighten the rider into Fleeing (and taking his dinosaur with him!). Although she hit very well, Plum managed to pass his Bravery Test.
The return fire was ironic as Ellen took enough damage from the Carbine of Plum to force a Bravery Test, which she promptly failed.
Meanwhile the posses broke into smaller teams. Clark and his daughter Audrey moved along the side hill near the Christmas tree. Across the field the Elf and Cook teamed up and reached the edge of their covering hill and advanced towards the fence beyond it.
The Iron Arm of Santa mechanically shuffled directly forward. Meanwhile the Front-Wheel Drive Sled boldly advanced around the side of the objective, hoping to reach the Elf and Cook and hold them up in melee before they could assist at the tree.
DC-Christmas-0062DC-Christmas-0063DC-Christmas-0067DC-Christmas-0069DC-Christmas-0071

Turn 2 end – Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
As both posses were within capturing range of the objective, a special event triggered…
Kevin-Surprised
That’s right, Kevin McCallister is here to defend the tree. “This is it! Don’t get scared now!”

DC-Christmas-0031Kevin gave me the chance to make a ridiculous single character that cost $2,610 and 385 IP (hah) with 8 Defense (Hahaha) and 3 Ranged Target Number (HAHA!!!). How about a Grenade Launcher and Settler Defender and slew of useful traits (Awareness, Try Again, Escape).
In addition I could use the player character mini (a Scout named Dunhaus) from my recent D&D campaign named “Servants of Molagrath”. I custom painted this mini for the campaign (which ran for 6 months recently…basically the giant block of no blog posts here). His tunic even has the little evil red beetle cult symbol of his deity Molagrath. And craaaazy eyes.

Kevin McCallister had insanely good stats, and I had to do a bit of Saloon jigging to only have a single usable entity: Home Alone PDF roster or see it in The Saloon

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This changed the game drastically. Kevin would attack the nearest entity (regardless of posse) where it made sense. Both posses would completely gang up on him in an uneasy alliance. And before either gang could really chip away at him, he’d hop on a makeshift zip line and get away.
But until then he was going to rip everyone apart.
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DC-Christmas-0076Unfortunately for the Nutcracker, who had raced ahead to get adjacent to the objective, the little dwarf was the nearest target. I’m sure it’ll be fine…how much damage can a Settler Defender at Short Distance really do…with 3 RTN.
Needless to say the Nutcracker soon found himself clinging to life with 1 HP. In a way he was a hero though, as Kevin rolled 2 Crits but also that magical, hope granting result of 1, which meant the deadly shotgun needed to be reloaded.
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Turn 3 – Beat Up the Hero
Kevin would roll Initiative just like the other posses, but didn’t quite count for the number of activations. What this means is he would activate once, on the first initiative roll, then not again until the next turn. Which meant if the gangs could weather the initial storm they’d have a full, free turn to shoot at Kevin.

DC-Christmas-0080Luck was still with the Nutcracker, as Santa’s Helpers won the all important Initiative roll. Knowing his life was near an end, the brave dwarf roared to the god of thunder (oh wait wrong game) and moved into melee. He used the Turtle trait to desperately try to survive a counter attack. Then he feebly swung his Greataxe, but to no avail. 8 Defense basically meant everyone was hitting on 12+, so they couldn’t get Criticals, and could really only hit on a 1/12 chance per die.
The Nutcracker had a bit more luck when Kevin activated. Because his shotgun was empty, the kid needed to get outside the minimum range to use his Grenade Launcher. Which meant leaving combat with the Nutcracker. Shouldn’t be a problem, right? Actually the Nutcracker managed to hit the moving opponent with his Snap Attack, drawing first blood on the seemingly insurmountable target.

The Griswolds were still in shock from seeing the Grenade Launcher wielding kid appear. And before Clark and Audrey could separate Kevin finished his move away from the Nutcracker and lobbed a grenade at the clumped father and daughter.
DC-Christmas-0082ab
Yeah, that hit. And it hurt a bunch, leaving Clark at 2 Hitpoints and Audrey at 5.

Seeing the grenade explode amidst her family, Ellen dug deep inside to unknown anger. Going “full mama bear” she landed a terrific shot on Kevin, but also emptied her gun doing so.
DC-Christmas-0085

Inspired by the shot, the rest of the posses circled Kevin and tried to hit him with everything they had. As an added bonus everyone got closed to the tree Objective, haha.
The dinosaurs piled in as well in an attempt to hold Kevin in place and protect their masters. It’s not like the penalty to hit Kevin in melee with a gun would really matter when everyone was already at 12+.
DC-Christmas-0086DC-Christmas-0091

Turn 4 – Zip Line to Safety
Kevin activated once more, using his Power Glove (unfortunately not listed on the PDF roster since I had to technically break the equipment size limit rules to let him have a melee weapon). He straight up punched the Front-Wheel Drive Sled in the jaw (grill?) for a bit of damage. Then as quickly as he showed up, he zip lined to safety. Probably calling the police or going through a flooded basement.
So in game terms he was done and removed from the match after 3 activations of mayhem. In the end he had 21/35 Hitpoints left, so he took a measly 14 damage.
DC-Christmas-0093

Turn 5 – Objective? Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That
The first activation this turn was rather important. The Iron Arm of Santa had taken a bad shot from Clark, but hadn’t quite died. If Rusty could activate and blast the Leader apart the remaining enemies might Flee from the Objective.
And even though the Griswolds won the first activation, Rusty unfortunately seemed to forget how to shoot. Seriously the dude needed a single 9+ to kill the Iron Arm of Santa. And Yeehaw! had been used much earlier (I think on Ellen’s first shot when she tried to make Plum turn tail and Flee). And this was with Both Barrels being used on the Streetsweeper Shotgun!
DC-Christmas-0104

DC-Christmas-0106As the Iron Arm survived, he was able to move over and take Clark out of action. The Griswold family stood strong though and neither Rusty or Ellen failed their Bravery Test.
Meanwhile the Elf kept moving forward towards the Objective, his progress slowed slightly since he wasn’t full out Hustling and instead launched silver bolts of energy from his Laserbow. The Cook dove in near the brawling dinosaurs to assist the Triceratops. Honestly though the Front-Wheel Drive Sled (Raptor) was pretty badly hurt, and was clearly outmatched by the larger dinosaur. But the sooner the Triceratops could safely leave combat the sooner it could reach Ellen or Rusty.

Speaking of the dinosaur fight the Cook did manage to finish off the Griswold family vehicle/Raptor. Since the Cook had been untouched so far, Ellen focused her shot on him. She climbed up the slight hill nearby to get a better line, and landed a beautiful shot that forced the Cook to Flee. She also looked awesome doing so.
DC-Christmas-0112

Turn 6 – Approaching a Tense End
DC-Christmas-0116The turn started with one of my favorite subtle mechanics of Dinosaur Cowboys, and one that catches even experienced players sometimes. That is if a character cannot fully Flee, they are Stunned instead. So basically they lose their Action Phase instead of their Movement Phase.
And this is exactly what happened to the Cook. Because he couldn’t move his full 4″ due to Difficult Terrain crates and hills, he instead was Stunned. Which meant he could still advance towards Rusty. He just couldn’t attack once he saw him.

But Rusty had much, much bigger problems. About 9 tons of problems named The Hoof of Christmas. The Triceratops easily moved into melee with Rusty. And another subtle, often overlooked mechanic came into play. But the stout teen was unwounded, so a single attack wouldn’t drop him. So instead the dinosaur used his Beast attack “Trample”. Oh right, those Beast attacks! (I’m sure you’re saying)
In case you’re not familiar, for a 2 damage penalty a dinosaur can use Trample which has the special effect of 4″ Pushed. Best demonstrated with the pictures below: the peaceful tree and dinosaur before, and the super flung away Rusty after (including some minor Falling damage!)
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Turn 7 – Decision Time
This turn actually began with the last picture above, which might be obvious since all the Moved & Acted tokens are cleared. But it started with the Triceratops activating, moving back into the recently Pushed Rusty, and smashing him again with Trample for ANOTHER 4″ of Push.

DC-Christmas-0127There was no way Rusty would reach the Objective this activation. But by pursuing him the Triceratops had also placed itself outside the capture zone.
Which meant the Cook was the only person on the Objective. The Elf was close, but had failed his Bravery Test when the Iron Arm leader died, so he was still getting back to position.

So if Rusty and Ellen could kill the Cook they might have a chance of a tie game. After picking himself up from the Trample, Rusty moved slightly to get into the best distance bracket he could, and used Both Barrels on the Cook, leaving the halfling with a mere 3 Hitpoints.

All the pressure came down to Ellen’s shot…
DC-Christmas-0125
With her Bolt-Action Rifle and combat modifiers she needed a single 9+ on 3D12. Tense, very tense… aaaaand she managed it, killing the Cook.

The raging Triceratops remained, as did the Elf. But the turn limit was reached. There was only a single activation left, of that Sweet Little Elf and his Laserbow.

And with a Hustle he was just BARELY able to get within 4″ of the Christmas tree Objective. No one else was even close.

So Santa’s Helpers won! They were able to fend off the fanatical tree cutting quest of the Griswolds, as well as weather the storm of the McCallister kid.

Conclusion
Dinosaur-Christmas-Santa_Martin-DaveyGuess what? This match was fun. Not much else to say. The posses used a lot of neat weapons (although the Dinocatcher and Flare Gun missed the 1 or 2 attacks they tried). The Objective battle was very tense. I’m happy Trample got to shine. All in all there were a lot of tense moments and close calls. For example the Elf failed his Bravery Test from the leader dying because he rolled an 8 but had 9 BTN (default is 8). So because he gave up some BTN for a few Improvement Points he nearly didn’t reach the objective.

Anyway I hope you enjoyed the report. I know I haven’t been posting here a lot, but like I keep saying Dinosaur Cowboys is always on my mind and in my heart, and I’ll keep coming back to do battle reports when I can. They just take a bit of time (around 1 hour to play and photograph, and then 3 hours to write up and format).
I actually have another report setup, I just need to find the time and opponent to play. I’m going to flip the ocean fabric seen through this report to the blue side, then have a bunch of islands to represent the new coast of America. Basically some swamp land raiders against a coastal defense force.

Otherwise 2016 might be the first year since I first developed the game that I don’t release an updated rules version. v2.6 is in a great place, I’ve been enjoying it a ton. And like I’ve (naively) been saying since v1.0, at some point I need to stop tweaking the game.
Although it’s tempting to go back to my roots and release a set of “expansion” rules…maybe called Skies and Slums. Not that I have brainstorming notes on that very topic from March this year :).

Merry Christmas and see you in the New Year!

The many posses by “Doom Eagle”

many-peopleBack in October I had a dedicated fan who was getting into the game, and he went wild on creating posses using The Saloon online designer. He authored each one as “Doom Eagle” and has commented here a few times. So in case you aren’t religiously checking The Saloon (you’re not?!) I thought I’d take a moment to link them and share some thoughts. It’s kind of fun trying to read into the story or theme behind each posse.

All the posses use the current version 2.6 of the rules. I get a Warhammer 40,000 vibe from some of these names and ideas, but that’s not surprising as a ton of people played the “big one” before branching out into other wargames (just as I did).

I definitely appreciate this kind of enthusiasm for my game!

  • Red Sisters – A band of roving Savages, like a cliche tribe with bow and arrows, spears, knives, etc.
  • Desert Scourges – Nice mix of weapons, especially the M-2285 rifle (I love the name)
  • Wasteland Brutes – Quantity over quality, with a lineup of tough Dusters with some brutal close combat weapons, and one Neotechnoist to back them up and shoot a gun every now and then
  • The Great King – My kind of themed posse. Built around a T-Rex “King” dinosaur, with two aptly named Savages to rush in and support with swords.
  • Military Patrol – Another posse that seems like something I’d design, themed around a Neotechnoist military patrol outside the wall. Backed by their Triceratops the Korporal and two soldiers have only basic weaponry, but are all terrific shots (RTN 6).
  • ADG Troop – Similar theme to the above posse, but with a less expensive Fin dinosaur. All the extra funds went into weapons it seems, with a pair of 200kW Lever-Action Rifles putting that good RTN to use.
  • Sand Snakes – Bandit gang, probably raiders of some sort. The whole crew can mount the Terror dinosaur and rush in to put their deadly weapons to use. Nice to see the new Lasher melee weapon put to use.
  • Archer Trade Inc – Beefy Defenses on a pair of Bandits sporting dual Lever-Action Rifles. I like the addition of a Fiddle for morale and Energy Sword for pain.
  • Little Brick Town – Small town posse with a Mayor and Sheriff, perfect for an “NPC” type posse who live in a forgotten, dusty village. I like the Mayor having a Cane weapon, one member has Doctor (probably vastly untrained for the work he’s forced to do), and ol’ Pater Orvill with his Broken Bottle.
  • Warjacks – Good posse to demonstrate the flexibility of Dinosaur Cowboys and how you can clearly achieve a theme. Here the posse is designed around Warjacks from the Privateer Press game Warmachine / Hordes. Imagine this guy with a Sledgehammer and Ranch Blaster to match the model. Then we have a pure melee monster with a Staff, and finally the glorious Flamethrower / Scythe combo. All quite beefy, and all quite strong.
  • Watermill – Another posse with a small town vibe, maybe modeled after The Ballad of Cable Hogue. There is a well armed and skilled Savage with the crew who knows how to handle a Biosteel Knife. Maybe she helped defend the town at one point as was taken in?
  • Moonwalkers – Tribal/shaman theme of Savages lead by Tala Moonwhisper. To me though the fourth member Songan the Werewolf is well made as she uses Punch and has the Boxer trait, so she’s clearly meant to be a lycanthrope. Nice to see some genre mixing with a more “weird west” feel.
  • Night Breed – Similar approach to the above posse of “weird west”, as Xorag is clearly an alien come to earth to hunt dinosaurs. The Big Game Hunter trait is a perfect match, and a Blasterbow combined with Winterfrost Grenades feels sci-fi as heck.
  • Ruffnecks – “I’m from Bueno Aires and I say kill ’em all!” Oh…maybe not those Ruffnecks?
  • Los Locos – A gang of banditos with a classic west mix of pistol, shotgun, and rifle. I can just imagine this rowdy crew rolling into a saloon and blasting the place apart.
  • Rusty Rovers – Let’s be honest we’re dealing with a Grenade Launcher in a $1,000 posse…I like it. Some serious heavy hitters in this small, but well armed posse. A Plated dinosaur just fits due to it’s extreme toughness.
  • Alien Breed – Another “weird west” posse, and going with the Warhammer 40,000 visualization I could see these guys as Kroot. If they have ranged weapons I could also go with a Predator vibe. The dual wielding leads me to believe the Variant Rule “Dual Wield” was meant to be used, since a few members have two knives. Also “Alien Crusher” with the stats of a Thickskull dinosaur sounds cool.
  • Stormcasts – Taking a Sledgehammer to the face (when Attack – Puncture is used) is only mildly less intimidating than constant Laserbow fire.
  • Ravenclaws – I really feel like this posse is a reference to something, it’s just something I’m out of touch with (maybe anime?). I do like the combo of a Horned Triceratops that can Push 3″ with Attack – Forceful…especially if he chooses to combine it with a Beast attack like Trample for a total of 7″ Push, haha.
  • Redwater – A nice mix of two bandits and a sniper Neotechnoist (a style I often use). The new Tirador Rifle makes an appearance…tip on naming anything, just use a different language and it sounds cool. In this case Tirador means Rifle in Spanish, so yes, it’s a Rifle Rifle. That’s how you know it’s really good at shooting things.

Magma chambers under Mt Saint Helens

magma-chambersI’ve had this link saved for a month and kept meaning to post it, since it relates to the Dinosaur Cowboys history I created. Basically using seismic imaging scientists discovered some massive magma chambers under Mt Saint Helens. I find this interesting since such a chamber, if empty, would be exactly like the prehistoric “time capsule” that spawned the world of Dinosaur Cowboys.

http://news.sciencemag.org/earth/2015/11/deep-magma-chambers-seen-beneath-mount-st-helens