November 7, 2010

Building Blocks

Part 2 of Hook, Line, and Sinker will come next week.

For the record, I love tactical miniatures games. I also love strategic board games. They’re fun to me, but I’ve encountered something in trying to spread this love to others on a regular basis. There’s a resistance to classic strategy and tactical games. Even new games suffer from a stigma.

When 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons came out, there was an oft cited reason why it was ‘bad’: There’s no roleplaying! Now, I disagreed with this sentiment, sometimes violently (verbally, not physically; I’m a confirmed nerd!), but as I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized it wasn’t so much that it discouraged roleplaying as it modeled those classic games in a way. The flavor of the game was intentionally left somewhat murky in an effort to let it be something to everyone.

Now for some of us, this isn’t a problem. We like projecting our own ideas onto the skeleton abstracts give us. We don’t care what the book tells us, we just need the strings of numbers to make it work. But it’s like building with Legos: it’s always going to have those edges, and it’ll never be perfectly smooth.

Others, they want something different. They want, if not reality, a smoothly rendered experience. The guy with the sword, even if he does AWESOME THINGS does it differently than the guy with the wand or bow or dagger. Each of the abilities in the game should function in a logical progression independent of the building blocks that some systems offer. The game will be smooth, and each technique feels different in a physical sense as much as a narrative one.

I do think these two groups can operate together, but both will end up making concessions of some sort to the other side. I admit to being in the first group, I like being able to define, and redefine, on the fly during games.

With ExoSquad, I want to use building blocks for the combat abilities.  Guns all function approximately the same way in real life, and so to make it interesting, each attack needs to be a different way to use a specific gun. This does tie back into Heat, of course, but also things like covering and suppressive fire, sniper shots, and anything else you can think of both from real combat and action movies and anime.

Each attack will target one of a number of defenses, all currently unnamed, and hitting allows you to apply Heat and effects. The effects will be common fare to tactical games: moving opponents, debuffs, and buffs.

I also want something ‘building block’ style for the social aspects of the game, including how the group receives its secondary missions. Something so that the way the missions are given make sense to the characters histories, but also add the tension such things should offer.

So, Readers, what do you think?  Building blocks a good way to play? Or should everything have a more granular system? Let me know below!


  1. For missions, it depends on how much "control" you want to have.

    The game master from this point forward will be referred to as mission control, just to avoid any confusion later down the road.

    Mission control gives the squad the mission, just like a dungeon master would give the party a quest. Now, from this point forward, mission control can do two things. The first is give the squad a layout on how to do this mission step-by-step. This leaves mission control with the power to control secondary objectives, boss battles, etc. The second is mission control gives the primary mission that needs to be done, along with some important pieces of intelligence. With the primary mission in hand, the squad must come up with a way to complete this mission. Doesn't matter how, they just need to get it done. While the later allows for more player interaction with the campaign, the former helps keep "scripted events" on schedule.

    With both types, mission control can still give out secondary objectives. However, the approach to secondary objectives should be appropriate to the type of mission control there is. A mission control that creates the plan should address secondary objectives as a "while you're there, can you _____" sort of thing. If mission control is only giving the primary mission, the secondary objective should come up as a moment of opportunity. Of course, these things can be interchanged as well without any problem at all. It all depends on how mission control wants it all to play out.

    Now it's time for an example.

    Mission control gives the squad a mission to "acquire information" on a new type of mech being produced in a factory. The only problem is the factory is located underground. Getting in and getting out will be the two most difficult tasks. The team decides that the best way to gain entry is to sneak in and hijack the newest looking mechs. After hijacking the mechs, the team will smash anything that looks expensive while making a quick escape.

    After the team gains entry, they prepare to hijack the mechs. Then one of the team members, let's call him Jack, see's the mech that destroyed the last squad he was in. Knowing that the pilot is somewhere within the facility, Jack could bury his hatred for that individual and complete his mission. Or, giving into his desire, stay behind in a mech he really doesn't know that much about to get revenge for his fallen comrades.

    My example ends here. How to carry out the primary mission was crafted by the players, but a scripted secondary objective for one of the individual characters is set forth by mission control as both a plot hook and character builder.

    Not sure if that's what you were looking for or not, but hopefully I've given you ideas.

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