01Jan06

Went to Bruce’s last night to play board games into the new year. Bruce has played a number of miniatures games. Ended up talking with him about why I want to investigate miniatures gaming as research for the kingship game (also referred to as The Game Aria Was Meant To Be). Also talked with Kat about it this morning.

Although this game is low priority at the moment, talking about it so often has helped me to express my goals for it.

This game will be able to handle Henry V, the battle of Helms’ Deep or Pelinor Fields or the climactic battle at the end of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe just as clearly and dramatically as the recent movies have done. These battles are dramatic because: A) the story has illustrated just what’s at Stake for each side; B) we care about individual characters in these battles. We just went to see Narnia on Friday, and the final battle was very well choreographed. We were shown exactly why each action brought that side closer to victory.

For instance, at one point in the battle, the good guys fire this pheonix-arrow that cuts a swath of fire across the battlefield. We in the audience can see instantly (because of the camera angles & FX) that this cuts off the Witch’s reserves from the forces already engaged with the good guys. In this part of the battle, evil has lost its numerical superiority. We’re instantly happy because we can see what good it has done. The geography of the battle-map matters.

I want a game that does that. Without the math and analysis paralysis of traditional miniatures as I’ve observed them. Without the high-concept “make it up as you go” of role-playing games like Uni or WGP…, even. I understand the role-playing aspects, and WGP…’s conflict system could handle massive battles with just a new set of characteristics of conflict. But it wouldn’t be what I want.

Y’see, with WGP… as written, the SIS consists of a few guys beating up on each other with their superpowers. It’s simple enough for everyone to keep it straight in their heads. The Imagined Space remains “Shared” because everyone at the table understands what’s going on.

“Mudslide pummels Debris with a powerful left.” Deanna changes style to “Yes, Mudslide hits Debris, who flies back into a building, breaking through the wall. Picking up a piece of rubble, Debris slams you with it.” One thing leads into another smoothly. The SIS remains internally consistant, and the emphasis on describing things visually keeps everyone informed and on the same page.

In the Narnia example above, if I were playing it with WGP…, I could play a card and describe it as “My archer launces a pheonix arrow that cuts off your reserves.” You might not have pictured your forces with reserves at all. You might have pictured the reserves already out-flanking the archers. Suddenly, the Imagined Space is no longer Shared. Battles are so complex, I want the map back as a running sketch of the SIS—to keep everyone on the same page.

I’m thinking of stuff like putting geographical bonuses right on the map or figure. For example, the high ground might have a big “+1” on the map. If the unit of one of the characters that you care about is protecting that spot, but is facing a potent enemy force, you’ve then got a tough, interesting decision. Do I try to hold onto that +1, but possibly lose my guy that’s been great fun in the story, or do I pull him out and give up the advantage? That’s the kind of decision-making I want in the Kingship Game.

Maybe throughout gameplay each player will have some characters at each level of society, to experience the world more fully. Exactly where these guys end up in units will be a big part of battle set-up. And the whole thing will tie into the Stakes for each battle, each negotiation, each action and how it affects the game world going forward.

Kat suggested that I might meet a number of my goals without the map (and the real-world logistical hangup it brings with it) by using something like a list of Assets and Obstacles—your Assets are the opponent’s obstacles. Each round of the battle you need to decide and describe how your forces are safeguarding your assets and/or conquering your obstacles. How these are achieved, and how much they suffer for it (wounded, fallen morale, etc.) will have repercussions in the post-battle Stakes claiming.

I’m not sure I liked it. But I didn’t like the WGP… Enrichment system when she first suggested it, so I’m going to let it stew for a while.

In any case, along with putting together a release schedule of free With Great Power… support PDFs, and getting R.I.P., the game of ghost stories, into playtestable shape, I’ll be doing some military history research and looking into wargames, both table-top and electronic. I haven’t played many wargames apart from Risk and Axis & Allies, so I don’t have a gut-level understanding of the whole “game of the battlefront” thing yet. I don’t instinctively know what words like “outflank” and “counterattack” mean. How can I write a game that promotes that gut-level feeling if I don’t have it myself?

Anyway, Happy New Year to one and all!

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