Friday, August 21, 2009

Playtest Notes on Initiative: Frontline General: Spearpoint 1943

Playtesting continues on Frontline General: Spearpoint 1943, my main focus right now. Last night at ODMS, four new players tried the game for the first time. In about 2 hours they each played 4-5 games and seemed to really enjoy themselves. I was there to answer any questions and guide them through the rules- so this wasn't a blind test- but it was a lot of fun.

Frontline General: Spearpoint 1943 is a fast-playing standalone card game based on Frontline General: Italian Campaign Introduction combat rules that focuses on WWII squad-level and individual tank, aircraft, and artillery unit combat for two players. The game plays in 30 minutes or less and includes an assortment of card-based land and air units that handle all necessary stats for play, command cards, dice, several pre-constructed deck suggestions and easy-to-learn rules. It is a non-CCG, so no random packs of boosters, etc.

The base game includes 150 cards - of those, 50 cards are Command Cards that let players affect units in some way during the game.

Combat is the focus of the game and has become the main area of rules adjustments. Some of the rules adjustments have been working so well that they will also be applied to my first game's combat system, which has a traditional board, counters, cards, scenarios, etc.

I want to talk about one of the rules in particular and how the mechanics have been tweaked to be less powerful. Initiative. Initiative in both the base game and initial prototype of Spearpoint used to determine who fired all of their attacking units first. Since damage in the game is not simultaneous, Initiative was very important and very powerful. It's determined with a die-roll on a D10 (highest number wins).

In Spearpoint 1943, Initiative started off as the same rule from Italian Campaign Introduction, described above. After target declaration, players would roll Initiative and fire every unit on their side if they won.

This was too powerful- especially in a card game where combat is the entire game. Players had a huge advantage for firing first- possibly destroying all of their opponent's initial units without the chance of the opponent to retaliate. No good and no fun.

Initiative is still rolled on a D10. However, the winner of Initiative now chooses to resolve one of his/her attacks. Players then alternate resolving attacks of their choice after the initial one is complete. This choice is still a powerful thing and as Uwe Eickert puts it, "it adds tension, which is what you want in a game like this". Damage is still immediate, meaning that if an attack is resolved that destroys another unit that hasn't yet attacked, that unit's attack never occurs. So initiative is still a powerful thing.

This simple tweak to make Initiative determine the first attack changed the entire flow of combat, lowered the importance of the Initiative roll, and eliminated downtime. The old way, the opponent used to have to wait while all of his units were possibly decimated. With the change, both players became active- constantly planning and adjusting strategies based on the results of hits (or misses)- and making tough decisions as an Initiative winner regarding which unit should fire the opening volley for the current Combat phase.

A few Command Cards may affect Initiative- providing a bonus to the roll if they are played.

One other rule regarding Initiative that represents loss of momentum very subtly, is that the Winner of Initiative receives a cumulative penalty of -1 to the next Initiative roll. That penalty is reset when they lose Initiative. So if a player wins Initiative 3 consecutive turns, that player receives a -3 to the roll the following turn. This is a balancing mechanic that helps prevent the same player from winning Initiative each turn, because let's face it, firing first is fun- and we can't let one player have all the fun...

I must thank Uwe Eickert for this suggestion as it came up while playtesting the game with him at WBC. We were looking for a way to improve the combat flow and make Initiative less powerful... after weeks of further testing, I'm extremely happy with the results.

I plan to discuss more rules adjustments in this game as a result of playtesting here on the blog as well as the background and reasoning. Adjustments like these stem from playtesting, which is why it is so important to thoroughly test your designs. One minor rule change can change the entire game, which is why I always recommend that if someone changes a rule- they change only one rule at a time- the effects of that change are more easily understood during the next playtest.

1 comment:

  1. The modification is exactly right; looking forward to the developing product.