Developer’s Diary #1

Developer's Notes
Taste the insanity!

A lot of StrikePoint is written between the hours of Midnight and 2am, give or take, while I’m winding down from the day, and looking to get thoughts out of my head, and onto paper. It helps me sleep. Sometimes.

And this is why these Developer Diaries will be very “stream of consciousness”, as I get them out of my head, off of random notebooks.

My original ideas for StrikePoint came to me several years ago. The core concept, which is still embedded in the DNA of the game, was to have units that would act on the tabletop without orders. In some way, capturing the idea of a video game where units have a rudimentary AI, and can act without direct supervision. A set of Behaviors that would drive their actions. A unit would be defined by rules of three, such as types of units (Solo, Troop, Irregular) that had default actions. As an example, an Irregular troop’s default action would be “Fall Back”, which would enable hit and run tactics by ordering them forward, and then letting them fall back on their own.

Leaders would activate issuing orders to themselves and other units. Most units would also have the ability to give themselves an order, but a limit of how many orders could be given in a turn. It also had weapons ranges, morale, and the other tropes of tabletop games.

It also didn’t go very far past a single playtest. It was a little too unwieldy, and a little too fiddly. It didn’t fully handle the idea of these default behaviors, and the order system was clunky. Finally, it ended up with tons of token/markers on the field, which removed the immersion/feel of the game. Instead of a nice scene of miniatures in battle, it looked like a board game…with miniatures.

But I kept the notes.

Once things in my life and head settled down (protip: don’t acquire a Major Depressive Disorder) I started thinking about StrikePoint again. I had become disillusioned with GW, as many do. The growth of other miniatures systems stoked my interest, but I really didn’t see the game I wanted to play. A bit of a throwback to my earlier years where varied and interesting armies clashed on worlds varying from feudal to fantastic. I fancy myself a writer, and I do long to write my own backstory and visions. However, I am not a miniatures sculptor, so I want/need to use other company’s miniatures…and that’s a good thing! There are so many out there now, from so many awesome companies, that it is time for a ruleset that can handle those.

My research into StrikePoint v2 connected me with people who have been in real-world firefights. Now, to be fair, I am one of those people who stands firmly on don’t put your realism in my game about space marines shooting explosive bolts at giant mutations while crazed psy-melders throw coruscucating fireballs of warp-infused energies around. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized the modern wargame attempts to cram far too many units and models into the 4×6 table. Thankfully, smaller-games exist (Bushido, Wreck-Age) and smaller scales (Flames of War, Dropzone Commander). These are elegant solutions to the problem, but they do not give me the same feelings as a classic 2nd edition game of Warhammer 40K. Or even a 3rd edition game. Or 4th. You get the idea.

Once I spoke with some of these real world warfighters, the problem finally crystalized in my head. Back in the day, the number of minis, both troops and vehicles, were less. Point inflation, and a need to be highly profitable, has driven GW to ram as many minis on a table as possible. I do not fault this! They are a publicly-traded company, and have needs. And their recent work in bringing young players, and non-male players into the tabletop wargaming hobby have been excellent and welcomed. But it isn’t the game I want to play, and the new Apocalypse Rules are just going to make it worse. But it means less of a focus on tactics, and more of a focus on bringing as many dice to the table as possible. There is no room to maneuver, no real ability to bring tactics to the table. Weapon ranges are artificial, imposed in an attempt to make a 4×6 table smaller.

So, what do I want?

  • List-building is not about maximizing dice, auras, etc.
  • Armies have enough of a different playstyle to set them apart.
  • Dice are thrown when important, and the number of times dice are thrown is minimized.
  • There are no “do not take” units. If a unit is in the rulebook, it should have a function, and be usable in most games, with some exceptions.
  • Combat is lethal, like it should be.
  • Characters and Leaders can be heroic, but can still be taken down. But they should go down leaving a feeling of epicness, not like grass under a lawnmower.
  • Concepts like ‘fog of war’ are implemented, to remove the “perfect knowledge” problem, and bring uncertainty to the game.
  • Maneuvering is critical to success. You can’t just march across the battlefield and expect a high success of winning.
  • The game moves quickly.
  • Vehicles can be used, and make sense to be there.
  • All rules for a unit should be on the card. No constant rulebook reading which bogs down the game.
  • Decisions matter.

And what did I learn from my research, speaking with combat veterans?

  • Random events do happen. Guns jam, people trip, ammo runs out or is hard to get to.
  • In a firefight, whoever shoots first tends to win. This means that the weight of the game should be about maneuvering for success, not just relying on the weight of dice/list-building to min/max dice and re-rolls.
  • Even for professional, well-trained soldiers, it is difficult to shoot someone who doesn’t want to be shot.
  • However, when someone is shot, they tend to go down. This not not necessarily mean “killed”. They could have the wind knocked out of them, they could be a casualty, they could lose their weapon. There are many reasons a soldier or vehicle can be taken out of the fight.
  • The actual firefight is nasty, brutal, and short. A set of turns represents a few minutes of time, at most. The game should reflect this both in scope, ranges, and time.

What about dice?

I have chosen to stay with the humble D6 for a few reasons. First, they are ubiquitous. Everyone has them, and probably in many exciting colors. Yes, this limits the spread, but more randomness is not necessarily good for StrikePoint. In fact, the more randomness there is, the higher chance (heh) of bad luck comes into play, and people start thinking more of minimizing chance than tactics and gameplay. The concept of the D6+X also allows for a simple, scalable power level with combined with a Target Number. A D6+2 is worth, roughly, three times as much as a D6+1.

D6s also fit neatly into die-cut squares on a Unit Card.