16 May, 2012

Hell on Eight Wheels: Thirteen – Abilities

What is the point of a special ability if it isn’t special?

Abilities need to have some kind of significant impact, otherwise players won’t bother using them, and they might just forget to use them. If abilities aren’t used, there isn’t much point including them on the skater’s card. This is especially true when the abilities and traits are the key things that differentiate one skate from another.

The core system of the game works on playing cards that are as high as possible, but still under the skaters relevant statistic. A special ability needs to twist this in some way; there is no point creating an ability that states “This skater has +1 strength”, we might as well just increase the skater’s strength by 1. Abilities need to promote some kind of tactic, so they need to be effective in a specific situation or provide some kind of non-statistic advantage (like drawing extra cards). To maintain a degree of balance across the abilities, we need to ensure that the more specific the situation where the advantage may be accessed, the more powerful that advantage needs to be.

The tactics promoted by certain abilities can be anything; one ability might provide bonuses when a skater activates on the inner ring of the track (this promotes a tactic of sitting on the inside ring), another ability might provide a bonus if there is another skater on the track possessing a specific trait (this promotes the tactic of including a whole heap of skaters with this trait in your team), while another might provide a bonus if the skater has an injury (this might promote a tactic of recklessness as a skater tries to pick up penalties in order to offset them with special bonuses).

This can promote very different play styles.

Using the miniatures game Malifaux as an example. One team leader is known as Kirai, as a blood powered necromancer, she gain bonuses by inflicting wound on herself (these empower her necromantic spells). She plays very differently to Perdita, a gunslinger who gains her strongest advantages from strategic positioning. In this way, some teams are harder to play than others; but the reward for the more difficult play style is an opponent who is often caught off guard by the strange tactics and exotic bonuses.

I need to keep in mind that this needs to be a game that is easy to learn, but difficult to master. No single tactical strategy should be without its weaknesses.

Within the existing structure of the game, there are a number of areas that are ripe for exploitation by special abilities:

·         Team Building (abilities that target specific traits promote the inclusion of skaters possessing those traits)
·         Bonus to stats only when the attacker or defender (abilities of this type promote offensive or defensive team tactics)
·         Hand Size (abilities providing bonus cards reflect a more tactical style of team, capable of reacting better to the situations around them)
·         Stress Effects (abilities that activate when penalties occur, or when the risk of penalties occur might promote specific tactics that are deemed too risky otherwise)
·         Threat Zone (an ability to expand a skater’s threat zone(or an ally’s), or it could allow a skater to lessen the impact from interacting with an enemy’s threat zone)
·         Fouls (some abilities may allow skaters to avoid fouls, or increase the chance of opponents scoring fouls…it’s playing dirty, but some teams are like that)
·         Speed Tokens (an ability could allow a skater to pick up two speed tokens, allowing for dramatic acceleration; or allow them to drop speed quickly to avoid spills. Such abilities could be overpowered, so they’d have to be restricted to activation is very specific circumstances)
·         Card Suits (some abilities might activate when a certain suit of card is played in a certain situation)
·         Track Location (abilities could activate in certain areas of the track; on the curve, on the straight, on the inside, on the outside, when in an ally’s/enemy’s threat zone…etc.)

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