16 May, 2012

Hell on Eight Wheels: Twelve – Teams

Getting back to work on Ho8W; it’s been a while since I’ve looked at this, so it’s probably good that I start on a completely different part of the rules.

I’ve been thinking about the ways in which skaters are differentiated. This seems to be the key method where this game will vary from the other roller derby games on the market, and I really love the idea of personality tension on the track, synergy within the team, and varying ways to play.

These are the things that keep a game evolving. Otherwise is becomes like monopoly, you know how the game will play out and the whole thing is basically just a sequence of die rolls, where luck is the only input toward victory.

If we can make the skaters different, and give them special abilities that play off one another then we bring another level of strategic play into the bout. This is another place where the “Magic: the Gathering” influence flows into the game. It might also help market the game toward the “Fantasy Sports League” crowd, which has certainly gained popularity in recent years in Australia (I’ve read two newspaper articles on them during the last week, and actually heard about a “Fantasy Netball League” while a game was being played on TV over the weekend). This gives players a bit more interaction with the game beyond the mere board play, perhaps allowing options for players to trade skaters within a closed league ecosystem…or maybe allowing them to

I realise that this is a true can of worms. There are so many options that could totally overwhelm a new player, so I know that I need to be careful here. I’ll be working through this side of the game a few times to get it right, stripping the customisation element bare for the basic play experience but providing a richer range of choices for experienced players. 

Inundating new players with complicated rules is not a way to endear them to a game. This is especially true with a game where one of the key target markets is more sport oriented rather than game oriented. I realise that this may sound like I’m stereotyping the girls who play roller derby, some of them are comic fans, some are roleplayers, some may be just as thrilled by the minutiae of game rules and mechanisms as the average old school grognard…but this is meant to be a game that will draw them all into a new world; a world familiar to them, but something that can be played without the need to get twenty people together and a track laid out.

For a player’s first game, I’ll be recommending a choice from a few sample teams. These choices will have a range of basic skaters, and either a coach or some other support staff member. After a couple of games, a player might choose to create a custom team and that will use a point-buy system.

I like point-buy systems, some people hate them. No system is perfect when players have the option of customising their capacity within a game, and it’s hard to get a perfectly balanced point buy system…but these work better than most of the other customisation options I’ve seen. They make sense to most people, they allow for more versatility within player choices, they ensure a semblance of balance between competing players and they reflect the notion of “salary caps” within organised sport.

Many miniature wargames use point buy systems where each side may have a few hundred points available, and they use these points to purchase dozens of figures. Or they might have a few thousand points available for purchasing a hundred figures in truly epic battles. Lots of points mean lots of time spent balancing the points out and finding the perfect team combination. Simpler games focusing on individuals rather than squads often have fewer points for players to spend.

But there is another fundamental difference between a bout of roller derby and a warzone. In a battlegame, you field everyone you can at the beginning and the whole scenario is a contest of attrition where each side wears away the other until an objective is completed or an enemy is decimated. In roller derby, most of the team sits on the sidelines; only five skaters at a time are on the track. This skews the values of the skaters; high value skaters need to have something special about them in order to be worth their cost.

To keep things simple, each skater (and support staff member) will be assigned a value from 1 to 10. Where 1-2 indicates a rookie, and 10 is one of the top stars of the sport. Most team members will possess a value of 4-5 (regular) to 6-7 (experienced). Novice skaters have basic stats and no special abilities; as skaters gain value and experience their stats increase, but more importantly they start to gain special abilities that change the tactics of the game and potentially alter way the game is played.

To allow a progression of complexity from simple games for new players, through to complicated games with nuanced rule interactions for experienced players, something more than a simple point buy system might help…just a few minor restrictions to keep new players from biting off more than they can chew.

The first thing to do when choosing a team is to decide what level of game is being played. The basic games restrict the number of high powered skaters, and this allows the players to focus on the basic rules without getting caught up in the intricate details of specific skater abilities.

Minimum of 10 skaters (maximum of 15 skaters and up to 2 support staff)
40 points to spend on team members (no veterans or stars)
[or choose from a range of pre-constructed training teams]

Local Derby
Minimum of 12 skaters (maximum of 20 skaters and up to 2 support staff)
60 points to spend on team members (no more than 2 veterans, no stars)
[or choose from a range of pre-constructed local derby teams]

Regional Derby
Minimum of 15 skaters (maximum of 20 skaters and up to 3 support staff)
90 points to spend on team members (no more than 6 veterans, no more than 2 stars)

National League
Minimum of 15 skaters (maximum of 20 skaters and up to 5 support staff)
120 points to spend on team members (no more than 6 stars)

Rookie Skater – 1-2pts (Average stat = 5, No special abilities, 2 traits)
Regular Skater – 3-4pts (Average stat = 6-7, 1 basic special ability, 2 traits)
Experienced Skater – 5-6pts (Average stat = 8, 2 basic special abilities, 3 traits)
Veteran Skater – 7-8pts (Average stat = 9-10, 1 basic and 1 advanced special ability, 3 traits)
Star Skater – 9-10pts (Average stat = 11, 2 basic and 1 advanced special ability, 4 traits)
Trainee Coach – 1-2pts (2 tactics, 1 basic special ability, 1 trait)
Team Coach – 3-4pts (3 tactics, 2 basic special ability, 2 traits)
Experienced Coach – 5-6pts (4 tactics, 1 basic and 1 advanced special ability, 2 traits)
Veteran Coach – 7-8pts (5 tactics, 2 basic and 1 advanced special ability, 3 traits)
Track Medic – 2pt (1 basic special ability, 1 trait)
Track Physio – 4pts (1 advanced special ability, 2 traits)
Cheerleader  – 1pt (1 basic special ability, 1 trait)
Refreshments/Waterboy  – 1pt (1 basic special ability, 1 trait)
Maintenance/Skate Technician  – 1pt (1 basic special ability, 1 trait)
Corrupt Umpire – 2-4 pts (not sure about this one but it could be fun)

I’m trying to work out a few more interesting types of support staff

I should also explain the notion of the Traits. These derive from collectible card games and some wargames, where they are used to sort troop types along thematic lines. One card in Magic might be classified as a “Dwarf” while another might be classified as a “Goblin”, they might have the same cost and they might have the same basic stats, but there are other cards in the game that might specifically target goblins, and thus they two cards have different significances depending on the context of the cards organised with them. As an example, a specific troop might give a bonus to all goblins, and thus it makes sense to include it if you are playing with a lot of goblins in your deck. On the other hand, a specific card might eliminate all goblins in play and it would make sense to include such a card if your opponent tends to use goblins a lot. This gives the game an evolving quality where one player can maximise their strategies against a specific type of opponent, but this might leave them open to other specific play styles.

I’ll be trying to link certain traits to certain types of abilities. As an example, skaters with abilities that make them better blockers might have a tendency to share the “Brick House” trait. This way, if we find that the block bonus is too powerful, we can provide a few new skaters in later supplements who gain an advantage when facing opponents with the “Brick House” trait. It means we don’t have to issue as many erratas or changes to the rules of the game once the core rules have been laid out.

Abilities are tricky; basic abilities tending to provide a simple bonus in certain circumstances, and advanced abilities tending to alter something specific about the way the game is played (maybe allowing extra cards to be played, cards to be redrawn, changing threat zones, or providing bonuses to teammates). In a lot of cases, where an ability affect someone else, it will provide benefits based on traits possessed by the recipient (eg. As long as they activate in your threat zone, a team mate gains +2 to their Speed or +2 to all stats if they possess the “X” trait. ). I’m trying to think of more eloquent ways to write this.

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