I've been kicking around an idea for a cooperative game for a couple of months, and I wanted to get some feedback on my idea for a combat system. Fair warning, this will be a long post, but I think the system itself is much harder to write about than it would be to demonstrate with physical components or pictures.
The concept of the game is that each of up to 5 players is a crew member on a starship (for less than 5, some players will play more than one role).
Each crew member starts with 3 custom d6's, although later upgrades or damage to the ship may result in rolling anywhere between 1 and 5 dice. I've attached an image of the dice below, with reach row representing the faces of a single die. At the start of combat, each player rolls all their dice, then take turns "spending" dice in accordance with their role. After all players take a turn, the enemy ships then have a chance to take action. Only spent dice are rerolled at the start of the next turn.
Each of the dice has a star symbol which is used for special abilities, which are different for each role. Each die also has a pass icon (the cube with an arrow), which can be spent along with another die to loan the second die to another player, allowing him to use it as if he rolled it this turn. Here is a description of the roles:
Gunners (2 Players)
These players focus on attacking enemy ships directly, and they care about the symbols on each of their dice. Diamonds, Triangles and Hexagons each represent different types of attacks, and each gunner selects one type of attack to use on his or her turn, spending all dice with the matching symbol. Enemy ships may have one or more shields, with each shield having one of three colors (blue, green or red), each of which corresponds to a symbol (diamonds, triangles and hexagons, respectively). Spending dice of the matching symbol destroys one shield per die, while non-matching dice destroy 1/2 of a shield each, rounded down. Thus, attacking 4 red shields with 3 hexagon dice would destroy 3 shields, but 3 diamond dice would only destroy 1. The X represents a miss, and the player may choose to spend all his X's in order to reroll those dice on his next turn. Stars are wild and can be spent with any set, but only to attack shields of the matching color (i.e. if a player could spend a star when spending diamonds to attack blue shields, but not red ones). Once an enemy ship's shields are down, gunners may directly attach the ship's hull, with each die spent counting as one hit, regardless of symbol. Stars may not be spent to attack a ship's hull. When the ship runs out of hull points, it is destroyed.
Fighter Commander (1 Player)
This player controls the ship's wing of starfighters, which begin by engaging opposing fighters, but are able to attack enemy ships directly after enemy fighters have been destroyed. This player cares about the numbers printed on his or her dice. The player may spend as many dice as desired, as long as those dice are in numerical sequence. Thus, if a player rolls 4 dice and gets 1, 2, 3, 5, he could spend the first three dice or just the last one. Each dice spent destroys an enemy fighter, or counts as 1/2 of a hit on a capital ship (shields or hull). For each star this player rolls, he may ignore the number on that die, and instead spend it to add a multiplier to his total number of dice spent. Thus, the best possible roll on 5 dice would be a sequence of 3 numbers, along with 2 stars, for a total of 9 hits (3 x 3).
Engineer (1 Player)
This player helps ensure the ship maintains power and has access to a range of special abilities to help complete the mission, based on the upgrades installed on the ship. The Engineer tries to complete chains of dice based on the background and foreground colors of her dice. Dice may be chained if the background color of the die matches the foreground of another die, or vice versa. Using the convention xY, where x is the foreground color and Y is the background color, an engineer might spend a chain three dice like this: rB -> bG -> gB. The longer the chain an engineer can produce, the more energy is stored in the ship's battery bank. I'm still finalizing the relationship between chain length and energy, but I'm leaning towards 2-3-5-8-13 or something similar. Systems on the ship, such as repair bots, tractor beams and thrusters, require various combinations of energy and Star dice rolled by the Engineer to be activated.
Ship Captain (1 Player)
The captain is responsible for protecting the ship, and is tasked with managing the shield generator. The captain tries to collect sets of matching background colors. The captain may choose one color each turn, and spend all the dice of that background color to provide shields for the ship. Each die spent prevents one hit that the ship would take during that turn. Each hit that is not absorbed by the shields damages one of the parts of the ship (determined by rolling another custom die), and that crew member loses one of his or her dice until the ship can be repaired by the Engineer, or reaches safety. Star dice don't have any effect for the captain, but he may freely loan any or all of his dice to any player, without having to spend Pass icons to do so. Additionally, in between missions, the captain is the final decision maker regarding which upgrades to purchase, and which missions to undertake.
My hope is that the various roles will appeal to a variety of play styles, and that the use of Pass symbols will encourage cooperative play in order to maximize the effectiveness of the whole team, especially since players values dice using different metrics. I've run the probabilities on each of these systems, and I'm pretty happy with the results. (I'm happy to post my findings if anyone is interested).
So, after all that description, what do you think? Does this seem confusing? Any points that could stand clarification? Which roles excite you and which seem boring? Thanks as always for the input!
Do the gunners know what type of shield at which they are shooting? I think either way could work (ie secret shield type or known shield type), but it may affect strategy significantly depending on which way you go
What about team rolling so that they function as a true crew? I think you would need to experiment with different styles of play to get the right fit, but you might have some luck with a Crew 1 attacks/Crew 2 defends/Crew 2 counters/Crew 1 defends pattern; if you allowed dice to carry over from attack to defense it would force the teams to decide if they are going to push for offense or hold back and defend each round.
This sounds like a fun game - hope to hear more!
Or wait...new idea...what if there are more roles on the ship than there are crew? Then the teams need to allocate both crew to roles and dice to results...
Thanks for the suggestions Orangebeard. The types of shields are known in advance, although I should note that it's possible for a single ship to have multiple types of shields (i.e. a heavy cruiser might have 2 green shields on top, with three blue shields underneath) which would need to be destroyed in the correct order to expose the hull. Additionally, I should have clarified that in the initial version of the game, I'm intending for the players to be competing against NPC's, although I have dreams of adding additional dice, equipment, mission types, and PvP rules in an expansion if the initial game ever comes together. Do you (or anyone else) think that PvP could be important enough to warrant another look? This would obviously require a way to have fewer players running each crew, since getting 10 or 15 people together for a game seems daunting.
I do really like your idea for dividing dice between the whole team, and I might have to toy with that idea a bit. I also like the idea of needing to allocate crew members to different roles, although I'm trying to provide some standardization across different numbers of players so that I don't need to re-balance NPC strength on missions for every possible number of players. Changing roles mid-game could be very nice however, since it allows individual players to change up their play experience if desired, but a new player could just sit in a turret for most of the game and keep things simple. I'll spend some time thinking these ideas over. Thanks for your thoughts!
I think it is great how you have made each role use the dice in a different way, which makes passing dice worthwhile because a die that is useless to me might be useful to you.
Is it intended that the "pass die" result can be used as foreground/background/number instead of as a "pass die"? The reason I ask is that this means Gunner is the only role that can't use the "pass die" result as something useful instead of passing it.
There didn't seem to be a way for the players' Fighters to get damaged, other than from hits against the ship. This seems a little odd, because in effect the ship's shields are protecting the Fighters while they are out attacking the enemy.
A general comment is that each turn, it looks like every player will have one clearly optimal action other than the possibility of passing dice. That is, the decision to pass dice (and who to pass them to) is the only meaningful decision each turn. For example, the Captain will always choose whatever color he rolled the most and pass the others away to give the biggest bonuses to the rest of the team -- there is unlikely to be any reason to do anything different. Still, it's hard to predict how it would actually come out in playtesting.
As per the previous poster, I like the idea of players being able to choose the combination of roles for the ship, rather than having it set (other than the Captain, who is mandatory and unique). If we want to fly the mission with 1 Captain and 4 Engineers, why not? (Maybe it's a blockade-runner mission where speed is of the essence.)
Alternatively, you might have fixed starting roles but allow the players to move around during the game at a cost of dice. So for example if the Gunner's gun gets badly damaged he might abandon it and head to the Engineering bay, but he gets -1 die while in Engineering because he is operating outside his normal role.
Agreed; It's almost like the 5 crew should be 5 locations that are manned by 5 crew; maybe 4 within the shields and 1 outside? Does this imply that gunners are actually targeting locations on the enemy and excess damage hits the crew?
True; Maybe the NPC ship has a combination of known values (shield color/type for example), but also an unknown value; this would force the players to decide if they should blast 1 location at the risk of allowing another location to get overly powerful. I think the number of meaningful decisions each round should probably be increased.
If the missions are pred-defined, you could have easy/hard versions of the missions with crew limits as Kos described.
I think this game idea does run the risk of having a single player "take over" and make all of the game decisions. This is a fairly common problem in the players vs. game style of game and I think there are some threads here that talk about ways to address this problem. I am also working on a players vs. game design and I have been experimenting with the idea of a "priorities" that force some of the players to act independently of the group.
I don't think PVP needs to be a required development point on this; my gut reacation is that this would stand up well as a solitaire game or in the style of 1-5 players vs. the game. Perhaps even a "loose" game that could allow players to come and go thoughout the game
Thanks for the feedback. Lots of great points here. I'll try to address the questions that have been raised.
Pass dice can be used for their other attributes (colors & number), and although this seems to put gunners at a disadvantage, I've run the probabilities for each of these very different systems, and I'm happy with how they come out, even given the disadvantage.
Good catch on the rules for fighters getting damaged. I'm still working on NPC combat mechanics, but I think I will allow for enemy fighters to attack player fighters directly. I am planning on casting the fighters as robot controlled, so that damage to fighter control on the main ship would make sense for damaging the fighters.
The issue of a single optimal action is one I will need to keep considering. During most missions, the player ship will be engaging multiple weaker hostile ships, so for the attack roles, this will provide choices regarding where to direct fire. For example, a gunner may have a strong red roll, and have to choose between hitting a support frigate with red shields, thus maximizing damage, and attacking an assault cruiser with green shields, doing less damage but targeting the more powerful opponent. Certainly some decisions will still be trivial, but my goal is to try to keep things lighter on the strategy side. For engineers, they will often have an optimal arrangement of dice to choose, although determining the optimal arrangement takes a bit more thought. Most of the strategy for the engineer will come from managing the various ship systems, and the energy and star dice needed to power them.
Creating strategy for the captain was a bit more challenging, and I never loved the captain system in the first place, so I've decided to change it. The ship will now have three types of shields, red, green and blue, each of which has 5 layers. The shield starts the mission at full strength, but each enemy attack will randomly target one of the shields, and will deplete it one layer for each unit of attack strength. If an attack breaks through a shield, it can hit the hull even if the other shields are still in-tact. When the captain spends dice, each dice restores layers to the corresponding shield. This opens up scenarios where a Captain may have three blue and one green dice, but choosing green may still be wise if the green shield is depleted. Far from rocket science, but it at least requires some thought.
Finally, with regard to a single player taking over, I agree that this could definitely be a danger. Depending on the play group, the captain taking over could actually be fairly flavorful and give things an RPG feel, but for other groups it could ruin the fun. I poked around the board as you suggested, and the three solutions that seemed most common were adding hidden information, adding a traitor, and adding a time constraint/excessive complexity. I've been scratching my brain to come up with meaningful hidden information to add, but haven't come up with much that fits the theme. Similarly, I feel that adding a traitor would hijack the game, and it would be difficult to implement any type of traitorous actions without overhauling the current system. That leaves adding a timer or excessive complexity. As stated above, I'm trying to keep things strategy-lite, so my thought at this point would be to add a 30 second timer to each round. Players roll, have a chance to pass dice, and make decisions about what to spend, but at the end of 30 seconds, choices are locked in. Play quickly passes around the table and rolls are resolved, then another round begins. I like that this keeps the pace of the game up, and creates tension befitting of combat. It may also help keep the length of games down, since I'm envisioning a single game consisting of many missions, creating a need to move things along quickly. I'll need to play test with and without a timer to determine if this solution does the job.
Thanks again. Further comments are always appreciated!
Maybe you can combine your timer with a "default action" for each crew? If the crew is unable to pass dice / re-route power / whatever before time runs out, the rolled dice are used in a default action specific to the crew member. There is pressure to make decisions, but no serious harm if you can't finish in 30 seconds.
It might be early for this level of detail, but would a rule that allows all gun hits on a shieldless ship work? For example, a ship has the following shields 0B 0G 2R; the gun attack is 1B 1G 1R. Normally the gunner would choose one color, but you might get some interesting dynamics and decisions if you had a rule that says you can choose blue AND green to hit or red to hit since blue and green shields are gone. This would probably accelerate the destruction of shieldless ships, but also encourages players to keep wearing down all the shield colors. Eventually, this would result in a shieldless ship taking 1 hit for every die the guns rolled. boom!
I love the remote fighter idea; good thinking!
Giving the guns a disadvantage may not be a bad thing at all; this might help avoid your "lite strategy" game from becoming a "single strategy" game. I would expect most players to look to the guns to solve every problem which may encourage 1 dimensioal strategy
On the note of guns, do gunners roll dice and then pick targets or do they declare targets and then roll dice?