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Brainstorm for Robot Battle Game

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Fhizban's picture
Joined: 01/11/2009

hey guys,
I started working on a "secret project" a while ago. Its a super robot battle game (quite similar to Battletech, but also different) that will be completely free (of course). The game comes as print-n-play PDF rulebook and is otherwise low on components (just the rules, some tokens and dice). I have already fleshed out quite a bit of rules and generated some material, but I would like to hear your ideas to make it better:

The game puts strong emphasis on campaign play, so the individual scenarios are linked and there is much to do in between the battles. Battles are mostly 1 on 1. But the game encourages players to form larger groups. This way you can switch opponents between battles and do not have to stick to a single opponent for the whole campaign.

If you know Necromunda or Mordheim you could imagine these games with giant battle robots instead of gang-members. Also, there are no miniatures required and no scenery: Robots are simply represented by tokens that move on a square-tile-map. Each player builds his own team of robots before the game starts (minimum is 3, maximum is 6). You can have more robots in reserve and exchange them between battles, but the max is 6 per player, per battle.

I use cards that represent terrain to form a square-tile-map out of them. Every card can hold any number of robot tokens. The cards also feature terrain that grants cover or slows movement etc. The target is to destroy all opponent robots or claim a special objective (that depends on the scenario).

When you move a robot, it first gains a fixed amount of energy from its engine. this energy is used like "action points" to move, shoot, perform special actions, dodge, hide, go on overwatch etc. the larger your engine, the more actions the robot has available during its turn (actions like movement depend on the drive a robot uses and are therefore capped).

Combat uses d20 (im a similar manner like the Warzone miniature game did): You have to roll <= your Accuracy stat (modified by terrain and other factors). After that, you determine the hit location (each robot has up to 9 hit-boxes). Now your opponent must roll <= his Armor stat (modified by the strength of your weapon). Successful hits destroy the location (disabling weapons, making the robot move slower, killing the pilot etc.). A 1 always hits (perfect) and a 20 always misses (fumble).

Example Armor Roll: 24 Armor against a weapon with 14 strength: 24-14 = 10. So you have to roll less or equal than 10 on a d20 to negate the hit.

Lots of work is going into the Camp that you can access between the battles. From fighting you gain valuable Credits and Resources, as well as gathering Prestige points in order to advance your tech level. Depending on all these factors, there are more or less pieces of equipment available to outfit your robots.

This is a large part of the game, and the most complex one - as the available options can easily confuse a newbie. The equipment is mostly linked to the hit-boxes of your robots, but not all of it. Equipment includes: Chassis, Engine, Drive, Weapons, Sensors, Computer-Systems and even the Pilot itself.

All the weight your robot carries must be supported by its Chassis. The Chassis is the center of the 9 hitboxes, all other parts attach to it. Heavier equipment can only be carried by a stronger chassis, but it also makes your robot slower and consume more energy.

some unique features that are already quite fleshed out (and that im quite proud of):

Pilots - Start as Cadets and evolve as they gain experience, after two battles they gain a speciality (like sniper or heavy weapons specialist). From now on, the pilot has access to a specific skill-tree that makes the robot better at using certain weapons (like snipers or heavy weapons).

Wounds - If the top hit-box is destroyed (the "head" of the robot), it is likely that the pilot becomes wounded. This does not mean he is dead right away, he can loose an eye (reducing his accuracy) or various other permanent wounds.

Sensors - You can shoot at opponents that are out of sight, given that you have a Indirect fire weapon. But you have to spot your opponents robot via your sensors first. This is done by comparing your sensor strength with your opponents "Radar signature". Then you roll a d20 (like when attacking). Once spotted, the token that represents your opponents robot is flipped over from "unspotted" to "spotted" state and all of your team-mates can target it as well.

All the parts and equipment a robot carries features a "Radar Signature" rating. This is summed up before the battle and written on the robots character sheet. Sensor strength is simply increased by packing a stronger sensor into your robot. if you want to effectively use a mortar, rocket launcher, missile launcher or any indirect fire - you really should fit your robot with enough sensors to spot your opponents first!

Equipment - the sheer amount of it makes the game fun. There is so much stuff available to pack onto your robots that no two of them will ever look/feel the same. There are close-combat weapons, ranged weapons, shoulder weapons, mines, missiles, energy, beam, plasma, ballistic weapons. there is armor and energy shields, engines and various drives to move your robot.

Equipment also features a "manufacturer" (like the Igan-Taka Corporation or Nanolink Unlimited), that add additional flair to the game. Some between-battle events allow or disallow you to buy equipment from a specific producer and you can also haggle to acquire available gear a bit cheaper.

Two equipment examples:

Drives - right now there are 19 different drives, each represents a "movement type" that you can add to your robot. Its all about walking robots at the moment, so there are 2-legged, 3-legged, 4-l, 5-l, 6-l and even 8-legged drives available. Drives also come in various weight classes, that enable them to carry heavier chassis. the lighter drives are able to move faster instead. Im thinking about adding more drive types (like wheels, tracks, hover) to the game - but I don't know if this takes things too far (and tracks are not very MECHa like - are they?).

Drives occupy the lower hit-box of your robot (there is no difference if its a 2-legged or 8-legged drive). and each hit reduces it's movement points until the robot becomes immobile.

Armor - There are currently several dozen different armor platings you can stick onto your robots. Its basically just a long list with increasing Armor ratings (as well as weight and costs). But, armor has subtle differences (like heat protection or protection against energy weapons). Armor must be bought individually for each of the 9 hit-boxes, otherwise they are unprotected.

Example: The weakest available armor is a lousy "5cm Carbon Fiber" (its even weaker against beam and energy weapons). The most expensive Armor is (currently) a superheavy "36cm Crystaluminium Plating". That crystal armor costs 500.000 credits (per hit location), this multiplied by 9 locations equals 4,5 million credits! (more than a conventional robot would ever cost). you have to win a lot of fights (or the lottery) to encrust just one of your robots in full diamond-like armor.

Random Design Questions
My main problem is complexity, what is too much - contrary to how many choices are required. Personally I like to take things to the absolute MAX. Because this won't be a simple game, every player will be required to maintain a character sheet for each of his robots. Most of the book-keeping would be done beforehand or between the battles, so the game itself would play relatively fast.

the battle system also limits complexity somewhat. its just action point based movement and d20 rolling with some modifiers to them. whats so scary is the amount of robot parts and their possible combinations - not speaking about the time required to create/outfit/retrofit your robots (the battles themselves are rather quick compared to that).

when i showed the first drafts to my friends, half of them where scared while the other half was excited. It was also recommended to reduce the Equipment catalogue to a several dozens of robot parts.

But this is exactly the point: A game like this needs tons of stuff to continue being fun. Players must be able to customize their robots and players that are on the same "level" should still be able to create completely different robot teams. This is true to every stage of the game (also endgame), there has to be enough stuff waiting to be used, so that the teams and their strategies vary. Otherwise you end up all with the same team that is equipped in "the best possible manner".

This is meant to be a game with tiny core rules, to be played like the progress in an MMO, where you race your characters to the top as quickly as possible. BUT, being essentially just a handbook full of equipment lists - it MUST give the players total freedom about the "route" they choose to take.

als mentioned above, the alternate way to continue would be to drastically reduce the amount of equipment in the game. I just wonder what the higher level players will do all the time with their credits/resources? if there is just one mortar in the game - and that mortar is the best weapon - everyone ends up using mortars in the endgame. would the players continue to play - just for the sake of it?

phew - what a wall of text (took me an hour to write). Thanks for reading this and thank you for every comment!

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
Yes, this sounds fantastic!

Yes, this sounds fantastic! I'm not one to be intimidated by loads and loads of equipment. The fact that your system is so well-thought-out and I can easily visualize what you're describing thanks to your writing makes it much more accessible than what I think of when I remember that one weekend I piddled around with Battletech.

To rein in the complexity a bit, I have a couple suggestions. I offered the same kind of suggestions to a fellow designer who was making a hybrid Mordheim-MtG skirmish game. He also had a veritable lexicon of spells, summoned creatures, miniatures that took up like four plastic storage tubs, and special effects: easily on par with the scads of equipment you mention in your description.

  • Have a set of "plateaus" for game play features. In sum, start off players with a suite of starting features, weapons, equipment, etc. that would be equivalent for the "lightweight class" or "minor leagues." Then at a certain point, perhaps when players earn enough prestige or they win enough battles, they gain access to the next suite of tools: "middleweight" or something like that. Divide all the equipment you have into different classes or leagues, which is essentially a plateau system that provides access to only certain additional pieces of equipment once the player's team has done well enough. An advantage of this system is that you can also stage one-off "veteran" battles with exclusively "heavyweight" machines, or have certain skirmishes labeled as "bantamweight-only" conflicts. It would also be a way to determine combatants for tournament/championship play.
  • Divide your equipment similarly, but do so via the manufacturers. One manufacturer focuses their technology on armour plating, one focuses on maneuverability and speed, one focuses on sensors and applications, etc. This way a machine can earn a special bonus based on the synergy of their equipment.
  • And why not have treads, wheels, hovercrafts, AND jets with VTO capability? Each chassis type has certain allowances, so for example heavier equipment can only be handled by wheeled or treaded vehicles. Of course, as players become more experienced and earn more money, they can bypass these physical limitations via paying more for higher technology levels. With enough cash, the flying howitzer can be possible.

Sounds very exciting to me! I say go for it! It's like the old NES game Future Soldier LIOS and Robot Jocks mixed together. Totally entertaining and a great way to spend an afternoon. Best of success to you with this idea! :)

Fhizban's picture
Joined: 01/11/2009
thanks for your positive

thanks for your positive feedback! yes, im really excited about a game like this as well.
So lets go for the complex route then (I already started like this).

Good idea with the plateaus, I think either dividing the equipment into "leagues" or into "tech levels" (this depends on the theme of the game). This way, newbies are not overwhelmed by the amount of stuff, they only "see" what they can use. 100 weapons divided into 10 leagues of 10 weapons each - look much more comprehensive than 100 weapons thrown at you at once.

Another question is the theme, right now im undecided between a pure warfare background or a a "game" (like the sports of the future). Here are a few ideas:

1. Future Sports
The game takes place in specially prepared arenas. The robot battles represent the sport of the future. there is league play and a crowd, there is also an "income/prize money" that limits the amount of equipment you can buy (but its artificial environment, so it has nothing to do with real economy). There would also be a referee and other stuff that only makes sense in a a "game environment". game name idea: Battledrome (this would also be the name of the arenas).

2. Real War - Futuristic
Instead of a game, it would be a true military simulation. Each player controls a faction that strives for power. No leagues or referees, instead more "serious" gameplay that includes research and resource management.

3. Real War - Alt WW2
The same as 2) but instead in a low-tech WW2 environment. the mechs would be named "wanzers" (from walking tank) and require diesel and maybe a few people to operate. It would all be much more low-tech and "pseudo-realistic".

Personally, I tend to use 1) and make it a really cheesy high tech sports of the future, just like Robot Jox!

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
A bit short on time at the

A bit short on time at the moment, but I wanted to share some early thoughts. Why not combine the Real War/Futuristic Sports ideas? It makes the game much more interesting and engaging than one of the linear options you've described, in my opinion. Here's one scenario:

On the surface, there's the Sports League. You and your robots entertain the masses and bring in massive funding for the robot project. Pilots move up the professional ladder, commanding bigger and stronger robots. Those that make the cut are eventually "retired" and their robots recycled.

However, there's a reason for such a kind of expensive, resource-intensive entertainment. There's some kind of interstellar threat coming to the planet. The retired pilots are actually recruited to join in the fight on a distant planet, pushing back the invaders before they reach the Earth. The most effective, most lethal robot designs are reserved and replicated by tech corporations subsidized by government funding for this offworld defensive force.

Is it sentient giant robots? A rival extraterrestrial race? Enormous crystal life forms? A Galactus-style mega-alien that eats planets for breakfast? I have no clue. But I think you see where I'm going with this idea.

Skip the alt-WW2 storyline. It seems too one-dimensional for a full-fledged game (plus nobody's done the idea better than the Fallout series anyway, as far as I'm concerned).

In sum: on the surface it's a battle-sports-entertainment enterprise. But to those in the know it's a battle to save the planet.

Fhizban's picture
Joined: 01/11/2009
@let-off studios: Well i

@let-off studios: Well i rather like to stick to that Futuristic Sports League, but you are right there should be a "greater goal" to the game.

Quick because im writing from work:

I think about adding cards to the game, of course the rules will still be in the rulebook. the cards are also PNP and represent the equipment. Each card represents a part/weapon etc. - this way its much easier to create and modify robots, without having to maintain a complex character sheet (players will still need a basic character sheet for each robot).

as robots right now have a max of 9 hit-locations, ultra-pro pocket pages could be used. there would be space for exactly 9 cards. making management of the robots much easier. maybe use two of them - the other 9 are for gear and skills.


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