From the computer to the tabletop, this is all about games. Updated each week-end.
Rules. More than any other aspect, rules are how designers communicates the game they is trying to make to their audience. You can design outlandish alienating characters, or a set of characters that create verisimilitude, however it is through the rules that your players will interact with your game. You’d be surprised how often this is overlooked.
The rule provide a framework within which the players operate while playing your game. Your game’s setting and goals give the rules a framework. From parts 1 and 2 we have this framework. Character-driven, scenario-based gameplay.
In part 2 I went a little further and talked about some of the top level decisions that need to be made. These can be unmade during the playtesting process, but it is the lower-level rules that are more likely to be changed or removed.
Player turns is one of the more fundamental decisions. I go/ you go is one of the oldest rules around, and is not necessarily the best, but it gets used time and time again. Board games have almost completely abandoned it, miniature games not so much. This is because the rule works best in a two-player game, which describes almost all miniatures games.
I’m using for this game, and it’s one rules that I expect could change through the playtesting process. This means it is probably the only rule that will hold true.
Here’s something I didn’t mention in Part 2. Once I had come up with the top-level rules, I grabbed some models, a piece of scenery, and started to play through a scenario. This is not something you would ever inflict on other people. The idea behind this was fairly simple – to test out whether what were concepts could actually work on the tabletop. Rules for movement, combat, magic, and so on were little more than idea at this stage. It seemed like a good idea to test them out though.
The fact that you are reading this is part of the answer. The test went well, and by well I mean I replaced maybe half the gameplay rules I had considered before even writing them down! The key part of the test was the overall concept – would that work? If not, there was little points continuing.
The scenario was simple but the game and its characters emerged quite nicely. Some things were left to one side, and the combat rules and even movement rules changed once or twice during the game! As I say, this is not something you would inflict on another person. The time for playtesting is when the rules are written out.
The playtest also allows me to experiment with a few different ways of showing off the individuality of various heroes, and to see whether the heroic abilities would influence how an hero would be used. The main advantage is to test out the principles of the game, rather than the gameplay rules.
Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail
The early playtest is fun, but sadly is no substitute for the more sedate task of sitting down and planning and developing rules. Again, it is important keep those key principles in mind when developing. In my case I want to keep the rules streamlined as games should last 40 minutes to 1 hour. To keep the focus on the heroes (characters) of the game, this is where I have allowed myself the most detail. All games should ‘telescope’ in on a certain point. For example a game principally about hand to hand fighting should reserve its rules complexity for that, and have simpler movement and shooting rules, for example.
In my case, the game is ability-based. All heroes have a common set of abilities (for example, moving, attacking, charging, shooting), though not all of these are available to every character. The detail is saved for the unique ability that every hero has. Used once per game, these are powerful effects, spells, special attacks or something else that can potentially swing the game your way.
This level of detail in terms of unique abilities would slow some games to a crawl. However the lower number of models per side in this game (4-10) keeps things workable. As a skirmish level game, I have been prepared to let larger games suffer in order for smaller games to have more flair. In this case, the management of individual heroes is something that gives a diminishing return after a certain point, in terms of time spent versus enjoyable gameplay. I don’t know quite where that point is to be honest. It’s something that will come out of playtesting, where I may put double the expected number of heroes down on the table, and see how things play out. That kind of testing the rules to destruction is for later though.
The Hard Part
And now I have come to the hard part; actually writing down all the rules in a single document – not just for myself, but for others to read too. It’s important not to fall into the trap of thinking that a publishable document is a pre-requisite for playtesting. Something playable is all that is needed. For this game I’ve set some simple goals for the playtesting document
– a name
– basic rules (how to move, shoot, fight, use magic, how to kill the opponent, and how to win a game)
– some heroes – at this stage 6-8 is probably sufficient
– some villains – you have to have someone to fight after all.
– two or three scenarios
Once this point is reached I’ll be ready for the playtesting stage, which is make or break. Before we get into that, I will discuss the background of the game in part 5.