2006-03-14 : Board Setup in Mechaton

From this comment and marginalia by Ralph. These are rules to put finding into Mechaton's board setup. It's especially cool because until now Mechaton had NO board setup.

1. Make a map with a bunch of terrain on it. Walls and cover.

2. Make armies. Calculate points per victory.

3. Whoever has the GREATEST points per victory: indicate a perimeter on the map. "When you reach this line, this line, this line, I will spot and shoot at you." You're committing to generally where you'll place your units - at least some within short range of the lines - but not to specific placements. (Remember that the person with the greatest points per victory is the person with the smallest, weakest army.)

4. Whoever has the MOST units: start placing your units, at or near one of the lines, never past one. Keep placing units until you've got fewer units left unplaced than the person with the next most units. Alternate placing units with that person until you both have fewer units left unplaced that the person with the third most units. Etc., until all the units are on the map.

5. Place evaporators (objective hexes) last.

6. Begin play.

Implication: when I draw the lines, the bigger a perimeter I create, the further from my evaporators my enemies will start, but the bigger a perimeter I'll have to defend.

Also, there'll be less running forward without much shooting in the earliest turns of the game, which: cool!

Let's try that, J, shall we?

1. On 2006-03-14, Vincent said:

And while I'm rules updating: Win points per victory start at 5, not 4. They thus range from 3 to 7 per, depending on the relative dice and size of your army.


2. On 2006-03-14, Ninja Monkey J said:




3. On 2006-03-14, Vincent said:

Not tomorrow - Meg has some kind of a thing. Maybe Friday night or Saturday night?


4. On 2006-03-14, ffilz said:

Mechaton is starting to shape up a lot. I didn't really pay much attention when Larry P. ran it at GenCon '03, but my impression was that it didn't work out to be that exciting a game.

Perhaps we can get Larry P. re-excited about the game, and get some Mechaton included in the GameLUG offerings for GenCon this year (I have to admit for myself that I've never been that excited with the whole mecha thing - but I've seen lots of cool games (sort of starting with clayorama back in the 80s)).



5. On 2006-03-14, Sydney Freedberg said:

Ok, I see the "deep defense with scattered forces" vs. "shallow defense with concentrated forces" that the perimeter rules give you, and I like it. You do need to enforce that the perimeter is really a perimeter and not just a line, though—otherwise, the defender just draws the shortest possible line across the entire battlefield as far as possible from what he's defending, and then gets to concentrate his forces and have maximum fallback depth.

I'm not sure how this covers "finding" so much, though, except by assuming that it's already happened—which I know was Ralph's idea, but I think he was suggesting making variable outcomes of the "finding" phase affect the set-up options: "If I devote X more effort than you to recon, then I get to set up X of my force after seeing what you do," that kind of thing. Your set-up rules simply seem to impose a fixed balancing factor, namely that the bigger force always has the disadvantage of setting up its "extra" units first.

Yes, I know limited intelligence is a bitch and a half to implement in a tactical face-to-face game—and approximately 3.24 bitches if you're using miniatures. No, I don't have any brilliant ideas right now.


6. On 2006-03-14, Vincent said:

Frank, I'd be psyched to re-excite Larry and catch some of the sweet GameLUG action. But man, way to lead with an insult.

Sydney, finding and the fixed balancing factor:

Here's a dynamic I really enjoy when I play games, you'll spot it in most or all of the games I design. It goes like this:

1. You make a partial decision based on little information;
2. We make more information available;
3. You do your best to make the best of your early commitment, based on the new information.

So the rules above work like this:

1. I partially commit to my units' placement (the perimeter);
2. You fully commit to your units' placement, based on my partial commitment;
3. I commit the rest of the way, within the constraints of my uninformed initial commitment.

So even though it's not random, my hope is that it'll have enough uncertainty in it to make it ... uh ... iffy, all around.

If that doesn't work out in action, randomizing's my fallback depth.


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7. On 2006-03-14, Vincent said:

Another rules update, J, the solution to the red dice problem: each red die counts as half a die toward that mech, rounded up. That way most mechs will have 4 red dice, some ordering of either 1 1 2 or 2 2 0. Giving a mech only 2 red dice frees up a die for blue, green or yellow; giving a mech 6 red dice makes it stump along with at most one other colored die. Shoulda thought of that before.

However there's a hit point problem, which a) maybe doesn't matter, but b) if it does matter, then whenever you take damage, you can't lose 1 red die, you have to lose 2. That's fine with me, and easily made consistent with my mech-building aesthetic: a physical weapon part on your mech gives you two red dice, and losing it to damage loses you both of them.


8. On 2006-03-15, Valamir said:

Wow.  You know, I love these design in public things because I've done game set up "Find" rules probably a dozen times...and I never would have thought to do it like this.  Sydney's more onto what I had in mind.

From a find perspective, I'd run with your "spend as many points as you want to build an army, and then balance through victory conditions" rule.  I'd just add that one of the things you can buy are "Find" points.

Basically instead of spending points on Troops you're spending them on "recon / intelligence".  So for the same number of points, the more you spend on recon, the fewer actual forces you'll have at the battle, which is an abstract way of saying you've got your forces all spread out doing the "find" so there are fewer available to fight with.

If you want to get more elaborate, you can say that instead of the other forces not being available at all, they just arrive late at a distant map edge.  For instance you have 1000 points of troops, you say "I'll spend 300 on Recon".  Then you still have 1000 points of troops, but only 700 start the game and 300 will arrive later.  They were off scouting else where and take time concentrating to the battle.

Another layer of elaboration would be to allow mechs to actually be built with recon/sensor capability that would serve as a multiplier to the points spent on Recon at the expense of weaker mechs.

At any rate, how I'd envsion it working is that you then compare the Recon points between the two sides.  The side with the higher Recon points would get the advantage in initial set up.  In your above system, the lower Recon points would define the perimeter.

Again, another level of elaborateness would be to vary the set-up by the ratio of Recon.  The more I win the Find war the more troops you have to set up before me. So with a small win it might work exactly as you've outlined...loser does partial, winner does full, loser does full.  With a bigger win it might be adjusted to...loser does partial, winner does partial, loser does full, winner does remaining.

That may be more involved than what you're looking for, but it would more fully capture the Find aspect if that were important.


9. On 2006-03-15, Ninja Monkey J said:

Here's an off-the-cuff idea about Finding:

You roll all of your yellow dice. Every one that comes up 4+ is a mecha I place on the field. If you didn't find it I can put it at whatever cover I want at any stage of the game!

It has to be within my own perimeter, I think; otherwise, if you miss one, I pop it down right at your Goals. Maybe that's OK. I doubt it, though.

Your red dice solution is satisfactory to me. I got no beefs with that.


10. On 2006-03-15, Vincent said:

Ralph, here's the thing: you don't spend points to build your army. Instead, how big and mighty you build your army, compared to mine, determines how many more victory conditions you have to achieve than me in order to win.

So I need to figure out some kind of setup that's not based on spending more to buy recon.


11. On 2006-03-15, Tris said:

Playtesting in my head:

If I were the attacker I'd come through that limited perimeter at one point, to ensure concentration of force.  Does this negatively affect the game?  Would area effect of some kind reduce the tendency for me to bunch up?


12. On 2006-03-15, gains said:

Well, we are dealing with giant robots so I expect there are missle launchers and area effect weapons. If they're sufficiently powerful and cheap then bunching up could make them lambs for the slaughter.


13. On 2006-03-15, Walt said:

It will be interesting to see if implementing these rules makes the setup phase so critical to the outcome that the actual battle becomes redundant. Some otherwise excellent board games have this quality—once the iniital placement procedure is finished, you can often look at the board and make a pretty accurate prediction of who's going to win. Risk, and some of the Settlers variants, are examples of this. It's not necessarily a flaw, but it does change the nature of the game in ways you might not want in this case. (Continue a lot farther in that design direction, and you'll have Go.)


14. On 2006-03-15, gains said:

The board is also created in setup for the game, so differing terrains will mean differing possible strategies. Risk is pretty static. You know how many paths there are to Africa.

My brother and I made strategic cover placement at set-up a big part of our WH40K games. He kept me from having straightaways for my Orkies to charge him, and I grabbed tall stuff so he couldn't use direct fire weapons until my Big Mob rounded the hill.


15. On 2006-03-15, Ninja Monkey J said:

Walt, that would be a critical failure in the design of this game. Also, I think Risk sucks. There, I've said it.

This interferes with my "I set up, you place first" technique. Unless the person with the fewest points sets up the field?

There are no area effect weapons in the game. That's because it's about heroic combat. The closest thing that could happen is that, in hand-to-hand, a model could throw an enemy into another model, knocking them both down (which we've never made explicit, V., but I think that's how it should work)


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16. On 2006-03-15, Vincent said:

I don't think it matters who sets up the terrain, as long as everybody likes it before the game starts. My choice would be to have everyone build the terrain together - failing that, one person build the terrain beforehand - without knowing what anybody else's army is like. Thus, without knowing who's going to be defending or where; thus, motivated to have equally good-and-bad terrain everywhere.

But, heroic combat? The reason I don't have area effect weapons is because either a) there has to be some fiddly reason why area effect weapons aren't as good for targeting one mech as non-area weapons, or else b) every weapon's going to be area effect, because there's no downside, and that makes extra fiddling at I-shoot-you-time. Either way, too fiddly.


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17. On 2006-03-15, Valamir said:

Vincent spaketh: "Ralph, here's the thing: you don't spend points to build your army."

Sure you do.  You just call the points Mechs and Dice instead of points and you let the players spend as many as they want and penalize them on the victory side.

Possibility #1:  Create a third category...Mechs, Dice, and Recon Levels.  Modify Victory Points for Recon Levels taken as you would for Mechs and Dice.

Possibility #2:  Treat "Recon Levels" as Mechs.  You have 6 mechs with 3 Recon Levels, victory points are calculated as if you had 9 Mechs.

Possibility #3:  Designate Mechs as "on Recon" with each "on Recon" Mech being a Recon Level.  You have 6 Mechs with 2 on Recon, victory points are calculated as if you had 6 Mechs...but you only start with 4 and the other 2 who were "on recon" arrive later.

In each case the "Find" step would be a function of comparing the Recon Levels taken as part of your force and compared as noted above.

Note: I offer these possibilities not because I think the idea is the cat's meow (though I have gotten alot of mileage out of it) but just to illustrate that "points by any other name" can accomplish the same end result.

BTW:  The one great advantage your dual point system of looking at Mechs and Dice has over traditional army point totals is that it addresses the difference between firepower and numbers (the fuzzywuzzy effect).  Meaning there is a difference between a 20 dice force with 5 mechs and a 20 dice force with 10 mechs which your system captures where other's don't.


18. On 2006-03-15, Ninja Monkey J said:

Vincent, heroic combat is the reason there's special knocking down rules in HtH! It's the reason the number of units are small! It's the reason every mecha looks different!

I really think it's an underlying assumption of the game design that you're not thinking about because it's totally duh.

I mean, if you wanted area effect weapons, the rule's easy: you divide your damage dice between every effected hex, whether occupied or not. Fun? No! But it's exactly what area effect is for. But who wants stuff like that when you can have pilots gazing their steely eyes across the battlefield, finally seeing that paint job, and saying, "You. I'm coming for you."

The only thing I think should be there that isn't is a Vendetta rule, something like this: if one of your mecha charges straight for one of my mecha and none of your dudes shoot at my dude, you get extra dice in your combat for that fight. As soon as one of your other dudes shoots at my dude, I get those dice.


19. On 2006-03-15, Vincent said:

Ralph: ooh. #1 and #3 are both interesting. Thank you!

Per #3, recon could be measured in mech-turns, like man-hours. Say the Doomsday Clock starts at 11. 1 recon = you don't get one of your mechs until Doomsday 10. 2 recon = you don't get one of your mechs until Doomsday 9, or you don't get two of your mechs until Doomsday 10. 3 recon = 3 mechs at Doomsday 10, 1 mech at Doomsday 8, or 2 mechs in between.



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20. On 2006-03-15, Vincent said:

J: I accept your "totally duh."

Vendetta rules cross a line for me, though, for this game. They cross the line of: the mechs don't actually have pilots. Vendetta rules would work great if who's piloting which mech mattered.

Some other game.


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21. On 2006-03-16, Ninja Monkey J said:

Oh, yeah; I'm not saying they're missing because they should be there (though that might be interesting in some way in a different game, as SDL (what's your name again?) says. I'm just saying that it would make it more obvious. Then I started thinking about how to implement it, vis-??-vis our discussion about my heroic combat game.


22. On 2006-03-16, gains said:

Why am I still on about area effect weapons?

Because I hate to see my lone awesome unit bull-rushed and swamped by a dozen mooks. It's not very heroic.

There are several ways out of that though, like a single use "back off!" gun, or even an "honor duel" that forces players to pair off mechs for the heroic face-off if they want all the victory points.


23. On 2006-03-16, Tris said:

I get the fiddlyness of Area Fire.  What I struggle with is why I won't ALWAYS hit your perimeter, no matter how large or small, with a bunch of guys all grouped up together.

If there is no disadvantage to this, it stops you picking on one of my guys, and lets me fire all of those at one of your guys.

Is there ever a reason not to start my attack with loads of guys grouped up, and defeat you in detail?  If there isn't, I'm not a fan of the set up rules, because they don't seem to give me interesting and important choices to make.


24. On 2006-03-16, Vincent said:

Gains, there are no mooks in the game. Also no lone awesome units. If your guy gets bull-rushed, swamped, and taken out, that's cool, that's your opponent leaving other areas massively undefended.

Tris, in fact there are very good reasons to make your guys into an arrowhead and smash them through my perimeter. That's the starting position (or one of the starting positions) from which you and I begin to make interesting decisions.

You're both arguing about Mechaton's rules from a position of fear, based on a) having never played the game, but b) having played other, crappy, games. It's not a strong position and you should chill out.

I'm not going to promise you that you'll like Mechaton, but I DO promise you that it won't be stupidly broken.


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25. On 2006-03-16, Ninja Monkey J said:

Vincent, if I may?


Russel and Tris, I got come Battletech models when I was a kid. My cousin and I would get them, build them, and tromp around a hex map with made up rules. Games took about 45 minutes to an hour. The strategic options were poor with our rules, but the game was fun, us being 8 and 10 and strategic options being less important that stomping and smashing.

A few years later, I met someone with the published rules. The strategic options were no better, but the game took three to six times as long. Plus, it was less awesome: less kabooming and whooshing.

I've played Car Wars (a lot, actually), FASA Renegade Legion (not so much), and Warhammer 40k (rather a lot). These games are terrible, horrible blights on the very idea of a strategy wargame. For all their fiddly rules and ponderous turn lengths, they are neither realistic nor interesting. All the jazz comes in making your car, tank, mecha, and marines.

A game of Mechaton takes about two hours, has lots of shit-talkin', strategizing, awesome weapons, and cool models. The fiction matches nicely with what you see on the board, the strategies are always exciting and sometimes subtle, and the outcomes are often unexpected.

The game is going that way because Vincent (and I, actually) care about how good the game is. It's something we've both always wanted and, in fact, was the first thing we bonded over when we first saw each other after living far apart for a couple of years. It matters to us that the decisions are interesting, the action's exciting, the models look cool, and nothing crap winds up taking your attention. There are no mooks because they're lame. If there are ever mooks (we've got some mook rules that we might try out) it's because they're specialized and a liability, not because they're a good way to grind down a mecha.

As a proud playtester, I give you this pledge: Mechaton Will Not Suck.

I can say this with some confidence because it already doesn't.


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