2009-04-08 : The Mechaton Campaign Rules

Over on Mechatonic, Malcolm nails it: The Sickness of Campaigning. Nails it! In our last game, you could see the petty rules arguments moving beneath the surface, and only our 3 friendships and good will kept them down there. The Mechaton campaign rules are killer.

I'm proud of them. They ratchet the tension like insane, and the math that makes them do it is sharp. They are very sound rules.

But if 9 campaigns out of 10 end prematurely because they stress their players out, are they good rules?

(9 out of 10 is just a guess. So far it's been 1 out of 1. By the summer, will it be 1 out of 3, 2 out of 3, or 3 out of 3? I don't know. I'd put $5 down on 3 out of 3, though.)

1. On 2009-04-08, David Artman said:

So, the basic "problem" is that desires for long-term victory are causing the game to be less of a beer & pretzels lark and something in which the player(s) become emotionally invested?

I'd say that's a non-problem (or, to get jargoney, a breakdown in creative agenda). If the campaign makes individual battles "matter" to the players, that's a GOOD thing. If its inherent competition is making players no have fun, that's only bad in as much as they don't have a "win" agenda (or don't like how they feel or behave when there is one).

A possible parallel: a poker game played for jelly beans is almost zero tension because there's almost zero stakes. A poker game played with unlimited buy-in and $10 ante and $20 minimum bets becomes very tense—folks get REAL serious about rules and proper play—because of the stakes. Unless it's millionaires playing at a country club, in which case that's the same as jelly beans, in terms of marginal utility.

Long story short: if you care about winning, that's a good thing. If you want a game in which no one loses, don't play competitive minis, with or without a campaign mechanic that can have boosting or hamstringing virtuous or vicious cycles. As far as "should" the rules be art of Mechaton Rebuilt? Of course. Just add a "designer's notes" disclaimer or advice about how it ramps up the tension and the consequences of loss.


2. On 2009-04-08, Robert Bohl said:

David might be right. I used to play Magic the Gathering every week with friends. MtG is a game people make money playing. Our games were relatively low-stakes, but often I would get far more stressed out than the rest of my play group. I hate competing with my friends because I'm very competitive and it winds up opening a rift in our friendship. These rifts are usually small and brief but when I played MtG, I always preferred to play team games as a result.

It's probably just a play preference thing. Plenty of people love to be competitive with their friends.


3. On 2009-04-08, Vincent said:

Oh David, yeah, no, don't worry that I'm going to drop these rules from the book. I'm bragging.

I'm also thinking that now I really should design another set of campaign rules, like I've always said I would. Finding that these rules are the Mechaton equivalent of unlimited buy-in and a $20 minimum bet gives me an impetus to follow through on that.


4. On 2009-04-08, Ben Lehman said:

Consider having an escalating number of objectives, (and perhaps even escalating number, or escalating value, of the special objectives) so the total point value for each game increases over play.


5. On 2009-04-08, Mantisking said:

Now I'm reeeaaally looking forward to the new edition of Mechaton.


6. On 2009-04-08, Valamir said:

Escalating point values is a good idea.

History of the World is one of my favorite games.  A bunch of epochs, you score points in each epoch...but by the end of the game, the points you scored in the first epoch are almost meaningless.  They're so small to begin with that the difference between best and worst player in Epoch 1 is usually only a small fraction of the point difference by the end of the game.

What this allows is the first epoch to be essentially a teaching turn.  The point values then increase through play at roughly the rate of player skill learning (or remembering) how to play well.

HotW is also a great example of the danger of this as well.  The points in the last Epoch can be so big that some games pretty much come down to who does best in the last turn...which can be kind of a bummer, so that's something to watch too.


7. On 2009-04-08, Vincent said:

Oh, I know an easy way to do that. (But it's not flexible, so if it doesn't happen to hit right, it's scrapsville.) My worst math teacher ever scored our weekly quizzes this way, because he was super lazy and didn't care.

At the end of each battle, your score = average(this battle's vp, previous score).

In other words, each battle counts toward your campaign victory as much as all the previous battles did put together. The final battle counts for half of your final score.

That guy sucked.


8. On 2009-04-08, Simon C said:

I blogged about my own opinions here:


9. On 2009-04-08, Vincent said:

10. On 2009-04-08, Callan said:

As I noted in that blog, I think it's burgeoning gamism without much of a developed notion of gamist honour.

The petty rules arguements come from wanting to win, but not having a shared notion of enjoying following rules for the honour of it (each rule is like a hurdle to jump. The more you jump, more honour for having done so (or even a bit of honour for having the guts to try))

When you just insist people follow little rules not because it's be gamist honour fun for them, but because they have to whether it's fun or not, just so you can win, that sucks. It has to be layered in gamist honour - you can't just dip into gamism 'a bit', it has to be layered in honours and recognitions. Or it's a bunch of anal, petty penny pinching transactions and sucks. The honour, dear boy, the honour!


11. On 2009-04-09, David Artman said:

RE Increasing rewards - I'd make that a sort of "toggle" or option for campaign play, for the very reason pointed out by Ralph (and Vincent's math teacher): too much endgame reward. The early "training rounds" idea could be captured with something as simple as Skins (golf): first couple of battles are for 1x VPs, the next several are for 2x VPs, the last couple are for 3x VPs (if there's not already a mathematical certainty of victory—though that makes a sort of "narrative" out of desperate fighting to the end versus the ethics of pounding an already beaten force).

RE Gamism and honor - My basic take on that would be that following the rules is an aspect of honor, and attention to rule minutiae is a factor of (a) having the most level playing field (FAR more important, to gamist play) and (b) avoiding any excuses by the vanquished (e.g. "damned refs gave 'em the game!"). So if folks are finding minutiae unfun... well, either they haven't gotten the rhythm of play yet (where it all becomes automatic) or they don't much care if the playing field stays level. In either case, there's not much call for folks being anal penny-pinchers; and anyone who does is is clearly coming from another agenda (call it Extreme Gamism versus Meh-Whatever Gamism). And never forget that, as an agenda, competition ultimately is about gaining social recognition. If one is dickish to win, well, that sort of defeats the purpose of playing to win (almost as much as cheating does).


12. On 2009-04-09, valamir said:

Vincent, that's indeed an easy way of scoring the points.

Its not much harder to come up with any other ratio you want.  So say you only want the final battle to be worth 1/4 of your total score instead of 1/2.  You then just average your current battle score with your previous score x3.

So you can fiddle with that ration all you want to make it feel right, without adding too much complexity to the scoring system...especially if its built right into the scoreing sheet.


13. On 2009-08-22, Kilodyne said:

One of the things I keep looking into is the development of a set of additional rules that would encourage more development of fiction around some of the key individuals involved in battles.

My first ideas revolved around crating a list of pilots that could level-up after surviving a conflict. I know this has been discussed previously, and I agree that it must be done carefully to avoid some serious balancing issues. I was able to come up with a few ideas for minimizing the balancing impact, but I find tracking pilots and levels and creating fiction for that many people may become a bit tedious.

My current explorations revolve around a 'hero' system where during campaign setup each player would create a hero with a 'special power' (such as a constant +1 to HtH rolls, or maybe a one time roll 2 extra white dice, etc*) that exemplifies the standards of the army.  The presence of the hero could be balanced by an event should the hero fall in battle, something like -1 to all white die rolls until the end of the next full turn due to loss of morale. The player could choose for each battle whether or not to deploy the hero.

I haven't had much of a chance to play test this idea as I'm having a little bit of trouble getting regular games planned.  Has anyone used a system like either of these with success?

* no special powers have been play tested for appropriate balance.


14. On 2009-08-24, Vincent said:

I don't know anyone who's played with those kinds of rules yet. J and I tossed around a couple of ideas along those lines, but they never solidified enough to play them.

If anybody has, speak up!


15. On 2010-04-04, Darrin Bowers said:

Anything moving forward on this Vincent?


16. On 2010-04-04, Vincent said:



17. On 2010-09-26, Mr Weasely said:

> But if 9 campaigns out of 10 end prematurely because they stress their players out, are they good rules?

What if campaign rules never get finished because playtesting stresses the game designer out? ;)


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