Context: Divergent Thought
(Dear me, I've not updated 3Dtotal or TPO this week. Travelling to events to playtest wrecks havoc on my update schedule. I'll have to do something more game design theory oriented early next week)
I've experimented with some of the ideas that I talked about last week and the results are better than I could have hoped! I'm definitely going to develop the game in a many versus one monster hunter style game.
The main change needed to make the rebuild successful was to re-engineer the character profiles to fit the new environment. The main heroes needed to be a little more squishy, so that a few good attacks from a dragon would be fatal to anyone. Positioning needed to become more important, such that facing off against a monster would require some degree of teamwork from the hunters. The monster itself needed a wider variety of attacks, mixing a larger volume of weak attacks with a smaller quantity of absolutely devastating ones - to keep the battle flowing at an interesting pace. Defences also needed a bit of rebalancing to make attacking the beast in different ways feel like a real decision rather than an obvious optimal choice.
With respect to the facing issue I've come to a compromise solution that I think improves the game tremendously: The monster has facing but the hunters do not. It makes a lot of intuitive sense, if you ever see movies or other media with a hero fighting a huge monster, the hero tends to be able to turn on a dime while the megabeast is more lumbering. Allowing a hero to nip around the back and make a strike while the beast takes time to turn to face feels right. It also captures everything that I wanted the system to - it's meaningful to try to get back strikes and you can get something out of surrounding an opponent - but it's not hugely encumbering to the game because you're only tracking the facing of one model.
A lot of this then fed into another change: By default models are no longer able to move and attack. This makes the game much faster, makes positioning a bit more important and adds a little diversity to the game by allowing the new rule to be occasionally broken. For instance the dragon has an attack in which it charges forwards, gaining an extra die for each space it covers, but can only attack directly in front of it and may (if denied opponents to its front) simply end up running into a wall for no effect.
While testing it became apparent that the existing mechanisms of the game lend themselves to an enemy AI incredibly easily. Drawing a card already indicates which move/attack pairing the dragon will have access to this round - it's a relatively minor matter to add an extra line to each one saying things like "Attack if two or more enemy models are in range, otherwise make the move that maximises the number of enemies in range for next turn". This turned the game into a frankly enjoyable solo experience that nearly ended my progress for the day as I wound up playing over and over to beat the damn thing.
It's important for me not to lose sight of the multiplayer aspect though, while an AI can make decisions for the megabeast, the megabeast player should still have interesting decisions to make if they are a human. If things keep going so well I'll have to arrange some games with other players soon.
As I played on, various UI optimisations were developed too. There's nothing like playing a game for finding all of the friction and looking for new ways to improve it. Needing to run both sides quickly gave way to wanting to get entire side lists onto a single side of A4 - which proved eminently doable once I set my mind to it. I like the idea that monster or hunter building can literally be copy-pasting blocks onto a page until it's full.
I've not had a chance to play with that faction building stuff yet though. So far I'm experimenting with fixed sides. I look forwards to re-introducing all of the things that were in the skirmish build.
I also realised that while I'm designing the game for commonly available components that anyone might have, that doesn't oblige me to play on them. I have a lot of fun playing the game on a chessboard, but ultimately any 8x8 grid serve just as well. It seemed like a good excuse to crack open the old dungeoncrawling terrain and make the thing look a bit more awesome.
Appearance plays second fiddle to gameplay in my eyes, but there's still something nice about running the fight somewhere that looks a bit more thematic. Perhaps if this thing takes off I'll develop some printable overlays down the line - but that's not my primary development priority at the moment. I need to increase the variety of megabeasts available, because at the moment I think my faction balancing is going to be thrown out by there just being one. The zombie master team does poorly against something that can throw out a large area breath weapon that's good against multiple slow moving opponents - I like the idea that hunters will have different strengths and weaknesses - but to make that come to the fore I'll need enemies that interact with those strengths and weaknesses to give each their time to shine and their moments of terror.
In any event, things are going well. At this rate I could be looking at playtesting it with other human beings as early as next month