Cap Diebel
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Game site with print and play files:
www.cluckbot.com


This game is an entry in the BGG 2-Player Print and Play contest for 2014. This prototype has seen a good deal of playtesting in San Antonio and Austin, but I put up the PnP site only recently.

Compete in the Cluckbot Fight League International, brutal mechanical combat as popular as it is illegal. Pick a cluck model, gather your arsenal, and take to the arena! Cluckbot is a head-to-head hybrid board and card game for 2 players. Each player controls a cluck, one of 10 models, each with its own set of cards.



Objective

You have 8 turns in the pit. Clean hits earn you the judge’s favor, or stars. Guns, grapples, and other surprises damage your opponent’s armor. Your goal is to either:

Win by Elimination - Destroy all your opponent’s armor before time is up
Win by Decision - Have more stars than your opponent after all 8 turns


Components

1 Game Board
10 Cluck Figure Flats

Cards
Cluck Profile - 1 for each cluck, 10 total
Actions - 5 for each cluck, 50 total
Rushes and Grapples - 2 for each cluck, 20 total
Boosts and Gadgets - 6 for each cluck, 60 total
Conditions and Deployed Weapons - 4 for each player, 7 for select clucks, 15 total

Tokens
8 stars
12 armor/slag
1 trophy
6 charge
7 gadgets


Thanks

Thanks for your consideration. Testing and feedback are the most valuable things I hope will come from throwing my prototype into the contest. I happened upon the event when I was looking up the protocol for submitting a rulebook for review. Even just light feedback on the rulebook would be quite valuable. I wholly expect folks to shoot some holes into it, so to speak.

I will admit the there are a lot of components to this one. You can reduce the print effort by only cutting the cards for clucks you intend to test with and using coins for tokens. I already filtered out some clucks to make the download more manageable, but may post a version with all clucks. You can also print the board to letter-size paper, but expect things to get a little crowded.
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Picture time:



Early playtest at ProtoSpiel South. Had to make some drastic changes afterward, but those failures illuminated the path forward.




Later Playtest at Austin Board Game Bash - I remember that game. The first and only time a player won with her very first hit. Not possible until mid-game, and then still very unlikely.




The game setup. We prefer to play the cards on the right-hand side. Away from the tokens.




A mock-up of the board in the late game. The pit tends to get riddled with debris and gadgets, making the stakes quite high for those final few turns.
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Marco López Piñatelli
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The PnP only contains the following files:

hazard_cards.png
hazard_tiles_1.png
hazard_tiles_2.png
hazard_setup.pdf

Is that everything I need to play the game?
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That is just the hazard kit, a set of supplemental rules. The "Download the Game" picture above that links to the actual game. Click on the picture itself.

Sorry for the confusion! The down-arrow in the picture may have misdirected you. I'll fix when I get a chance.
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It's ok, I have the complete game now, thanks!
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Upcoming Refinements
This post may not make much sense to those who haven’t playtested or read the rules

I hear game designers oft repeat the wisdom that your game is ready when you are done taking things out of it. I suppose another way to put this is to be wary of mechanics that add more to the rules than to the experience. In that spirit, I like to mentally evaluate game mechanics for culling. It has been a while, but methinks we are ready for some such changes.

Mechanic - Retaliation Hits

Two clucks clashing with identical action types can trade hits at the same time:



This is fine on-occasion. Board placement of slag, gadgets, and walls mean the each cluck can suffer a very different outcome of the clash, even if they hit each-other with identical attacks.

However, the clucks are not identical. Some have advantages or disadvantages in a direct clash:


The Japanese cluck gets to strike first against most clucks head-on. The Chinese cluck is too slow to fare well head-on. Most opponents get to hit first.

The current rules state that, if your opponent gets to hit first because of a speed advantage, you can try to retaliate with your own hit afterwards, provided you are still in-range. This is good in that it allows a cluck to benefit from a speed advantage, but doesn’t completely shut the slower cluck out. It works, but there are several things I don’t like:

- The rules for the “Action” turn phase need to explicitly call out this retaliation check.
- The quicker hit often pushes the other cluck out of retaliation range, giving the player with the slower cluck something to be frustrated about.
- If one cluck deployed a gun, the quicker hit can actually push the gun-wielding cluck INTO retaliation range when they wouldn’t have been able to hit otherwise. This gives the quicker cluck incentive to actually avoid hitting. No fun.
- The rules need to explicitly disallow retaliation checks in situations when it doesn’t make sense, such as the slower cluck getting pinned or rushed up against a wall. This is a band-aid in the rulebook.

Removing the retaliation rules and just ending the “Action” phase after the first hit would simplify things, but I kept it in for balance reasons. To temper the advantages of a faster cluck.

Mechanic - Unstoppable Actions

Most clucks have one or two “Unstoppable” actions:



These can hit regardless whether the opponent picked a superior action type. This makes range the only real requirement to deliver a hit. Most of these actions are long-range guns.

Using “Unstoppable” actions has some advantages:

- They provide a “panic button” for players getting pounded in the early game, allowing players to spend some charge for chance to slow the onslaught and get their own attacks going.
- They punish clucks trying to play “keep-away” and stay out of melee range. If there truly is no reliable way to avoid a gunshot at-distance, they have reason to get back into a melee with the opponent.

However, there are several things I don’t like about it:

- Making these actions so reliable means we need to tone down the impact when they hit to keep them from breaking the game. Safe and mild. No fun.
- The few unstoppable melee actions in the game have turned out to be mildly game-breaking. Some actions are almost impossible to avoid if you start the turn up-close. Too safe for the game of calculated risk that is Cluckbot
- Another symbol on the cards and a bit more clutter in the rulebook
- It relies on the retaliation rules which, again, I’m not fond of

Possible Solution - Range-specific speed mods

On my way home from work, I thought of a possible solution to the retaliation mechanic. What if speed mods on action-hits were range-specific? Suppose a speedy cluck’s forward strike action was “quick” if the clucks were adjacent, but not if they were tangled in the same space? The speed advantage won’t work if the slower cluck is too close for comfort. It could also work the other way. Some actions would be faster up-close.

This would mean a cluck’s speed advantage relies on keeping a specific distance from the opponent. This gives the slower cluck more options to work around a speed disadvantage. This also means we no longer need the retaliation mechanic to balance slower vs. faster clucks. As soon as any hit is resolved, the action phase is over. No more need for a special rule to cut short the action phase for grapples and rushes.

With that solution in the works, how about “Unstoppable” hits? First, let’s make sure we have other means to provide a “panic button” and to punish keep-away players. Boost cards can provide more defensive options. Things that get some space from the opponent at the expense of charge or a self-inflicted condition.

As for punishing keep-away, most guns like the above example are currently “assault” actions, which means “retreat” actions could avoid gunshots without the “unstoppable” mechanic. This would make things predictable and safe for the keep-away cluck. Once we take away the “unstoppable” mechanic, we will need to diversify the guns a bit. Tie more of them to “flight” and “retreat” actions. We can also change up the flavor so that the rock-paper-scissors mechanic makes sense with long-range weapons. “Assault” weapons are straight-shot projectiles. They will hit other assault clucks and can shoot flying clucks out of the sky, but retreating clucks can duck down or take cover. “Flight” weapons are bombs with explosions that will catch retreating or flying clucks, but assaulting clucks can run under them. Finally, “retreat” weapons are rocket-propelled. They will nail assaulting clucks and their explosions will catch retreating clucks, but the rockets will soar under a flying cluck. Makes sense...by comic book logic, at least.

These modifications can still provide plenty of options to pressure keep-away clucks and allow us to make the long-range actions more powerful. Not as powerful as melee, but something more dramatic and less predictable than we have now.

Now that I wrote all this down, I’m not so certain I can have this posted by the 30th for the contest deadline. Lots of small changes in the clucks and the rulebook. Ah, well. Thanks to those of you who read all this. I suppose the PnP contest is driving improvement to the game already.
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John "Omega" Williams
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Neet concept.

Worked up a quick example of some trifold standups.

 


The back section could be used for base stats, name, flag, etc.
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Updates Made

An updated PnP package is live! If you like, you can look to a previous post describing the rationale for these changes.



Range-Specific Hit Speeds

Last version, some actions would be marked “Quick” or “Slow” to indicate how they would fare in a direct clash:



This led to some balance risks that I previously addressed with mechanics that allowed hitting back after the quicker hit resolves. It worked, but wasn’t very intuitive. Now, speed modifiers apply for specific ranges.


The Orloff’s speed penalty only applies if the opponent is adjacent, not if it is tangled with the opponent in the same space.

This makes slower and speedier clucks easier to balance without the need for clunky retaliation hit rules, which are now gone.



No More “Unstoppable” Actions

Last version, most guns and a few high-powered melee strikes were “Unstoppable”, or able to hit even if the opponent reads the action:


This would hit even if the opponent picked a "retreat" action that normally dodges "assault" actions like this one.

This provided a relatively low-risk way of pursuing an elimination victory by chipping away at the opponent’s armor or landing conditions. This helped balance decision and elimination victories, but they were so safe we needed to tone down the impact of a hit. Low-risk, low reward, low fun. The “Unstoppable” mod has been removed and all actions that previously had it have been tweaked or buffed to keep them viable:





All Clucks Available

I would normally wait and roll in more changes before putting out a new version, but the contest submission deadline looms and I haven’t time for any more changes before then. So, to sweeten the deal, this PnP package has all 10 clucks. Take the quick two-question quiz to see which clucks are for you!
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Weston Stapleton
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Wow, these late entries look so good! Great work Cap. I almost turned right around when I saw 150+ cards, but I dug a bit deeper and saw that it is less than 20 per Cluckbot. That is a little more manageable. Glad I did, because the game looks fun, and the theme is hilarious. I am slowly making my way through the rules. Man, they look good, though a bit long. I will get to play-testing this one sometime in May. Is there any 2 or 4 Clucks that you would suggest for beginners?
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Hey, thanks much. Yes, the rule book is longer than most. I felt I needed to choose between concise or robust and went with the latter. The fundamental mechanic of action cards driving movement on the board can throw traditional war/miniature game players off-kilter, so I opt for something heavier with examples. Hopefully it can keep attention long enough.

As far as beginner-friendly clucks, I demo with the Motor Jack. New players gravitate towards the Langshan Type 88, Jersey Heavy, and Shamo Robo. All these are beginner-friendly.

So long as you avoid the Indian Gizmobird and Iron Orloff on your very first playthrough, you should be fine. Pick what looks fun. My favorites are the Houdan and Pyrotech

The experience so far is that a first game takes roughly twice as long as a normal 20 minute game. A blind playtest may take an hour. Let us know how it goes!
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I took a stab at making low-ink versions of the cards, but, well, take a look:



Did your eyes glaze over a bit? The cards have always been usable by the colorblind, but upon removing details for a low-ink version, I see just how important the shades and textures were to keeping the cards readable. This low-ink version is pretty rough without larger design changes.

So, scrapping that, instead allow me to establish that you don’t need to print most of the cards to play Cluckbot. Here is the bare minimum you need to get started:

Rulebook - At least print the very last page for the symbol reference
Board - 14in x 14in is preferable, but printing to letter size paper is still workable
Cluck Cards - 2 sheets for each cluck. Each cluck has 3 “base” cards, 5 action cards, 6 boost/gadget cards, and sometimes 1 unique extra card. 14-15 total per cluck. Two clucks needed to play, naturally.
Condition Cards - The one sheet has 4 cards for each of the players

With these printed, you just need something to stand-in for tokens and the clucks on the board. 8 dimes for stars, 12 pennies for armor/slag, 1 quarter for the trophy, and other coins or bottlecaps for gadgets. Grab a couple of meeples or something for the clucks and you are ready to go.
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First off, thanks to everyone giving the prototype a look. The game site stats put game downloads in the dozens, and many more grabbing the rulebook. Cluckbot dev is a hobby for me, so I will continue work on it regardless of the contest outcome. I am doing some early prototyping for a version for mobile devices, but want to feel out interest in additional modules for the board game:

More Hazards
The hazard kit is already available for download. This adds special obstacles like mud pits, spinning blades, and flame geysers to the arena, with rules on how to semi-randomly place them. I have more hazards planned, but want to test the ones I have more.

Party Poppers - Too distracting. Conditions cannot be removed when on or adjacent
Sand Trap - Check the star well, if the # of stars is odd during response, adjacent clucks, gadgets and slag move into the space. This can clear slag for a rush opportunity. If both clucks are pulled in, they are returned to their original spaces per the normal space sharing rules.
Grille - Hot! Any slag on or adjacent to the grille clears and grants a rush opportunity against clucks adjacent to the super-hot slag, effectively giving slag extra reach.
Gravel - Clucks lose their footing if they swing without connecting here. If there was no clash this turn, opponent may move one any direction on response.
Recess Lighting - Too bright! A cluck cannot earn stars while it is in this space or from hitting the opponent while they are in this space.
Banner - Tearing the banner is embarrassing. getting forced in grants the opponent an extra star and removes the banner from play.

3-6 Player Mode
A little bit of tweaking to the base rules can make it work with more than 2 players as a team game or free-for-all scramble. The rules are written up and the arenas are there:


Yes, the 3 player arena is smaller than the 2 player arena. Yes, I realize this screws up cluck balance and all that. The way I see it, a 3-player free-for-all throws any pretense of balance out already. Better too cramped than too roomy.


For 5-6 players. That block in the middle is a raised platform that clucks can jump atop for some movement bonuses. However, getting pushed into its side allows rushdowns just like getting pushed into a wall.

I just need to test it and format for release. Need to have more repeat testers before I trot this out. It changes up the structure of the turns a bit to allow fighting multiple foes, but I hope this is a good option for folks who are want something a bit more chaotic and casual than the strict dueling.

More Clucks
10 is a good number, but there is always room for more

South Korean Jangmig Superstar - What this glam-cluck lacks in striking power, it makes up in STYLE! It fights with such flare and grace that even the judges fall under its spell.
Mexican Auto Luche - Cluckbot’s current roster lacks a lightweight, speedy cluck built around grappling. It also lacks a luchador. Two problems solved.
Malaysian Metal Malay - This cluck may not have reach or toughness, but, like the Silat masters of Southeast Asia, Heaven help you if it gets up-close. It will shred larger foes with claw, beak and wing alike, setting any foe into a panic for some breathing room.
Italian Guardian Leghorn - Whether there is any truth to the rumors this stalwart cluck was built by the Vatican, its grace under pressure is beyond reproach. Its gadgets keep the savage foe at-bay, and it can deliver devastating strikes without the need for the rushdowns and surprise boosts employed by less-sophisticated foes.
Norwegian Jaerhone Devastator - There are the bold and inventive Vikings we know from history, and there are the feral, bloodthirsty, meat-chunk Vikings we know from death metal. Guess which one the Jaerhone embodies?
Turkish Steel Sultan - With weapons and gadgets to threaten at any range and surprise boosts for any occasion, this refined cluck can turn its foe’s smallest mistake into a game-changing disaster.

League Mode
Those of you familiar with Blood Bowl or DreadBall know what this means. Start out with a couple of base clucks, form a league with your cohorts.

Evolution - As clucks gain experience, their cortex can adopt more actions and boosts. Customize your cluck to shore up weaknesses or push their strengths to the next level.
Sponsorships - Sponsors drawn randomly each match offer cash prizes if you can meet their criteria. Gaining 2 stars in the same turn, grappling and rushing in the same turn, using less than half your boosts, that sort of thing.
Mods - Spend some of your winnings to bolt on some extra weapons (rockets, spurs, etc.) or support systems (thrusters, roller skates, etc.) for an extra edge.
Damage - On the other hand, your cluck may suffer battle damage your foe can exploit until you get proper repairs.

Board Improvements
I made a decent effort at adding a spectator crowd on the board:


They look decent on their own, but look out of place on the board itself. Perhaps some texture/lighting tricks can make this work.


Whether getting feedback locally or in this forum, I am curious what might pique people’s interest.
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Updates for June - Part 1 of 3
These posts are about planned changes to Cluckbot after the door is closed on voting in the PnP contest. This post may be difficult to follow for people who haven't played the game or reviewed the rules.

Boost Cards
Boosts provide clucks a way to press advantages, recover from poorly-chosen actions, or otherwise shift the fight in their favor:


The top boost tees up some mobility for the next turn. The bottom one works the opponent into a bad spot on the board.

First problem, ugly cards. Just look at that “Impact” font. The cards are getting a design overhaul with boosts arranged in pairs that make some modicum of thematic sense:



Anyway, these cards are core to the game. The current rules are, in short:
- You have six boost cards total
- You can have two of these cards, any two you choose, in your hand to use during your turn
- Once you use a boost card, it is out of the game

This has worked as intended. Players have secret cards in-hand that can turn otherwise innocuous turns into dramatic events or foil an opponent’s plans. However, in playtesting some drawbacks have come to light:

- Choosing 2 boost cards at the start of each turn eats into game time, even for more experienced players
- Some players can get into “analysis paralysis” choosing boosts
- Looking over boost cards in-hand during the turn disrupts the game’s flow

The process of choosing boosts needs smoothing out. I used to have players only draw boosts from the top of their card stack, but players found this too limiting as it kept them from getting what they really wanted in a pinch. Making all the boost cards available from the start isn't a good option, either. That would make the “analysis paralysis” problem worse and would make it too easy for players to counter daring surprises from their opponent. Opening up so many options from the start would effectively reduce meaningful choices.

Solution - Arming boosts each turn
To fix this, we need to go back to drawing boost cards from the top, but address the problem of users getting stuck with boosts the don’t need. Let’s try a system of “arming” boosts. When players reveal their action cards at the start of each turn, they also take the top boost card from their pile and put into play, where it remains until used. Simple. Just a couple of supporting notes and rules to put in to make this work:
- Note in game setup to arrange the boost cards in a pile in an order of the player’s choosing
- During the “Prepare and Commit” phase, players may look at the top boost card in their pile. They may may choose to discard these top cards to reach a card they want. Discarded boost cards are out of the game, but remain face-down.

Advantages:
- The “commit” phase is simpler and faster. No more digging through the boost cards
- Better for new players to avert “analysis paralysis” and make things less intimidating. Taking boosts partially out of their control for their first game gives them less to worry about and something to blame if they lose.
- No cards in-hand during the turn. Everything that can be played is already face-up

Drawbacks:
- Boost cards are no longer secret once the action starts on the board. This isn’t a huge drawback as the players have already chosen their action when the boost is revealed
- Players can really hurt themselves with a poorly-chosen order of boost cards in their stack. In that situation, a player would need to sacrifice cards to get to what they want

It is a promising enough mechanic to go with for a round of playtests.

www.cluckbot.com
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Updates for June - Part 2 of 3
Updates for June - Part 2 of 3

These posts are about planned changes to Cluckbot after the door is closed on voting in the PnP contest. This post may be difficult to follow for people who haven't played the game or reviewed the rules.


“Open” Condition
Condition cards are essentially “debuffs” you can throw onto the opponent to put them at a disadvantage in later turns:


The description is for the “victim”, the cluck suffering the condition.

Some clucks inflict unique conditions, but there are 4 “core” ones:
Dazed - If both clucks choose the same action type, the non-dazed cluck wins out as though they picked a superior action. Imagine a round of rock-scissor-paper where you would win against someone marked this way when you both pick “rock”.
Flat-footed - The opponent gets a free move any direction at the start of the turn against the flat-footed cluck. Useful for escaping danger or closing distance for a surprise grapple.
Staggered - Forced movement (pushing and repelling) against the staggered cluck gets upgraded, making it much, much easier to put them in a terrible position on the board if you can land your hits.
Open - An “Open” cluck can get hit by the opponent’s attack even if they choose an inferior action. Normally, picking a superior action allows you to avoid the opponent’s hit.

I am very happy with the first three. They really put the victim in-check without shutting them down completely and provide the aggressor a way to shore up their odds of a big hit when it counts most.

The “Open” condition, however, has been messy and problematic:


Ugh

It creates a situation where hitting one-another simultaneously is common. Messy. It also allows setups where the victim has no way of avoiding the incoming hit at all. I am all for players being able to narrow their opponent's options with a clever setup, but not to such an extreme.

Instead. we are going to try using the “Open” condition to reward clever positioning:



This gives the aggressor options if there was no action-hit during the next turn. This makes thematic sense. If you spot a flaw in your opponent's defense, you gotta still worry about their offense before you can exploit it. Neither of the benefits is huge, but the option to choose whichever best suits their strategy and position is powerful in-itself. It also provides a way to “open up” a passive opponent.

This is a very different effect than we have now, so we will need to rework what clucks inflict this condition and how.

www.cluckbot.com
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Updates for June - Part 3 of 3
Updates for June - Part 3 of 3

These posts are about planned changes to Cluckbot after the door is closed on voting in the PnP contest. This post may be difficult to follow for people who haven't played the game or reviewed the rules.

Deployable Subweapons
Cluckbot has always had “subweapons” as a way to squeeze damage or other nastiness in between actions. They were originally in the form of boosts with charge costs:


Submachinegun Burst. In-range, pay charge, do damage.

Problem was, these were a no-brainer during play. They were easy to set up and paying one charge for one damage is always worth it. Playtesters always, always used them as soon as possible. There was almost no reason not to. I wanted these to work more like fireballs in Street Fighter, where they work just as much to control space as they do to inflict damage. The victim needed some warning and opportunity to respond so that we can keep these options powerful and worthwhile.

In the current version of Cluckbot, the subweapons are "deployed" and work like condition cards:


You have one turn to get out of range while your opponent tries to keep you in-range.

This has been OK mechanically. The opponent has some warning it is coming and can take steps to avoid the shot if they are so inclined. The card also “wears off” like a condition, so it isn’t some constant threat every turn. They also plug into the same rules for conditions, making this easy to include rules-wise.

The main problem with this, too many cards flying around. Deploying a subweapon requires using the appropriate boost card to bring it into play. So we are playing a card to play a card, and said card will only take effect next turn. Not enough immediacy. So, how can we give players a way to bust out some weaponry but still give victims some reasonable recourse?

Escape Options
An answer lies in something I have avoided until now, escape options. That is, let’s treat the subweapon like any other boost card that can stay out and ready. However, the victim has an escape option they can choose instead of taking the hit:


The victim can choose to get pushed and knocked off-balance, representing their hasty dodge of the incoming shots.

This can be a very elegant solution. In many situations, the escape option is very safe, but the aggressor can time their shot when the escape option is WORSE for the victim than just taking the hit, such as when the victim’s back is near a wall or nasty gadget. This also means fewer cards to wrestle with. The drawback? Another game rule. It is a simple rule, though, and probably a worthwhile one.

www.cluckbot.com
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