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Subject: Adding life to the verse. My take on NPCs. UPDATE rss

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Matthew Scott
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I have been playing around with some ideas. I had tried a few moths ago with a most wanted deck and while it worked fine I thought I would try something else to see if I could get more for less.

The purpose of this idea is to spice up the game (especially for solo/two player) by allowing bounties/pirate activity and by giving the Alliance a little more of a role in the verse. I have tried to go for something that is low maintenance and does not add anything massive in terms of new mechanics.

UPDATE: Had some playthroughs and made a few changes. There are lots of little logic, spelling, grammar errors and inconsistencies but I thought I would present it with warts and all.

I decided to go with location cards as systems rather than specific planets and with each NPC having a range. It is a much simpler and more elegant this way even though logically some scenarios would seem a little silly.

I have made up the cards with some basic art and design to give people the chance to try it out if they want to. The location cards are the standard size and the NPCs are around 3.5 in by 5.75.

Note to anyone who might be interested in testisg this out with the Blue Sun and/or Kalidasa expansions. As I have neither of these expansions I am unable to see whether or not the NPCs effect the game. As such you might consider printing out two sets of the decks and drawing 2 per turn. 2 NPCs cannot occupy the same sector so redraw the second location card if you draw two of the same.

Feedback is most welcome.


Contents

Two decks: a 6 card NPC deck, location deck and 3 skill tokens (maybe a malfunction token).

Key: Purple Pentagon (skill token), Red Circle (Fight skill), Blue Circle (Tech skill), Green Circle (Negotiate skill), Red Square (Contraband), Blue Square (Cargo)

The Rules

Once per round the last player draws a new NPC and location card. That NPC is considered to be active in the region highlighted on the location card and not at a specific planet.

On a player’s turn first check the current NPC and resolve any of its automatic actions. NPCs will only engage a player once per round*. Players cannot use an NPC if not in the same system and cannot take two actions to use an NPC's abilities. Some abilities do not require an action.

During a full burn a player may fly though a system that is currently occupied by an NPC without any effects taking place**. However, if for any reason the player stops then see whether the active NPC attacks the player. NPCs will not attack players when they are at their haven, contact locations, supply planets or in the same sector as Alliance or Reaver ships.

When the NPC and location deck is depleted reshuffle and add a skill token to the NPC pool. Each skill token (maximum of 3) represents a skill level for the NPC.

The skills on each NPC card is considered its preferred skill for use in skill checks. If the NPC is blocked from using that skill it will use any other at a penalty of half (rounded up) after modifiers have been applied.

Each time an NPC is revealed it is considered to be unique. Therefore, when a new NPC has been revealed return any stolen goods to the pool and remove any captured bounties from the game.




* except for the Alliance Patrol’s “System Crackdown” ability. Even if the player enters the system for one sector then the ships range is reduced by 2.

** Therefore if a player start the round being attacked by a Raider and then finishes a fly action in the same sector, the NPC will not engage a second time.

For NPCs who have multiple options a player may only choose one.

Gear or upgrade abilities that would effect a rival will also effect an NPC.

Cards that would disgruntle the rival will instead reduce the NPC’s skill by 1.

NPCs skills cannot be reduced below 1.

When forced to use Kosherized rules an NPC’s skill in cut in half (rounded up).

For Alliance patrol “Call in a favour” special ability. If a gear or crew card grants a solid with Harken, that bonus is null if traded.




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George Krubski
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Re: Adding life to the verse. My take on NPCs.
Monty,

If you've been poking around the customs forums for a while, you probably know that there have been a few different takes on this (especially recently). Your take is interesting because it's a bit different than some of the others - if I'm interpreting it correctly, these NPCs pop up and disappear rather than moving around the board, as they do in many of the other takes.

In a sense, many of the other efforts (my own included) are closer to efforts to add "simulated players" to the board, while this is closer to a controlled yet "random" element beyond Nav Cards and Misbehaves.

(If my comments seem disjointed at all beyond this point, it's because I'm going with stuff that comes to mind as I read through your notes in order.)

You note that you want to give the Alliance more of a role in the 'Verse, especially in solo and two-player games. While I'm not opposed to that, I'm wondering if you've played the game solo with the KALIDASA expansion? I find that The Operative's Corvette is potentially the most dangerous of the NPC ships and does a lot to extend the reach of the Alliance (as do the various options for Alert tokens).

6-Card NPC Deck: I'm only counting five. What am I missing? Or does one of them double up?

So if I'm understanding it, the way this works is that you draw one of the six NPC Cards, randomly determine a location, and then, for the next round, there's basically a "zone" around that location where a particular NPC ability is in effect?

Have you tried this out yet? If so, I'm curious how often the NPC is anywhere near the player(s). It's a pretty big 'Verse out there, and it would seem to me that the chances of an NPC being near the player(s) is pretty slim, and it being a relevant NPC at the time would be slimmer still.

On the location deck: Is a reshuffle card necessary? Given that the average game lasts 20 rounds or so and I think there are 40+ locations, the chances of getting to the bottom of the deck (reshuffle aside) are pretty much impossible, so introducing a reshuffle card seems to just be introducing a complication.

Quote:
-All the skills have been put at 2/4/6 with a range of 1/2/3 for the time being. They will change in a later iteration.


I'm not sure what this means. Are you saying that each time you go through the NPC deck, you move to the next "bracket," so the first time an NPC shows up, it has a skill of 2 and a range of 1, the second time, it has a skill of 4 and a range of 2, etc?

If this is the case, I'd like to point out two numeric peculiarities. First, the game averages 20 rounds (perhaps a little bit less with some of the elements of BLUE SUN and KALIDASA properly implemented). If my speculation is correct:

Rounds 1-6: NPC strength 2, range 1
Rounds 7-12: NPC strength 4, range 2
Rounds 13-18: NPC strength 6, range 3
Rounds 19+: What happens?

Related to this: in most of the games I've played, most players attempt to build up their crew early in the game. Typically, this process is complete somewhere between turns 6 and 10. By this point, most folks will have at least one skill in the 6-7 range, quite possibly more. Based on what I've seen as typical progression, players will very likely outpace NPC strength through much of the game, until POSSIBLY the most powerful iteration, after which the players have stopped building up and the NPCs continue to ramp up somewhat.

This response has gotten a little longer than I expected, so I'll address the individual NPCs in a later post.
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Matthew Scott
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Re: Adding life to the verse. My take on NPCs.
Thanks Gwek for taking the time to read and give some feedback. Much appreciated. I did come across some of the other variants (including yours) but just wondered if I could whip up something that was a little lighter.

Point by point:

Quote:
if I'm interpreting it correctly, these NPCs pop up and disappear rather than moving around the board, as they do in many of the other takes


Bingo! I played with the doing it other ways but got bogged down somewhat. Especially when there are other players the last thing I want to be doing is playing 2 ships. This gets rid of alot of the thought process; flip the NPC card and location and away.

Quote:

You note that you want to give the Alliance more of a role in the 'Verse, especially in solo and two-player games. While I'm not opposed to that, I'm wondering if you've played the game solo with the KALIDASA expansion? I find that The Operative's Corvette is potentially the most dangerous of the NPC ships and does a lot to extend the reach of the Alliance (as do the various options for Alert tokens).


I don't have the two bigger expansions yet but I am familiar with the Corvette. This is in part why I am unhappy with what I currently have. Depending on whether or not a player is friendly with Harken, the way I envision the alliance frinedly NPC is as an ally or a nuisance. I just use generic tokens to represent the alert tokens.

Quote:
6-Card NPC Deck: I'm only counting five. What am I missing? Or does one of them double up?


You got me! I did have a 6th but I took it out at the last minute. The balance I am going for is 2 good, 2 meanies and two which are a little mixed/unpredictable. I'll tweak it and put it back in.

Quote:
So if I'm understanding it, the way this works is that you draw one of the six NPC Cards, randomly determine a location, and then, for the next round, there's basically a "zone" around that location where a particular NPC ability is in effect?


Yes that is about right. I have not decided yet exactly what works best for the play order and exactly when the NPCs activate but a couple more play throughs should give a better idea.

I had the location cards working as either individual planets with NPCs having a range, or with each location card representing a system and the NPC is considered to be everywhere within that region. The second one is much easier to play with as it is far easier to see what areas are effected, but as the size of the sectors are quite unbalanced I went with the planets.... In the writing of this paragraph I have half convinced myself to switch back to system

Quote:
Have you tried this out yet? If so, I'm curious how often the NPC is anywhere near the player(s).


So again this comes back to the fact that I am not playing with the expanded universe. Were it all in front of me I can see the chance encounters being slim. Not one for statistics but I will have to think about the odds. That said I could imagine a deck of 12 and 2 drawn per round. Plus as the NPCs level up their range increases which makes it more likely they will cross paths with the players.

Back to the actual question, yes I have tried it out and yes the NPCs can and do come up at just the wrong time to spoil my plan. I have been raided by pirates and taken it out on the cargo ship, the middle man was useful but so far the bounty hunter had no meaningful effect. I should add that this was a solo playthrough, with another player I could see the NPCs having more effect on the game.

Quote:
Is a reshuffle card necessary?


Yes and no... mostly no. Not really a big deal but I could imagine players choosing locations because they know it won't come up again. This just makes it possible (though unlikely) that one location would come up multiple times.

Quote:
Are you saying that each time you go through the NPC deck, you move to the next "bracket," so the first time an NPC shows up, it has a skill of 2 and a range of 1, the second time, it has a skill of 4 and a range of 2, etc?


You got it right. It kind of works out as a basic level system. I did not really do a good job in writing the rules in the best way.

I was aiming for a 20 round game so 6 cards going around 3 times would end up about right. I did have a 4th level bracket but I took it out, can't remember why. But whether 3 or 4 levels there would be a cap and the NPC just remains at that skill level.

Regarding the actual numbers those will need some thought. You are absolutely right regarding how the game will pace out. I was, and still am, concerned with a pirate hammering a player early on thereby unbalancing the rest of the game. I may impose a rule about no effect on supply planets or something else to mitigate an unlucky draw before a player has had even the chance to do a full burn.

 
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Matthew Scott
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Changed the original post. Enjoy.
 
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Matthew Scott
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After a few play throughs I have made some changes.

To begin with there will now be around 36 NPC cards. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, with only 6 cards the shuffling of decks makes for tedious house keeping, the last game dragged a little and I am sure I had to shuffle around 5 times. Secondly, the first 6 or so rounds are pretty uneventful; with players mainly staying in their start position, the pirates and bounty hunters do not have much effect. Also, as the players will unlikely be outlaws or solid with Harken the Alliance patrol in those first rounds becomes a little pointless.

What I have decided to do is to layer 3 decks of NPCs. So at the beginning levels 1-3 are separated, shuffled and then stacked so level 1 is at the top. For the time being I am calling them levels but I am sure there is a better, more themeatic, phrase.

By doing it this way I can eliminate the level tokens, add control over where the stronger NPCs appear in the game and add more variety (such as reavers). It also means that I can eliminate those redundant cards that have little effect and replace them with NPCs that can entice players to set out earlier than they might otherwise have.

1 NPC at a time with the base game is too few so I imagine that with the extended map the expansion would make a fruitless addition. Luckily these NPCs are very low maintenance so adding more at a time is not a big problem. However, if you add more per round then that skews the original size of the deck. So with the deck of 36 2 per round and reshuffling the level 3s when depleted works ok. I would say to add 1 additional NPC per expansion but with a total of 4 NPCs (2 decks) at any one time I don't know how many people would be put off.

That is all for now. I have some thoughts on the locations but that can wait.

Expect an update on the cards in the next week in a more printer friendly format.
 
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Matthew Scott
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So I am playing around with different ideas to problems inherent with the system as I have set it up. The main one being that you could be on one side of the map and the NPCs appear on the other. That happens but not too frequently. This does depend on the number of NPCs drawn per round.

An alternative could be that NPCs appear in each player's current system. So effectively each player would draw an NPC at the beginning of their turn and place a marker there or put the location card next to it.

Like with the location cards the big black is left out which kind of makes sense as I imagine it would be less likely to come across life out in the middle of nowhere. Maybe there is a chance to encounter something with a dice roll of 6.

I will see if I can playtest something over the weekend.
 
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Thorfinn Skullsplitter
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Good progress. I agree the larger deck will help. You could color code the three sub decks, they could all have the same card backs, but done in different colors, or with different color borders.

What if on the first turn you draw a card. Then on turn two, you slide it over and draw a fresh one. On turn three, discard the first one, slide the second one over, and draw a fresh one. Then continue that pattern of discard, slide, draw.

So you will have two cards up at a time, but they have an expiration date. You could even have some special ones that discard after only one turn, or others that stick around for a third turn.
 
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Matthew Scott
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Scarbuck wrote:

What if on the first turn you draw a card. Then on turn two, you slide it over and draw a fresh one. On turn three, discard the first one, slide the second one over, and draw a fresh one. Then continue that pattern of discard, slide, draw.

So you will have two cards up at a time, but they have an expiration date. You could even have some special ones that discard after only one turn, or others that stick around for a third turn.


I do like this idea. I did have other ideas to make NPCs hang around a little longer but this one does the job without much extra work.

The one downside to this is it will increase the table footprint but I think I might be able to figure something out.

 
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