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Subject: [WIP] Code Zero, skirmish miniatures game rss

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Janis Sweek
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Code Zero is a 32mm miniatures game which simulates skirmishes and combat set within a sci-fi universe. Players take control of a small squad of troops, broken up into fireteams, competing with each other to achieve one or several objectives to complete their mission. These combat situations take place within a theater of war, on the borders along the core worlds of various factions. This area is often referred to as Code Zero.

Code Zero is designed to create a cinematic feel of gameplay, while reflecting the dynamic ebb and flow of the battle that can happen within any given engagement. The game systems utilizes an action/reaction system that allows both players to interact in a method to keep everyone entrenched with the battle and interacting with each other. By allowing a limited amount of activations between turns, it reflects a great amount of realism and flexibility, providing players with a wide variety of tactical and strategic options that they can employ during the game.

We are on Kickstarter here to currently to expand the miniatures line, the rules for the game are still in process.

Code Zero originally evolved from a card game design that was similar to some popular TCG (Trading Card Games). The players gain X resources a turn, these resources are used to do actions and other players react to those actions. From there we evolved that into a miniatures skirmish game, keeping with the action/reaction system. From the brief description it can sound similar to other popular miniatures game with similar systems, but the experience is much different. The main focus of the game becomes almost like a chess match, where one player’s actions can have more of an impact or interaction with the other player. The game has a good ebb and flow, with the back and forth between players putting the strategy more on timing and maneuvering.

You can download the Alpha Rules here. Keep in mind these rules are not complete nor are they in their final version. Rules are added as we roll out additions, updates. There are some parts missing from this doc as this was a compilation of mostly to test layout and design of the rule book.

Units and Army

A unit can refer to a single individual hero model, to a fireteam or squad as a whole. The players will be commanding 1-2 squads that are made up of fireteams. Players select a point value to build with, that is your currency to create your amy. Pick your faction, pick your heroes and then your fireteams without going over the point value.

Hero: Hero models are commanders or elite characters that have a rank allowing them to command units. They typically have a rank of Lieutenant, Sergeant and Corporal which determine how many fireteams they can command. You can field multiple unique heros but you do have to assign one as your main Commander.

Fireteam: A fireteam is made up rank and file units that make up the backbone of your army. The faction and fireteam determine the maximum amount you can field in that fireteam. A minimum of 3 units, usually to a maximum of 5.

Initiative

Players roll for initiative, the winner determines if they want to choose which player has the first turn or which player deploys first.

Deployment

Players deploy their army by alternating, Player A deploying then Player B, back and forth until all units have been deployed. Player A deploys 1-2 units within their deployment zone, then Player B deploys 1-2 units. They continue alternating until all units have been deployed.

Game Sequence

The game is divided into 8 turns, with each turn consisting of three phases: Start Phase, Player Phase, End Phase. During the Start Phase, abilities, status effects and triggers that say "At Start of Turn" resolve. Then we move to the Player Phase, both players alternate between the Active and Reactive Player roles. Finally the End Phase, this is usually a cleanup but there are some abilities and effects that state "At End of Turn" which would resolve then.

Start Phase
Player Phase

- Round A: Player 1 Active Player, Player 2 Reactive Player
- Round B: Player 2 Active Player, Player 1 Reactive Player
- Round C: Player 1 Active Player, Player 2 Reactive Player
- Round D: Player 2 Active Player, Player 1 Reactive Player (and so forth until no more AP to spend)
End Phase

Activation Points

Activation Points are generated based on the unit type. Heroes generate 1 AP, while fireteams (3-5 models) generate 3 AP. A squad of 10 miniatures could consist of 2 heroes and 2 fireteams (4 models each). The 2 heroes generate 2 AP and the 2 fireteams generate 6 AP for a total of 8 AP. The Activation Points are what allows a player to activate a unit so they can move, shoot, etc.

Action/Reaction System

Some popular games action/reaction involves IGO-UGO with action/reaction. We built the system with a action/response system based at certain trigger points. There are two opportunities for a Reactive Player to respond.

The Active Player spends an AP and chooses a unit to activate, this can be a single hero or a whole fireteam. After they declare their action it creates a Trigger Point, this is the first opportunity that the Reactive Player can choose to respond. The Reactive Player response can be to Steal Initiative by spending 1AP to activate one of their own units, which would resolve their actions first. The Active Player could also choose to respond and spend an additional AP to activate a second unit in response to the Reactive Player's Trigger Point. This can only be done once per round.

Most units can only be activated twice in a turn. You place the AP token next to the unit when you activate it the first time with the green side up. The second time it is activated, the AP token is flipped over to red side. Any additional activations will give it “Fatigue” status which reduces their abilities. A player can also only activate up to two units in a round, if they choose to activate an additional unit, that unit will gain “Fatigue” status.

The second opportunity that a Reactive Player can respond is when the second Trigger Point is created. If a Active Player's unit moves within line of sight of the Reactive Player's unit then the Reactive Player can choose to respond. It doesn't require them to spend an AP, there are only a few responses they can make and they don't get access to their full rate of fire.
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Janis Sweek
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Part 1- Playing the Game: Introduction

Miniatures are great to collect, paint and have but at the same time they really shine when you have a rule system to go with them. We have already established the baseline for our lore, history for the environment and the universe that the game takes place in. Now it needs some rules to go with the story. I have covered various parts of game design and our process in a couple blogs, here I’ll start with the basic outline we created. This outline was a list of things that we knew we wanted the game to incorporate and do.

Code Zero originally evolved from a card game design that was similar to some popular TCG (Trading Card Games). The players gain X resources a turn, these resources are used to do actions and other players react to those actions. From there we evolved that into a miniatures skirmish game, keeping with the action/reaction system. From the brief description it can sound similar to other popular miniatures game with similar systems, but the experience is much different. The main focus of the game becomes almost like a chess match, where one player’s actions can have more of an impact or interaction with the other player. The game has a good ebb and flow, with the back and forth between players putting the strategy more on timing and maneuvering.

Game Outline

Skirmish Game
-- Scaleable games, utilizes a small amount of miniatures (5 models) but able to handle squad based games (15-30 models).
-- A Squad is made up of 1-3 fireteams which consist of 3-5 models per fireteam.
-- Squad commanded by a hero who is a ranked commander like a Lieutenant or Sergeant.
-- For every squad you can have up to 2 Lieutenants or Sergeants (single models).
-- Uses D10
-- Game play should have a cinematic feel to combat and movement.

Activation Point System
-- Activations Points are utilized to activate units. AP is generated based on unit type. Single units generate 1AP, while fireteams generate 3AP.
-- Activation allows 2 short actions or 1 long action.
-- You can’t use all activations on just one or two units, but you aren’t limited to only one activate per unit.
-- Units can usually be activated up 2 times in a turn, otherwise they gain a negative status trait “Fatigue”.
-- Alternate Activation but don’t just limit it to 1 activation per round.
-- Ability to steal initiative.

Campaign / Scenario System
-- Missions are about achieving objectives, not simply wiping out the other player.
-- Scenario is a basic one shot game that most game systems use.
-- Campaign is a set of 3-5 scenarios.

Right now the outline can seem similar to other games out there with some minor changes. We will need to better define how it is different. But before we jump into that, we need to take a step back.

Taking A Step Back

“Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” - James Baldwin

Paraphrased the same saying goes, “You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.”

Instead of jumping into things, it is good to take a step back to examine other game systems or moreso the negatives of some of those mechanics. This understanding will help create an outline and goals for what we want to accomplish.

There are many mechanics that make up a game, even a simple game can have multiple layers. For that reason we want to break it up into more manageable pieces. For this segment we’ll focus on game size, initiative, deployment, and objectives.

6’x6’ gaming table is a large table, most dining room tables are either 6’x4’ or 4’x4’. If the game surface is too big, it then becomes less accessible to the average person and requires a more specialized play surface. Too large of an area for a small game means wasted space, also more expensive to get terrain to properly cover the table effectively.

For many games initiative and deployment usually go hand in hand. Players have a roll-off, with the winner choosing to deploy or go first. There are a couple variations of this, but they all still put a strong position on winning the roll. Either going first and/or having first pick of a better deployment zone can have a huge impact on the game. Not just simply choosing a better spot but also knowing how to properly deploy. If a player is going second, they make a mistake deploying, then it becomes even harder to come back from, which can lead to a poor game experience. If the game doesn’t have objectives, then the goal is usually wipe out the opposing force.There are subtle differences between systems but mistakes cascade negatively on themselves.

That is a simplifying it a bit but it explains the general outline and why we wanted to make some changes.

Code Zero Game Setup

Code Zero can play on a 6’x4’ game table but ultimately it is designed to work with a 4’x4’. We did some testing with 3’x3’ games but they tend to be short but lack room to allow effective maneuvering of units. 4’x4’ was a good middle ground between the large game table and small game area.

The game does require terrain but having an effective, dynamic game table with terrain doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. There are many inexpensive options from laser cut terrain, board/card terrain or simply just creating your own buildings. It only takes a little imagination, some time and paint to make a good looking and effective game table. Most of the terrain we suggest are buildings, crates, and walls since battles tend to take place in populated or city environments.

You usually want terrain to block line of sight, requiring units to move around instead of simply shooting at each other across the table. A good basis to start with is to have a minimum of eight big terrain pieces and 6 small pieces of terrain. We suggest having a asymmetric table, meaning that both sides are not identical. This creates an artificial imbalance by giving an advantage to one side of the table over another.



Objectives, Scenarios and Campaigns

The game is Objective based. There is a public objective that both players are trying to accomplish as well as private objectives only known to them. We use an Objective Deck that is shuffled up. The first card is flipped which becomes the Primary Objective that both players are trying to achieve. The players then each draw 3 cards and keep 1 of them, creating their Secondary Objective. This is a private objective only known to them, until it is accomplished and then it is revealed. This can have an additional impact on how players deploy their units.

Some objective examples: Hacker Infiltration, Locate the Admin, Rescue Unit, First Blood, Forward Observation, Sabotage, Data Retrieval, Terminate, Infection, Assassinate, Rescue Hostage, Implant False Data, and Aggressive Deployment.

If you are only playing 1 short game, we consider that a Scenario. It is a basic one shot game, achieve the objectives and then get to the extraction point to get out or eliminate the other team. This would probably be considered more of a casual game environment. In order to create a wider range and importance about decisions we also added a Campaign system.

A Campaign is a set of 3-5 scenarios. You have a higher battle value to create your army with. However it places an importance on heroes, fireteams that are destroyed can be replaced in other scenarios but heroes can’t. The goal is to win the majority of points within the scenarios to get the most points and win the campaign. The campaign setting would be considered a tournament environment as that is the setting it was designed for. Someone could lose a scenario or two but still win the campaign depending on their points. However surviving becomes important as you only have X amount of points for all the scenarios in that campaign. As you lose units, you use up those points to where you might not be able to replace lost units.

Initiative and Deployment

Now that the game table is setup, objectives have been chosen. We need to look at how we handle initiative, deployment and their relationship with the rest of the game. Players will roll against each other for the Initiative Roll. The winner will then get to choose between “Activating First” or “Deploying First”.

We have an asymmetric table setup, which puts reliance on someone wanting to have first pick to deploy. We have also chosen the objectives, one is public so we at least know the main thing both players are working towards. The secondary objective is private, one chosen to suit that players strike force, play style and table. That can impact if they still want to deploy first or activate first.

How can we lessen the impact of losing the initiative roll as well deploying badly?

Objectives was a small step into lessening the impact. Players can win based on points even by only achieving the secondary objective but without knowing the other players secondary objective, they have that same opportunity. We added a type of reaction called “Steal Initiative” which is tied into the Action/Reaction system we’ll get to later, but this softens against not going first.

Traditionally games deploy in a IGO-UGO fashion, where the player that wins deployment deploys their whole army. Then the opposing players deploy. Some variations allows them to keep a couple units back to deploy after the opposing player.

We took this a step further with alternating deployment. Instead of creating a “all eggs in one basket” scenario, it creates back and forth almost chess type interaction. The player deploying first chooses to deploy 1-2 units. They could deploy 2 or only 1, then the opposing player gets to deploy in their zone 1-2 units. The players alternate until all units have been deployed. This allows players, based on the known knowledge of objectives better anticipate and plan how to deal with each other. Instead of one playing placing all forces one side of the zone. Then the other player placing on the far opposite. It instead lets the player distribute units based on the opposing player's unit placement.



Now that everyone is placed, the player that has “Activating First” gets to activate their unit first. Players use an alternating system to activate. The first Active Player will activate 1-2 units, while the opposing player is the Reactive Player. Then they alternate roles until there are no more Activation Points left to activate units. One of the actions that a Reactive Player can take when an Active Player expends 1 Activation Point to activate a unit for their first action is “Steal Initiative”. It allows the roles of Active Player and Reactive Player to temporarily switch, letting that player expend 1 Activation Point to activate their unit.

With all the small, subtle changes that we have made and combined with how the system works, it has a larger impact on how a game will unfold. By simply changing the order of events in some cases, it drastically alters game play. This creates a unique experience because of how they mix along with the order of events changing. We can do some things that usually wasn’t available to do as well, like a feint for example.

The next article will be, "Part 2 - Action | Reaction System" in which will we explain more in depth about the Action | Reaction System we use and how it is different than the traditional known ones. There is a lot to cover under it so it will need it's own post but I wanted to set the basics up first.
 
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Janis Sweek
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Part 2 - Playing the Game: Action | Reaction System

One of the main reasons for designing a game is to take something that was existed and improve upon it. That means identifying an issue, looking at examples of how others have implemented it, weighing in the pros/cons and then putting your own spin on it. Sometimes a new design simply comes from "I wish we could have done that" then create a method to allow something that previously couldn't happen.

Looking from a miniatures game perspective, when playing a game there is probably nothing more annoying than making a mistake. Little mistakes because of how items are abstracted in games can cascade into a much worse mistake. It is a blow to morale when you end up in a situation, that it seems hopeless which in turn affects the enjoyment of the game.

We as gamers suspend disbelief because there are many things that can't be represented accurately so they are abstracted. Take a traditional IGO-UGO system. You are setup in a room, waiting to strike, then the opponent simply walks in shoots at your troops and you have no ability to respond to it. You start to ask, "When does that happen normally, I should have at least gotten one shot off".

Timing, initiative and other factors affect that but they are nuances that factor into it. One one side a player can say, that is a bad play because it could have been predicted. That is part of the strategy, trying to determine how an opposing player will react to where your position is. Even though they walked across an open area to enter the building it should have been able to be seen.

The Action/Reaction system is something that was created to try to bridge those differences. There a number of games that utilize that system in different methods, when one player takes an action, the opposing player can react with certain actions. It allows the players to not have a harder time suspending disbelief, creates interaction between players that normally didn't exist. There are still issues with the system though as each game system has pros/cons.

I'm going to take a step back and look at a gaming system that has refined action/reaction to an almost science. Action/reaction are at the heart of the majority of card games like Magic the Gathering or World of Warcraft TCG. In a nutshell they gain resources per turn, using those resources to play cards. When an active player has priority and plays a card, priority passes to their opponent who might be able to respond. The rules themselves sound complex and are a bear to read through but the application of the system is fairly straightforward.

After These Messages We’ll Be Right Back

Sculpting is completed for the Federated Commonwealth Power Armor fireteam. They have been sent off to get 3D Masters for them printed. We hope to have images of those soon(™). Here is an image of all the sculpts currently finished in a lineup together.



Action | Reaction System

An example of a well known Action/Reaction system is basically a IGO-UGO activation with reaction response built into it. The Active Player activates their units, one at a time and does their actions. The Reactive Player responds usually when one of the Active Players models cross line of sight. They resolve rolls. This continues until the Active Player can no longer activate anymore models. Then they switch roles. The Reactive Player role although interacting is more of a “sit and wait”. There is also no limitation on the amount of times a unit can be activated in a turn.

It is a great game, solid system but still has the issue at points where suspending disbelief becomes harder. We wanted to do things a bit different to create some interesting and unique opportunities in a battle. We felt this simulated cinematic action movie sequences better as well as providing more opportunities for players.

In Code Zero activation is not IGO-UGO, it is an alternate activation. That means during a game turn the roles will switch back and forth. We also wanted there to be a method for the Reactive Player to respond to an action without it requiring the Active Player to cross line of sight. Although we don’t put a hard limit on the amount of times a unit can be activated, there is a soft limit. If you wanted to run a unit from one side of the board, spending all your activations points, to the other side you could but it comes at a cost… they get tired and gain fatigue from being overworked.

Standard Activation - 2 Short Actions

1| Active Player: The Active Player spends 1 Activation Point choosing to activate a unit declaring their first action.
Example: “I’m going to activate this fireteam and do a move action”.

1A| Trigger Point: This is a priority window that opens up allowing the Reactive Player to respond the Active Player’s actions.

2| Reactive Player: The Reactive Player can declare to respond if the activating unit is within line of sight of one of the Reactive Player’s units. Since this is the first action of that unit, this is a special opportunity that they can choose to Steal Initiative. They would spend 1AP and choose a unit to activate. This swaps the Active|Reactive roles temporarily as the Reactive Player’s unit will resolve their actions first. They could also choose to do nothing and pass.
Example: “I don’t have a response, pass”

3| Active Player: The Active Player now moves his unit that he chose to activate to where he is going to end up.
Example: “I am using a Short Move Action to move my movement of 4” to here”

3A| Trigger Point: If the Active Player’s unit crosses line of sight with any Reactive Player’s units this creates a trigger to allow the Reactive Player to respond.
Example: In this case he doesn’t cross any line of sight with any units.

4| Active Player: The Active Player now declares his 2nd short action.

4A| Trigger Point: This is a priority window that opens up allowing the Reactive Player to respond to the Active Player’s actions. Unlike the first priority window that opened up, only players in Line of Sight can respond.



Activation and Steal Initiative

1| Active Player: The Active Player spends 1 Activation Point choosing to activate a unit declaring their first action.
Example: “I’m going to activate this fireteam and do a move action”.

1A| Trigger Point: This is a priority window that opens up allowing the Reactive Player to respond the Active Player’s actions..

2| Reactive Player: The Reactive Player can declare to respond if the activating unit is within line of sight of one of the Reactive Player’s units. Since this is the first action of that unit, this is a special opportunity that they can choose to Steal Initiative. They would spend 1AP and choose a unit to activate. This swaps the Active|Reactive roles temporarily as the Reactive Player’s unit will resolve their actions first. They could also choose to do nothing and pass.
Example: “In response I’m going to activate this fireteam and do a move action.” The Reactive Player now temporarily takes over the Active Player role, while the Active Player becomes the Reactive Player. They would declare and do their 2 actions. If it triggered any reactions from the Reactive Player those would be handled normally. Once those actions are complete, roles get returned to normal.
Example: In this example there were no units who could react to Player-B moving their units.


3| Active Player: The Active Player now moves his unit that he chose to activate to where he is going to end up.
Example: “I am using a Short Move Action to move my movement of 4” to here”

3A| Trigger Point: If the Active Player’s unit crosses line of sight with any Reactive Player’s units this creates a trigger to allow the Reactive Player to respond.
Example: In this case he doesn’t cross any line of sight with any units.

4| Active Player: The Active Player now declares his 2nd short action.

4A| Trigger Point: This is a priority window that opens up allowing the Reactive Player to respond to the Active Player’s actions. Unlike the first priority window that opened up, only players in Line of Sight can respond.



Activation and Chain Reaction

1| Active Player: The Active Player spends 1 Activation Point choosing to activate a unit declaring their first action.
Example: “I’m going to activate this fireteam and do a move action”.

1A| Trigger Point: This is a priority window that opens up allowing the Reactive Player to respond the Active Player’s actions.

2| Reactive Player: The Reactive Player declares he is going to Steal Initiative and activate one of his fireteams to do a move action. Unlike before the Active Player didn’t have any other units that could have benefited her doing a response. However in this example she does have Sergeant who Steal Initiative back.

3| Active Player: The Active Player spends 1AP and chooses to activate her Sergeant. This creates a Chain Reaction. The Reactive Player could also Steal Initiative again BUT it would come at a cost, that unit would gain “Fatigue” status. In this example he chooses to not respond.

4| Active Player: Uses the units special ability to use a jump pack, allowing her to have her unit leap putting it on top of the building and gaining high ground.

Now the Reactive Player would then resolve their actions, then finally the Active Player would resolve the first units actions.



Resources Are Valuable

Activation Points are your resources and resource management is an important part of the game. Some people might be asking, "Why would someone want to do that?". I hope that becomes more clear in the game play run-through. I apologize for the animated gifs, hopefully they didn't confuse things. I have never worked with them before but I was trying to find a way to demonstrate without having 50 pictures for the examples. Hopefully that worked a bit.

On paper it can sound complex and complicated. If you are familiar with a certain TCG then it should be easier to grasp and understand.

Decisions become important. However bad decisions don't necessarily cause a cascade effect that a player can't bounce back from. They can but at a cost, move a unit out of danger providing you can predict that was where the player was going to go. Keep in mind you don't know what their secondary objective is. The only information you have at that time is the unit they are activating and what that action is (move, combat or special action). If it was a move action, you don't have the information of where they will move yet. When you choose to move or not to move can become important.

A Reactive Player can only Steal Initiative once per round in the Player Phase, unless they want to give the activated unit Fatigue status. One round in the Player Phase is when the Active Player has activated 1-2 units, then the Active Player and Reactive Player switch roles. This alternating activation happens until they are both out of Activation Points.

Part 3 will cover a battle report for a game going through the whole game, bringing everything we have covered together.
 
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