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Subject: Designer Diary - Some Helpful Symmetry rss

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Cole Wehrle
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When it comes to the economy of design, player asymmetry is a costly venture. Asymmetry means more rules, more troublesome exceptions, and more scalability problems. And, while those things can keep designers and developers up late, the cost of asymmetry is borne chiefly by the player’s themselves. After all, they are the ones to have to cajole their friends into learning tricky designs. They are the ones who have to wonder, months later, if they remember the rules well enough to play the game again. Regrettably, sometimes that extra rules overhead keeps the game from getting played. And that’s too bad, because the space that asymmetric design opens up can be truly wonderful.

While my first game, Pax Pamir, wasn’t an asymmetric game, this was something experienced keenly as I followed its reception. I was happy how Pamir had turned out, but I knew that the game demanded a lot from its players and that it offered new players plenty of good reasons not to play it. It was long and odd.

So, when I set out to make Root, I knew that I wanted to build something more accessible...something that would stick the minds of the players and ask to come down off the shelf again and again and again.

In order to give the game that sense of immediacy and accessibility, I decided to design a sound, symmetrical core on which the various player positions could be built. Here, I was inspired in part by GMT’s COIN games and, in particular, the way the insurgent factions followed similar sets of rules that separated them from the operations of the government factions.

So, with Root, I decided early on that I wanted all of the factions to move and fight in ways that were pretty simple, and then to introduce very small (but critical) exceptions into that core system. I’ll talk about those exceptions in a later post. For now, let’s start the core systems of movement, combat, and control. And, to talk about those things, we need to look at the map:



(Our artist Kyle would likely insist that I add that this was a very hastily put-together prototype, the real thing will be FAR prettier. My mind is suitably boggled at that comment.)

Now, beneath Kyle's incomparable art, Root’s map is a pretty typical point-to-point wargame map. You have movement zones (called clearings) and paths that connect one clearing to another. There are also little pockets of negative space called forests which I’ll get to later.

Early on I knew that the map should be claustrophobic-—a sort of anti-Twilight Imperium. I wanted the great forest of the game to be a dense, crowded space. To do that I needed a core movement system that would allow lots of different players to occupy the same clearing. At the same time, I didn’t want to woods to be overly porous. Players should be able to trap one another.

I went through a bunch of different systems, borrowing ideas from Eclipse, Cuba Libre, Inis, and even classic CDGs like Washington’s War. Nothing worked.

Then, I decided to put the idea on the back burner and think about some of the game’s other systems. First came combat. I wanted it to be largely deterministic, with just a little risk involved. I also wanted it to be bloody. It also needed to be fast. That last requirement was a real trouble-maker. I kept inventing elaborate, FFG-like combat systems that were rarely interesting enough for the players involved. In what is essentially a simple operational-scale system, I knew I needed to keep it fast.

Finally I did hit on something that worked. It’s simple enough that I can describe it completely here. If you are in the same clearing as someone, you can spend an action and battle them. Roll 2d4 (counting any “4”s as “0s”). As the attacker, you inflict hits equal to the higher number. The defender inflicts hits equal to the lower. And, you cannot inflict more hits than you have warriors in the clearing. So a little army of 2 can only do 2 hits. That’s it. Mostly.

When a battle was declared the defender could respond by playing an Ambush card from his hand. In a deck of 54 cards, there are only 5 ambush cards. Moreover, 3 of the Ambush cards can only be played in a specific clearing. So, based on how a player was maneuvering their troops, you might be able to suss out if they were setting up an ambush. It’s not quite a subtle as MARIA, but it captured some of that same tension.



The defender also had the option to retreat, but they could only retreat to clearings they controlled. This necessitated me sitting down and figuring out what constituted “control.” I decided to keep the concept simple. If you have more pieces (warriors + buildings) than any other player in that clearing, you control it. Easy.

Figuring out the combat engine and the control rules allowed me to return to my movement rules. A new, two-tier system suggested itself. Here’s how it works. If you control a clearing, you can spend an action to move your warriors to ANY adjacent clearing. If you don’t control the clearing, you can ONLY move your warriors to clearings which you do control. In practice, this means players can pin each other and cut off points of retreat and resupply.

Now all of this is making this game sound a lot like a wargame. And, in a large portion, it is. Most of my games work on the scale of decades and so I tend to keep to the grand strategic and track only the bigger geopolitical/economic/social/political moves. Root was, at its heart, built around a simple introduction to operational wargaming.

But, at the same time, it wasn’t really a wargame at all. It’s a game about power and the projection of power across a variegated landscape populated by discrete populations of creatures. It's a game about empire and decolonization, but those elements of my argument were too complicated for my simple movement and combat system, and they got folded into the game's single deck of cards, which I’ll be talking about tomorrow.
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Nathan Spillman
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
"Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"

Cole, I will be interested in any came you design if just for the deep-dive into your design process that you provide. So many diaries are "how" someone designs a game and I really appreciate how much credit you give the "why". I don't back Kickstarters any more, but you can be sure I'm going to make a Day 1 exception for this game.

Waiting on tomorrow with bated breath.
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Jim Parkin
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
therasim wrote:
"Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"

Cole, I will be interested in any came you design if just for the deep-dive into your design process that you provide. So many diaries are "how" someone designs a game and I really appreciate how much credit you give the "why". I don't back Kickstarters any more, but you can be sure I'm going to make a Day 1 exception for this game.

Waiting on tomorrow with bated breath.

Nathan, you stole not only my exact sentiments, but my William Blake reference, too.
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Ivor Bolakov
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
That is a perfectly nice map as is. Looking forward to the real thing.

Also on the incorporation of the game's title: I never realised this until recently, but it actually serves a function. I pulled out a few games recently and checked them over before playing, and thought "I know what game it is, why have the title on the board?"

Cut to playing Twilight Struggle at my local board game cafe, and several people who had heard of, but never seen, TS in play, asking about it, wanting to play, etc.

And all this time I thought it served no important function.
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Junyol Baik
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
Cole, I know it's too early for me to tell how Root will play, but the game is oozing with such flavorful theme that I can't help but get invested in it. From reading your notes and seeing the artworks, I can already feel the amount of love and care that went into the project.

Also, I didn't even realize the map was a prototype at first! If that's a rough prototype of the map, I can't wait to see how the finished product will look like.

All in all, I'm very stoked for the Kickstarter. Looking forward to tomorrow's post as well!
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Val Cassotta
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
Love the artwork
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Tom Russell
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
This is all quite lovely, but the thing that really stuck out for me most of all was the use of d4s! It irks me that d6s and d10s dominate the polyhedral die space, especially because I hate d10s, so the inclusion of d4s is very much appreciated.

(I've long been an advocate for d8s, which are of course twice as good as d4s, mathematically-speaking.)
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Brian Baker
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
Cole Wehrle wrote:
There are also little pockets of negative space called forests which I’ll get to later.


Ah, so that's what those tree things are called!
 
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Sidd
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
https://imgflip.com/i/1xqo18
 
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Kurt Purcell
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
tomrussell wrote:
(I've long been an advocate for d8s, which are of course twice as good as d4s, mathematically-speaking.)

A little dab of strong glue can make those d4s happy (although useless for the stated purpose).

 
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Morten K
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
tomrussell wrote:
This is all quite lovely, but the thing that really stuck out for me most of all was the use of d4s! It irks me that d6s and d10s dominate the polyhedral die space, especially because I hate d10s, so the inclusion of d4s is very much appreciated.

(I've long been an advocate for d8s, which are of course twice as good as d4s, mathematically-speaking.)


For me it's opposite. I don't like how the dice do not roll well. I don't know if it's true but that makes me feel like the result isn't as haphazard as with a die with more sides.
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Patrick Leder
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
Everyone can relax! We are quoting D12s and will just repeat 0, 1, 2, 3 on them several times.
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Brian Ries
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
Why not d8s with 1 less repetition?
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Jim Parkin
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
I just like dice.
 
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Grayson
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
Glucose wrote:
Why not d8s with 1 less repetition?


Tom Russel wrote an impassioned plea for D8s (or 6s or 10s) in the wargame forum a while ago, and someone piped up that D12s roll better (physically) and are divisible for D4, and D6 results.
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Cole Wehrle
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
143245 wrote:
Glucose wrote:
Why not d8s with 1 less repetition?


Tom Russel wrote an impassioned plea for D8s (or 6s or 10s) in the wargame forum a while ago, and someone piped up that D12s roll better (physically) and are divisible for D4, and D6 results.


Yup. For exactly this reason.
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
Cole Wehrle wrote:
143245 wrote:
Glucose wrote:
Why not d8s with 1 less repetition?


Tom Russel wrote an impassioned plea for D8s (or 6s or 10s) in the wargame forum a while ago, and someone piped up that D12s roll better (physically) and are divisible for D4, and D6 results.


Yup. For exactly this reason.

Long live the d12!

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Patrick Leder
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
Classes that use D12 in D&D are the coolest and therefore we must emulate them. Pew pew pew.
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Morten K
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
Annowme wrote:
I just like dice.


Dice don't care what I think; dice hate me...
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Kurt R
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
I Kickstarted some rollable D4s a while ago. I'm good.
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Re: Some Helpful Symmetry
Cole Wehrle wrote:
143245 wrote:
Glucose wrote:
Why not d8s with 1 less repetition?


Tom Russel wrote an impassioned plea for D8s (or 6s or 10s) in the wargame forum a while ago, and someone piped up that D12s roll better (physically) and are divisible for D4, and D6 results.


Yup. For exactly this reason.


I actually think D12s roll too well. They keep on rolling, across the board (knocking pieces over) and off the table. They're fine if you use a dice tray but I don't think games should necessitate that. I'd strongly prefer D8s.
 
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adam wilson

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I'm sure your combat system isn't set in stone but it does sound fiddly for a lighter conflict game. I'm guessing different factions and the cards will modify die rolls. Adding and subtracting die roll modifiers or matching #'s to die effects is a turn off for me and my gg.

Have you looked at Academy Games' Birth of Nations series combat system? There are 3 possible outcomes for each die roll. Hit; remove one enemy unit, Flee; remove one of your units and place it back on the map next turn, and Blanks; one of your units may move to an open, friendly or contested space. It is my favorite dice combat system. No math, no charts, no #'s to compare.

The dice percentages are different for each faction. One faction is 50% hits and blanks. Others will be 33% for hits,blanks and flees. This creates a very asymmetric combat system without any math or chrome rules. The cards do modify the die results but always in a non-mathematical fashion.
 
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adam wilson wrote:
No math, no charts, no #'s to compare.


Not sure I'm seeing the benefit here in simplicity terms over rolling a die for attacker and defender, and those numbers are the hits inflicted. I'm missing something and I'm not sure what.
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Cole Wehrle
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There are very few modifiers.

In addition:
1. The system scales. Big armies. Small armies. Big army vs. a vagabond. Everything is handled by one player rolling two dice at the same time.

2. The system is heavily weighted. Players can easily predict results though there's still room for an occasional surprise.

3. It's fast. Resolving combat on average takes less than 5 seconds, which puts it on the absolute lowest end of overhead, right along with Academy's system.

I've played a couple of the Birth of Nations series, and while that dice system works well in that form, it isn't right for this game for lots of reasons that I could get into if you wanted me to say more.
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adam wilson

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143245 wrote:
adam wilson wrote:
No math, no charts, no #'s to compare.


Not sure I'm seeing the benefit here in simplicity terms over rolling a die for attacker and defender, and those numbers are the hits inflicted. I'm missing something and I'm not sure what.


It is simpler in that the players don't have to do math. I know that sounds goofy but people are so used to software doing math for them they get turned off by it,(try asking someone to count back change). The BoN system does involve more dice rolling but it is easier for new players to learn.
 
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