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Subject: Mechanics for making army customization engaging rss

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A Hall

Illinois
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My thoughts are very much in the high-level stages with this, but I'd like to tap the BGG Game Design forums and see what comes up. I'll try to keep this short, and thanks in advance for any and all advice!

I've been playing around with a tabletop miniatures game (if it helps, lightweight, skirmish, hex-based, mech) and a major component is point-based army customization (a la Warhammer, Battletech, ad nauseum). In the case of my mechs, I'd like to go beyond choosing a preconfigured setup and use a modular design that allows players to mix and match components. The problem, of course, is that this isn't at all engaging.

My question is, how do you involve the players in those choices, to go beyond the number-crunching? It'd be ideal to have player choices affect a persistent universe, to give even drop-in players "soft" (or "RPG-related") reasons to choose one design over another. Yet I want players to be engaged right off without necessarily having to commit to a campaign.

That's it, thank you for the help. Below is just notes on where I'm most recently at with this.

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A Hall

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My current thoughts: Obviously, colorful factions. And that may be it - have first-time players choose their favorite, pick some unique techs, and jump into a scenario. But there is a deeper alternative... An obscure Mech game called CAV has a setting built around these company-states called UCOR's. One might be Shadow Systems Inc, so you may choose a component called the Shadow Systems Armor Zr3/4. That's as far as the game goes, just flavor text, but what if buying from that company hastens its research? Good if you are on good terms with the company and you like its tech focus, bad if its the kind of stuff your competitor uses. These "colorful factions" would have a reputation backed by mechanics - the Skurg may be an alien race that likes unpredictable but lethal weaponry because I said so, but you can actually see that the Lakoda Corp. does indeed offer a lot of unpredictable, dangerous weaponry. Buy at your own risk - you are directly supporting whatever Lakoda's Company Mission is. Of course, if they happen to be the only ones with the weapon you want in the scenario you're in...
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Boaty McBoatface
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Old style war game campaign.

You have a campaign (Say the Beer River valley during the (fill in your own war)
You only get the forces you buy and paint.
The Campaign will, last a set time (say 6 months real time, with a month or so before hand to allow initial force preparations).
You only get reinforcements if you buy them, and only after you have painted them.


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A Hall

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Thank you for answering so quickly! I've been chewing this over since I posted this today.

A "permanent" campaign, so to speak, is ideal. Everyone who's played an RPG knows how much more satisfying a campaign can be vs a one-shot, and though tabletop campaigns seem to be harder to get off the ground they can be similarly rewarding. That said, for my selfish purposes this has to be able to accomodate a lot of drop-in/drop-out players - getting engaged with a campaign mid-stream can be difficult for new players and not just because of acquiring miniatures. Are there ways, then, to modify the customization/battles to be more open, to get players contributing to the story without the committment (or the miniatures)? Or am I doomed to choosing between an exclusive "old style wargame campaign" or quarantined set-piece battles?
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Eric Jome
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Adesazz wrote:
In the case of my mechs, I'd like to go beyond choosing a preconfigured setup and use a modular design that allows players to mix and match components. The problem, of course, is that this isn't at all engaging.


Umm.. what?

Choosing an army is very engaging.

Most miniatures wargames have squads with variable components. I find that to be functionally identical to a mech with different loadouts.

I think I don't understand what you are saying. If you mean that people won't be engaged with building an army, you're wrong. If you mean that people won't be engaged with building a setting to play in, you're right - a good game brings the setting, not asks the players to make it. But empowering campaign rules and scenarios is important.
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Nate K
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One of the problems I've stumbled on recently in a couple of the customizable games I've tried is a lack of understanding of the different components I could use. Which of these two weapons is better? If I can only take three units, how do I determine which ones are optimal for this mission?

Once I've learned the system better, I can begin to identify why certain options are preferably in certain situations. Until that "ah-ha!" moment, though, I'm stumbling around in the dark and taking the options that look or sound cool.

So my recommendation would be to either a) make your system easy to learn, so that the stumbling-around stage is short, or b) provide players with recommended starting units so that they can learn the game, then set them loose to create their own armies.
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A Hall

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Wuh boy, actual game designers. I should've known they'd be here :-)

cosine, perhaps I was too blunt. Many people have a great deal of fun customizing, and number-crunching and making strategic decisions and I'd love a system where building the army is as important or even more important than the actual battle. As far as engaging, though, as far as players getting involved with creation, that's not as guaranteed. Surely a good test is whether a player will knowingly take a mechanical disadvantage for the sake of character or long-term gain (I called these "soft reasons" above), fair? Doesn't happen, can't happen, with single, pitched battles where winner takes all. Now, as you say, that may not be necessary - players may be alright with just deciding on a veteran fast squad or a rookie heavy one, and if so great! Less work for me. But if we can cook up some compelling soft reasons, ah see now it's not just fun, it's compelling, and hopefully allows players to step back from the numbers a bit. It may even help them decide on composition, which leads me to...

kurthl33t, accessibility is in a BIG way. All tabletop wargames claim to be easy to learn, but most are, well, "stumbling around" is extremely charitable. The ones that are accessible (aka Do not need rulebook at table) are bereft of soft reasons and thus, compelling choices. Accessibility is also the reason I need to be more creative than employing a traditional, permanent campaign. I hadn't thought about Setting as a teaching tool (recommending configurations, limiting initial options, so on), but why not? Something to develop this weekend when my internet is limited - thanks to all of you for the input!
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A Hall

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If anyone else would like to chime in/reply, I'll be keeping an eye on this thread (subscription doesn't seem to work well with my account...). At any rate, if you come across some ideas or an example of a tabletop skirmish game that incorporates RPG elements I'd love to hear about it. Thanks, as always.
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Adrien Chevrier
France
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Hi,

On a very theoretical basis, to go in Nate K's direction (choice you understand is appealing) you can read this article on Gamasutra :

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/174832/the_more_you_kn...

Or just the conclusion "When someone understands the mechanics and the implications of their decisions and is able to translate that into a completely unique experience -- that's when a game really succeeds."

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