Deadzone Alpha – I’m Listening…

Wow! What a busy day.

Yesterday Quirkworthy had the most page views it’s ever had in one day, which is very heartening. I thought the Alpha might get some interest, but this was wonderful. Thanks to everyone who’s already commented and especially the super keen folks who’ve had the game on the table already and found the time to come back and let me know they enjoyed it. All in only a couple of hours. Outstanding!

Naturally there are some people that DZ doesn’t suit and that’s fair enough. One size does not fit all in the gaming world. Mind you, I’d love to be able to encompass more folk in the Deadzone fold, and we’ll see how I do if I get round to adding all the play format variants I’d like to. There’s actually quite a list now: current 2-player version, experience based campaign, narrative campaign, solo, multi-player (with more than one per side playing cooperatively), multi-mat, etc.

Anyway, just a few ideas 😉


All Shiny?

Pretty much. The Alpha is, obviously, very much a WIP and I’ve asked for comments and feedback so critique is a good thing. Please keep those comments coming. It all helps to make the end result more robust.

Anyway, when I say I want feedback and I’m listening that’s because I do and I am. From reading comments on the Kickstarter, Quirkworthy and a few other places (though not all, I’m sure) here’s what I’m hearing:

1) Most folk understand that it’s a WIP and that there’s lots more to come. The general vibe seems very positive. Thank you 🙂

2) There are a handful of bits I missed off cards or in qualifying rules (Interrupt Actions on cards, overwatch being knocked off by Pinning). I’ll add these to the FAQ and/or do an update for the Alpha next week when I’m back in the office. WOn’t be monday though as I’m down in rainy Essex with the Beasts of War.

3) Explaining the moving about and throwing grenades in 3D needs more diagrams. Yup.

4) LOS is still much discussed. I’ve been chipping in here and there and have thought a lot more about it and considered the suggestions made. I’m writing another post revisiting that topic in more detail. Might go up tomorrow.

5) Some people want more detail and others think the complexity level is just fine as it is. I think I can add more grit and detail without significant complexity or extra rules. Let me explain. The Alpha is the bulk of the rules footprint. Some of it needs to be explained more fully – the core is there though. So if, say, 85% of the core rules are present it’s not going to get over-complex as a system, keeping those who like this level of detail happy. However, within those mechanics I’ll be adding a lot more options. Instead of 5 stat cards you’ll have two, three or four dozen. Still not sure how many. This won’t add to the game’s complexity in terms of rules as you already know how to read a stat card. A few elements need the full version to replace the Alpha, for example missions. The Alpha version is very close to the full version in terms of rules, but is restricted to one mission. The major addition is the number of possible missions each faction will have – but mechanically it’s only slightly different from what you have seen. Each faction will eventually have 8-12 missions or so. Again, you learn to read one mission card and you can read them all. Specific play formats such as solo or campaign are easily ignored if you don’t want to play them so the people that want simple can play the game in the normal 2 player format and those who want the extra options can dig in. Like I said, I think I can have my cake and eat it 🙂

6) Turn sequence and the possibility of alternate activations is the only really chewy rules question I can see. As I’ve said, i-go-u-go is not my favourite mechanic, but using that as a basis has worked pretty well and does tick pretty much all the boxes. Specifically, the current Alpha system does a number of good things. It’s…

  • Fast
  • Interactive (opposed rolls, overwatch)
  • Works well for coordinated small unit tactics, fire and movement, overwatch and suppression

It also avoids:

  • the “cheerleader” problem
  • staccato turns where coordinated plans are broken up into single models.

So the current system isn’t at all bad. However, I do agree that alternative action systems have a lot of good things about them. You can tell I like them because I’ve used them in several games I’ve designed…

The first version of DZ I put on the table had alternate actions, and though it worked to play out a game it was more gamey and far less able to show off small unit tactics. I’m very keen to include those in DZ and so I had a fiddle about with some parameters and tried a number of variant systems. The only ones that worked at all well to do everything I wanted required a major abstraction at the heart of the turn mechanic and it just felt wrong and randomly imposed to make things work (which is exactly what it was).

Not being satisfied with that I went back to the drawing board and started from a different direction, ending up with the system we have now.

Currently, one of the few mechanical bits that isn’t in the Alpha is the command system. I’ve been working on this for a while and what struck me as we were preparing the Alpha was that I could use this to solve the problem I had with the original alternative action system. At least, I think I can. I’ll not have a chance to get it on the table till tomorrow at the earliest (out all day today at Foundry teaching folk God of Battles).

You can be sure that I’ll let you know how it goes once I’ve kicked it about on the tabletop. If it does work and is better then I see no reason to stick with Plan A. We shall see…


My Homework

So I’ve got a few bits and bobs to add to my pile of homework. For your part, please keep those comments coming. I’ll be back this evening.

Thanks again.

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23 Responses to Deadzone Alpha – I’m Listening…

  1. Gavin Bateman says:

    Please keep IGOUGO, usually im not a fan but I like it for cooridanted assaults so please keep it, nothin worse than spending a turn manouvering and then not getting a chance to pull it off.

  2. I definitely think you should keep the interactive I-Go-U-Go mechanic. I’m inclined to believe that many people who clamour for an alternate activation system have not played an I-Go-U-Go with a lot of interaction during play, like Infininity. It’s hard to tell only from reading the alpha exactly how much “inter-turn interaction” is in Deadzone but I geet the feeling that you have the ‘it’s always your turn’ motto at the back of your head when writing.

    Alternating activations is not a bad mechanic in any shape or form, but I strongly agree with you in this case – in smaller skirmish games such as this you need that sense of teamwork and cooperation! The cards, overwatch and the opposed tests all help to keep both players engaged no matter whose turn it is, but what I’m really eager to hear more of is the Command system.

    To the people on the fence, or who have a gut reaction against I-Go-U-Go (say, if you’ve mostly played GW games) I say give it go. Test the game out and I’m sure you’ll discover that there will be a lot more to do during your opponents turn than sitting back and simply drinking your coffee while your guys get killed. I’m not quite sure where on the scale the level of interaction ends up, but I’m confident that this is quite a bit more than simple I-Go-U-Go.

  3. Quirkworthy says:

    As I said, my current thoughts on a possible alternative activation variant need testing before I make any rule changes. I’m not going to replace the current i-go-u-go system with anything unless it is better than what we have now. What we have has been played a lot and is very solid. A huge part of what I like about what we have is that teamwork and so if that doesn’t work just as well or better in the alternate system then it’s a non-starter.

    But it doesn’t hurt to try all the options, and acknowledge that there could be something better. Let’s see if we can find it.

    • crimsonsun says:

      I am fine with an I go u go system that has interrupts to keep things fluid and interesting. I do like activation mechanics in theory using some sort of quick thinking or command test but in practise I find them overly reliant on how lucky you are or are not. I also feel any system built in such a fashion would need so many extra rules for reacting models that failed to activate for it to feel realistic that it would slow down or at least unnecessarily complicate the system, and this coming from some one who wants a complex and ‘gritty’ rules set.

      The only alternative I can currently think of is one in which all models move in relation to a speed + wits ratio with various penalties for equipment/injury etc, but it would require the allowance of delayed actions, and skills/abilities that would increase a models or near by models ability to act faster. – eg a commander could take a quick action command test and thus increase all friendly models in his on an adjacent tiles to increase there speed by a set amount. This would keep team work but make the game highly interactive in terms of player actions. Yet this is flawed in several ways, from tracking models that have moved, to requiring various tests to actually function as a team (thus slowing the game down more) to creating a system that could be unbalanced by its over dependence of this speed type trait.

      My preference is something close to how you currently have it, but I am keeping an open mind on this.

      😀 I kept it to a semi reasonable length! Crimsonsun

    • I’m a fan of the alternative activation system in skirmish games. as makes you think more each of your movements. And of course, you play in a more interactive way, I mean, you don’t stay for a while doing nothing but see how your opponent does everything (which bores me a lot usually) while if you just activate one unit/model and your oponent goes and then you again, it keeps you more involved in the game and provides you with a more thrilling experience

      Always in my point of view of course 🙂

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I’ll be playing that variant turn system this afternoon. As I said before, if it doesn’t provide some obvious benefits then it doesn’t get used.

      I’m not wedded to any particular mechanic and am just exploring the options here. If it’s better than the i-go-u-go then I’ll say so. If not then it gets dropped. By “better” I mean allows for more co-ordinated tactics, reactions and interactivity than before.

      See how we go.

    • Baz says:

      To add in an option, there’s an old CCG called Ophidian 2350 in which the interest mechanic is the idea of ‘Flow’. Some actions keep the ‘Flow’ (your turn) and some actions surrender the ‘Flow’ (end your turn). BBs turnover system in ways is similar as safe options will never result in a turnover.

      The short version here, would be to have basic commands like moving and supporting to be free actions, but more aggressive actions like shooting to be limited in someway. Might help, might not, just throwing it into the mix.

  4. Hipcat says:

    Got the chance to play a few test games of the Alpha rules. With the similarities to the DreadBall mechanics in opposed roles, a lot of players in the club picked it up very quickly. The rules were fun and easy to play, with lots of scope for further details to expand things out.

    As a quick comment on the missile launcher, would it be worthwhile changing it’s “Shoot is a long action” to “Must Aim before Shooting”. This continues to keep them at one-shot-a-turn and no movement (except for cards), while marginally increasing their effectiveness. It also ‘feels’ right to have someone line up their shot carefully with a specialist weapon (as opposed to two shots/blaze-away with rifles).

    Looking forward to more games in a fortnight!

    • Quirkworthy says:

      The ML is a near guaranteed kill (of almost anything) if it hits, whereas other weapons need to hit by several points to be effective. In testing we started with allowing MLs to aim and they completely dominated the games, wasting opponents left and right. This toned down version is a reflection of that, but as with all this level of detail in balance it’ll come out in more testing.

      I’ll also mention that reloads were suggested, but with the game being so fast it left the behind and meant that they were a one-shot wonder. That didn’t feel right either.

  5. Rob A says:

    I know some people say Necromunda, some people say Infinity, but after an initial firefight with grenades and rockets blasting people about and into walls etc. I have to say I think you may have made the board/miniature gaming equivilant of multiplayer Halo.

    And this is a good thing 🙂

  6. gpjpready says:

    I love how this shaping up, it’s very exciting. Core mechanics look very strong. I like the “IGOUGO with quirks” as opposed to alternate activation. Overwatch and the cards will hopefully provide enough ability to respond to what the enemy is doing.

    I think the line of sight / grid system is inspired! All the clarity and speed of a board game but with the detailed figure placement that makes it feel like an actual fight as opposed to a game of chess. The terrain mat looks cool – very nice to have a grid without it looking too boardgamey, and I’ll happily use it for any urban gaming. And to be able to have a satisfying miniatures game on a 2′ by 2′ board, but with the potential to expand as far as you want, is great.

    Time for me to get my credit card out!

    One mild concern – I know the alpha is just the base system, so this will probably be addressed, but will there be enough potential for flavour and granularity in the weapons/armour system (not the fighter stats themselves, I can see plenty of potential there)? Sci fi gamers (me included) seem to like to know whether their weapons riddle the enemy with bullets, or set them on fire, or melt their molecules, or put a tiny laser hole in their temples! They like to know if the enemy’s attacks on them ping off inch thick armour or are confounded by exotic forcefields. I think they like these things to feel different in game. Will this be possible?

    • Daniel Morey says:

      I’d be careful, about lots of special abilities. Especially about how they are describe on the stat cards. So a unit with a laser weapon, might have AP1 printed as the special ability, not “Laser”. That way you have well describe stat abilities, and if a new faction gets added that has phasers, then that can probably be described by a combination of existing known abilities, and not create confusion that might happen if the stat just said “Laser”, “Phaser”, “Plasma”, “Fusion”, “Time/Space Distortion Cannon”.
      Also, special abilities should fit in with the core rules, not just change it for the sake of changing it. So we don’t have “lasers” that allow re-rolling of ones, or “phasers” that allow two extra dice when rolling eights.
      That’s two points in which I think Dust tactics failed (those and the very short weapon ranges).

      • Quirkworthy says:

        One thing I do like is a strong character for each faction. That’s the main use of special rules. You don’t need many to get this to work well, you just need the right ones. That’s the approach I took in DreadBall and will be the same here. Where it is appropriate for a new faction to use an old ability then it will be recycled. Certain abilities will be common (for abilities) across several factions, eg sniper skills or Brawler’s melee boost.

        How best to show these abilities on a stat card is still being experimented with and we’ve got a number of options. Clear icons are my favourite, but that again pushes for as few as possible.

  7. Aswin Agastya says:

    The cards were rather disappointing with their +1s. Really boring. I was expecting Enforcers raining death while hovering using jetpack, stuffing grenades into mutant’s mouth and jump away, or mutant grabbing an enforcer, punch him in the gut and throw him at another enforcer or wall… Cards within games are awesome for one reason, and that is with words you can do thing beyond the core mechanisms of the game. They can be hell to develop, but they will really add to the game.

    I agree that alternate activation does not sit well with coordinate action. However you can do something like group activation. Let’s say an Encorcer has a Command of 2. When he’s activated you can also activate 2 others. Enforcer Commander has 3 command. Gen 2 no command. Gen 3 1 Command. You could further enhance this with command radius and LoS. Enforcers with advanced communication can ignore both. Marauders may need to stay close to activate together.

    Lots of development possibilities and it will be difficult, but if you pull it off, it’d be freakin awesome.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      The command element is what I think may make the alternative activation work, and what I’m playing this afternoon. I’ll keep you posted on how it looks.

  8. Aswin Agastya says:

    Ah also, activated Opportunity Fire/Interrupt seems like a thing of the past. I suggest reading Band of Brothers: Screaming Eagles rulebook (available online) for the best (IMO) modelling of suppression, maneuver and opportunity fire. Basically, you don’t throw crap units to trigger OpFire then waltz in unhindered, instead you have to suppress them and then move in. Granted suppress & maneuver is very much in WWII tradition and Deadzone is more like modern warfare, but there’s a lot of interesting things there, especially at Designer’s Notes portion.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      One of the things I wanted to do in Deadzone was to remove the certainty of some actions, such as overwatch. Whilst using one unit as bait to draw fire is a real tactic, it seems a bit overused in games.

      So in Deadzone you roll for an overwatching model to check that it can react in time to what is probably a new or fleeting target. This can fail or succeed, which we’ve all seen before. However, what is more interesting is that it can succeed in getting this shot AND retain its overwatch status – allowing it to potentially react again. This means that using a unit to draw fire is not guaranteed to be successful, and that level of uncertainty makes things more interesting.

      Later edit…

      OK, read that. Looks like an interesting set of WWII rules. The idea of suppressing enemy units before moving is just what DZ already does. The notes at the end are mostly sound points. That said, many apply only to the specific time and place and/or squad level rather than individual level combat. Worth reading though, and if I had any time I’d add it to my list of games to try out. I like WWII games 🙂

  9. Doug says:

    While I understand why you’ve done TLoS (and the simplest method of implementing it) I do think it’s possible to create a simple abstract LoS that produces a similar effect without looking from models directly.

    Rather than make LoS model based, make it terrain based. That is, you have Blocking, Normal and Clear terrain just as you have Blocked, Normal and Clear shots. If a solid wall (the game has already defined walls for climbing) is completely between your base and the target’s, it’s blocked. If it it’s not, it’s Normal. So you just have to trace a line between bases (with a skewer, bit of string, tape measure, GW wacky stick etc), not between heads and gun barrels, feet, legs etc.
    Targets a level higher (the 3″ block referred to by the alpha in the height bonus) could then be considered one step further into cover (ie they’ll always be normal or Blocked), with the opposite when shooting downwards.
    This is possible because of what cover is mechanically, a positional modifier to shooting.
    You could go simpler and give a square a cover value, so that no matter where in the square you are, you are always considered to be in that cover type. But that removes the positional component of the game.

  10. Jon says:

    I guess I always kind of liked the Rackham approach – the majority of the tactics was in the maneuvering. This was done – usually – at a random order and by all figures. Yes, they shot then too…

    Later in the turn, everybody did the “damage” thing, sorta simultaneously – but w/a tactical roll allowing for some priority to one player.

    I’ve used a variant in a sci-fi game that held the shooting to a minimum # of “in-turn activations” (kind of like your coaching dice), and then everybody shot simultaneously after all movement had been conducted. You want tactics? Hey – how ’bout I move there to cover that corner…but now all the enemies vacate the area. 🙂 If you KNOW this can happen – then it’s cool that it does…not like you wasted your shot…but like you instead protected your territory. It’s awesome. Especially w/objectives.

    About the LoS thing – just do your thing. As cool as your open attitude is, I wouldn’t want this to become a design by committee deal. Hey – good luck, you walk a fine line!

  11. KennKong says:

    I’m very excited about the upcoming alternative action mechanic, which I generally prefer – but I don’t hate the way IGOUGO currently works, either. And I especially like the way Overwatch works. One of the mechanics that has popped up recently in games, like Dropzone Commander (and the upcoming Warzone game…I think), that use cards to impart special rules/abilities without having them “always on”, which I think leads to “codex” imbalance in games. So the Overwatch mechanic and the cards in general really help flavor the game without dropping uberunits in the mix. Love to see more of that as the game fleshes out.

    I’d also love to see some strong character types that can “lead” the game. I’m hoping for a very dynamic scenario/goal system, much like Malifaux, Infintity, even MERCs. It would be cool to have leaders/characters who can have special goals alongside of Squad goals.

    Keep up the great work -you’ve done a wonderful job so far.

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