Deadzone Designer’s Notes – Super Size Me!

Ever since we announced that we were working on Deadzone people have been asking whether they could play on a bigger battlefield. Sure you can, we said, why not?

Deadzone is designed around a single battle mat that is 2 foot square. It’s a claustrophobic combat arena with no room to hide and no time to mess about. However, as I said the other day, there are many modes in which you can play the game and the classic game is just one of them. Each format has its devotees and no one size fits all (which is why DZ comes in several sizes).

Some people will be quite happy playing the classic 2-player game on a single mat and that’s great. Others will find that too small and want the wider expanses of several times that area. Still others will only ever play solo, or as a multi-player club game. All of these options are equally valid and all allow you to tailor Deadzone to the gaming experience that best suits you and your friends.

So, what’s the difference with larger games (apart from the obvious)? Well mostly it’s the implications of that extra space and larger forces which makes the game different. To recap on the modes I mentioned before, there were two specifically for larger games:

  • Multi-mat Games. Two-player games with more than one mat as a battlefield. Playing lengthways down a two-mat battlefield gives a different type of game as there is a longer approach/position phase, plus long ranged weapons play more of a role. It’s possible to use light vehicles as there is enough space and ground to cover.
  • Multi-player Games. Usually on more than one mat, but possible to play on a single one. These games pit teams of players against other teams of players – in effect taking a large two-player game and breaking each side down into sub-commands. Introduces an element of co-op play into Deadzone. Naturally I’ve slightly spun this by saying that even though each side shares a common goal they also retain separate missions for the sub-commands.

One thing that a few of you have asked is whether you can combine X and Y modes. Well, yes. That’s why I included the final paragraph on that post which says you can do just that. As far as possible all of these models will be compatible with each other. Some will require more thinking than others to fit together neatly, but when it comes to things like multi player games on multiple mats it should be easy.

Anyway, let’s have a think about each of these in a bit more detail.


Multi-Mat Games

The deep battlefield is the key feature here. It adds several turns of approach movement that allows forces to disperse into a more considered defensive perimeter or offensive pattern. This includes using the third dimension as well, so snipers can climb up to vantage points and so on.

This extra time removes some of the urgency and pressure on the player that is typical in a classic game where the enemy is pretty much in your face from round 1. Whether this is a good idea or not is a matter of taste, but it’s an interesting change of pace. Rest assured though, things still get hectic once the forces close in…

The other thing that deep battlefields do is allow longer ranged weaponry to shine a bit more. So mortars and heavy machine guns will come into play as may light vehicles. Things that take time to position and deploy correctly such as sentry guns are easier to use here too, and can be integrated more easily into an overall plan. Overall the extra time shifts the balance slightly towards the heavier weapons.

Talking about coherence, the depth can also be a bit of a trap for the unwary. It is tempting to get your assault troops out in front and leave lines of supporting troops far behind. Indeed, this may be a good plan. Remember though that success in Deadzone relies heavily on your ability to use your forces as a team rather than as a collection of individuals. No matter how well trained an individual model is there are something s they can’t do alone. Some elements of the game are designed specifically to encourage teamwork and, in fact, to be hard to do at all well without it.

Other things such as missions remain as normal. However, you’ll be surprised how different the whole thing feels with just the simple addition of some more space to move through.


Multi-Player Games

As well as giving two players a deeper battlefield to fight over, a larger game can involve more than two players. The dynamic for this is independent of the number of mats used, though obviously the more players you have the more mats and models you’ll probably want.

The intention here is to provide a way of playing games with all your mates at once rather than just one. Whilst you could play a free-for-all the two sided game makes more sense in terms of background. Even if there are three or more forces vying for an objective, it’s likely that one will allow the other two to maul each other first before weighing in to claim the prize. At least, that makes military sense to me. A true three-way meeting engagement is a rare thing indeed! So, two sides with several players per side seems to be the way forward.

Having decided that sharing sides between players was the thing to do, we then have to find a way to make that (a) fun and (b) slick to play.

Fun often comes from choice and conflict – having to pick between many options with limited resources. It’s balancing the risk and accepting the challenge of outthinking or outguessing your opponents. This requires there to be choices, and a common issue with co-operative play is a diminishment of hard choices. In other words, when you’re playing on the same side and are entirely trustworthy and reliable there’s a lot less challenge. So let’s make people less reliable 🙂

A simple way to do that is to retain a secret mission for every player and make that a big part of winning the game. Having a public mission for the players on a single side to share between them is another good idea as this gives them a reason to work together to an extent. What we’re after is a tension between working together and working on their own as this is more fun than either end of the spectrum.

The bit I haven’t finalised yet is how to balance the points from the combined and individual mission and exactly when is bets to end a game. That’ll be obvious when I’ve played some more games.


Mix It All Together…

And what have you got?

Like most of the different modes these two can be combined quite successfully. In this case you end up with increasingly large battlefields and games with anything up to 6 or more players involved. I’ve not played a game this large yet, though I see no reason it wouldn’t work. It will take a bit longer to play because you’re adding so many more models and players, but that’s to be expected and in some ways is part of the fun. Once you’ve gone to all the trouble to get everyone in the same place at the same time you want to make the most of it!

This is the first and most straightforward of the multi-player and multi-mat options I’ve been working on. In due course I’ll get to more free-for-alls and other more complex narrative multi-player battles. Rare they may be, but not unheard of, and in the context of a good story and an exciting campaign I think they could really shine.

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17 Responses to Deadzone Designer’s Notes – Super Size Me!

  1. ph3brickid says:

    Damn it Jake, you just had to go and do it, didn’t you? 😉
    I thought the one thing I could stop myself buying was more mats… Now I’m not so sure I can resist that urge either.

    Keep up the good work, but please- have mercy on my wallet! 🙂

  2. Aaron Switzer says:

    I’ve been really focused on the idea of big free-for-all games (maybe too focused?), but I have to say that I love the idea of the “uneasy truce” for team based play. Having to keep an eye on your team-mates while trying to destroy your enemies should make for some very tense games!

    • Quirkworthy says:

      The ones I’ve played have been loads of fun – much more so than playing nice all the time, and also rather realistic. Just read the history of infighting among the Allied commanders in WWII Normandy, for example.

      • Aaron Switzer says:

        I can already see the grudges that will result from those games in my group. “I’m not teaming up with you again, you left me to get wiped out last time so that you could grab your objective and win!” My group has long memories for things like that. One of my friends still brings up the time, years ago, that I went back on a truce in Risk. 🙂

  3. Torkel says:

    Jake, I’m brainstorming a custom board to work on over the summer. Anyways, I like the small 2’x2′ playing area and was gonna do that size. However, I will have a mat for that alternative and so has been considering scaling up a little. 4’x4′ is too big for my little appartment. I was wondering how you feel a 3’x3′ board would do? Would it fall between two chairs, neither “classic” nor “big”? Or could it be a nice compromise, adding another positioning-phase of the game while not being larger than my kitchen? Pros/cons … =/

    • Quirkworthy says:

      The main pro is that it will fit on some tables which won’t take 4×4. If that’s the situation you’re in then it sounds like it’s be worth giving it a go.

      I don’t see why the game wouldn’t work at this size too. I suppose you’ll just have to give it a try to decide whether it worked better as a large classic or small “large”. I don’t expect I’ll have a lot of time to test that size as well as all the other permutations, so I’l leave that decision down to you 😉

      You’ll probably get enough extra time to deploy the larger weapons and teams, but not quite as much as you might want to set up the more complex positions.

  4. RMBLees says:

    I’m curious if you have played Memoir ’44.
    Specifically Memoir ’44 Overlord, which adds muliplayer to a 2 player game, in a rather neat and compelling manner, which still allows for a tense game, and plenty of friction
    In case you haven’t, and don’t have time to read about it; basically there is a general and between 1 & 3 other players on each side. The general provides action cards to each of his commanders. However each turn, he may only speak with one of them.
    If you have time, check out the ShutUpSitDown playthrough, and see why it is such a cool element to add:

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I played M44 when it first came out having enjoyed Battle Cry and C&C Ancients. It quickly went on eBay.

      That form of general + sub-commanders is a familiar set up from wargame conventions and magazine articles. I’ve played in some games that ran like that myself and they can be a lot fun. Limiting communications between players on the same side is an interesting rule for larger games, though it can be difficult to enforce.

  5. Jon Larsen says:

    I’ll go out on a limb and say the reason you’re having trouble with the “military significance” of a 3 player free-for-all is that there’s not enough ‘win-modes’. A simple narrative example (and I know THAT POST references narrative campaigns as within the design-space of this game…) is data on a computer that can be accessed/transmitted/and wiped by someone controlling that objective.

    Okay – so wouldn’t 3 [or any integer X] factions have a timely incentive to take part in this conflict? I mean, logistics aside (how did they all become aware / and transport themselves to the relevant location at the same time), this is a perfect sci-fi example insofar as these factions have ANY common interests/objectives. The fluff so far certainly states these guys do more than “uh – FIGHT!”.

    Further, I’d propose that the long-walk-up you describe in the 2×4 is an unfortunate design constraint. There’s two factors – right? The first is the maximum functional range of a weapon. So, if you appreciate the “change of pace” from 2×2’s more frenetic nature…then long-range weapons are just another way to introduce the same type of turn 1 in-your-face that you describe above. And to screw melee troops…and possibly the balance of your game I might add. The second factor – and likely the more important one, is density. Things are undeniably less dense on the 2×4…about half so. BUT, a 3×3 accomplishes the same density change without introducing a shooty/melee disparity. WITHOUT requiring vehicles or heavy weapons [read new troop types that can unbalance SOME game modes for which they’re not designed—and it sounds like you’re leaving it up to us to agree at the club how this’ll work…]. AND a 3×3 gives you MORE tactical flexibility to work with at that new density. 2×4 just takes you longer to get to the same place you were going anyway. 3×3 gives you more places to go. See my earlier point about objectives.

    To complete the idea about objectives and tie it – and the density thing – into the narrative example. So, that computer…it’s in A SPOT. You want to be able to sneak around to get there, race there if you’re fast, fight it out (troop density and board shape being key to all these), have a realistic variety of approaches to guard when you’re controlling it, with troop abilities that support all these “design-space” constraints.

    The last I’ll say on this is that the 4×4 board w/double the troops still = half the troop density as the 2×2 board. Double the number of troops gives you more good and bad matchups (greater tactics – so that’s good). The requirement of all the design choices you’re making mirrors dreadball in that an even number of players/game is the standard. While you’re giving us options…don’t just give the “solo” mode. Forgive me for saying, but miniatures solitaire is weird. Give us the odd-man-out option…the 3x, the 5x…so that come game-night we don’t have people standing on their thumbs for 1-2 hours at a stretch [or freaking hovering over my table! 😉 ]. I think I’ve given some stuff to chew on that directly pertains to all these points, and hopefully ties their fundamental disjunction together as tidily as possible.

  6. Jon Larsen says:

    Ah, and now that I return to the thread again, I see someone else inquiring on that 3×3. Let me clarify that the constraints I’m referencing re: Jake are the multiples of 2×2…and that’s a marketing thing–Mantic has 2x2s…I fully realize that a 36″x12″ & 24″x12″ combo ‘add-on’ aren’t going to happen now or ever. Mouse-pad, paper, or any other material in any official release. Therefore, the suggestion for 2×4, and 4×4. Again, I’ll say that both of those are < 3×3, and I appreciate the other poster's comments on the non-game reasons for it.

  7. Rigel Anderson says:

    Any thought to ‘Capture and Hold’ type mechanics? Or an assault mechanic where one team defends and the other team has x rounds to get a unit to a specific objective point? I am sure certain factions would be worse at these options but perhaps you could enhance their chances with a point bonus?

    • Rigel Anderson says:

      Also for big games couldn’t you give certain models a movement bonus when at distance? “Hustle – when figure is more than 6 squares from any opponents model may move 4 squares in a turn”, the figure is not worried about being cautious at this distance and doesn’t have as many tactical situations to consider so it can move with more reckless abandon.

  8. Dafe says:

    Buy the paper mat and cut them in half… Voila you got a nice 3×3 mat (well you’ll need to cut an other one in fourth)

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