Diary #5 – En Garde!


I feel I’ve been looking backward too much when writing this blog, as though I’m turning it into an advertisement for Master of Olympus (speaking of adverts, you can find us at stand J7 during the UK Games Expo). It’s time to look forward and set myself some new targets but first, as promised, I’m going to tell you the story of my combat system.

The first tabletop game to really capture my imagination was Risk.  But I had a problem with Risk: it seemed wrong that a single defender could, die permitting, kill an infinite number of attackers. I proposed a solution to this in which a victorious troop would suffer a -1 penalty on its next die roll, and I called this “fatigue”. Hold that idea in your head for a moment…

At the age of 18 I was in the grip of my awakening as a board game designer, but I didn’t own enough board games to plunder for pieces. I did, however, have a large Lego collection, and I decided to substitute little Lego circles for Risk troops, then clip them on to the bigger blocks. This led to my very first combat system.

That system is shown in the image above. Here we see a fleet piece “carrying” two ships (which would otherwise be immobile) and transporting an army piece which is carrying two troops (ditto). The whole stack is led by a hero piece. If this stack were to fight another, the ships would be sent into battle one by one and fight by rolling a single die (with fatigue penalties applied). The ship with the higher die roll destroys its opponent, and this process continues until all the ships in one fleet been destroyed.

The system worked well, but I knew that designing bespoke pieces which stacked up in this way would be next to impossible. I replaced these “compound” stacks with stacks containing only one type of piece: ship on top of ship on top of ship, for example. This simplified the pieces but left me with even more questions to answer: what if players wanted to drop pieces off from their stack, or pick them up? Cue lots of scribbling in the rule book.

Playtesting revealed that, even with fatigue, there was more randomness in the combat system than I wanted. I adopted “averaged” six-sided die, in which the 1 and the 6 have been replaced by an additional 3 and 4, respectively. This made the outcome of combat significantly more predictable, and rewarded players for bringing greater numbers to battle.

The mathematicians among you will notice that this subtle change of die must have had a profound impact on the combat system: it was now extremely unlikely for a fatigued piece to win a dice roll! I therefore dispensed with all dice rolls except the very first one of the battle, which would lead to one stack losing a piece. After that, each stack would simply destroy as many pieces as it now contained. The surviving stack (if there was one) would become fatigued. I then introduced Power cards, which allowed players to alter the value of their all-important die roll (Ares was particularly dangerous here). I had, at last, found a simple and quick system which introduced a small element of luck to the game.

You now know all you need to begin fighting for ancient Greece. The question is, do I know all I need to get the most out of the Games Expo this weekend? Not really but, as Andy Hopwood (Hopwood Games) argues here, this may not be the end of the world. Here’s a list of what I’ll be up to:

  • Spreading the word;
  • Rocking stand J7;
  • Doing a playtest with Playtest UK, Sunday 10am to 2.30 pm;
  • Finding someone with a 3D printer;
  • Finding an artist;
  • Finding a graphic designer;
  • Meeting in person designers and journalists I’ve met online;
  • Networking with publishers on Friday evening, again through Playtest UK.

See you there!

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