Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Wargame Playtest 1

Last night I got together with +Sasha+Michael and Tony to do some playtesting. We started off with the tile-and-card wargame I've been developing (as discussed briefly in my last post).

Some of the tiles and unit cards.
I'd written up three colour-coded factions with six units each. At the moment there isn't a particularly strong and cohesive flavour to each faction; I'm just trying to get down as many unit concepts as I can to test out as much of the game as possible.

  • Mickey got the Red Faction, which is based around heavy cavalry and two units of medium infantry. They also currently have pikebreakers, crossbows, and a bargain-bin "convict legion".
  • Sasha got the Green Faction, which has longbow archers, skirmishing rangers and berserkers, a unit of pikes, medium cavalry, and conscripts.
  • Tony got the Blue Faction, which has harquebusiers, mounted archers, heavy infantry, light infantry (with javelins), chariots, and a fairly well-equipped militia.

I acted as impartial referee and observer, and the guys played through a round-robin of three one-on-one battles using 10 points of troops (2 to 4 units a side).

Sasha vs Tony

The first battle was fought on a 4x4 area map dealt out at random by Mickey. It was a learning experience for all involved, so it was really a case of throwing units at each other and seeing what worked.

Sasha fielded Rangers and Berserkers, with a reserve of Longbows and Conscripts. Tony fielded Harquebusiers and Mounted Archers, with a reserve of Light Infantry and Militia.

Both sides suffered losses, but in the end Sasha emerged the clear winner.

Mickey vs Tony

We extended the map to a 4x5 area, so the whole map couldn't be dominated by a single ranged attack. I set up a fairly symmetrical map around a fortified town.

Mickey fielded Pikebreakers, Crossbows, and Medium Infantry, with a Convict reserve. Tony fielded the same forces as in the previous battle, but started with all units arrayed on the field.

Tony took the advantage, using his mobile cavalry to take over the tower and setting up his javelin-throwing Light Infantry atop an escarpment. Red Crossbows and blue Harquebusiers fought it out on one side of the map, but the Crossbows were routed thanks to withering fire. With the advantage of position, ranged attacks, and experience, Tony held the advantage and forced Mickey's forces off the map without losing a single unit of his own.

I began to think that ranged units may be decisive, and also noticed that a longer map meant it took the melee units longer to engage the enemy while suffering ranged assault. I also noticed, after the battle was over, that Mickey's Medium Infantry's defence values were lower than they should have been, probably from an earlier draft of the rules (as they are the "standard" unit that benchmarks the rest of the system).

Mickey vs Sasha

Tony set up a 4x5 map filled with horrible terrain. Much of the map was chopped up by cliffs, walls, and deep water that couldn't be entered.

Mickey fielded his Heavy Cavalry and newly-corrected Medium Infantry. Sasha fielded Berserkers, Cavalry, and Conscripts, which only cost 9 points (but there's currently no 2-point cost Green unit).

In the first turn, the Red Infantry charged across the map and obliterated the Conscripts. Sasha's remaining units attempted a pincer manoeuvre, but the Berserkers got tied up in the complex terrain. They wasted a lot of time, and by the time they got back, the Red forces had managed to dislodge Sasha's Cavalry from the narrow pass and push them into the corner of the map. When the Berserkers launched an attack from the tower onto the Medium Infantry and pushed them back, the Infantry chose to move and box in the Cavalry - which meant the Green Cavalry suffered a Fall Back result and were Routed off the map. The Berserkers were mopped up in short order.

Conclusions

One victory per player is a good result, I think - it shows that there's no fatal flaw unbalancing the system. I'll need to run some more controlled tests though, to see if range, numbers, or quality are overwhelming advantages. Even if I find that something is exceptionally useful, though, it should hopefully just be a matter of tweaking the cost to compensate.

Some of the battles were fairly one-sided, but I think that's a reasonably natural outcome. Once a side is taking advantage of the terrain, has command of the field, outnumbers the enemy, and applies the right units against the right targets, victory is all but assured. The battles themselves are relatively brief, and if I develop the game for extended campaign play it is possible for an outclassed army to withdraw and concede defeat in order to conserve their forces.

I only made a couple of notes for rules revisions. Firstly, Ranged Attacks can't be used on adjacent Units. Second, a Unit that Falls Back must move into an Area with the fewest adjacent enemy Units; this will prevent losing ground from being used as a manoeuvring advantage (as Mickey did against Sasha), since it is meant to be a bad thing.

After the game I also introduced the guys to my idea for Commanders. They are rated from 1 to 3, and you get to pick as many points of Commanders as you have units in your army. Commanders are basically cards that let you break the rules in small ways, like activating a unit twice or rerolling an attack. Each time you use a Commander, you flip their card face-down. At the start of each round, you get to flip one Commander face-up again.

I did mention my concern that you might end up with the same mega-useful Commander being spammed every round. Sasha suggested that maybe you get one coin each round, and you can pay as many coins as a Commander's cost to flip them face-up. That would give some depth to the decision; do I flip a moderately useful Commander this round, or wait until I can bring my big Commander into play?

All up, I'm quite pleased with the way things played out. Everybody picked up the basics of gameplay pretty quickly. Nothing was obviously broken, and we didn't end up with any situations that strained the bounds of credibility. I'll run a few controlled tests on my own, but other than that it looks like I can move on to developing and refining themed army lists and playtesting Commanders.