1. Ideals of Aggro Tactics Part 2: Calculated Anticipatory Combat

      written by Ray Benefield
      Day late, not really good for only my third post. But I just got sucked into Pathfinder character creation for my group who just jumped from level 3 to 10, so lots of stuff needed to be done. But my wife's character is SICK! Anyways, back for another talk on my ideals for Aggro Tactics. Another combat related one... very important in Aggro Tactics. Also just for Noklu, one of these is actually going to go over the core mechanics of combat. ;) Because what he remembers from the TCG is much different than what is happening now. Moving on...



      Chance



      I love playing games... board games, card games, video games, even freeze tag. LOVE 'EM! You know what I don't love? Random chance factors that reduce how much my skill matters. I hate it. I get that it adds excitement. I get that it gives the little guy a chance and makes it more interesting for them. That's cool and all. But when I'm winning by a good margin and a random draw of the deck or toss of the die results in me losing, it is infuriating. Like a ton. I have seen so many times that a player is winning in Magic and loses to three bad draws. Sure you can reduce chance in games like Magic and that is part of the point, but bad luck still happens. Crit failing after rocking an encounter in DnD is the worst of feelings. Hatred and nothing but a lot of the time.



      Hidden Information



      What about the feeling of your opponent knowing something that you don't. In Halo, the new guys have a terrible chance in comparison to the vets because of map knowledge. Vets know where the rocket launcher is and the new guys will never learn because it is never there unless they go out of their way to look at the map later. Or the player in Magic that has the key counterspell for your game winning spell. Guess what... he top decked that shit. Or maybe a rogue that suddenly pulls out a pit from underneath you. Sure this is all exciting and great for suspense, but not as much for the guy in the lead.



      Politics



      Here we go, this drives me nuts. The politics of gaming. Relationships, alliances, delay play, etc. I suffer from this a lot in our play groups because I'm one of the ones who normally wins if I go unchecked. So ganging up and alliances against me is a pain. I have an obvious board advantage, but I can't typically take 2-on-1 (well sometimes, depends on the game). Still ridiculous. I hate politics. What happened to factors that I have measurable assured control over. That's why I like duels, and to a slight extent team matches. Though random teams results in hidden information and chance. Whatever man.



      Calculated vs Arbitrary



      So these are the things I hate about some games. I want games where random factors, hidden information, and politics take a back seat. So Aggro Tactics will reflect that. It will promote those who know what they are doing. And get this, when people lose, they can't blame the game. There are no excuses in a game where you have control, full information, and no politics. If you lose it is because you did something wrong and they did something right. Players are held accountable and I like that. It makes me want to get better. If I lose to a bad roll then I know there is little I can do about that. I can get better though... that's awesome. That's why I love calculated combat, if I lose it is my fault and I have more to learn. I want a game that promotes people to improve not make excuses. But there is a HUGE problem with no hidden information, random chance, or politics...



      Creating Suspense



      Some of the best moments in gaming are during random incidents, or SURPRISE I have this moments, or even the three underdogs pairing and sweeping the board. True calculated combat is bleh... boring and exactly that, calculated. So how does Aggro Tactics address this? Through simultaneous decision making. There is a board game called Cash N' Guns that I LOVE! Each player gets a gun and 8 cards; 5 blanks, 3 shots, and 1 rampage shot (I'm renaming the actual cards to make more sense). You lay down one of the cards face down and never get it back each round. Then point your gun simultaneously with everyone else then you get the chance to back down and save yourself but you get no money that round. If someone pointed a gun at you and it was a shot, you take damage and get no money anyway. But it might be blank, not a shot. You could be safe.

      This is what I call anticipatory gameplay. Everyone has the same information and everyone knows what decisions everyone else can make. There is essentially no hidden information and no random chance. There is still politics here and there, but politics can be removed by making it a team game. The suspense for this game is through anticipating what your opponent is going to do with the information available to them. If you anticipate right, you win. If not you lose. This includes adding the dimension of deep analysis into the skillset. You have to recognize behavioral patterns, eye cues, retain memory of past actions, etc. Now if you put the card back in your hand it would just be random, but as time goes on your opponent exhausts options instead. This type of gameplay is exciting in a similar way and is still fully under your control, which is the goal of Aggro Tactics.



      Simultaneous Turns



      So how does Aggro Tactics do this? You have an X number of Action Points to use each round. You decide how to use those Action Points, but nothing happens immediately. You are basically writing your moves on an index card to put face down when you are done. Except writing down exact movement path would be a hassle in reality. When you are done and your opponent is done, then you combine the actions and play them one at a time in a particular anticipatory priority order. The main factor is threat. The more threat a piece has, the sooner it goes (basically your initiative). It makes sense too, those who have more threat are more integrated in combat and threat basically represents your adrenaline and reaction time. So if a Wizard tries to cast a spell against the Warrior (who more than likely has more threat), the Warrior gets the chance to move out of the way first. And the Wizard would miss. Lame for the Wizard right? Well there is more to it.

      Combat is broken into three phases, Before Combat, During Combat, and After Combat. Most offensive and movement actions happen During Combat. But there are some actions that can prepare you for that phase that happen Before Combat. For example the Rogue could increase the Wizard's threat so that it is higher than the Warrior Before Combat. If your opponent didn't expect you to do that, your Wizard suddenly goes before their Warrior and your Wizard connects with his spell while the Warrior continues to move to try to avoid the spell, but by then it is too late. However if your opponent anticipates the Rogue buff, he can counter by buffing his own Warrior or maybe removing threat from your Wizard which would result in the initial scenario and the Wizard wasting his spell.

      So there is good reason to both cast the spell from the Wizard and not cast the spell. The decision you make is based on the situation. Are your points better spent elsewhere for the round rather than casting the spell AND buffing with your Rogue or is just casting the spell enough? Or is it worth the risk? What other pieces will be affected if the Warrior moves? Is your Wizard at risk of being compromised next round? The decision making aspect is there, and the suspense is in tact. When you are watching the results of the combined decisions, there will be times where you discover that your anticipation was correct and you respond with a fist pump. Or sometimes your opponent cleverly counters your key play and your jaw drops in shock because he found a way to also push your Wizard into the deadly hands of an Assassin in that same turn.



      Wrap up



      I've put a lot of thought into this. A lot of trial and error. I've learned a lot from the initial playtests of the TCG and what made the game shine and what it needed more of. I wanted more depth with little complexity and adding actual spatial play is exactly what I needed, and more intuitive than the priority row system that used to exist. Range makes more sense now as it resembles other games as well as movement. Again the key here is keeping the core mechanics with little fluff. They will intertwine in various ways like above where Threat and Action Points mattered a lot when deciding which decisions to make and we hadn't even considered health (except the possibility of your Wizard being compromised). Calculated combat without a loss of suspense is the goal. This means that particular things will result in the design. For example all true official competitive games will be two teams or 1v1, no battle royals or multi-teams. That is where politics get introduced. Maybe if it becomes popular, but that isn't the focus of Aggro Tactics. It will be possible, but not a focus so if more than two sides has to be sacrificed for something then it can be. Until next week. ;) Maybe I'll have the graphical assets for the combat rules explanation will be done. Who knows.