Help design my (tabletop) strategy game

At the request of a few friends, I’m putting together a simple strategy game that we can use to amuse ourselves during reading hours and the like. Since I don’t have any experience creating this kind of game, I thought I’d ask for suggestions, criticisms, or (especially!) neat ideas that I haven’t thought of. A little background:

The game itself is a military conquest deal, played on a map covered by a hex grid: start with a little bit of land, spread out, build lots of units, spread out more, repeat. I’d be interested in making the economy complex enough to allow an economic or diplomatic strategy to flourish, but I’m beginning with open conflict as the mainstay.

I’m not adverse to making the ruleset increasingly complex as we playtest it and get a better feel for what works and what doesn’t, but I’d like to start with a fairly minimalist format.

I’d like the game to be entirely transparent, such that it can be run without a DM. We’re happy with running stealth units, spies, and the like on the honor system, so long as the player covertly records his movements so he can prove that he was following the rules if someone challenges him.

Finally, let me summarize what I have so far:

Gameplay is fairly straightforward: each player begins with a certain number of units and the ability to construct more units. Once I have a solid economy worked out I’d like to add a simple tech tree.

The game is played in rounds; a round is defined as the time required for each player to take a Turn, in which he makes any legal moves he wishes. A turn may take as long as a player needs, but once the player announces the end of his turn, he may not move any unit until his next turn. However, regardless of the state of his turn, any player may elect to attack an opposing unit if said unit attempts to travel through a hex adjacent to said player’s unit. Play proceeds clockwise in the same order every round.

Each unit has a small number of statistics. To keep things simple, I’m beginning with an Erfworld-style system: every unit, without question, has the following statistics:

Health: Hit points; if a unit runs out of these, it dies and is instantly removed from play.

Movement: These govern a unit’s speed; advancing one hex costs one movement point, and when Movement reaches zero a unit may not move anywhere else. Movement regenerates completely at the beginning of each turn. Attacking does not cost any movement, so a unit may advance, attack, and retreat in the same turn. (I’m thinking of creating a special ability that prevents an attacking unit from retreating; lining up several units with this ability would create an effective front-line.)

Attack: The unit’s offensive capability. One attack may be made every round, and damage is calculated by subtracting Attack from Defense; once the enemy’s Defense has been reduced to 0, all remaining attack points are subtracted from the defending unit’s Health. Attack regenerates completely at the beginning of each turn.

Defense: The unit’s defensive ability. As noted above, one point of damage recieved from the offensive unit is soaked for every one point of defense. Defense regenerates completely at the beginning of each turn.

Special: Some, but not all units have special abilities. Any such abilities are recorded and detailed in this slot.

I’m quite certain that I’m leaving a few things out, but those are the basics of my system. I have a few things I’m still unhappy about, but I’m hoping that as I flesh things out an obvious solution will present itself. My chief concern is that I don’t want gameplay to be tedious. As such, I anticipate most units will have high movement and low hit points. To compensate for this, I can introduce different types of Healers. Ideally, I’d like to avoid outright sluggfests unless one or both players really want to throw down. Weak units should force players to play thoughtfully. It might be interesting to begin each game by giving each player several powerful units that may not be replaced during the course of the game.

So, anyway… any thoughts?

  1. Have you ever played any Avalon Hill boardgames? If not you might want to pick one up and play it a bit to see how they handle things. You’re halfway to recreating their core system already.

  2. Different terrain types need to cost different numbers of movment points. You should also think about what bonuses and penalties different terrain types give to attack and defense.

  3. Can units stack in the same hex? If you’re attacking a stack of units, who determines the first defender, you or your enemy?

  4. How do you plan on tracking unit health? That can easily double the number of counters on the board and it can get particularly confusing if you allow stacking.

  5. If this is intended to be a friendly, casual game a little bit of randomness can help with the tone. Purely deterministic combat resolution tends to feel more unforgiving and cut-throat, while just a little bit of randomness makes it easier for a weaker player to bounce back with a string of lucky rolls. What are you making, Diplomacy or Risk? If the latter I suggest that you work a die roll or two into your combat resolution.

  6. You might want to consider only letting select units move after combat (cavalry, for example). If everyone can move-fire-move then you’re less likely to get well-defined battle lines.

  7. Generally the higher the movement speed of the units the smaller the role that terrain plays in the game and the more difficult defense becomes.

Pochacco is wise, and he is correct that you are basically re-creating the wheel.

However, if you insist on creating your own, I suggest you make attacking a function of movement points. For example, my 8-8-6 armor unit (8 attack, 8 defense, 6 movement) can move up to 6 hexes (in clear terrain) but it can also use a movement factor to attack. This enables me to move, hit, and then a) run or b) advance.*

*shamelessly stolen from Russian Front, the strategy game I cut my teeth on. hehehe

When I was a kid, some friends and I developed our own board game based generally on D-Day. It involved two sides fighting to conquer Africa. One side was based on Madigascar, the other was based on England, so they both had to ferry ships and supplies and troops to the continent via their navies. Air power was also important in the game – you had aircraft carriers that could attack each others navies and each other, and air support gave any troops, etc., a huge advantage.

So you had air, naval and ground strategy going at the same time, with the air and naval and land battles all affecting the others (since troops could hold territory for air bases, extending one’s air power, and were necessary to the actual conquest of Africa.)

Lots of fun, but we were kids and never developed it very far. Also, since we made up the rules, SOME of us, including if I recall correctly, me, felt at liberty to change the rules in mid-game if things were going too badly, pissing off the other players to no end and generally resulting in total victory for the one who changed the rules, in the form of everyone quitting and calling said person a poopy-head.

Disputes about the rules were rather common, too.

Thanks for the feedback! I’ve heard of Avalon Hill, of course, but I haven’t bought any of their systems; I tend to have more fun with systems that I’ve built from the ground up, even if it’s extra work. I like the idea about different terrain types costing different movement, and I’ve thought about both Air and Sea units… I think once I have a good idea of what terrain types to put in, I’ll work out how they function. I’m thinking of making air units that work like Civ2, in that they have a very limited range and need to return to a staging area every other turn or so.

Read this. It probably won’t give you any ideas, but it’s worth a laugh.

I only have experience playing games. I’ve never designed a coherent one. Here’s my advice, though.

Keep combat simple. Rerolls and calculations and different sided dice for different types of attacks, along with extensive bookkeeping, will ruin your game. A particular combat should take 3-5 seconds to finish, if you’re planning on seeing multiple combats per turn. If a turn lasts 5 minutes, it’s taking too long.

Keep the economy simple. If it takes you several minutes every turn to calculate tax revenue and maintenance costs and item sales and ability/unit purchases, it’s taking too long. A good suggestion for this is to have an economy scale that each person can place a token on, and they move their token whenever their economy changes. When it’s a particular person’s turn, he can just glance at the economy chart, find his token, and see how much money he gets in less than two seconds. The fewer times you have to add things, the better.

Whenever you can reduce the complexity of your game easily, you should. Most games like what you’re proposing fail because of rule complexity.

One way you can add stealth units is by printing something on the bottom of a normal looking piece. Say for example you have a regular merchant token, and someone wants to attack it with a robber token. You can then reveal that the merchant token is really an undercover soldier by showing them the “soldier” icon underneath its base. No need for fancy secret movement tracking and bookkeeping that way.

That’s a really neat idea about the identification on the bottom… the units that would require explicit bookkeeping are the ones that simply don’t appear; rangers, and such, whose presence simply can’t be detected in a certain type of terrain.

I have an addiction to board games and I’ve designed a few for my friends and I. One key piece of advice, no matter what the game: the end goal should ultimately be to have the most dynamic game with the least amount of rules.

How about rules simulating real world command issues? Most games allow players pretty much universal command abilities - they can have any unit do anything at any time. But in the real world, there are limits to how many orders can be effectively issued in a given time period.

I once designed a game where you had headquarters units in charge of the combat units. Each headquarter unit could control a certain number of combat units assigned to it. The central command (ie the player) could only issue a limited number of commands - they could control individual combat units but if was much better to issue orders to headquarters units which could then control all of their subordinate units. This system forced the player to organize his forces into specific commands. It also made the headquarters units more important because eliminating a single weak headquarters unit would paralyze an entire group of combat units as well.

I think a neat way to handle this would be through the use of Leader units. I’m allowing units to stack up on the same hex, and considering adding stipulations such as “Targets of opportunity may not be pursued unless a Leader is with the column”.

I know it’s pretty popular, but I’ve never liked the idea of ‘hit points’ for military units, especially when a unit that’s been attacked five times can still fight at full strength. This really only makes sense if you can have a lot of units, but even then it’s an abstraction.

I think it’d be great to see a system that works unit strength better. Perhaps each unit (individual units) has a small number of attack & defense points (which are summed in a battle), and one hit destroys one unit. The difficulty lies in determining how to make it worthwhile to have different units, and limiting user stacks. Both of these could be partly solved, perhaps, by using the leader units or placing a firm cap on stack size.
A slightly more complicated method could be to have a unit show different combat values depending on if it’s at full or half (or some other level) strength. That’s more workable in a computer game than tabletop, unless you have an off-map sheet showing army strength.

Some thoughts on economy : Either have key production centers, or make it so that all terrain of a particular type produces a certain amount, so that more terrain = more money. The second is good if you have multiple resources, but you can also do that by having key resource hexes. Key resource hexes could also add bonuses if all terrain produces resources.
I think somewhere in the middle might be good - land is required to produce the resources, and production centers (which can themselves be improved) are required to produce units. For example, you get 2 ‘raw materials’ points per 3 forest hexes, and 1 ‘raw materials’ + 1 ‘manpower’ per 3 plains hexes. Units cost some combination of those. Production centers have a single value - which equals the total cost of units that can be produced there per turn (and provides a primitive form for tech levels, since you can’t build a unit more expensive than the production center’s value).

I’ve had similar ideas as you. Echoing what other people said, keep it simple! If you are looking into a production-based strategy game, you should really look at the system they had in Axis and Allies games.

Set aside your ego and look into the rulesets of these games. Generally you can more or less cherry-pick desirable aspects of different games and consolodate them together. Some suggestions I have with working on (unsucessful; I actually toyed around with almost an identical concept you did back when I was in high school) tabletop strategy games:

  1. Keep the number of resource types low. Some PC games have greatly streamlined resources- C&C Generals simply had ‘supplies’ which kept things simpler. It also makes balancing out the resource cost of things simpler.

  2. Make unit damage all-or-nothing. The tabletop game Warhammer 40,000 can be a long-drawn out affair, but the rules for vehicle damage were pretty simple- Tanks were either unaffected by the damage, crippled by it, or blown up outright. By eliminating ‘hit points’ it makes things easier to track, and makes the game a little more random and unpredictable.

  3. Try to minimize the amount of things you are going to have to track. Its fine if you want complicated stats for units/buildings as long as they are more or less static. If you try to track a units HP, ammo, fuel, morale, etc it will take forever and inevitable screw-ups in mid-game which will result in the hurling of dice and gnashing of teeth at opponents :stuck_out_tongue:

  4. Wherever possible, try to consolodate unit attacks as much as possible, like in Axis and Allies and a few other tabletop examples. This gets important later in the game where there may be tons of units on the board, and each person’s turn is topping 2 hours.

  5. Some solutions for stealth units that don’t require a third party:
    -A stealth unit like a sub could be represented by three counters at three different hexes. Each counter follows the unit’s movement rules. At any point, the player with the stealth unit can reveal which counter is the ‘real’ unit.

-Based on a dice roll, the stealth unit appears within X hexes of a target. If you want to add stealth detection, you make penalties that force the stealth unit to get revealed from farther out. There are plenty of very simple, straightforward methods to make it work.

  1. If you are going to add non-VTOL aircraft in your game, my strong recommendation is to not make them behave like normal units, but rather more like an artillery strike (designate a reigion you wish to bomb/attack, with dice rolls determining when they show up/accuracy). You can also simulate air cover in similar manners. This keeps movement rules simpler. Too many rules, and it starts to get difficult to keep them from contradicting each other :o