Engage!

Two updates in two days? It’s as if I’m on holiday or something. Yesterday I explained how the Embark phase of play gives players a chance to play special upgrade cards and establish the order of play for the Engage phase. The Engage phase is when players can trade with planets or other destinations to gain upgrade cards and/or victory points, conquer planets to gain more victory points and passive ‘homeworld’ bonuses or perform special actions as described on special cards.

Continuing the example round that I used to illustrate the last post, Blue has been knocked out of the round with Orange and Green remaining; Green, with the faster fleet, is first to engage.

8pSp9Do

With different numbers of players, different numbers of destinations are in play at a time. In a 2 player game, 4 destinations are played; In a 3 or 4 player game, 5 destinations are played.

Green apparently has only one option: To take the risk of engaging the Hostile Warfleet for 3 victory points. The Hostile Warfleet is a special card that offers a very high victory point reward, however the player does not know the stats required to defeat it until they have chosen to engage it (established by rolling the two black dice). Here, Green knows that she has enough defence to defeat the hostile Warfleet but, with 24 attack, she is not confident that she will beat a 20+d8. Luckily, Green has another option as she is permitted to play any ‘engage’ upgrade cards at this point if she happens to have any.

Green is in possession of an ‘engage’ upgrade card and plays it to enhance her fleet:

Who ever could have guessed Green was packing an Unobtainium Fuselage?

Who ever could have guessed Green was packing an Unobtainium Fuselage?

The +4 defence bonus raises Green’s defence to 20 (10+6+4). Green is now able to conquer the Cartref Mor homeworld for 1 victory point and a bonus of +2 water barges every turn.

Green takes the Cartref Mor card from table and keeps it, and discards the Unobtainium Fuselage card that she just played.

Green takes the Cartref Mor card from the table and keeps it, and discards the Unobtainium Fuselage card that she just played.

With no ‘engage’ upgrade cards to play, Orange has only one available course of action: Trade with Rogus Crudelis for the face-down upgrade card that it is offering. When a planet is traded with, the player completing the trade receives whatever rewards are on offer and places the destination card into the destination discard pile: The planet has had its trade requirements satisfied and, as a trading partner, come under the temporary protection of the empire, meaning no other player can conquer it for the timebeing.

When all players have had an opportunity to engage destinations (some players may be unable to successfully engage if they have rolled puny fleets or had their fleets destroyed), new destinations are drawn to fill any spaces in the destination ‘tableau’ and any upgrade card rewards placed on to those cards. All players then remove their dice from their fleet cards and play returns to the Enlist phase, with the player to the left of the previous ‘first player’ becoming the first player for the next round.

When the game has been more thoroughly playtested, adjusted, completely redesigned etc. I will have a better idea of the victory point total required to win the game. At the moment, though, it’s looking like something along the lines of 13 points or so for a 2 player game and slightly fewer for more players.

Next update: A more in-depth look at the anatomy of upgrade cards and special cards.

Deploying your fleet

In the last update, I described how players build a fleet in the Enlist phase of play. But what do you do with them once you’ve rolled them up?

Typically, when galactic conquest is the order of the day, you don’t wait nicely for your opponent to finish his turn before you act, just because he’s sitting to your right. So if everyone decides they want a piece of one particular target, who gets to engage it first? In the Embark phase, players will determine which fleet is the fastest (and therefore best placed to their rivals to their destination) and play cards to help their own fleet or hinder their enemies’.

Smaller squadrons travel faster. But the ships themselves must be the same speed, right? Well, when you have to make sure all the craft in a squadron are stocked with fuel, all the pilots are briefed, maintenance checks are carried out etc… you get the idea. Think about trying to travel on the motorway in convoy: Even if you’re all driving the Batmobile, you’re still going to end up getting to your destination slower than one person in a Morris Minor, usually because many bladders are more fallible than just one.

So where was I? The Embark phase. As soon as the Enlist phase has ended, players add together the values on their two highest dice. The lowest number is the fastest fleet, the largest the slowest, and anything in between should be obvious.

JT2e0e4

Three fleets ready to fly. Green has the fastest fleet (14+10=24), while Blue has the next fastest (13+12=15) and Orange the slowest (18+11=29).

In the example above, the Green is fastest, followed by Blue and then Orange. As things currently stand, the all-important turn order for the Engage phase will be the following:

1) Green

2) Blue

3) Orange

(Tied players play in clockwise order from the ‘first player’)

Before moving to the next phase, however, players have a chance to play an upgrade card to aid them on their journey. At this point, any player who wishes to do so plays one upgrade card face down. When all players who wish to have played their card, all cards are turned over and their effects resolved.

In our example game, only Orange has played a card.

Space Privateers

The dangerous Space Privateers. As a lieutenant within the same Empire, Orange cannot engage his opponents directly, but he can hire some outlaws to make life difficult for his adversaries.

Orange has played Space Privateers. Any fleet not traveling with adequate protection will become a target of these ruthless pirates. From our example, we can see that Green, who is fielding a fleet predominantly of combat ships this turn, will not be a target as she has 16 (10+6) points of defence. Blue, who is carrying a large number of trade resources, has only defended his fleet with 3 interceptors and his entire fleet is plundered by merciless privateers.

With Blue eliminated for the remainder of the round, he can only watch and wait as Green and Orange proceed to the final phase of the round: The Engage phase.

Building a fleet

  • How (some of) it works

In this post, I will outline the concept of the game, describe how players build a fleet, and what they’re building it for.

As everyone reading this will know, all fictional space-travelling, planet-hopping universes need a vast and ruthless empire to keep all of those morally dubious arms dealers, smugglers and peaceful, pastoral colonies in check. The world of ‘Galaxy Dice’ (terrible working title) is no exception. The only trouble is that looking after a galaxy is quite a lot of work for one being, so when a remote, independent star system comes under the emperor’s gaze, he despatches some of his closest lieutenants to bring these valuable planets into the imperial fold.

  • Player role

Players take the role of the emperor’s lieutenants as they compete to spread the emperor’s influence throughout this new-found system by force, commerce, or a shrewd mixture of the two. The lieutenant who gains the Emperor’s favour through colonising planets and securing crucial trade contracts will be made Governor of the system. Each player is equipped with a fleet card and four dice of a matching colour (1d6, 1d8, 1d12 and 1d20).

The blue fleet card. The ships are blue!

The blue fleet card. The ships are blue!

The green fleet card. Can you see a pattern emerging?

The green fleet card. Can you see a pattern emerging?

All fleets have a unique design, but feature the same 6 ship types: Attack ship, Advanced fighter, Interceptor, Oxygen Barge, Water Barge and Mineral Barge. Players will need to manage the stats conferred by each ship type to gain control of the the system.

  • Destinations

Depending on how many players are in a game, a certain number of (mostly) planetary destinations will be available each round.

Four destination cards. The small cards are upgrade cards available as rewards for trading at that destination.

Four destination cards. The small cards are upgrade cards available as rewards for trading at that destination.

Most destination cards are planets, and most planet cards offer two actions: Conquer or trade.

Rogus Crudelis can be either conquered or traded with.

Rogus Crudelis can be either conquered or traded with.

Fleet stats required to conquer a planet are shown above the planet’s picture. Rogus Crudelis requires a fleet with 16 Attack (starburst) and 22 Defence (shield) to capture it. Doing so is worth 2 victory points. Below the planet is its available trade contract. Rogus Crudelis is looking for 3 Oxygen, 4 Water and 5 Minerals. In return for trading, it is offering one upgrade card (indicated by the dashed outline). The closed eye icon shows that the upgrade card reward is played face down on the planet card. Some trades may improve your reputation within the system, granting victory points.

In the above example, we have also drawn a ‘homeworld’ planet:

Controlling Cartref Mor, an ocean world, will make you a productive water merchant.

Controlling Cartref Mor, an ocean world, will make you a productive water merchant.

Homeworlds do not offer trade contracts and are usually not worth very many victory points. However, conquering one will give you a passive bonus to your fleet, which could give you the edge in subsequent turns.

Some destinations are not planets at all. Trading stations, for instance, offer lucrative trades but cannot be conquered.

This trading station card cannot be conquered and has a very high trading requirement, but the rewards for trading here are great.

It requires luck or good preparation to satisfy trading colonies’ resource-hungry merchants.

Cassandra Trading station is broadly advertising its available trading contract, with two face-up (indicated by the open eyes) upgrade cards as rewards. In this way, players know what they are getting out of the deal, but their opponents know what upgrades they are adding to their hand.

A handful of unique destination types also feature in the game, including asteroid belts and enemy warships, but I will discuss those another time.

  • Building up that fleet

Play takes place over three ‘phases’ (because you have to have phases in games now – it’s the law) Enlist, Embark and Engage. During the Enlist phase, you will assign pilots to ship types to build a conquering armada or bountiful trade fleet.

The player first rolls all four of their dice (let’s say the player is me, so that I don’t have to be sexist and use either ‘he’ or ‘she)’. These represent squads of freshly-trained pilots.

A fairly average roll

Roll #1. A fairly average roll

I must draw one die from this roll and assign it to a ship-type on my fleet card. The only restriction with assigning dice is that, being expensive and therefore scarcer, Advanced fighters (top row, middle) cannot have a d20 assigned to them, whatever the value. I take another look at the available destinations to see how best to assign my pilots.

The same destination cards again.

The same destination cards again. Some of the numbers are not abundantly clear, thanks to testing and rebalancing amendments.

While I need victory points to win the game, I am not confident about conquering any planets without some upgrade cards in my hand. Llai Mor’s trade contract looks easy, but I am drawn to the Antimatter Warheads offered by Pythia Trading Station. These may allow me to conquer Cartref Mor next turn for that passive water bonus – if somebody doesn’t get there before me. So, I decide to aim for the Trading Station contract and assign my ’12’ pilots to water barges. I then roll my remaining dice.

Roll #2

Roll #2. Horrible

This is a horrible roll. I don’t have any cards to play to mitigate this at the moment, so I must draw one die into my fleet. I draw the 3 as the d6 has the least scoring potential anyway and place it on an Advanced fighter. I then roll again.

Roll #3

Roll #3

My d20 came through for me as I knew it would. I assign my 13 pilots to oxygen barges and continue rolling. I now have only my d8 remaining, and I need a 6 or more, so I’m not safe ye, but I feel those warheads are within touching distance.

Roll #4. Phew!

Roll #4. Phew!

Huge relief. My gamble has paid off and I roll a 7, giving me 7 mineral barge pilot and satisfying the trade requirements for those tempting upgrade cards.

So. That was a somewhat wordy introduction to how to build your fleet, subject to revisions and refinements. Or massive alteration.

That which does not kill me…

  • Tragic History

A little while ago, I began a blog about a game on which I had been tirelessly working: ‘Railway Dice’

Simply put, ‘Railway Dice’ was a push your luck dice game with tactical depth added through the inclusion of cards and a competetive element based on ‘efficient’ rolling.

I was, I’m not ashamed to admit, delighted with my progress and the way the game was shaping up. I was excited – but my excitement was not to last. Having taken what I thought was considerable care to find out whether an idea like mine already existed as a game somewhere before I started, it was only when my second full prototype was up and running that I found a very similar game on The Game Crafter by the name of Trainmaker.

At first, I entirely threw out my idea and started work on something completely different. However, the more I thought about Trainmaker, the more I realised that the features that I got most excited about in my ‘Railway Dice’ game were not represented. It was then that I took the step of throwing out the train theme and the dice rolling mechanics and started on adapting those parts of the game that remained into something new…

Testing in progress

Testing in progress

  • New Direction

Restarting my dice/card game gave me an opportunity to change some aspects that were too fundamental to the game as it was to be easily altered, but which were not altogether ideal.

First among these was the theme. I was perfectly happy with the train theme as a concept and it meshed nicely with many of my mechanical ideas. However, it occurred to me that if I wanted this to go anywhere as an indie game – even if I wanted a version just for myself – it would have to have the kind of art that a train theme required to ‘work’, and I could neither do this myself nor pay for it; Paying for art is not an option at all for a game that I’m crafting principally for personal amusement, so I had one direction I could go artistically: Pixel art.

Pixel art is nothing new. It is not even new to tabletop games. There are a few games out there that do a terrific job of implementing pixel art, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the only kind of art I can even slightly do and I think there is still some mileage that can be got out of it.

A wizard, from an idea I didn't pursue

A wizard, from an idea I didn’t pursue

The other area I wanted to fix was the dice rolling itself. ‘Railway Dice’ had become a more tactical game than I had anticipated and, as a result of this, players’ turns took rather longer than I was really happy with; A game with more than three players would have seemed quite slow during downtime. On top of this, the dice I had designed would have needed to be custom moulded, which was never going to happen.

What I eventually came up with will be called ‘Galaxy Dice’ until I think up a better name, and here are a few of the cards that I’ve been working on:

A planet card, taking the place of Railway Dice's city cards. This card can either be conquered or traded with.

A planet card, taking the place of Railway Dice’s city cards. This card can either be conquered or traded with.

This homeworld card has no trade option but, once conquered, gives you a passive bonus.

This homeworld card has no trade option but, once conquered, gives you a passive bonus.

This trading station card cannot be conquered and has a very high trading requirement, but the rewards for trading here are great.

This trading station card cannot be conquered and has a very high trading requirement, but the rewards for trading here are great.

The orange player fleet card. This is where players assign pilots (dice) to ship types (resources).

The orange player fleet card. This is where players assign pilots (dice) to ship types (resources).

Purple player fleet card. Attack and defense ships (top row) are used mainly for conquering worlds and the resource ship (bottom row) for trading.

Purple player fleet card. Attack and defence ships (top row) are used mainly for conquering worlds and the resource ship (bottom row) for trading.

So, that is what ‘Galaxy Dice’ looks like. I’ll explain how it works in my next post. Thanks for reading.