Monday, April 19, 2010


I have a guilty habit of occasionally Googling my name... probably a bit out of narcissism (though as I near middle-age man, I am not sure there is much left to be narcissistic about), but also due to a morbid curiosity about the intellectual debris I have left in cyberspace, especially because I generally use my real name in my posts. Indeed, there are posts and questions on technical forums and gaming forums that strike up a twinge of embarrassment today.

Now keep in mind, my name isn't all that common. There just aren't that many Magouns in the world. So, I was a little surprised to find that there is in fact another Chris Magoun out there, living out west and working in various capacities in the gaming industry.

I was amused until it dawned on me: this dude is in his 20s, is single, living in California and working as a game designer... My God, my namesake has my ideal life!!! Stranger still is the fact that at this very moment, the other Chris Magoun is writing a blog post about how his namesake, the 40-year old programmer with four kids, is dragging him down!

Or not.

But that would be pretty funny, wouldn't it?

Friday, April 16, 2010

What is Wrong with The New X-Com?

Recently, 2K Games announced that they would be releasing a new X-Com game. At first, this sounds like great news. X-Com is a beloved franchise and its mix of base building and turn-based man-to-man combat has never truly been matched. Certainly, in a market filled with sports games and first-person shooters, a modern version of one of the best turn-based tactical games ever made will be an exciting release.

Except that it seems that the modernized version of the best turn-based tactical game in history would just happen to be a first person shooter!!?! Huh?

Yeah, the new XCOM game (hyphens and lower case are soooooo 1990s, or British, not sure which) will be a heavily story-drive FPS, along the lines of 2K Marin's last title, Bioshock.

Now, of course, this news tweaked the old, crotchety gamer in me and elicited the usual rants about "ruining the franchise", "dumbing down" and an old standby, "kids these days". But then I thought, "Well, Bioshock was an ok game, maybe a good game with the X-Com label, whatever the genre, will be neat."

Then I thought about X-Com Interceptor and Enforcer and threw up a little into my mouth...

Seriously though, there is nothing inherently wrong with a top-notch game maker scooping up an old franchise and reimagining it. If you think about it, the highly enjoyable hit, Borderlands, is pretty much Diablo skinned as an FPS. It is a great game because it is an FPS, written by a dev studio that specializes in FPS games, and it adds other elements that twist the formula just enough (looting and character development) to put the game over the top. So ultimately, it is ok for 2K to rethink XCOM and the result might be a pleasant surprise.

On the other hand, to those of us who know this venerable classic, the announcement of the new genre is still disappointing and part of me can't get over the fact that this seems like a cynical attempt slap a known franchise on a game that would otherwise have a hard time competing in a glutted market with the likes of Gears of War and Modern Warfare. Certainly the buzz of the licensing announcement... good and bad... cannot hurt the future sales of this game.

And the name XCOM sure beats Yet Another Shooter as far as titles go.

Perhaps someday the tables will be turned and someone will buy the rights to the name Modern Warfare and remake it as a puzzle RPG. Until then, it seems someone IS creating an honest-to-goodness remake of X-Com. Check out and hope they make their release date of Christmas of this year.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

After Action Report (PCs at War Part 3)

I spent last Thursday night running through some tests on my Risk-like battle system and we ran the game the next night. How did it go?

Well, the playtest went OK. I printed out some hex paper and cut-and-pasted two sheets together to make a map of the battlefield. I grabbed some color counters from my old copy of Stellar Conquest and started moving pieces and rolling dice.

The first lesson is that if you are going to use minis, you need BIG hexes. I printed 1" and 1.5" hexes and neither of these could deal with the number of units on the board. Ultimately, I went with counters and that worked fine on a 1" hex.

I played the first 6 or so turns over and over again, trying to get a turn sequence that worked. What I came up with was this:
  1. Alert Phase -- In my particular scenario, the defenders are unprepared for the attack and are generally undisciplined. I divided the city into zones and every turn, I rolled to alert a different zone. For each hex in the zone to be alerted, I rolled a d6. On a 3+, the hex got a unit. When all zones had rolled to be alerted (after about 4-5 turns in), the palace would alert and the King and his guards would head out to battle.
  2. Initiative -- Both sides roll a d6 and the highest roll can move its units first.
  3. Move/Pin -- Each side can move all of its units one hex. The advantage to having initiative is that if you are in a hex with an enemy, or move into an enemy hex, you can choose to pin that enemy stack and they would be unable to move that turn.
  4. Combat -- Any contested hex has a combat round. The combat is resolved in a Risk-like fashion. Each side gets a number of dice and then you compare dice highest to lowest. Maximum number of casualties in a round is 2.
  5. Reinforcements -- If your side is eligible for reinforcements, you roll a number of d6 and on a 4+, you get a unit. For instance, if the allied forces attack through the main gate, they would be eligible for 4 dice and up to 4 new units each turn.
PCs could move and resolve an encounter any time during stages 2-4. Thus, they could wait and see how things progressed before moving, or they could preempt the larger units and move first. Each hex, I would also roll on a random encounter chart to see if they encountered anything "special" during the battle.

Thinking about it now, I think that pinning is a little too powerful, since a single unit can pin a whole stack. Also, there is a tendency for the forces to blob up a little too much. The most effective tactic would be to gather your forces into a single hex and just pound through your opponents' separate stacks. I think both of these issues could be tweaked out with a few small changes.

Friday's game, I have to admit being a little hesitant about my system, but decided to go with it in any case. The players decided to attack the harbor and the allied forces took two stacks -- one went straight toward the palace and the other protected the flank and the way back to the harbor.

The PCs traveled ahead of the flank protecting stack and hunted lone enemy patrols, each patrol we played a little battle using the Pathfinder rules. To scale the battles, I determined that the first enemy unit would be 1d4+2 enemies and that each additional unit would add 1d6 to that number. The PCs stuck to lone units (remember the enemies were alerting piecemeal) and moved from hex to hex, killing them... but using valuable spells and healing bursts in the process.

One thing that I like about this simple mini-game is that it does produce interesting situations. In our battle, the main force heading to the palace got stalled and bogged down, forcing the players to consider how best to support that stack and protect it from being overwhelmed.

Ultimately, the King and his cohort stormed out of the palace and forced the allied forces to pull back and regroup before throwing everyone into an epic final battle. We broke up before resolving that battle and we will resolve it next session in a giant Pathfinder battle...

Enemy Force
  • Admetus the Corrupt -- 4th level fighter, riding a chariot drawn by 2 Shadow Hounds
  • 2x Commander -- 2nd level fighter
  • Commander -- 2nd level mage
  • 46 troops
Allied Force
  • 5 PCs
  • Peter -- 2nd level cleric
  • Orc Commander -- 3rd level fighter
  • 55 troops
We are playing this man-to-man scale... should be fun.

Ultimately, I was happy with how it went. I think the weakest part was the individual encounters had by the PCs. The fights with the patrols were quick, but not very compelling and not enough interesting random encounters really appeared.

I do think the overall system is worthwhile as an easy way to put characters in a war situation without having it overwhelm the game. I will put together a copy of the rules and post them soon.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Where D&D Meets Risk (PCs at War Part 2)

Yesterday, I talked about the difficulties of putting PCs in the middle of a larger battle. I have such a situation coming up during this week's game and ideally, I'd like to give the players the feel that they are part of a large, chaotic battle involving hundreds of combatants, but still keep the game focussed on their characters.

This is not necessarily an easy task. My Pathfinder players are not interested in a wargame scenario and I am not excited about a "Covert Ops" scenario. I am hoping that somewhere in the middle of those two ideas is the right solution.

What I intend to try is to merge the concept of a super-light, Risk-style boardgame with a string of encounters for the PCs. So, this gives the players an idea of how the battle is progressing, where they are in relation to the fighting and where they are in relation to the major NPCs in the scenario. However, the underlying mechanics of the battle at large will be highly abstracted and the game will play out just like a series of encounters in a module.

As I write that, it strikes me as either a very cool idea, or a horrible failure waiting to happen... So, onto some specifics.

The map of the battlefield will be divided into 16 hexes. The allied forces can enter the board at one of three spaces, each one having certain advantages and disadvantages and each one requiring different levels of PC intervention. For instance:
  • Main Gate -- Requires PCs to sneak into town, have an encounter with the gate guards and open the gate for the main force. This approach is the best from the standpoint of getting the most troops on the board quickly, but is farthest from the main goal, the Palace.
  • Scale the Wall -- Requires PCs to fight a "Protect the Ladders" encounter with guards on the wall. This approach puts the allies in a tough starting position, but is very close to the Palace.
  • Sea Approach -- Requires no PC intervention, and puts a number of allied troops on the board, but also alerts the enemy and gives them the ability to react to the allies very early.
Each turn, both forces place reinforcement units and move units on the board one hex. All special units and the PCs (which are represented by a single figure) can then move. The PCs draw or roll a random encounter and resolve it and then all other combat is resolved.

The random encounters are the meat of the scenario. They are based on whether the PCs are in allied, enemy or contested territory and they have the potential to change the disposition of the battle by adding or removing units from the map. PCs might ambush an enemy patrol and thus remove a unit from the board, or they might come across civilians willing to take up arms against the corrupt king, adding an allied unit.

I am going to write up encounters this evening and do a quick run through to see how it works out. Unfortunately, I have given myself only a single night to determine how this is going to play. We'll see...