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A strategic survival board game in the mutant world of Posthuman
A strategic survival board game in the mutant world of Posthuman
3,658 backers pledged $304,931 to help bring this project to life.

Ch-ch-changes: Episode 2

Posted by Mighty Boards (Creator)
51 likes

Combat

Greetings Mutantlings, and welcome back to our trilogy of updates covering changes to Posthuman Saga on this last day of 2018!

Throughout the development process, the combat system has consistently been one of the most debated aspects of the game. I (Gordon) wanted to have a system that gives players tough choices to make, that would affect not just the combat but other aspects of future turns. Decisions had to be tactical, but there also had to be a degree of unknowability in the outcomes. This was the foundational motivation for a system that gives players a card deck to manage and develop, while enemies use dice to determine the effectiveness of their attacks. We also wanted the system to create a sense of what was going on in the combat in the player’s mind. All of that had to be balanced against the complexity of the system and how long each combat took to execute. 

We liked the melee system we had during the Kickstarter campaign, but when we started testing the game with new players, especially ones that played more lightweight games, we saw that they were having a hard time wrapping their heads around the combat as a whole. Some players got it straight away, while others were still asking questions on their second game. That was a bit of a red flag. Another problem was the time it was taking some groups to get through a round of combat. Again, while some groups internalized the steps and were soon able to go through combat quickly, others were still going through the tracker, step by step, making decisions as they went. This extended downtime considerably. Another issue we noticed was that more melee-oriented characters would ignore the shooting phase of combat, resulting in their using up less Combat cards. As a result, these characters were able to rush forward much more than characters like the Scout and Scavenger that are more dependent on shooting, since the latter would run out of Combat cards (and hence need to perform a Camp action) much sooner. This resulted in some games being too easy to rush for melee-oriented characters. 

For all these reasons, it was clear that the combat system needed a re-design. The first change I implemented was to have players select one card for both Shooting and Melee phases. They could opt not to shoot, but the one card would be used for both, making the choice an interesting and tough one as the best Shooting cards will not have great Melee results, and vice-versa. 

One Primary Challenge card for both Shooting and Melee.
One Primary Challenge card for both Shooting and Melee.

The next change I made was to make Melee more similar to shooting. It’s still important that the player’s attack prowess is compared to the enemy’s, since the relative skill of two combatants in hand-to-hand combat is crucial. The solution to this was to have the enemy’s total number of attacks (rolled on their complement of dice + any bonus icons on the card) become equivalent to the difficulty to cause damage in the shooting phase, with the weapon or the Encounter card indicating how much damage. 

Weapon cards showing Attack Value with damage results and weapon special abilities with boosts. (Hunting knife art is WIP)
Weapon cards showing Attack Value with damage results and weapon special abilities with boosts. (Hunting knife art is WIP)


How this works now:
the player draws a card at random and adds the results to the chosen Primary card. The enemy rolls their complement of dice. The enemy’s number of attacks is subtracted from the player’s total number of attacks. The result is called the Attack Value. This can either be a positive or negative number. If the Attack Value is negative, the enemy has hit the player (in which case you consult the Encounter card to see how much damage the enemy has caused). If the Attack value is positive, you consult the melee weapon card to determine how much damage you have dealt the enemy. Damage results (blood drops) on the enemy’s dice and player’s cards are added to the total amount of damage caused, with blocks negating one damage each. The rest of the damage is suffered by both parties. 

Melee encounter attack total - this is then deducted from the player's attack total to give the Attack Value.
Melee encounter attack total - this is then deducted from the player's attack total to give the Attack Value.

This system makes the combat phase as a whole easier to learn and quicker to resolve. In a nutshell, it involves a random draw of a card (to be added to the card already chosen by the player) and a decision to use any abilities on weapons or skills. It’s worth noting that most weapons, including starting weapons, now feature an ability that can be activated by a boost (and, as we mentioned in the previous update, the boosts are no longer stat-specific, and are thus used a lot more). 

New loot section on the encounter cards (Bottom right)
New loot section on the encounter cards (Bottom right)


Another thing we added was combat loot. When a player kills an enemy, they still gain XP in the same way they did before, but, in most cases, they will also gain an item or resource indicated on the combat encounter card. Also, if a player survives a combat encounter but does not kill an enemy, they will now still gain an XP point just for surviving. Our thinking with these rule changes was to make it an even more interesting choice for the player to decide whether to go all out for killing an enemy – weighing the necessity of exhausting their best combat cards and other resources against the promise of a reward – or to just focus on trying to survive, with both being viable and rewarding strategies. We also appreciate that some characters and character builds will be less combat-oriented than others, and wanted to make sure players get some sort of reward when they just make it out of combat alive. Surviving is, after all, the most important thing in the Wilds! 

This system has become even more exciting with the inclusion of the stat challenges used in Stories and Bonus Loot challenges during Forage actions. But I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s the subject of the next update! 

Till then – may you all have a great New Year, and keep the seeds of mutation alive! 

Yexil, Kjetil Egeland, and 49 more people like this update.

Comments

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    1. Justin Boehm
      Superbacker
      on

      @Mighty Boards thanks for the explanation! I appreciate the thorough rundown, and your willingness to go into detail on the process. I look forward to the game regardless, and have faith in your ability to keep it interesting and deep while maintaining accessibility.

    2. Missing avatar

      Dustin on

      @Mighty Boards, I still don't think I understand combat. Any way you guys can walk us through a full example, start to finish, in a video or something at some point? To be honest, I didn't really understand it when I backed the KS, and even though it may be streamlined (which I appreciate), it is still quite hard to grasp from simply reading text and seeing a few vague images.

      Also, a playthrough video with the new rules before the game ships would be a really good idea. Thanks!

    3. Patrick Grogan
      Superbacker
      on

      I really hope you didn't dumb it down. I am so sick and tired of developers teasing normal/advanced gamers with nice meaty and rich mechanics and decisions... then dumbing it down to try to be the next f(*#$%$ splendor remake. I really hope that's not what you have done.

    4. Mighty Boards 5-time creator on

      @MonkeyMagic: As I explained extensively in the other posts the game has NOT been dumbed down. We just made combat less clunky. The testers that took a while to wrap their heads around it were of varied skill levels. 1 or 2 in EVERY test group is a clear red flag. A professional designer with a pedigree like Gilmour's highlighting the combat's clunkiness as the major issue turns that red flag into a full-sized red battle banner. If I left the combat as it was I would have been giving you guys a worse game.

      Also it makes no sense to judge the complexity of the game with a change in one mechanic. Streamlining combat gave me some of the complexity budget back to invest elsewhere - such as the test for getting Bonus Loot on tiles when Foraging, the Landmarks, Weapon Mods and the merging of Stat Challenges with the Combat cards. All these things add more interesting choices with more easily digestible rules.

      At the end of the day everyone that played both versions of the game preferred the new combat system. And some of the people that tested this game are well-known designers and creators themselves. So, no, the game has not been dumbed down at all, and it's ANYTHING but a mass-market, casual experience. Posthuman Saga is a meaty game that has a ton of interesting choices throughout and a rich story experience. There is some investment in learning the rules needed but we now hope a player of mid-level games upwards can grasp the game in the first play-through.

    5. Ben Richter
      Superbacker
      on

      @Mighty Boards - perhaps rotating the axe head about 40 degrees and making the handle a bit longer will keep the post-apocalyptic vibe and allow for enough surface area while reducing the bullhorn look. I took the liberty of changing my profile icon to something along those lines.

    6. MonkeyMagic on

      "when we started testing the game with new players, especially ones that played more lightweight games, we saw that they were having a hard time wrapping their heads around the combat as a whole."

      Ok, well there's the issue - 'lightweight games'. You can't make a game that pleases everybody.

      Lets take video games for example, Dark Souls, some people can't get on with that game because it's too hard, the combat is challenging and too complex. But it's highly regarded by the people who do play it. That's because it's not a casual game, it knows its audience and what it wanted to be as a game, which makes it stand out.

      Sounds like you have dumbed things down to make a more lightweight game. As appose to a more in depth / complex experience. If that's what you're going for now with the game, a casual experience, then obviously as creators that's your choice. But it now makes it sound like you're making this game for mass retail as appose for the Kickstarter backers.

    7. Mighty Boards 5-time creator on

      @Patrick, Peter, Steven - When designing an icon for a game there are many considerations one has to take: representation, functionality (in relation to the needs of the game), clarity (when reduced in size to a couple of mm), ease of differentiation (from other icons in the game)and number of colours, to name the main ones. Before I chose to use the axe melee symbol I considered many other solutions including the ones you mention. For a post apoc game I did not want to use a sword as it feels too fantasy/medieval. I also needed an icon which had a large enough surface area to be able to put other symbols inside it such as numbers, signs etc so I could use neither knives nor swords. I can understand how some of you might associate an axe head with a bullhorn altough if I had to design a bullhorn icon I would design it differently (a flat front with a protruding small hemisphere in the middle, a sectioned mid section, an angled ergonomic handle which does not protrude at the top), but the axe head is the only solution that meets all the conditions laid out above. - Mark

    8. Mighty Boards 5-time creator on

      @Steven and others putting forward the dumbed-down conjecture. First of all please appreciate that saying the game is more dumbed down than before the combat was changed without playing either is complete speculation.

      Secondly, as I wrote to Justin below, streamlining is not the same as dumbing down. Especially in a game with a fair few moving parts and cognitive challenge you are working at the limits of the attentional resources available to the player (which is the core resource and focus of a designer). A major challenge for the designer is to balance the complexity of a system or sub-system with the emotional or cognitive reward it affords players (potentially, since this varies from player to player). My worry about the combat system was being echoed by 1 or 2 players in every test. That is NOT a minority. And then when we brought on Johnathan Gilmour as developer at the start of the Kickstarter, it was his main worry about the game also. When you have that much evidence that there is a problem with an aspect of your game you would have to be either really arrogant or an idiot to not fix the issue.

      There is a reason we do a LOT of testing with groups from around the world and not just employ a developer, but two: to make the best game possible. It costs us a hell of a lot of labour and resources to send out prototype after prototype to test groups around the world, but it's not only worth it, but essential. And once you do all that work, you obviously want to act on the relevant data. I hope you guys trust that we know what we are doing.

      As a side-note aside from being a board game designer I have been working in video games research focusing on player experience for the last 16 years and have published extensively on the subject. So analysing games, setting up tests and extrapolating information from test data is something we are fairly well equipped to handle, not something we're learning as we go.

    9. 7Pain's
      Superbacker
      on

      @Steven Crane
      Oh wah wah its fine

      Also yeah maybe a different attack icon. It does look like a bullhorn didnt notice until someone said something.

    10. Steven Crane
      Superbacker
      on

      Yes I have to say that I don't want another dumbed down Kickstarter that promised and then got "nerfed" because a few light gamers didn't get the rules sin their first play. I don't want it to be stupidly hard of course, but we're trusting you that a minority of players didn't "get" the game so you decided to make it accessible to everyone and therefore made it like every other game out there

    11. Steven Arena on

      +1 for the melee icon. I kept thinking I was seeing a bullhorn while playing the first Posthuman. Same here.

    12. Mighty Boards 5-time creator on

      @Alexander: The first game and this one have entirely different systems, not just in combat but in general, so the role of shooting is quite different. Shooting also differs greatly for different characters since Posthuman Saga characters are much more asymetric than the first Posthuman.

    13. Mighty Boards 5-time creator on

      @Peter + @Patrick: Our graphic designer will have a look at that. Thanks for the feedback!

    14. Mighty Boards 5-time creator on

      @Justin: It's important to clarify that the combat hasn't been dumbed down at all. There were some things that needed to change due to potential exploits from certain characters in certain (extreme) strategies. None of our testers picked up on those, but I (Gordon) knew they were there. A big issue there was choosing a combat card for Shooting and another one for Melee, which meant that characters that relied more on shooting were expending an additional recovery point worth of resources on top of the ammo. Shooting gives them a leg up in terms of the chance of killing the enemy without risking mutation and additional damage, of course, but since some characters are weaker than others in melee this presented a bit of an issue, especially with certain strategies.

      In terms of percentages of players, it did depend on the kinds of games players played, but we had anywhere between 1 to 2 players in ALL groups apart from one of the internal ones, (at the time we had 8 external and 2 internal groups running) that kept asking questions about how to resolve combat or did not get the steps at all after their 2nd, 3rd and sometimes 4th game. This slowed down the game considerably.

      The latter point is also important. I've made every effort I can to keep downtime to a minimum and combat was taking up, on average about twice as long then.

      At the end of the day the difference is not a dumbing down but a horizontal shift in what decisions you make. In the old system you decided what cards to choose and exhaust and how you use extra attacks - turning them into blocks or damage. In the new system your Primary card choice is a tougher and more interesting one - especially since we integrated Stat Challenges into the combat cards and made those very useful for getting extra stuff during a Forage. The difference between Melee weapons is now more pronounced, so which one to use is also more interesting.

      I know it's hard to simulate all this without having played the two games, but please trust me when I say there's a difference between streamlining design and dumbing-down. Not every instance of the former results in the latter.

    15. Justin Boehm
      Superbacker
      on

      I do like the balancing of ranged vs melee, the addition of xp for surviving, and the loot for winning, but dumbing down the combat mechanics doesn't feel right.

    16. Justin Boehm
      Superbacker
      on

      What percentage of players are we talking about here? How many we're understanding right away and how many were having a hard time in the second game? I ask because it feels like you're dumbing the game down instead of making it deep for the purpose of making it more casual, which is a decision I certainly would not support.

    17. Alexander Wolf on

      Backed the first Posthuman, my gaming group doesn't even bother with shooting weapons or the Shooting phase because first you need bullets just to roll the blue dice, then you can miss so it didn't even matter if you had bullets, had a gun and are faster to shoot first. So overall shooting in the first game is not needed to win. Starting item baseball bat is the best weapon in the game.

    18. Peter "araziel" Cruickshanks
      Superbacker
      on

      @Patrick Jones
      My exact thought, what does a bullhorn have to do with combat? I mean, some symbols are well-known and integrated and there's no reason to change them. Use a knife/sword.

    19. Patrick Jones
      Superbacker
      on

      I'd suggest a different icon for the melee portion of the card. While I now recognize it as an axe, my first thought was "why does a bullhorn represent a close range attck?"