Feb 11, 2015

Naval War - Designing the gunnery mechanics (part 1)

One of the hardest things in designing a ruleset in my mind is the mechanics. Designing mechanics is as messy as most of the battles we are portraying and without any guidance the process really can get out of hand.

Of course there are the usual brainstorm sessions first, then the endless writing down of possible mechanics and then trashing them one by one and starting all over again. There are literally hundreds of ways of gaming the process of naval gunnery and for every way to do it there are pro's and cons. It is also very useful to check any benchmarks already used by other sets and check if they contain anything of value to the effect your looking for.

So after checking many different approaches and trashing one idea after another I figured I needed some boundaries set; if you don’t, you might end up with a mechanic that works perfectly well, but completely ruins the game because it does not align with the objectives of the game itself.

So I started out by listing my basic game limits:
-          Medium amount of detailing
-          Fast play
-          Minimum amount of bookkeeping
-          Involvement for both players
-          Mechanics encourage historic play

Then I continued by elaborating on those basic limits by adding relevant context on how these principles will influence the mechanic:

-          Medium amount of detailing
Abstraction is going to be key for my mechanic. If I want to keep the technical details low, I don’t want to let the players go over many charts or make calculations of impact angle, muzzle velocity and other details. To reiterate one of the overarching goals: to make a game, not a simulation.
-          Fast play
Fast play means fast play, resolving gunnery is going to be one of the key actions players will be performing throughout the game, so every extra step I add to this mechanic will immediately translate into much increased gaming time because it will be done so many times during the game. Key here is dicerolls, every added diceroll is an exponential increase in the time it will take to resolve the shooting. Another thing is memory, if the mechanic and all its steps, charts or tables are kept simple, the players will be able to play from memory instead of having to refer to the book constantly also speeding up play. Note to self: QRS
-          Minimum amount of bookkeeping
This means written orders or noting down targets are out. Noting damage is somewhat unavoidable with naval ships, so the bookkeeping besides damage needs to be kept to a minimum or none at all.
-          Involvement for both players
I think the key for this point is opposing dicerolls. There is nothing more boring than having your ship shot to pieces without you being involved at all. Games like Warhammer and Flames of War are really on to something in my mind by giving you a chance to roll your own armor rolls. This gives the player on the receiving end some perceived influence on the situation, perceived because, bottom line, it obviously doesn’t matter who rolls the dice for the outcome (but in practice, you KNOW it matters ;).
-          Mechanics encourage historic play
This will mean some modifiers and limitations will be needed. Abstractions are ok, but a suspense of disbelief will still be needed for your mechanic to be accepted by players.

With those limitations set, next up is to check what I want to be able to achieve with my mechanic.

In the gunnery process, I want to be able to model:
-          The shooting process, targets close by are easier to hit, targets further away are harder to hit.
-          Rate of fire should be modeled into the mechanic
-          Plunging fire, some bonus must be accounted for when shooting at long range for hitting the deck armor with plunging fire.
-          Fire arcs. The bearing of the ship must be of influence on the amount of guns I can use to shoot. It must be possible to ‘cross the T’ of the enemy ship, giving an advantage.
-          Armor, Battleships were obviously better armored than destroyers, and this needs to be modeled.
-          Damage, small shells do less damage than large shells when they get past the armor of a ship.
-          Critical damage. Usually ‘damage’ on a ship had a profound effect on the capabilities of the ship, damage would knock out turrets, engines, etc. This needs to be possible (and of course, you must have a chance to hit the main magazine, resulting in a big BOOM)

Finally, since this I am not a professional game designer, I want people to be able to pick up the game from a PDF, so I really want to use 6-sided dice, since those are the dice most people will be having around the house instead of needing to buy special 10, 12 or 100 sided dice for my game. I realise this is a serious limitation.

So, with all the ground work done, I’ve tried to pour all these requirements and limitations into a mold.

At first, you start out with a diceroll and a table for everything:
-          A ship has a frontal, broadside and rear arc to decide which guns can fire.
-          A roll for hitting, checking on a table the range of the target crossed with the characteristics of the gun. Add- or subtract any modifiers from the modifiers table. The hit percentages are usually lower than can be modelled on a D6, so often a second roll will be needed to roll a ‘7’, ‘8’ or ‘9’.
-          Then roll for armor penetration on a table crossing the armor values with the armor penetration of the shell. A table needs to be referenced to make armor penetration higher at close ranges (high impact), lower at middle ranges and higher again at long ranges (plunging fire).
-          Then roll for damage
-          Finally roll for critical effects (which usually means a second roll because there are many critical effects to be taken into account).

The above mechanic violate about every limitation I set before, so this is where the big scissors come in and the tuning starts….

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