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kingy

Making a turn based strategy game accessible

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I'm in the process of building a fantasy turn based strategy game. One of my goals for this game is to make it as accessible and easy to play for people who have never played this genre of games before. Are there any recommendations that you can make which will help me achieve this goal?

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A simple tutorial, that introduces new elements one by one? Good help files and documentation? A clear and unambiguous user interface?

Possibly the best advice is to check every aspect of the game and ensure that you never make any assumptions about prior knowledge of similar games. Many games these days take a previous design and add complexity, assuming that you mastered the previous game's interface and terminology and can handle extra challenges on top.

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Thanks for the suggestions, they're very helpful.

I'm also thinking about it from a games design point of view. I've implemented a system where you don't select the next unit to move, instead, it goes in a kind of initiative order (fast units move first during a turn and slow units get selected last) which the player can't alter very much (there is a delay unit option which takes half the movement of a unit away and sticks it at the back of the move order). This, I think, takes away some of the complexity for a beginner, as in, what do I do next. I'm also not using unit facings, instead a unit can see all around it, to simplify the fiddly nature of some turn based strategy games.

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I'd take a lot from the Shining Force series. It's pretty intuitive. Very straight forward.

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Checking out Shining Force on wikipedia, I note that units can only do one thing in a turn (apart from move). This is definitely simpler than using an action point based system (at the moment, I allow two attacks in a turn, each of which costs half the movement point total of the unit). I went with two as my other goal is to make the game quick to play, but is one better, perhaps with unit stats that have twice the attack value, as one action per unit per turn is very simple?

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Here's my suggestion: make sure all units in the first two or three scenarios can only perform one action besides moving. Later, you can introduce fast units, that can attack twice per turn, and maybe slow units, that have to choose between attacking or moving. As Kylotan said, the idea is introducing one element at a time. If you start your tutorial with one swordsman and one goblin, it isn't hard to deduce that I'm supposed to click on the swordsman and then click on the goblin to attack him.

Also, use pop ups to explain the concepts you are introducing, but don't rely on them, because less than 10% of your players will read them.

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One thing many TBS games are pretty complicated at is combat system. While a complex combat system may allow for great depth (tactical or strategical, according to the actual design), its learning curve is pretty steep, discouraging the so called casual player.

My advice is to keep the system as simple as possible, adding a bit of depth later in the game with little tweaks or special units abilities. Combined with a rock-scissors-paper system and these specialties, even a one property system may be great fun to play. See for yourself: Warlords 2 uses just one parameter - strength, Warlords 3 uses two - strength and hits. Both systems are trivial to understand and still great fun.

In short, you need to decide what the player's focus should be - should it be combat, unit positioning, economy, campaign story, heroes management, all together?

Another advice is to make the player focus on the most entertaining feature of the game, which you should recognize early in the prototyping. If you've managed to create an alliance system that is a whole lot of fun, make it central to the game, base other features on it.

Just my two cents for now. By the way, I'd like to hear more about the game, as I'm also designing one. You can PM me.

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Good suggestions there. I hadn't really considered a one stat combat system before you mentioned it. I can't see a reason why such a system would not work. I currently have two stats - attack and defence - and a wound (health) stat, which vary from unit to unit. I also have a levelling up system which is really simple - if a unit kills another with an attack value equal to or higher than its own, it levels up and gains 3 points to each of those combat stats.

I've simplified my movement system from what I had before, now allowing units to move and do one "special"; this special can be an attack, a ranged attack, a summon or spell (unit dependant).

The game is essentially a battle between wizards who can summon creatures - inspired by Chaos and Lords of Chaos (although much more accessible than the latter).

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Interesting! I'm working on a game based loosely on Laser Squad, made by the same people who made Lords of Chaos. I'll be incorporating some LoC aspects in there too, no doubt.

Some of the complexity of LoC came from the nested menus. You can simplify those by moving a lot of the information to be on screen at all times; eg. a minimap, always showing unit info, etc.

It's also worth noting that the interface to that game was implemented using only 1 button to select and deselect things. Often we get carried away with using 3 mouse buttons and double clicks as well, but older games show that we probably don't need that.

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I don't know if this has been mentioned already (I'm guilty of skipping to the bottom) but what about adding in a layer of abstraction so that depth of combat tactics is optional? Instead of just adding elements to the player's palette slowly, also introduce a "lieutenant" or "scribe" or some kind of underling to the player that could manage the details based on a simple slider system, so that the player can either micro-manage the combat details and unit specs, or tell his second-in-command "be more aggressive", "hold back and use the ranged units to maximum effect", "only use ranged", and things like that.

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