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Designing movement system for a spaceship combat boardgame

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I am trying to make a board game about spaceship combat. Unfortunately, even though spaceship combat boardgames or pen & paper games are pretty common (Star Trek etc), I have never played spaceship combat based board games before! The part that I am stuck with is the movement system: I am opting to go for square grids on the board. For simplicity, lets focus on a battle between two large battleships shooting direct weapons (laser turrets maybe) at each other. Each ship is represented by a token that occupies one square on the board. How should I make the movement system? If I make it so that ships move like the King piece in a chess game, then there isn't much incentive to move around; both players would probably sit there and shoot at each other until someone blows up. Any new ideas or examples of movement systems other games use that has more depth than "King-move"?

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Even if the movement system was as simple as king-move, the players would still have motivation to maneuver if shields/damage/etc on ships was modeled in sectors, and there were more and less favorable directions to be shooting from and to get shot from. And if weapons have different ranges, the ship with the shorter range on its weapons will have to chase the one with longer range on its weapons.

Now if there are just two ships, it's hardly surprising that they have an easily discernable minmax-optimal movement pattern - which might be facing each other and trading shots. The best answer to that, I think, is to have more ships.

You could also give them equipment which allows them to boost their movement speed and/or turning rate momentarily, teleport in a specific pattern, etc., possibly ones with a cooldown or ones that involve a risk of some negative effect every time it is used. Master of Orion has a non-damaging ray weapon with range 1 which pushes one enemy a square farther, and therefore makes any weapons of theirs with range 1 useless. You could also employ effects which prevent or slow the enemy's movement, like a vulnerable and slow warp interdictor ship which slows the enemy all around it on two square radius.

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Do the battle on a flat board (no tiles). Movement is done is inches/cm. Every turn, you may turn up to X degrees (as determined by ship) and move up to Y inches (also determined by ship). Ship's weapons are located on the ship at different places (front, back, left, right), and a direct line (with string, or something) has to be able to be drawn from the gun's origin to the target in under the max range. Throw in rockets, which move, and turn, each turn like ships, and movement will be a big part of the game. Mines would also be cool, to prevent enemies from following you around each turn.

You could also have a system where each ship had an accelerating and decelerating stat, where they could only adjust their move each turn by that number. Would make some things more interesting (some ships can go to their max speed in one round, but take 5 rounds to break.)

[Edited by - doomhascome on December 6, 2009 9:40:04 AM]

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Make movement meaningful as part of the tactics required to win the game.

For example, if one ship follows another ship closely their shields will cover each other, translate that into game terms can mean a higher shield rating for both ships if both of them ended their movement beside each other, but due to their close proximity they prevent each other from firing at certain angles for fear of friendly fire.

In pre-carrier era, most movement was done to get into engagement range, move into a superior location where your side is able to bear most amount of firepower on your enemy while receiving less firepower from the enemy.

For example, obstacles like asteroid fields block direct line of fire power weapons, forcing an enemy to get really close to engage each other. Translate that into game terms, can mean your objective is to prevent your opponent from destroying the convoy you are protecting. Instead of a straight up fight you choose to send your convoy through the asteroid preventing your opponent from trying to destroy your ships from long range, instead they are forced to come into the field dodging asteroids while attempting to fight their way past the escorts.

And since the game is set in space, don't forget z-axis, though for simplicity sake you may not want to deal with it.

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Original post by doomhascome
Do the battle on a flat board (no tiles). Movement is done is inches/cm. Every turn, you may turn up to X degrees (as determined by ship) and move up to Y inches (also determined by ship). Ship's weapons are located on the ship at different places (front, back, left, right), and a direct line (with string, or something) has to be able to be drawn from the gun's origin to the target in under the max range. Throw in rockets, which move, and turn, each turn like ships, and movement will be a big part of the game. Mines would also be cool, to prevent enemies from following you around each turn.

You could also have a system where each ship had an accelerating and decelerating stat, where they could only adjust their move each turn by that number. Would make some things more interesting (some ships can go to their max speed in one round, but take 5 rounds to break.)


Wow, this could get really crazy - I find the idea of manually controlling a load of homing missiles with a protractor and piece of string pretty amusing.

In a way, though, this is maybe not abstract enough for most board games?

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Original post by WavyVirus
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Original post by doomhascome
Do the battle on a flat board (no tiles). Movement is done is inches/cm. Every turn, you may turn up to X degrees (as determined by ship) and move up to Y inches (also determined by ship). Ship's weapons are located on the ship at different places (front, back, left, right), and a direct line (with string, or something) has to be able to be drawn from the gun's origin to the target in under the max range. Throw in rockets, which move, and turn, each turn like ships, and movement will be a big part of the game. Mines would also be cool, to prevent enemies from following you around each turn.

You could also have a system where each ship had an accelerating and decelerating stat, where they could only adjust their move each turn by that number. Would make some things more interesting (some ships can go to their max speed in one round, but take 5 rounds to break.)


Wow, this could get really crazy - I find the idea of manually controlling a load of homing missiles with a protractor and piece of string pretty amusing.

In a way, though, this is maybe not abstract enough for most board games?


Meh. Works in the warhammer games. anyway, while it would be a bit of a pain to do, the end result would likely be pretty fun. Until you get to having 10 missiles on the board. Oh well.

If Girsanov doesn't take this idea, I'll prolly make a game around it. Something collectable card based.

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Original post by doomhascome
Do the battle on a flat board (no tiles). Movement is done is inches/cm. Every turn, you may turn up to X degrees (as determined by ship) and move up to Y inches (also determined by ship).

Have a look at the "Wings of War" series of games (best place to look is Boardgamegeek.com).

In this game each player has a Plane and a set of manoeuvre cards (yes cards). On each card is printed a line that leads from the base of the card to a certain point on that card. You aligning the line on the card with the front of the plane and then move the plane to the new point that the line ends at on the card. This move the plane and also include turning it.

You could use a similar system for your game if you want to abandon a rigid grid layout.

But, if you wanted to use the grid, then you can still use cards for the movement. On each card you have a sequence of tiles that the ship moves in. When you play the card you move the ship in the manner described on the card.

SO if the card says: "forward 2, left 1", then you move the ship forward 2 squares and then to the left 1 square (and there could be a direction to turn the ship in as well).

Firing weapons could also be handled like this. Torpedoes could be fired just like moving a ship with cards that describe how it moves.

This would give an incentive to move your ship as you would need to move your ship into a position where the cards in your hand would allow you to hit the enemy ship.

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Original post by doomhascome
If Girsanov doesn't take this idea, I'll prolly make a game around it. Something collectable card based.


Why can't you make a game with it even though I am using the idea? I am just making a home-made board game to play with my friends. (who are crazy about spaceship combat...crazy enough to play a home-made game by their friend lol)

Anyway...your idea is GREAT!!!! Thanks a lot! I am definitely using this. But I will have to find a more elegant solutions to the movement/control of missiles. Like WavyVirus said, things could get crazy if there are 10 missiles on the board.

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Original post by Girsanov
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Original post by doomhascome
If Girsanov doesn't take this idea, I'll prolly make a game around it. Something collectable card based.


Why can't you make a game with it even though I am using the idea? I am just making a home-made board game to play with my friends. (who are crazy about spaceship combat...crazy enough to play a home-made game by their friend lol)

Anyway...your idea is GREAT!!!! Thanks a lot! I am definitely using this. But I will have to find a more elegant solutions to the movement/control of missiles. Like WavyVirus said, things could get crazy if there are 10 missiles on the board.


Heh. Good call. I thought of a better way to use the missile mechanic: standard movement. They don't accelerate or decelerate, just turn.

The flat board mechanic is one I've been working on in a bunch of contexts for a while now. It tends to work best on games with only one unit per player on the board, but can manage with a few more, so moving missiles may work anyway. Playtest it out, I guess.

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Games workshop released a couple of games featuring space combat & manouvres of this kind (spaceships had turning arcs / acceleration & deceleration limits / firing arcs). Have a look at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battlefleet_Gothic
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Fleet

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I am waiting for orbital combat. Here is a simplify proposition about how it could work :
Have a set of dots representing the possible positions for ships.
Have five or six concentric circles representing different orbits.
Smaller orbits have fewer dots.
Each turn, ships moves automatically one dot in the orbit they are, in a set direction.
Moving one more circle in any direction costs a token of energy.
Going into lower orbit costs one token, going higher costs two.
Give each ship the ability to launch missiles that obey the same rules and have a set limit of energy.

Correctly done, this means that lower orbits will be completed faster, and that higher orbits will provide with cheaper bombardment.

Increased complexity can be reached by using line-of-sight for laser weapons or for solar recharging the energy.

Hmmm, thinking about it, it could be a good computer game as well :)

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One of my favorite tabletop games of all time, Battletech, did space combat in some pretty interesting ways. Its a hex based game, but you might be able to use some of the concepts.

Every unit has a certain amount of thrust points, smaller units had more, making them more maneuverable. They also had a structural integrity rating, showing how much of that thrust they could use in a single game turn without risking damage eg: a ship has 10 thrust but only 8 SI. It may spend 8 thrust every turn without risk, but if it wants to push for that extra 2 thrust in a turn, there is a chance to take damage. Taking damage reduces the SI, so as a ship takes damage, its available maneuvering gets reduced.

There is no friction in space, thus units would continue to move in the direction they are traveling, at the same speed at the start of the next turn(denoted by a small cardboard vector arrow). Acceleration, deceleration, or facing changes all cost a specific amount of thrust points. There is no real max speed, the craft can always spend thrust to move faster, however the size of the play field will limit that to an extent. Trying to hit a target moving fast was more difficult, giving smaller fighter craft a chance to survive and do some damage against larger ships.

Movement starts by determining the units velocity left over from the previous turn. Depending on how fast the unit is moving, it costs more thrust to change facing and move another direction(1 thrust for low speed, 2 thrust for medium, on up to 6+ thrust to turn one hex facing at extreme speeds). Units with more thrust can make more drastic turns, retain velocity better etc, the only downfall is that if you ended a turn moving 8 hexes, the next turn you will move another 8 hexes unless you spend thrust to decelerate.

All ships are also allowed to roll, using 1 thrust point. This exposes different sides of the ship to attack. Especially useful for large ships who could minimize damage on an exposed side, or being better guns to bear on the target.

Anyway, this is getting pretty long, I would suggest checking out any of the Battletech source books that contain the aerospace rules, they might have some good ideas you can adapt to your game!

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I designed a spaceship combat board game a while ago now (never released). In this, each ship had an engine and thrusters.

Engines allowed the player to move their ship in the direction it was facing. Thrusters allowed the player to turn the ship.

They had to "charge" the engines and thrusters by using crew to move energy points onto them.

they could only move or turn a number of hexes based on the number of charges spent from that component (and as there was a lot of other components competing for the energy the players had to constantly juggle how they spent their energy from turn to turn).

So if a player wanted to move 3 places forwards and turn three places to the right, they would spend 2 charge points form their engines and then 3 charge points from their thrusters. If they wanted to do more manoeuvring next round, they would need to have enough charge in the components (either unspent or recharged by the crew).

It wasn't realistic movement, but instead an abstract sense of movement to represent how the ships were positioned relative to each other (and obstacles) that was more fun that trying to calculate realistic Newtonian dynamics. :D

Movement in these types of board game is not really about movement at all, but it is about position. Movement rules are just a way of letting your players reposition their piece as part of their strategy. It is the advantages and disadvantages of particular positions that the player is using, so don't make the movement rules too complex.

Also, you need to have a cost associated with repositioning as it is changing the strategy/tactics and this should require some effort/risk/cost (otherwise you make the choice of strategy/tactics an uninteresting/meaningless decision). This is why in my game it cost the player charge to move (which then had the consequence of needing other decisions to be made to get the charge back - it was part of a signalling/bluff part of the game).

So to design your movement mechanics you need to answer 3 questions:
1) What are the advantages that a position can have (not all positions will have these advantages though)?
2) What are the disadvantages that a position can have (not all positions will have these disadvantages though)?
3) What are the costs (effort/risk/costs) to change your position?

Sometimes an advantage can also be a disadvantage. In my game, you could have your ship move behind a planet and this meant that your enemy's ship could not directly target you with a beam weapon. But it also meant that you could not target the enemy with a beam weapon.

You don't want every advantage or disadvantage apply for each position. If you do this, then one position is as good as any other position and so eliminates the need to change positions. Also, by having a variety of advantages and disadvantages, you create a "terrain" that the game takes place in (my trick in my game was to make the advantages and disadvantages of some of the positions change depending on certain factors like the types of weapons on your ship, the types of weapons on the enemy ship, the amount of charge in those weapons - on yours and the enemy - the facing of the ships, etc).

So try and answer those 3 questions. It will help you to work out your movement mechanics better.

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Great replies from everyone! Very useful for the design of my simple boardgame.

How should I handle the three dimensional aspects? For example, in 3D space, battleships could roll to change its facing to the opponent. Another example is that while ships could be occupying the same "square" in a 2D grid map, they could be thousands of miles apart in the 3rd dimension (height).

Is it better to ignore them and flatten the battlefield to 2D for simplicity? I am thinking of even taking out the ability to roll so that facing can only be changed by moving or rotating the ship like for real life Navy ships.

Another problem might be that on a 2D surface, if you put rotating gun turrets on the top of the ship (like how guns are mounted on real life naval ships), there is no need to turn: turrets can be rotated to face the opponent's vessel all the time. I was hoping for players to have an incentive to turn and move to let better guns get line of fire.

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My take is : ditch 3D. A board is 2D, mapping a 3D space into this is going to be uncomfortable and unrealistic in some way or the other. 3D strategy anyway is not that interesting and usually very complex to visualize, even on a computer.

Yes, turrets would probably cover 360° (and most of a sphere even in 3D) but if your game would be more fun if ships had to turn in order to shoot on rear, just do it. Anyway, in a space combat simulation, you are probably ditching realism somewhere.

However, if you feel like going to the extent of using inertia and turning rules that are similar to navy rules, seriously consider doing a navy game instead (one can make a navy game in a SF setting, see Waterworld for instance)

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Another vote against 3D for a board game. A very old grand strategy space board game I played years ago had it, denoting movement off the plane with a + or - in front of a number. It was mildly interesting but tracking it and measuring distance was a pain.

In terms of facing and turrets, what if your fiction specifies that spinal mounted weapons are the king of the space battlefield? Depending on your tech this could be electromagnetic coil- or railguns for slugs, missiles or even launching fighters, or magnetic tubes for focusing directed energy weapons. So turrets might provide point defense against missiles and fighters, but ships don't kill each other with turrets-- they have to use their main gun.

Interestingly enough, if your battlefield stretches across a solar system you could have actual movement turns for shots themselves. So if you're at Jupiter and I'm trying to shoot you from Mars, you have time to maneuver (how you've detected that I'm firing at you we'll ignore for now).

Another limitation could involve sensor blackouts. Full Thrust had an interesting rule that ships could not shoot behind themselves because of distortion due to their gravity powered drives. I've always wondered what it would be like to give ships different similar limitations, such as not being able to shoot 60 degrees ahead because of interstellar ablation shielding, or not being able to shoot from the sides because of magnetic containment rings. If you had these kinds of limitations maneuvering might become very important, especially if you had different turn and movement rates. In such a game you actually might want to go LAST just to line up a good shot!!!

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Taking my game again as a case study:

I was using a hexagonally tiled board for my play field. Because I had decided that turning the ship would be an important part of the gameplay, I set it so that each ship had 6 firing arcs, one for each face of the hexagon.

As the turning angles were also based on the faces of the hexagon, this gave me a simple targeting mechanic.

In a square tiles board, this is not as easy, but it can be done if you allow for overlap between firing arcs (which could be tactically interesting in its own right).

With a free form board (like Warhammer and other table top war games), the actual firing arc does not ahve to be set by any underlying board structure and you can then have these firing arcs as arbitrary as you like, and this could allow you some interesting differences between ship as the various firing arcs can now be one of the differences between them (or even between different weapons).

Remember, one of the first thing you will ahve had to abandon to make a game is reality. You are playing this on a table top, not out in deep space so no matter what you do, it has already been removed from realistic operation right from the start.

So the idea is to give the feeling of space combat that you want to the players and to make it fun. And not be realistic.

If you want the tactics of dealing with firing arcs and it is fun to have them, then you need to add in rules to allow for them. But if it is not fun (maybe because the other rules are too complex), or you just aren't interested in having them, then there is no necessity for you to add them into the game.

In board games, because everything has to be done by the players, you can not make them too complicated. Many board games, although potentially quite fun, fail because they are too complicated for humans to implement. The rules need to be simple and streamlined (that is easy to follow with clear situations where they apply).

Making a 2D board 3D is one place where the rules can become too hard for the player to properly follow. Also, in space, the only real line is the distance between the ship, and this is 1D.

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No 3D then.

Two things to discuss:

1) Minimum moving distance - no instant stopping.

What is the difference between allowing ships to be stationary on a turn and forcing them to move a minimum distance? E.g. Battlefleet Gothic rules forces all ship to move a certain minimum distance every turn. Doesn't sound like it affects much

2) Direct fire - Line of sight requirement

Battlefleet Gothic have weapons which do not require line of sight. Their idea is that in space, line of sight can always be achieve by moving up/down in the third dimension. I think I will be going without the line of sight requirement too. This mean that weak support ships can no longer hide behind strong tanks (battleships etc). Does this mean I have to add a range modifier so "healers" (support ship) can effectively hide?

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I think an acceleration/deceleration system would work much better than minimum distance per turn, and make more sense. The only question is how much work it would take (for players) to keep track of what each ship moved last turn.

LOS rules add a level of strategy that otherwise is somewhat lost. Maybe if the shot goes through something, damage is halved, or some such ruling? But ultimately, ignoring LOS makes positioning irrelevant, at least in part.

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Original post by Girsanov
1) Minimum moving distance - no instant stopping.

What is the difference between allowing ships to be stationary on a turn and forcing them to move a minimum distance?


Not sure exactly on this unless you're adding velocity as some sort of modifier for slower weapons (like missiles). It did strike me that if you had to keep track of minimum movement you could do Newtonian motion and have ships fly one direction while shooting in another (even backwards).

If you were to throw in special "battle jump" abilities, maybe for small ships (Raptors like in the new Battlestar Galactica) it might make tactics interesting.

Quote:

2) Direct fire - Line of sight requirement

Battlefleet Gothic have weapons which do not require line of sight. Their idea is that in space, line of sight can always be achieve by moving up/down in the third dimension. I think I will be going without the line of sight requirement too. This mean that weak support ships can no longer hide behind strong tanks (battleships etc). Does this mean I have to add a range modifier so "healers" (support ship) can effectively hide?


What about a formation modifier, with the abstraction that some formations allow more focusing of ship capability (repair, attacking, point-defense) as a trade-off against damage absorption? You could add in a range modifier to this if you wanted to get technical so that there would be optimal formations at certain ranges.

You could even enforce a rule that said that certain formations (circular / globular) made certain designated ships immune to certain attacks: If ships are in a tight sphere formation, for instance, the medical ship in the center can't be hit by anything other than fighters (which have to get chewed up by the point defense of the ships guarding it). You could go with templates to help players keep track, and this could feed into the idea of movement above in that you could only maneuver as a formation at the turning speed and acceleration rate of the slowest ship.

(Haha, typing in this thread is really making me want to do a fleet sim game. :D)

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1) Minimum moving distance - no instant stopping.

Remember, you don't need to make it realistic if it detracts from the experience of the game. If you are wanting the players to know what it is like to be a navigator or pilot on a spaceship, then having realistic movement rules (like minimum move distances or no instant stopping) would be a good thing to add. But if you are wanting the player to feel like they are a captain in charge of that ship and they are trying to strategy against their opponent, then realistic movement does not (necessarily) add to that.

What is the feeling that you are trying to evoke in the players (and by feeling I don't mean emotion).

When you try to imagine what it would be like if the game were real and the player is actually who they are pretending to be, what is it that you see them doing?

Quote:
2) Direct fire - Line of sight requirement

Again, this depends on what you want the player to feel when playing this game. IF you want positioning to be important, then line of sight makes sense to include. If you don't want positioning to be very important, then line of sight just gets in the way.

To me it seems like you don't have a clear idea of what you want the players to be doing in this game. You don't really have a clear idea of the player's role in the game.

If you had a clear idea of these things, the questions you are asking us would not exist as the answer to them is defined by what you want the player to be doing and feeling.

So getting right back to the basics, you need to answer these questions:

1) What is the player's role in the game?
2) What (non emotional) feeling do you want the player to experience?

IF yo can answer these you should see the answers to all the questions you ahve asked become resolved. It is also why we can't really answer these questions for you as they are totally dependent on what you what the player's experience to be.

We can give our opinions of the various options, but when we do this, we have in our own minds a type of experience we would want the player to feel, and this can be different from what you want.

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