Friday, 17 February 2017

Big Stompy Robots Newsletter

The latest news on Gav Thorpes 'Big Stompy Robot' project...

Sci-Fi Artwork from Gav's Website
One of Sammy's Robot Toys
Last October I took the decision to run a participation game at the ROBIN wargames event. After a bit of back and forth, I decided to create a new game and then after some more back and forth (and the event now just a few weeks away) I opted to make a mech-fighting game.
Last Sunday that happened.
I’ll not lie. There were a couple of times when I thought I had made a big mistake – mostly at 11pm at night in the freezing cold of the garage spraying polystyrene columns. I scaled down my plans considerably as the date neared, and concentrated on the fact that I was offering an entirely new gameplay experience for people. It wouldn’t be the best looking game in terms of models and terrain (which bugs me, because I want everything to be glorious every time) but it would be a never-to-be-repeated opportunity to play a new miniatures game for the very first time.
I’m glad that the day has passed and I can chill a little bit – I might even find an evening or two to paint something else like my Blood Bowl team. But overall, I am so pleased I took the plunge. Not only was it a new experience to run a game at a show – an enjoyable one at that – it was the motivator I needed to get something done. It made me think about what I wanted to do, which game I wanted to create.  You can read my blog about the event here.
ROBIN was just the start. I have models, rules and a table, so now I can play lots more games and really start to get things rolling!

The Rules

One of the most useful things in early testing of a game is to give it to some people with no preconceptions and see what they make of it. I have ideas of how I want the game to play, the sort of tactics I would like to see. However, at ROBIN I was able to just put the game in front of complete newcomers and see what they did.
Not only does this give me a look at the gameplay from an outside perspective, it also allows a designer to see how players intuitively want to do things. In the case of Big Stompy Robots, I didn't correct players if they hadn’t quite got the damage control sequence right, for instance, but simply paid attention to how they naturally felt they should do it and considered whether that would work better than what I had written.
There has been some useful feedback from the players, both in person and subsequently by email, which I will certainly take on board. In addition, it’s clear that finishing off a mech is very difficult at present. Whether that’s simply because players need to make sure they hammer home an advantage when they get one, or the damage values of the weapons aren’t right, or perhaps the way the damage control system works, only time (and more games) will tell.
Cards set out mid-game
I also need to keep an eye on whether weapons that require ammunition are balanced against the energy-based ones. Certainly on Sunday every game ended with all the ammo-based weapons on empty. I don’t mind that, and I have a plan for allowing ammo drops during the battle as one solution, but I don’t want it to be a no-brainer to avoid having only ammunition-based weaponry.
Now that I have a selection of weapons nailed down based on the models I have, I can focus on those in the next few games and really look at how they work, average armour values and so on. After that I want to introduce some more systems – non-weapon systems like drone targeters, shields, fields and all sorts of other things. They will seriously change the energy requirements and weight (and hence speed) of the mechs, so I will likely also be going back to some of the basics to take that into account.
I knew before Sunday that there's also a need for systems and locations to be destroyed either by a single massive hit, or an overwhelming amount of cumulative damage, or potentially both. This became even more obvious from the way the games panned out at ROBIN.
The response was overwhelmingly positive, both for the style of the game and its aims, and so that has given me great confidence to continue. Thanks to everyone for that!
Image from the 3D scan

The Models

At the moment I am happy with the miniatures I have in hand – three Heavy Gear mechs and two Pig Iron Productions wardroids. As I noted in a the first Stompy newsletter, I will have to adjust my expectations for what counts as ‘standard’, ‘scout’ and ‘heavy’ size mechs. When I look to expand I will probably head back to the Heavy Gear range, they are my favourites so far.
Other than that, I have no immediate plans. At the start of a project there are a lot of moving parts, so settling on a few builds to reduce the possible options and get everything in order is a good plan.
As an unrelated cool thing, I was recently able to get a 3D scan of a couple of the models – I wrote about this (and you can see the scan) in my blog about the Mixed Realities Storytelling project. This is fascinating work, and maybe something I could use in the long term for Big Stompy Robots campaigns – or at least some aspects of one.

The Terrain

The board I ended up with for ROBIN did its job, but it’s not ideal. It was the hardest part of the project, and although I have been making terrain for many years (three decades in fact), it is far from my strongest suit. I want to remake my rock columns, with a little more time and some tweak of the materials. On top of that, I have my compound and hydroponics farm to build, to vary the terrain.
Terrain set out for ROBIN event
Something else I’m aware of is that during the first couple of playtest games with Carl, we used some old Titan Legions ork buildings. These aren’t the right scale in terms of what they depict, but they are a good size for 40mm-ish mechs to get cover from. It is also a feature of the rules that you can shoot through terrain, and something I am keen to keep. So this might mean sourcing some other buildings or, more likely, using the Epic buildings as a basis to make something more appropriate to the scale and setting.
The Big Stompy Robots game page on my website, has been updated, so check back regularly if you want to keep up-to-date.
These emails will become a bit more sporadic now ROBIN is out of the way, but knowing people have signed up to hear more about the game has been a great motivator for me.  So until I get another demo game booked in at another event, you are officially my team cheerleaders to keep me going with the game.  Or if pom-poms aren't your thing, think of yourselves as my mum standing over me asking if I've finished my homework yet!
Finally, as before, this isn't one of those 'do not reply' emails.  It might take a week or so, depending on how busy I am, but I reply to every email I receive.  All questions, suggestions, and general motivation welcome.

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