Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Rpg Mechanics Stolen from Clearance Rack Boardgames

Here are a couple board games I picked up from clearance bins. They each have interesting mechanics which can be stolen and incorporated into tabletop rpg encounters.

Attack on Titan

BGG link. One-versus-all boss battle. Based on a show about fighting giant monsters called titans. 

I picked this one up because I like the designer's other work. The main problem it has as a board game is that the titan's side of things isn't very engaging. If the titan was automated, then it could be a satisfying cooperative dice-rolling puzzle thingy. 

But it had some really fun little ideas:

Climbing on the Beast:

First of all, the human characters move up and down these little cardboard standees. The ground counts as a space, as does each layer of the tower, and about half of the locations represent the humans climbing up the titan, shadow of colossus style. Some spaces allow you to do special actions, like firing the cannons from the tower, while others are places you need to maneuver to accomplish certain objectives.

This is just good fun.  And you don't really need a 3d prop to accomplish this effect. Just lay up some index cards indicating certain points-of-interest atop whatever giant monster is being fought.

Team Maneuvers

One of the ways the game uses these different spaces is to have certain maneuvers which can only be accomplished by the group occupying several positions at the same time.

But the titan's attacks are forecast. Maybe moving into position for the maneuvers puts one of your team at risk of taking damage. 

Some interesting risk/reward type decisions that necessitate cooperation and encourage movement.

Multiple Narratively Distinct Failure Modes

The human's goal is to deal enough damage to get the titan into the danger zone, and then execute the team maneuver that kills the thing. But they have to keep more in mind than just slashy slashy slashy all the time. The titan wins if any of the following occur:
  • Any of the players die
  • The titan manages to destroy all the cannons on the tower,  leaving the city defenseless. 
  • All of the civilian tokens are destroyed.
In the game, the civilians are just little cardboard circles, so there isn't really much of a narrative hook. It makes sense mechanically to have a target the titan can attack if the players are being too defensive. But I think this would actually work better in an rpg setting.

The core concept is simple. When setting up an encounter, PCs always have the obvious goal of protecting their hitpoints. To make things more interesting, add a strategic target to protect, and a narrative target to protect. 

The strategic target should be some feature of the environment that the PCs can exploit to more effectively kill the baddies. The baddies, meanwhile, should either be trying to remove that asset or use it themselves to more effectively kill the players. Cannons, trap doors, precariously tilting columns of stone, a giant scorpion trained to respond to a magical laser pointer...

The narrative target should be something that doesn't have any effect on the actual battle, but which the players might still choose to hinder their combat effectiveness to protect. Don't endanger pets or PC family members; that puts out too many bad vibes onto the table. But a puppy orphanage, an important captive, the loosely bound and flammable portfolio of documents proving the wizard's cousin to be the rightful heir to the throne... 


Bgg link. The Funko Pop company bought a boardgame company and is now producing a skirmish game filled with chracters from whatever IPs they have on hand. Here you can see two of the Golden Girls teaming up with Hermione Granger to take down Voldemort:

The rules take the basic framework of Heroscape, and tweaks it to make it a bit faster and swingier. It's turn-based combat on a grid, where each character takes two actions on each of their turns. You're reading an rpg blog, so you know the gist of it.

The worst thing about this game is that it's actually really quite good, save for the fact that it was clearly not designed with giant-headed funkos in mind. The heads are so big that it's difficult to place them next to each other on the board. And when a character takes damage, the rules say to place the figure on its side in that space to indicate that they're stunned, which just doesn't work.

Anyways, I'm a fan of the game's system, and I think I'll play it quite a bit after replacing the figurines with wooden standees. (Lifehack: glue two knockoff scrabble tiles together, glue a character image to the outside, and you've got a durable 25 cent "miniature".) 

But figurines aside, the designers made some excellent form factor decisions:

The Cool-down Track

I know what you're thinking. I've seen cool-down mechanics. That's how dragon's breath works in D&D. That's not new. But look at these cool-down tracks:

They're huge! They're brightly colored with contrast. They're easy to read from a distance at all angles. At the start of each turn, you slide everything down one space, which is a satisfying tactile experience.

By making cooldown-tracking quick, readable, and tactile, this chunk of cardboard removes the mental overhead of bookkeeping.   Take a moment to imagine playing a tabletop rpg where instead of players rolling dice, the GM crosses off results from a giant list of random digits. The results would be the same, but it wouldn't be as fun. This is because dice-rolling (or snappy instant electronic rng) is more playful.

Advice for GMs: grab a sheet of paper and some brightly colored markers, and doodle yourself up one of these things. Once cool-downs no longer make you pause the game, you can use them everywhere. The designers of funkoverse had certainly had this realization:
  • All of the character abilities have cooldowns
  • After capturing a point from an objective on the board, you take the marker for that objective and put it on your cooldown track. Once it falls off, the objective reappears on the board.
  • The game has characters respawning, so you know what happens when a character is killed? You pick up their giant-head corpse and drop it onto the cooldown track.
  • The game has equippable items, and when you use them, you drop them onto the cooldown track.
Something something waterfall of plastic and cardboard.

Shared-Resource Cooldowns

A lot of the abilities are activated by placing a colored token on the cooldown track. But these tokens are shared across a team. So for example, Hermione casts Impedimenta, and now Blanche Devereaux can't flirt with people for several turns. Doesn't really make thematic sense, but it's mechanically interesting.

Knock-downs instead of HP/Wounds

Instead of tracking health across rounds, each character exists in one of three states: Standing Up/ Knocked Down/ Knocked Out.

Knocked-down characters can stand up by using both of their actions. And a character can help an ally stand up for the cost of only one action. 

I'm not sure that this pattern of falling over and repeatedly helping each other stand up would translate well to a roleplaying game in a heroic fantasy setting, but it makes perfect thematic sense when most of your characters are senior citizens (looking at you, Voldemort).

And it's another somewhat interesting way of making bookkeeping more tactile. Or it would be if these gods-forsaken swollen-headed figurines could actually lay prone on a single space!

1 comment:

  1. As problematic as AoT can be, it is a really cool idea and I'm surprised how few attempts have been made to adapt it / knock it off in videogames or TTRPGs. I actually have a class in my weird fantasy setting Phantasmos that is loosely inspired by AoT, and I have a blog post draft from like two years ago that I never published talking about AoT-style ideas in TTRPGs.

    You could imagine something like the mechanics from the videogame into the breach, with tactical positioning, as the basis for an AoT style videogame or even wargame or ttrpg.