Bonefields Development Blog 3: Meat on the Bones
It's been a busy couple of weeks for Needy Cat Games! James is busy working on the upcoming Hellboy board game (for Mantic Games) and juggling a few other projects, several of which I'm helping with. And of course, I'm also powering through Bonefields! On Wednesday last week we also attended a tabletop games event run by a local media college that runs a course on game art. Most of the students on the course specialise in video game art, but one of their lecturers was really keen to open their eyes to the world of tabletop gaming, and invited several Nottingham-based games companies to come and show off their wares. We had an amazing time!
As most of our projects are still under wraps, we took Bonefields along with us and set up a simple demo - after all, we thought, why not make the most of it, and get some testing done? We playtested it throughout the day with several different groups and it gave the basic mechanics a real workout. The main thing we learnt was that the core system works! This was a great relief, especially considering how little time I've had on this game so far... and the fact that it's the first game I've designed! Also, the game received loads of really positive feedback (both on the miniatures and the rules) from a wide variety of players - some of whom had never heard of wargaming before, and some who were hardcore Warhammer players. So that was nice!
So now that we know the game works, the challenge is layering on top of the basic system to add some granularity and make it interesting and replayable. This is really important, especially since we plan to build in a campaign system with advancement mechanics. The plan is to do this by having a wide array of skills, weapons, equipment, spells and character specific rules - of course, we won't know exactly how it all works until we get there. I've started working on rules for different weapons, and it's raised some interesting issues - for example, if you've seen our playtest demo, you'll know that you can spend spell points to summon new warriors. Currently it costs one spell point to raise a skeleton... but what equipment can that skeleton have? You could say that a basic skeleton with a simple weapon costs 1 spell point, and each additional piece of equipment costs 1 more, but seems rather expensive - you have to make sure each additional piece of equipment gives the same benefit as a whole extra skeleton. Or, alternatively, you could raise the spell-point cost of a basic skeleton, which gives you the option to add equipment for one point, but that either means summoning becomes a lot more expensive than other ways of using spell points, or you have to increase the cost of everything, and suddenly you're juggling a couple of dozen spell points at a time...
We're currently trying out ways to make all the different equipment options balance out, so that they're as good as each other. For example, maybe armour makes you tougher but slows you down, so armoured skeletons are just as good as unarmoured ones, but in a different way. Perhaps different weapons give bonuses in different situations - axes can negate shields (by hooking them out of the way), swords can penetrate armour, spears can be used defensively... It's a work in progress, and I'll be adding more thoughts on the subject to the next blog! In the meantime, if you've got any ideas of your own, please let us know in the comments below.
As well as weapons and equipment, we're currently considering a couple more fundamental questions. Should goblin and dwarf skeletons have different profiles, or should the basic rules for skeletons be the same regardless of whose bones they're made of? Should all the models in a warband level up individually, or is it just the spellcasters who level up, making the warband better with their increased magical powers? The two starting warbands available on the Kickstarter are quite different - the Dwarfs are more heavily armed, and have more variety, for a start - so it seems like it would be a good idea to give them different basic profiles as a way of balancing them out.
One of the first questions we got asked when we were running demos last week was one we hadn't really thought about: how do you win? As the whole game is themed around the concept of reanimating dead warriors, a "pitched battle" system where you're just trying to wipe out the other warband seems a bit foolish. In a lot of warband-level games this is the default way of playing, but it just won't work here - instead, we made it all about the objective markers that we'd set up on the board, and that worked really nicely. So nicely, in fact, that we're thinking the entire game's structure will be about capturing objectives. Conveniently, Chris has made a lovely set of objective markers available as part of the Bonefields kickstarter!
Of course, that's just the basics. I've got a load of ideas for different scenarios, featuring rampaging monsters, sites of great arcane power and magic items locked in sarcophagi. I'm really looking forward to getting a few finalised so I can start testing them out!
So, there we go, another development blog. I can't wait to get some rules written down properly, now that the game's starting to take shape. As soon as I've done so, I'll make sure they're available to anyone who wants to see them!
If you've got thoughts on anything in this post, please do let us know in the comments below. And don't forget to back Bonefields on Kickstarter!