Dev Blog #8: Combined Arms

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We are making a mech game. Our mechs come in various classes, light scout manned mechs and drones, middle-weight infantry class mechs, and heavy “Assault” class mechs with tons of guns and tons of hitpoints.

The biggest is the Abolisher, a manned mech that has 650 hitpoints (at least for now) and the most powerful weapons in the game. It can, and has, easily survived against many smaller opponents, all on its own, in an asynchronous slugfest. When playing an abolished against several lighter opponents, it reminded me a bit of the old Steve Jackson Games’ “OGRE”.

Early iterations of the game also had super heavy, tracked “tank” mechs, which in the video game were basically mobile artillery platforms, also with lots of hitpoints, powerful weapons, and deployable turrets. We’ve temporarily removed them form playtesting, but there are rules for them, andmaybe they will come back.

But we also have the other side of the equation, small, human-sized Power Armored Infantry. And where the abolished has 650 hit points, an individual infantry Power Armor has 30-35 hit points, and they come 3 models to a unit.

For reference, the abolisher’s default weapons, if they score a hit, can do 3d10 damage times THREE, which means they could, theoretically, kill in a single shot one or more of the 3 models in an infantry stand.

We converted these units from our original d20 source material, and since the drone mechs were also in the d20 setting, used similar rules to make those conversions, which gave them some pretty powerful weapons, comparatively, and they were hard to kill.

So we came back to balance, which at this point should be an unsurprising, recurring theme. How do you make these little guys not overpowered but also not useless on the battlefield?

I went a couple of ways with this, simultaneously.

  1. Reduce their power. They are infantry, they are and should be slower than vehicles. So, while a typical mech may move 5 hexes or more, these little guys get rate limited to 2 hexes. So they need vehicles to get anywhere on the map. Which brings us to…
  2. Give them the ability to hitch a ride on the other units in the game by wasting an attack action; they can mount a mech and ride along or, as we added a little later, even enter terrain features such as buildings. But they have to use their attack action to do it.
  3. Require unit cohesion; the infantry models in a unit have to stay within a couple of hexes of each other; you can’t have one guy running off while the other two fight. They have to stay together.
  4. Reduce the effective ranges of their weapons; while they were powerful and basically got three attacks per turn (one for each model), they couldn’t shoot across the map, which makes sense that larger vehicles would have bigger guns to reach way out, these guys would have to be close.
  5. They have high defensive values, and high damage reduction, which means that large weapons don’t always do full damage (large shells from a cannon getting close to them, but maybe not making direct hits), and that is counterbalanced by low hit point ts per model.
  6. Lose a model, lose damage output. The unit becomes less effective as the battle wears on.
  7. Give them specific special abilities. Vehicles are subject to being “hacked,” and Infantry are the only units so far that can do that. Hacking can shut down an enemy unit, and we made it required for one of the game modes as the only way to win that scenario.
  8. All units can use melee attacks, but infantry are masters. Their weapons are made to open up mechs if you let them get too close, ignoring damage reduction.

So, instead of a game-killing, overpowered unit, we ended up with, I think, a unit that skilled players can use to great effect if they plan carefully. They may be the hardest units to use in the game effectively. Good for ambushes, good for defending objectives, and is required for the sabotage game mode.

Smart players will learn to kill the infantry as soon as they can, or they will be overwhelmed.

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