10 games, which made Neuroshima Hex real thing!

Haker 3I have today guest post – follow up written by Michał Oracz.

1) Colosseum – this is my own logical game (quite old), it’s about battle between two factions, quite similar to NS Hex. I have used its basics, which have been changed later and in the end created a new game.

2) Magic the Gathering – many elements which are typical for Magic were used in Hex. It was natural for me to keep your army tiles hidden to create your “deck” (for very long time I have been using word “cards” instead of “army tiles”). What is more – 20 HP, and the fact that death of units does not affect player’s HP.

3) Light speed – this real time card game was source of initiative, which determines the order of units but also direction and strength of attacks, armour, which protects certain sides of the card (in NS HEX – tiles) against shoots. Obviously, we have used game design – you have to deploy your units first, and then all units take part in battle at once.

4) Zombiaki – this game was source for the rule of discarding one card (tile in NS HEX) at the beginning of your turn and some things like net, grenade, sniper, division into board and instant cards, blocking of line of sight etc. Even today while making a new army I am looking through Zombiaki (and other our games) searching for rules which might be useful. Every time we are able to do it I am very satisfied, it is great fun.

5) Kingdoms – this board game (finally board game not a card game!) was source for method of arrangement of tiles on the board and what is important very strong modules which affects adjacent spaces. When I was designing NS Hex I was convinced that I am designing battle clone of Kingdoms.

6) Chess – chess are deeply rooted in my mind every time I design any game – for NS Hex I have borrowed various figures of special usage which are easily to destroy, and the King which is the most important unit (in NS HEX it is HQ).

7) Knights of the Cross – although, it is a computer game in fact it is a very good board game. Like in chess, there are various pieces, some of them are very thought, other very strong or fast. In the game we use those pieces to compose our army and then to confront our enemy who has completely different set of pieces (also a few of them). In NS Hex I have been trying to reconstruct this system.

8) Illuminati – from this card game by S. Jackson I have borrowed connectors which combine cards into more powerful systems, what became modules connectors in NS HEX.

9) Cave Troll – NS Hex was put aside as useless for a long time waiting for the last piece which was later taken from Cave troll, and finally NS Hex started to work. To be precise NS Hex was waiting for Battle tile. After playing this piece it starts that what is the most important i.e. action connected with victory conditions and sums up the whole puzzle we prepared during the game (in the Cave Troll there was a token which was starting summing up of points, also several times during the game).

10) Neuroshima RPG – it was obvious that we have to place our game in our own universe, so I decided that world described in our role-playing game Neuroshima will be the best.

Old classic

hex3_cover_EN_hdWhen we were preparing to publish Neuroshima Hex back then in 2005, we didn’t expect that ten years later the game will be still in print. Bestseller in Poland for the past 10 years, with 9 additional armies, with IOS app, with many local editions including French, Italian, Russian, Spanish and many more it just blew up our expectations. We did believe in the game, but man, it grew much bigger than we could dream.

Now, 10 years later English rights for Neuroshima Hex came back to Portal. One could say: “Hey, Ignacy don’t waste your time on marketing old game and you better focus on your new releases!”

I say: “Neuroshima Hex is not an old game. It’s an old classic. It’s one of our most important releases in the past few years for me. I’ll make you play the game because I know you should at least try it!”

***

Just few days ago I wrote an article about brainstorming, about designers developing and improving other designers ideas and creating new games based on the older ones. What’s interesting, it’s hard for me to point out games that are Neuroshima Hex’s successors, games that used Neuroshima’s mechanisms and grew into something new. The game is still super unique, just like not discovered gem. It’s strange. I can’t explain this.

As Zee Garcia points out in his review (below) Neuroshima Hex is an unique blend of abstract tactical game and thematic game. The same conclusions were presented by Joel Eddy in his review. He called Neuroshima Hex Abstract Trash game, meaning that it has abstract, very clear rules and at the same time it is so much thematic! Yeah, water and fire, abstract rules and thematic experience.

It’s hard to explain, it’s hard to understand how Michał Oracz, designer of the game managed to do this. What is clear, this is a game like no other.

***

If the game is on the market for 10 years. If the game has 9 great expansions. If the game has active tournament scene. If the game has it’s own, dedicated site run by fans, with regular updates (neuroshimahex.pl). If the game…

It means, this game has something.

I strongly recommend you to try it. I would not promote a title if I don’t believe in it with my whole heart. I promote NS HEX and recommend it because I do belive. With my whole heart.

How does a good expansion smell like?

missisipi-3-1024x852[this is gues post by Michal Oracz]

Do you guys know how many fragrance notes there are in perfumes? 

I do. Three: the top note, the middle note and… uh… and the base note. 

The top note is the first and the faintest, short-lasting stage of a fragrance. You could even say it’s the least important because it lasts for only about few minutes after using the atomizer. These ingredients will be gone after a while, uncovering other ones, those that more lasting, they were used by the perfume designer in order to be the second stage, the middle note. It’s the middle note that we will carry so it better be really good. Finally when it is gone as well the third and most lasting stage of the fragrance will stay, the base note, composed of longest lasting ingredients. It’s some knowledge for a guy, isn’t? 

I know all this because for quite a few years I’ve been living in a perfumery. My girlfriend’s passion is perfume and since she likes to share this knowledge with me, every day she sticks blotters under my nose, about half a kilo of them to be precise, and she questions me about the aromatic compositions. 

It was rather interesting at the beginning. But when one catches himself on analyzing the aromatic composition of a steak or a cucumber salad it’s a good signal to start worrying. 

Today, I think for the first time, I can say that this knowledge finally was somehow useful to me. Why? 

Let me explain. 

While designing factions for Neuroshima Hex I am most interested in the middle note and the base note. All my efforts are focused on them. I completely ignore the top note. 

The thing is I no longer speak about fragrance notes, I speak about game balance notes. 

I don’t care about the first impression. The player sits in front of the game, he takes a new army and crushes the opponent without any problems. Or he gets crashed even thou he almost overloaded his brain. He states his first verdict: this faction is unstoppable. Or otherwise: this faction is completely ineffective. The next few games might look similar. 

This is because I assume that Hex is not a game for just a few plays. The same goes to new factions. 

I assume that I must deliver the perfect product to those players who will play the core version and it’s expansions over and over, hundreds of times. To those players that will search for tactics for playing with each army and against each army. Those that would be capable of finding every possible winning strategy, every breach and weakness of each of the armies, should such a weakness exist. Then Hex’s place would be in the trash. 

Sure, there are many games in which the first impression is the most important, in which the designers never even assumed that they will be played hundreds of times over and over. Not all games are created with an eye for tournaments, record setting or gaining experience throughout time. Sometimes it’s enough that the game will work for the first few games and during these few sessions it will provide good entertainment. 
Hex is a game strongly oriented towards tournaments. It must work in hundreds and thousands of plays. It’s the balance of armies in hands of the experienced players that is important here. 

That’s the theory. How does it prove in practice? 

Monday, a couple months ago. A batch of results arrives from a large group of testers. I glance at it and am shocked. I immediately forget my theory. I look at the test results with eyes wide open from disbelief. This cannot be true. 

Mississippi loses. Loses damn hard. 

How could I have been mistaken in my tests? In hundreds of plays, in all possible combinations and different strategies? 

The balance regarded not only the perfectly scaled results but also the tiniest details of gameplay. The army was well fitted for all kinds of threats of each of the other armies. It has a remedy for Borgo’s or Hegemony’s expansion on the game board. It has a whole range of nasty offensive actions, it has an ace up the sleeve which forces the opponent to declare the battle stage, it is balanced, it does not depend on just a few tokens, it can force it’s way through opponent’s Headquarters’ defenses, it has perfect tools for defending its own Headquarters. 

It’s not even 1% too strong nor too weak. It’s damn even and tested. 

Yet I see the results. It is losing. 

This was the exact moment where I could have wasted the balance. All I had to do was panic and strengthen Mississippi. It’s really easy – precise strengthening of a faction is trifle. 

Were I to have strengthened Mississippi back then, I would have committed an unforgivable mistake. I would have balanced the faction for the first dozen plays but simultaneously I would have destroyed the balance for a hundred more. 

Panic is a bad advisor.

I looked at the results once more and saw more information that were hidden before: Mississippi lost mainly in the first few plays, then it starts to compensate. Second thing is that Borgo raises the statistics, the less experienced players often have problems with this fast army because they don’t yet see it’s obvious weak points. 

Exactly the same as in the exorcisms, when a priest is trying to tear out its name from the daemon so he can submit it, in the case of a strange upsetting of the balance you need to precisely locate and name the problem in order to solve it. Wins or defeats happening too often can be a result of something completely different than the strength or the weakness of a faction. Especially in tournament games like Hex. 

Each army has its own Achilles’ heel and its strongest tactics. The thing is that in some of the armies it’s really easy to spot them and in some it’s hard. Borgo is one of the simplest armies, its weakness is invisible at the first glance. As soon as they are discovered, Borgo stops to be the bully on the board. The Outpost is the most complex of the basic armies, its biggest strength is invisible at first glance. So does that mean that any of the experienced players would call it a weaker army? Of course, not. 

A well balanced army can seem to be too powerful at the beginning but with each game and with experience this advantage will grow smaller and smaller until it is statistically equal. An analogical situation takes place with the armies that seem too weak at the beginning. After a few dozens of games the player becomes an experienced player – and this is the moment when all officially issued armies become equal. 

What Mississippi lacked were strategy hints. Something that would speed up learning of how to lead this peculiar army. This faction is of the more complex sort but after getting the hang of it, it will more than make up for the invested time and effort. 

So let’s have a look at Mississippi: 

We have a medium range of units with medium initiative. Weak melee attacks and weak ranged attacks. No additional life points nor armor. Limited mobility. No modules improving initiative and attacks’ strength. 

BUT: 

We have Mutations – special modules that provide a lot of toughness to the units. 

We have the Toxic Bomb that will detonate a part of the game board whenever we want. It’s a terrain tile so the opponent can’t do almost anything about it. 

Our Headquarters can push. 

We have the Zone which sets enemy units’ initiative to zero. We also have Pollutions that paralyze units. 

We have Shadows… 

And most of all – we have HUGE possibilities and resources to poison opponent’s Headquarters. 

This is Mississippi – a poisonous, deadly monster that hides in toxic fumes and gurgles with toxins. 

During tests and final polishes of a new faction I note down a lot of things besides the results. Among these notes are difficulties with specific factions and tactical, strategic insights. It comes in really handy. 

I briefly described the basics of efficient strategies for Mississippi. Sent it. New results came after few days. 

I checked how Mississippi works now. 

Phew… 

The exorcisms were successful; the daemon of balance upsetting was banished back to the hell of broken games. 

The players appreciated the importance of Venom and its multiple ticks in each battle. They appreciated Paralysis and started to use it properly. They learned how to use Shadows and Boilers, they appreciated The Poisoner and Toxic Bomb, learned how to efficiently use Mutations. And the opponents learned how to deal with Headquarters’ ability to push. 

Mississippi is not the new Borgo, nor Moloch, it does not welcome the player with arms wide open. It’s neither the new Neojungle, nor Vegas, nor Mephisto, nor the Dancer – meaning it’s not a new weird, experimental army. It’s more like a new Outpost or a new Hegemony. It includes a package of curious but not obvious serves both defensive and offensive. 

And you are probably curious how does Mississippi smell like in the year 2050, in a world where machines submitted mankind? Well let me just say: you’d better put your gas masks on…

Hiding the raisins

 

(this is guest post by Michal Oracz)

Neither Neuroshima Hex nor Theseus, and especially not Witchcraft are particularly story oriented games.

I’m not even trying to delude myself that these tactical monsters will take my players plunging into a different world, full of metal corridors, blue fog and radioactive fumes. These are all tactical games, kind of logical, while based in my beloved worlds – the postapocaliptic Neuroshima and the claustrophobic space horror.

Does that mean I don’t like story games?

Just the contrary – I love them.

In the last decade we created a lot of roleplaying games in Portal, among these two major lines. First, Neuroshima rpg – a 400 pages long rulebook and 23 expansion-books. All of these together with the anthology of short stories makes more than three thousand and five hundred pages describing the world of Neuroshima.

This universe has nested board and card games such as Hex, Convoy, 51st State, New Era, the Polish edition of Resistance, as well as a tabletop war-game called Neuroshima Tactics and a computer game Neuroshima Apocalypse.

Our second big rpg title is Monastyr, a dark fantasy game set in a world at a breakthrough between the age of knights and the age of industrialism. This world is ruled by xenophobia, populated by extremely intolerant and permanently stirred nations that form an anti-pagan alliance. Where the second part of the world is still filled with the hated magic. It’s a world divided in every aspect: religious fanaticism against rational cynicism, the pope against the emperor, union of men and technology against the world of magic, the underworld against the surface world, humans against the other races. For Monastyr we created 8 expansion-books and an anthology of short stories. Also the boards game Stronghold was set in it.

This is what we did for a dozen or so years. That was our job, hobby, passion. We created worlds, stories, we worked on characters and locations, events and threads, factions and challenges.

And this is where I feel best.

Most of my unfinished drafts and board game projects are mostly all kinds of adventure-story games, sometimes very weird ones.

Somehow, don’t ask me how (well mostly by coincidence) only my strictly strategic games were published so far. And so when you take Hex’s manual in your hand, or any of the expansions, you may under an impression that it was written by a robot.

I assure you, I’m not a robot 🙂

Using the space that Ignacy has given me on his blog, I’d like to sneak in a handful of curiosities; they will be a little hermetic and will concern the story that is hidden in or behind all of my tactical, board creations.

You must know that factions in Neuroshima rpg are very closely related to one another and are not as divide as in the board game NS Hex. A random example: Borgo. Mutants on the board fight against Moloch, in the world of Neuroshima rpg they kind of do the same but not really. Mutties often paranoid respect any kinds of technology, you can stumble upon whole altars raised from old engines and devices. Many mutants consider Moloch to be their god. To be honest Moloch is indeed their creator because in NS mutants are not an outcome of radiation nor magical anomalies, instead they are the effect of Moloch’s genetical experiments. It is Moloch that creates new species of a post-human, capable of existing in a completely devastated world. They are bred in terrariums that look like Moon’s landscape – desolate. Nobody knows why, since it was Moloch that initiated the destruction of the entire human civilization and took control over what remains. Naturally as authors of Neuroshima rpg we know perfectly well why but we left it hanging in the corebook as one of the few unanswered mysteries of this world. Moloch created many species of mutants, it’s armored convoys spread them all over the continent. Mainly in the proximity of the Mississippi river – the most noxious area of them all. As to Borgo himself – a charismatic cyber mutant, he rallied some a part of the mutants under his banner – hatred towards mankind.

Oh, yes. The factions they do mix – and it’s visible almost in every aspect of NS Hex.

The newest expansion for Hex is the Mississippi faction (as usually stripped of a complex story that can be found on the pages of Neuroshima rpg). We will find many mutants in the grounds adjacent to the Mississippi river because the river it Moloch’s main testing ground for new species. One of them being the Sharrash rats – independent but despite that they do a good job protecting the underground roads near Moloch’s borders. These mutated rats can also be found solo, for example in the area of Mississippi. Since humans are particularly distrustful towards mutties, that don’t look like homo sapiens, the mutated rats never take of their masks. Of course their looks are not exactly those of a normal rat, they are more like the batfaced vampires from the movies made after the year 2000. But hey, it’s better to keep your mask on, especially with a face like that.

And now a curiosity: well among the Hex’s Mississippi you can find one of the Sharrash rats – I’m curious if you can recognize him.

How about another piece of the Mississippi story? In the manual you one can encounter a strange rule called Dead Breath. When both armies will go down to zero during the battle, Mississippi wins. Why? Naturally to get rid of the unresolvable draw in the tournament rules (while using the tournament rules almost every draw is resolvable).

But what is it about story wise?

Dead Breath is a disease that made its first appearance in the area of Neuroshima’s Detroit and changed the city into a closed fortress. This disease changes people into bloodthirsty – let’s not beat around the bush – zombies. Where did come from? Who, one day, delivered its source in a metal container to the border area of the ruins of Detroit? And why was it opened? By whom? Officially it’s not known. All fingers point at Moloch and yet one of its sick experiments, aiming to prove something, to check something. Why in that case a unit that draws with Mississippi loses? Since for this faction a draw is actually a win? And why is this form of winning called – Dead Breath. Precisely, it’s a suspicious relationship, isn’t it?

In many places of the Hex there are resins hidden and they are very no more no less a kind of hermetic references to the world of Neuroshima rpg.

Does this introduce anything to the game? Absolutely nothing.

Why are this story based ‘winks’ in a game like Hex? Absolutely for nothing.

It’s just additional fun during the process of creation. Creating game, even such tactical monsters, should be mainly based on fair fun. For example a fun game of hiding the raisins.

 

PS. I just can’t wait when my new game comes out, since I have this feeling that the constant discussion about Hex, Theseus or Witchcraft is starting to sound with an echo of a bothersome mantra 😉

Unexpected jump back to summer 2007

Yesterday I was driving to Wroclaw and – as nearly always when I drive – I was listening to gaming podcast. In the line I had new episode of The Cardboard Jungle podcast so I connected my Iphone to audio system in car and began to listen.

At some point guys began to present their Top 10 games. My twitter pinged and said: ‘You’re going to be happy in a little bit #spoileralert’ The kind of spoiler I may accept.

Well, yes, I know that Matthew and rest of the team plays Portal Games games so yes, I was kinda hoping that Robinson will make a list. And I was right, Robinson did make it. 4th place on Anthony list. Then it got beaten by Neuroshima Hex on Matt list and then by New Era on Paul list. It was super cool and it made this trip far less sucking (two traffic jams and one cloudburst during one trip achievement unlocked!).

But the magical moment came when Paul mentioned how he got hooked into Neuroshima Hex. It was because of trailer for Neuroshima Hex. Paul said (and I quote here):

‘It had this kinda this gentlemen speaking but it was really deep voice that matched the setting perfectly and it was just kind like you know my soldier is going to attack your base for 1 point of damage but then your opponent places a sniper across the board who’s gonna kill that guy before he hits the base and then your opponent takes the next turn and it goes Oh, yeah, well this guy is gonna smash the sniper before he can shot that guy who wants to hit the base so he can get the base…’

It was like I was hit right in my head. In a second memories hit me really really strongly. I a moment I was back in summer 2007. Why is that? It’s because Paul just quoted word by word what narrator in this trailer said.

We published this trailer 7 years ago.
And Paul just said it straight out the head.

***

Back in 2007 we were 3 guys from Poland, from poor country with no board games market nor any board games traditions. All we had was Neuroshima Hex designed by Michal Oracz and belief that we can do impossible, go to Essen and conquer the world.

Back in summer 2007 we had no skills to make video trailer. Nor we had funds to pay for one.
But my brother was at college at that time and had lectures about that. He said he will help.

Back in summer 2007 we had no skills to make video animations. Nor we had funds to pay for one.
But one of Neuroshima RPG fans was doing movie for some sideback project and he agreed to give us for free few seconds of animation.

Back in summer 2007 we had no professional lector. Nor Polish nor English one.
But one of Neuroshima RPG fans knew a guy, who knew a guy, who might do it for a beer…

Back in summer 2007 we had no skills to make soundtrack. Nor we had…
But one of our fans here in Poland played in heavy metal band and said he will help…

***

I could say that back in 2007 three of us: me, Rafal Szyma and Michal Oracz had nothing, had no money, no experience, no tools to make an international debut.

I won’t say that. I rather will say:

Back in 2007 three of us: me, Rafa Szyma and Michal Oracz had courage to do impossible, had determination to do impossible and what is most important had friends who made impossible… possible for us.

From nothing we made a movie trailer that 7 years later Paul quotes out of his head.

I am proud of New Era at 1. place of Paul list.
I am proud of Neuroshima Hex at 3. place of Matt list.
I am proud of Robinson at 4. place at Anthony list.

But above that all I am so f… proud of us, back in 2007.

Paul, I have to thank you for bringing those memories and reminding me about the mission impossible we did going to our first Essen. That was hell of adventure. Summer 2007…

About randomness and luck in games

…or why I didn’t throw out randomness from Hex and Theseus?

(this is guest post by Michal Oracz)

 

A warm, spring evening. You’re sitting comfily in front of the screen reading a game review. There’s a picture, a title and five blocks of text.

Scrolling…

At the end of the review there is a summary:

Rating: 8/10
Pluses:
– Beautiful graphic design
– 90 plastic figures = money well spent
– Innovative mechanics of city development
– Theme and humor
– The whole thing weighs over 5 kilos and makes a pleasurable sound when shaken = money well spent
Minuses:
– Non-standard card size
– Randomness
– No interaction
– The game is for 2 players only
– Play time: 10-15 minutes
– Player’s age: 12+
– The box is red and black

 

No, it’s not a summary for Her nor for Theseus, they don’t have figures, boxes are lighter and interaction level is at 200%. This is a summary of some nonexistent game taken straight from Narnia.

The question is different: when did you notice that something was wrong with this whole summary? Was it the game time or the player’s age or the red and black box? If so, not bad.

But maybe it was earlier, where randomness and lack of interaction were mentioned as minuses? Really? It’s hard to believe since we’re used to treating randomness and lack of interaction as obvious defects and evident mistakes in games.

Who didn’t hear about a „stupid, random game”?

I personally like a bit of randomness, which even may – focus here! – influence the result of the game!

Sometimes I’m asked if Hex wouldn’t be better off without the random element. If everything would be in front of the player and accessible from the very beginning, turning the game into a real contest of the minds. Similar situation takes place with Theseus. Hmmm…

It is said that Theseus is a difficult game. The rules are very simple but during the game itself you really need to flex your brain in all directions to put all that you got into a game winning, asskickin’ combo machine. Phew, tough sport. Is it good? No. In commercial sense it is absolutely a flaw. But there is something instead. Theseus is very fast, experienced players can deal with it in about 20-25 minutes. Secondly all games are unique, each time there are different combos on the board composed from different cards and in different locations of the game. Finally: Theseus includes an element of RANDOMNESS. It’s not major but it’s enough – same as in Hex, you simply don’t know what will come next to your hand, that’s it. But IT IS THERE.

Oh yes, the short play time and the random element were kept in the game as a painkiller for the general brain consuming factor of the gameplay.

I wanted to make a game that would involve a huge amount of brain work while thinking about all these combos yet it would forgive the player the mistakes he makes. So that if you lose you wouldn’t leave the table feeling your brain is somehow worse than that of your opponent’s. So that you could always cheer yourself saying: This time you had some luck, let’s see how you’ll do in the next game. Let’s play again.

As a player I hate to lose because my brain was worse than somebody else’s. There surely are people who enjoy such level of competition. But I’m not one of them.

Adding the element of randomness to my games is not a result of tests, nor demand of the players, nor even a fashion. It’s the effect of the player I am, of what I enjoy in board games and of what I don’t enjoy, of what annoys me and of what I miss. Many players love to engage in heavy games with no randomness at all, logical and ruthless. I unfortunately don’t, I’m a different type of a player. I wrote earlier that I try to be honest and polish the gameplay while feeling it 100%, so I design games as if they were for myself. It’s the easiest way for me to evaluate the fun that comes from the gameplay. I’m not starting to design a complicated eurogame only because they are appreciated and a popular genre. I won’t make a game for kids only because it’s a huge and great target and a lot of players want to play with their little ones. I prefer to be honest as a designer and work only on what I know and what I feel. I like games with a well-placed and well-choses element of randomness, that’s why randomness will be present in my games.

Randomness, while anticipating the occurrence of new tiles or cards in the game, be it ours or the opponent’s, is also connected with a special type of emotion, totally different than the ones that we feel while anticipating opponent’s move. We know what may come to the opponent and what may come to us. But we don’t know when. We prepare a certain situation on the board, calculating in our heads the chances for drawing and playing more or less fortunate elements of the game in the upcoming turns. We create a flexible machine to overpower our opponent, we update it as the elements appear and we modify our plans. Sometimes we pray for a Bomb or a Sniper; sometimes we pray so that our opponent wouldn’t get a fast unit or a net-fighter or Move. We pray for him not to place the Duplicate or Safeguard. We beg our luck for the opponent not to draw Battle this turn! Not now! He got it… damn… Hurray, it’s a Bomb! I did it! A shooter, yay! I’ll close the combo! Phew, that was close, just one Push and I’m saved.

For the whole gameplay the player digests wishes and prayers in his mind, he keeps his fingers crossed and holds his breath. There is another game taking place in his mind, next to the board. Satisfaction and frustration occur, one after the other, anger and happiness. The gameplay is short and intense, the tactic is short-distanced so these emotions are also very temporal, the anger is very short and disappointment after a lost battle can be easily wiped with a rematch.

All this without feeling that your brain is somehow inferior because there always is light in the dark tunnel, a simple fact at our hand: “if I had the proper token back then everything would have been different. You were lucky!”. So what if luck or bad luck are just a minor element of the whole gameplay? What is important is the fact that we can always blame our defeat on fate.

Of course I don’t like „stupid, random games”. But I also don’t like ruthless, logical monster without the faintest trace of randomness in it. A minor and well placed element of fate is like a well-chosen spice. The game just tastes better.

The Terrifying Borgo

jaskiniamutantów_piofoks

(this is guest post by Michal Oracz)

The Neuroshima Hex factions are asymmetrical. They vary in terms of: mobility and attack strength, initiative, toughness, potential for clearing enemy units from the board, ability to control the board, ability to get out of trouble, possible combos or with the abilities allowing to blackmail the enemy and force him to declare Battle when the board is full and when it’s beneficial to us.

They also vary when it comes to how easy they are to learn and play, using their maximum potential. At the beginning some of them seem to be too easy, others too hard. They become equal only in the hands of experienced players.

When we sum up the statistics of both the experienced and the beginning players we will discover something not surprising at all: an army easier to master is the one that has more wins in this statistic. The problem vanishes in the long-term summaries of games because players are beginners for a lot shorter than they are veterans.

Borgo definitely bears the palm when it comes to terrifying players.

„I’m surprised Borgo’s balance wasn’t corrected in 3.0. Everybody knows Borgo is too strong and it’s a mistake of the Hex’s designers”.

I guarantee that never, in any upcoming edition will we change even a single tile in Borgo’s army. This faction is just the way it should be, it’s not even slightly too strong. It’s not too weak either – such voices can also be occasionally heard from players who have uncovered all of Borgo’s weaknesses and they feel overconfident.

What’s crucial in grasping both weak and strong sides of Borgo was included in the game manual:

Borgo is incredibly fast and can clear the whole board. It can cause a lot of wounds to enemy’s Headquarters when it gets close enough.

Meanwhile it is very weak at breaking through the protective wall around the Headquarters and the most effective attacks (Net-Fighter) are carried out by units that are rather defenseless, that need additional protection.

That’s exactly it.

This is where the truth about Borgo and its Achilles’s heel is. However, knowing this secret won’t change Borgo into a set of thirty-five useless pieces of cardboard. It’s still a fully functional, strong army.

So what should Borgo’s opponent know to feel he steps into the ring as an equal?

Let’s put things in order.

First of all Borgo’s Headquarter will most likely be placed at the middle of the board, which will give Borgo the six terrifying, hasted fields around it. This is when the knowledge of the less obvious Hex tactics comes in handy. See the tokens have more uses than just attacking or building combos, they can also be used to block certain crucial fields on the board. Should we flood these six fields with our own units we would rob Borgo of its haste.

Secondly if we cover all three fields in front of our own Headquarters, hidden in a corner of the board, and will NEVER trigger Battle in this game, Borgo probably won’t be able to get past to our HQ and won’t inflict any wounds. When Borgo activates Battle, it will at most remove some of the units defending our HQ, of course we will replace them just after this Battle in our own turn with new ones. Borgo’s only chance for scoring a hit on our covered HQ is a situation when a faster Borgo’s unit kills one of our defenders and in the next initiative turn Borgo’s Assassin shoots through the newly made gap. However Assassin’s initiative is 3 so the unit that takes down the cover must have an initiative of 4 or more and the shooter must be perfectly placed. Oh, and of course the shooter will only score a single wound on our HQ.

Nonetheless Borgo’s shooters, there are only two of them, are our number one target on the black list of Borgo’s units for elimination.

A Grenade can also make a hole in our wall, there is very little we can do against the instant tokens.

It’s time for a little digression concerning the Battles. It pays to remember that playing Hex often reminds a contest of nerves – it’s a game of forcing your opponent to invoke Battle. When the board is full the one who invokes the Battle pays a dire price: it’s always opponents turn afterwards and it is the opponent who gets to be the first to fill all the best strategic fields on the game board (for example resupply the defensive wall around the HQ or set up an effective attack). The one who possesses the potential assets to win this contest of nerves will often force his opponent to declare Battle and therefore gain the initiative. Such assets can be: a Bomb, a Sniper, a Grenade, a Net-Fighter, a Blocker, a Scout, a unit with armor, Movement or Push waiting in hand, all this depends on the situation on the board that led to an impasse.

Usually one of the players has the advantage – has more points or at least will have more points after resolving the Battle. You can be sure that this player won’t rush to declare Battle. The rule is simple. If both players will delay in this situation, the one with the advantage will simply win when one of the players will run out of tokens to use. So in most cases the situation looks like this: when the board if filled and only one empty field remains, the player who has the advantage won’t declare Battle and will only discard tokens in order to quicken the end of the game, meanwhile the player with a disadvantage delays with declaring Battle waiting for the token that will be a game changer for the upcoming Battle (like the earlier mentioned Sniper or Bomb). The winning player delays and risks; the losing player counts for a miracle and fearfully counts the time remaining until the end of the game.

Playing against Borgo, should you have at least a few points of advantage, cover your HQ and never declare Battle.

Third, thanks to its speed Borgo can, with time, take control over the board – meaning, after each Battle more of his units stay on board. We must remember about it. If there only is a chance to strike the unprotected back of the units controlling the board (such as the hasted Mutant or Claws) you have to go for it. Same goes to the possibility of a blow for a blow exchange if we have tough units at hand, so they will take out Borgo’s units even if they have lower initiative during the Battle.

Should you have at least a few points of advantage and your HQ covered, Borgo’s control over the game board is no biggie. You just have to last until the end of the game, just like a soccer team carefully defending a not-impressive but sufficient 1:0 score.

Oh and please remember that nothing clears the board like Moloch’s Bomb dropped on Borgo’s HQ.

Fourth thing, the Net-Fighter. It’s Borgo’s most dangerous unit – we can never make this fatal mistake and simply assume that the opponent won’t draw him next turn. Protecting our HQ, we can never allow ourselves to be so careless and leave an empty field near our HQ without even few quick-shooting unit’s targeting it from the neighboring fields. Placing our tokens we must assume that Borgo’s Net-Fighter will be set up there, paralyzing our HQ and dealing three wounds every Battle and possibly until the end of the game.

Summing up: don’t fall for the Net-Fighter trick, cover the hasted fields, gain few points of advantage, cover your HQ, never declare Battle, eliminate Borgo’s shooters. These are just the basics because the tactical and even strategic secrets of Hex are numerous.

Simple? Not at all. Borgo is a hard opponent even if we know its weak sides. It’s hard as any army in the hands of an experienced player.

However it’s high time to grow out of the fear of the blue color.

PS. In one of the upcoming episodes I’ll look into a similar case concerning Theseus, to be more precise concerning the Fire, a terrifying card of the Marines faction. Similarly, with pleasure, I’ll tell you more about other terrifying tiles from Hex, for example about the Outpost’s Mobile Armor or the Moloch’s Bomb – and about other strong and weak sides that you’ll be better of knowing about 😉

PPS. Thanks for all the propositions for the name of the Theseus’ robot faction! For now we are calling it Bots, it worth to say that during the polishing phase the army broke into two completely different factions: the first being the cunning and greedy A.I., which does whatever it wants to the Station, second being the heavy, armored, crushing machines that will roll over anybody like a tank. Both factions are being developed simultaneously (for now) but soon one of them will send the other to the waiting room, we will see which one it will be 😉

The return of the telepaths: when an add-on ruins the game

GUEST POST BY MICHAL ORACZ

If I occasionally doubted in the existence of telepathy, it was until yesterday.

Somewhere around midnight I stopped my struggles with the add-on for Theseus. I looked on all the cards, tokens, units and special rules I rejected during proof-gaming. I noticed that I threw away ALMOST EVERY idea that at first occurred to me as revolutionary.

I sat in front of the keyboard and wrote an article about it. To be more precise, it was about this wild passion we authors have to turn the game up side down with an expansion. About how this rabid dog must be kept on a short leash and why.

Next day Ignacy published the text. The disturbing thing was that I haven’t even sent it to him. He published his own article, because he wrote exactly the same thing at the same time 🙂

One of us should definitely use Magneto’s helmet.

Hmm, what now… Maybe this will help:

Highlight half of the text and… DELETE.

OK 🙂

At the end of the (deleted) arguments I’ll use the newest examples taken from my everyday work.

I have just finished working on two, developed simultaneously, expansion – Missisipi for Neuroshima Hex and Robots (working name, maybe somebody has a better idea for a name of the machines’ faction?) for Theseus. Of course we are still polishing the balance but that is a completely different pair of shoes.

Missisipi. When working on an expansion I always feel tempted to show what I can do with a game. The first approach to a new army is like creating a demo. Ideas for creating a completely different game with the help of just one additional faction and eventually some new rules are trying to escape my head as if they were a bunch of wild animals.

I feel drawn to pour a whole bucket of innovations on the game. New units appear, they run all over the board game like crazy. Some new tiles and tokens appear and then coal mining and economy (just you wait, we’ll publish it one day but until then not a word to anybody!), tiles of special locations, armies consisting of mainly instant tiles or terrain tiles… Same thing in, I’m even afraid to describe it all: a tile that automatically kills everything around it. Indestructible tiles. Terrible area damage effects, wiping out few units with one shot. Units that can heal the Headquarters…

Robots. Here the situation is quite similar, first draft of the faction is a real display of fireworks. Each of the three (or four) units is different. Both reverse and obverse of the unit are not just better and worse sides. They simply have different actions. Each unit can enter the other unit and they can join to became a one big unit only to divide to smaller, specialized ones later on. Units have special directions of acting through walls. A whole bunch of new ability markers to place on your units.

I could stir things up like this all the time. I always loved it, especially when we created RPG games. I striped the game’s structure down to basic elements I meditated on each one of them. Could we improve it somehow? Could we change it to something else? Do it the way it was never done before.

When you create a game all that is great, there’s no problem.

But an expansion?

That’s why most of those innovations found their way into the trash just like half of the text I prepared, which was telepathically nicked by Ignacy (I’ll skip the argument that was brilliantly described by Ignacy and provide a bit of my own thoughts).

The author has to be fair with the player. First of all we won’t encourage new people to reach for the game. It’s an illusion. Some people think they can increase the popularity of a game and lure new players because from now on, thanks to the expansion, we have implemented deck-building and economy. No. The expansion is for those who liked the core version. They trusted us and it’s to them that we owe a debt that can only be repaid with the best possible expansion we can make.

And so for example in Neuroshima Hex if we had too much mobility it would kill the very sense of the game. No place for theory here or ‘I said so and that’s how we do it’. It ruins the game in the worst possible way. Hex is a game about positioning, its like very strategic puzzle making. If there is a faction with too much mobility on the game board, it starts to play a different game and then the worst thing happens – every now and then there is the proverbial „Cancel” or „Dispel”. Too much mobility in Hex turns off all the advantages of other armies. Others make their slow and strategic puzzle while the mobile ones are playing PacMan with them.

Same thing with instant tiles. It’s not a problem to design an army consisting only of these (I still have the draft of Parker Lots gang in my magic box, they are assassins who spit out instants as if they were mad). But Parker Lots play their own game on a board of NS Hex and the unfortunate army that goes against them plays a different one. It doesn’t matter that balance can be forced so that in the end it will be more or less equal. It’s about the fact that it feels unpleasant, unfair and frustrating.

All of the new markers got kicked out of Missisipi, same with the economy in Hex, instant armies and one hundred percent mobile ones.

Specialized units got kicked out of the Robots faction as well as piles of tokens and special movement rules – they might return in the future if they can defend themselves better in tests of a different faction. Until then they have the red card and will have to warm the bench.

An innovative expansion is a great thing as long as it deepens what we already love about a game, not simply denies everything we knew, in the name of innovation and game play variation.

That’s the end of demos, it’s high time to create some cool, complete new expansions for the fans of these two games.

It’s not about some sophisticated theory. It’s all very simple:

Each game has its own rhythm and characteristics of game play.

Let’s embrace it while creating expansions, we owe that to those who love it.