For the last 6 months or so I have been playing Lord of the Rings: Battle Companies.
It has essentially become my weekly therapy (jokes). I have never played a war game. I have been around them, and even painted up a heap of Tau in high school, but have never played until last year. I tried a little Warhammer 40K to start. I good friend of mine spent a number of weekends showing me the game, the rules, and the range of different armies. But it just didn’t sit right with me. Too complex perhaps, I’m not sure. It just wasn’t the right fit.
Battle companies, however, seemed a more suitable fit. I liked that each little guy had a name. Each little guy had their own path they could take if they survived. I’ve been hooked since my first battle. I spent some time figuring out which army I wanted to run and decided I’d stick with it. I’m not really interested in investing too much money in a heap of minis for different armies.
Far Harad is all I need. Here’s one of my little guys all painted up.
So, obviously, after months of playing, I am now thinking about how I would make my own. And I how I would build on Bibliotecs as opposed to making an entirely new world and lore. From these thoughts, these are the following things that I think make a skirmish game enjoyable and give it longevity.
Affordable: This is often the biggest barrier to entry. I have a job that would allow me to build armies for some of the more expensive games, but I don’t want to sink funds into that. I’ve chosen to use 3rd party minis for Battle Companies because of this. I do not believe in locking players into an ecosystem. So, with that in mind, I would take advice from Space Weirdos and Frostgrave and use wysiwyg (what you see is what you get). This means, whatever the mini has on them, that’s their weapon. This means that players can just use whatever minis they already have. And the Bibliotecs setting is designed to incorporate sci-fi and fantasy genre tropes.
Simple with growing complexity: Starting a war game is daunting. There are lots of rules and without guidance is it often very hard to figure out how to play. So, a new war band should have some key things that make them interesting, but nothing too complex. The complexity is only interesting once you have a strong hold on basic rules. Also, if there is no room to grow then gameplay can become boring and static. As each war band increases their experience they get slightly more complex but not to the point that gameplay grinds to a halt.
The environment is a character: I have spoken about this in another blog on 5E combat. Essentially, given the environment actions and a turning phase brings a new element and intensity to the game. Think of fighting your enemy in the Danger Room or in a burning building or a robotics factory. There is an inherent danger that can impact the characters and can, to some degree provide some balance. Consider a control point that actually lets you control a part of the battleground. Such as a huge magnet on a crane arm or a laser turret. This is fun. This can be easy to implement. Also, moving around the terrain should impact characters, but without a book of rules about moving.
Character progression: Little guys get better and the numbers go up or the numbers do different things. The little guys all have their own progression. I think that is one element that drives players, along with playing the game and the narrative element (expanded on below). Without character progression, there is not much for the players to look forward to. This needs to be done with some degree of care so that balance does not get too out of whack but still engaging for all at the table. This way you can be excited for your friend whose little guy just got a cool ability, even if it might wreck you.
Balance (to some degree): There needs to be some degree of balance. I don’t know how. But it sucks when you fight against a war band that is genuinely too powerful as a result of their constant upgrades. There needs to be something to tilt the power balance. This might come in the form of Environment as Character or something. I don’t know yet. But there needs to be a way of balancing the bullshit. Sometimes at least. Cause sometimes gotta cop it. ‘A wiser fella once said, sometimes you eat the bar, and sometimes, well, the bar eats you’
A narrative element: There needs to be a story and reason for combat. Combat should lead to rivalries and to allegiances. The needs to be a goal. Something that everyone is striving for. Power and dominance are lame reasons. It’s been done. The conflict between war bands is always better when there is more at stake than just my little guys dying (which of course is still a brutal loss). I have ideas that range from common enemies to shared gamemastering during downtime or between combat rounds. I’m unsure what I would do. But that’s what’s in my mind. Tell stories. Fight battles.
That’s all my thoughts.
Long days and pleasant nights.