IV. Under the Hood – Combat
A skirmish game needs combat, and it was easy to use cards for that. Cards also meant I could remove some of the swinginess that dice would provide. Units draw cards from the Battle Deck when attacking. Cards that match the attacker’s suit do 2 hits; cards that match the other suit of the attacker’s color do 1 hit. Cards of the enemy’s color do zero hits. More hits = better.
Units initially had numerical combat values, but I scrapped that in favor of a simpler system based on the card ranks. Higher ranks draw more cards when attacking enemies of equal or lower rank. That means Aces are strong against anybody. Jacks are strong against Jacks and Tens, but weak against Aces, Kings, and Queens, etc.
What about flanking and supporting fire? Draw an extra card for each ally involved.
“Attacker Retreats” results? If you get zero hits, you retreat, so the more supporting units you have, the safer you are!
Advance after combat? Fire-and-move? Well, units *usually* get two actions at a time, so either save your second action to move after you beat someone up, or burn it now to get a combat bonus.
Quick and easy, with plenty of flavor and calculations to be made if you want, but no heavy lifting required.
V. Outgrowing the Goldfish Bowl
Shifting units between maps is my favorite part of the game, but one playtester wasn’t crazy about it. She wanted a more linear, single-map scenario, and I figured I could accommodate that request. I tweaked the map art so I could combine
the two maps side-by-side into a single battlefield. That made a more traditional situation with no dimensional shifting. It was a whole different feel to the game and added nice variety.
Hmm… one scenario is cool, but everybody else’s postcard games only have one scenario. I bet I could have more. I bet I could have, like, eight. And link them together into a campaign. How many ways can I jam these map edges together?
An eight-scenario campaign requires far more space than the back of a postcard. Therefore, I decided the postcard would contain the basic rules and first scenario, and I’d make the rest available online. Fair enough. It was going to be a fairly small font… well, a really small font… but that’d be ok. I could make the rules downloadable in a larger format too. As long as someone could play the first scenario with just the postcard, it still met the challenge criteria.
As I tested the scenarios, I made some tweaks. I wanted variety, and it turned out the maps I was using didn’t lend themselves to some of the scenarios I had in mind. A scenario in which a secret courier had to get past some defenders was far too easy on the smaller map but was well-balanced when I added just one more column of spaces. But that meant more real estate than a single postcard…
This is where I finally decided I needed to break the rules to move the game past goofy filler experiment. If I wanted a few extra map spaces, more than one or two scenarios, and maybe some larger components, I was going to have to change the format.
I bumped it out into two 4×6 cards, each one containing a map with w handful of extra spaces and the needed unit tokens. And while I had a little more room to work with, I might as well draw some unit backs and convert the tokens into standees. Now my postcard game had the “curb appeal” of faux-miniatures? Sure, why not?
The larger format also gave me the option to add in actual chits players could pull instead of cards, and I included optional rules for dice. And since I wasn’t trying to cram the scenarios on some limited amount of space, I could really make them different – asymmetrical forces, players with different objectives, heroes fighting off a mob of smaller enemies. All sorts of fun stuff. I added some quickie fiction to go with each for flavor.
I’ve been a firm believer that a game design will tell you what it needs. This game needed to break out of the 4×6 mold. One of my playtesting philosophies is “break it better.” I’d be doing the game injustice to refuse to expand it. I built the game in the smallest format possible, made it tight, and then let it organically push out into a more fulfilling format.
This was no longer a postcard game, so I had to change my working title again. A game about an invasion of symmetrical forces across mirrored dimensions? The Mirror Invasion? The Rorrim Invasion? No – The Noisavni Invasion.
VI. Wrap Up
I went back and forth deciding the format for the game. Printing postcards is cheap, even top quality ones. I could require people to get a deck of cards, or I could print proper tokens. Did I want them to cut everything out themselves, or could I pre-cut everything? What about 6×9 postcards?
The problem was I didn’t want to try to charge people a lot for my goofy art or for something they’d have to assemble. I also didn’t want to overproduce a game that is, ostensibly, two small maps and a bunch of tokens.
I mean… There’s a campaign with a storyline. There are all sorts of scenario-specific rules. It’s a straightforward system that gets you right into gameplay that I feel is better than a lot of much more expensive games out there. I could print a fancy edition with two or more big maps, replace the deck of cards with cardboard tokens, print a glossy rules and scenario book… But is that really needed here?
For now, I’m going with print and play. Two pages of rules, four pages of scenarios, and the option of a smaller one-page version of the components or a larger version that takes two pages. I can always do a run of 4×6 or 6×9 postcards if I think there’s demand. If it goes over well, I have more ideas to build on the system and increase the production value.
The main thing is: The Noisavni Invasion has been one of the more fun design challenges for me. I (technically!) met my challenge criteria, have learned a lot about printing, layout, design, and publishing during my research, and even improved my art skills. This little project has meant a lot to me, and I hope people out there dig it.
It’s also a bit of a practice run for self-publishing. I’ve thought about it for a while now, and hope to use The Noisavni Invasion to test the waters to see if I’ve got it in me to handle the “business end” of this industry. I’ve got other finished designs that I’m excited to get out to everyone, and this has been a great learning experience.
Let’s get gaming!