Balancing for Big, or Small?

There's a certain art to balancing games, one which always begs the question, what game are we balancing for? In terms of Heavy Gear the Edition and resulting rules change has meant that we had a distinct opportunity to change the scale of the game, and by that I do not mean the scale of the models (!). This blog is going to be a trip down memory lane of how we got to the current army construction in the Living Rule Book.


Heavy Gear has always been written from the perspective of a military force with all the accompanying support elements. You have your Gears as the Mainstay of mobile tactical units, tanks for heavy fire support, and infantry for claiming ground with air power being a support element. There was always a disconnect with me in the old Heavy Gear Blitz with how the squads were purchased, by the unit when the game never really supported more than three units.  So when the chance came to really shake the game down to it's core and ask how it was going to be played we had to answer a very important question first: How big/small is this game supposed to be?


When you first think about the size of a game you start to look at analogous games and others. Chess for example is a limited tactical and strategic game with a very simple rule set but games can have a wide variation in duration because each move can radically change the decision process a player has to go through. If your opponent in chess does what you expected then the game plays fast because you can predict their moves and yours. If they make unexpected plays then the game might also play fast since they made a bad move and your response is obvious. Then there are the chess games where every move takes forever since the consideration of each move is just that important. The main differences between a game like chess and Heavy Gear is plain but it makes an interesting comparison comparison for size. 


A 100TV army in Heavy Gear as given in the example army on page 61 of the Living Rule Book has 11 models with an absolute number of 8 different varieties of model. You could play a much larger number of models by limiting the number of elite and heavy models like Jaguars and Grizzlies and only take Hunters. If you did that you could theoretically get 16 models, 15 Hunters and a Ferret for the balance. Anyone would call a force like that large, unless you are comparing to a mass combat game where most models have only one hit before being removed. In Heavy Gear we account for the fact that most models will not be removed from the game with a single attack (like chess) but will need multiple attacks to destroy them. This is a way of going big with a smaller number since our core models in the game hang around to fight like larger models in other games.


Our goal with the new rules set was twofold, to provide a detailed and rich game experience, but also to speed up the game, literally putting the emphasis back on maneuver and tactics over pure firepower. Firepower will win you many contests but it doesn't complete objectives the way that feet on the ground does. When we started with the earlier drafts of the rules the goal was to allow a game of 30 models a side in less than two hours. Two hours was the chosen benchmark for three reasons: 1) it is the amount of time most people have to play in a game store before it closes if they can get there to play in the evening, and 2) three games at two hours each makes a great tournament experience for a weekend event.


Our initial game experiences taught us a couple of important things: That the feel of the game was heavily rooted in the ability of the models to suffer damage and continue to fight, and that increasing the number of models does not make a game better, it just means you need more models to start playing. What we really wanted was to make the game fast, fun, and accessible and to do that we needed rules that let players play a game with no more than five models a side (a single unit) to learn the game, and have enough variety to keep a high replay value at that level, essentially a skirmish game. And then when players are proficient with a game of that size they should be able to scale up the game to double or triple that number and play within the two hour limit. What sells our models is the desire of a player to try out different army builds and experiment with what different armies can do. The new army construction does this my allowing a mix and match approach to army building where there are some hard guidelines but options to take single model squads as support squads to splash a tactical requirement into the army.


To judge only from what I can read on the forums, and from watching games between play testers I can say that I am pleased and optimistic about the results. Many of the things that we have done to speed up the game, from increasing the relative leathality, a topic for another day, and reducing the constant status checking for modifiers I think show a lot of success. But my judgement on this is relatively unimportant. It's you, the players who get to decide if you like the game and if so, to show it to your friends and get them on board. The kickstarter showed that there are 1100+ players who are ready and willing to kick in and support the game and the important question stands, how many will it be by the end of 2015? 1500 players? 2000?


For me the success of Heavy Gear is measured both in the e-mails of appreciation/criticism and the passion that players show for the game. and the world, on the forums and elsewhere. I'm seeing 15mm groups on facebook picking up our models and using them. Arkrite press is getting their play testing program together for the role playing game. Stompy bot has the video game Heavy Gear Assault.


So it seems that by going small with an excellent skirmish game and going big with partnerships to make other great tie in games we will be carving out some ground in the world of competing IPs. We may not be the biggest but I like that we can find our own way that includes the players as an active part of the team and not just as observers and consumers., yet another topic for another day.


Now if only I could get my favorite director to make a move…