25-11-2015: Designers Notes - AoT Rulebook

At the time of writing, the rules still aren't finalised, but realistically not much more will change as they go to final, absolute, no more messing about edit in preparation for layout in about six weeks time. It will read a bit more like a postmortem than a dev diary, for the simple reason that I didn't keep a dev diary. So I'm doing it from memory, and we've been working on Age of Tyrants on and off for seven years. I say on and off, because I've had two full time jobs and several other independent projects during that time. I offer that last bit of info by way of explanation for why the project has evolved and changed so much. As we spent time away from the project, it inevitably lead to re-evaluations and new ideas when we came back to it after our many hiatuses.

Right back at the start, when Age of Tyrants was just a page of notes, we already had a system for another game we were working on, and applied it to Age of Tyrants. It was a 10mm fantasy system, containing the nuts and bolts of combat, movement, terrain and giving orders. However, I wanted to go great guns on the idea of combined arms warfare, so I tweaked the order system, making it easier for leaders to pull in bases with different qualities to perform an order together.

The combined arms approach informed how I designed the command system, and that in turn fed into the suppression system. Wargames at this scale are more about destroying the enemy's will and ability to fight rather than individual casualties, so I came up with a system of suppression through combat damage that makes it more difficult to activate affected units as they accumulate this suppression. The specifics of how this works have changed over time, but this command and control system has remained the heart of the game throughout its development. This is good, because where playtesters and commenters have had issues with other aspects of the rules, the command and control system has never drawn anything but positive feedback.

In the first iteration of the rulebook, some elements worked quite differently, while others changed, then later reverted back to something, if not the same, then similar. I had quite casual and loose rules for movement and contact, and there was a distinction between ranged and close combat, with separate stats, abilities and orders pertaining to each. For example there were orders to assault by moving to base contact, and retreat from base contact and they used a close combat stat, whereas combat conducted at range employed a ranged combat stat. The first iteration of rules also featured multiple scenarios built into the core rules, which meant the section on setting up a game was a lot larger and more involved. Building an army was also a lot more complex, with players required to build platoons base by base, according to a set of rules in which a platoon could consist of two to four bases, and did not require a leader. The gameplay was also intended to cover all eventualities from small skirmishes between one or two platoons a side through to huge, battalion level engagement.

In the second iteration of the rules, which came along a few years later, all of the design decisions of the first set were re-evaluated and tweaked. This wasn't always for the better, as you'll see later, but it did help the game evolve into its final form. Retaining the distinction between close combat and ranged combat, we moved away from a casual approach to movement and contact, and went for really strict and long-winded rules to control this, wanting it to be watertight for tournament play. Elsewhere we simplified, dropping multiple scenarios in favour of a single scenario that gave the defender a home advantage (too much of one as it turned out, so it was changed in the third iteration). We also simplified the army selection and gameplay to only cover a single company vs a single company battle, using fixed platoons with a vastly simplified points costing regime.

The third and final iteration saw more simplification and a lot of the fat was cut to make the game leaner and more elegant. The strict contact and movement rules were dropped and combat was changed so that contact was no longer a feature and we moved to a system of range bands, with up to four inches being considered assault range. This was hugely liberating. Another significant change here was changing combat results from a somewhat involved calculation you had to do in your head to a quick reference chart that made better use of the suppression resistance stat (think of this as your armour save type deal). These decisions, particularly around combat, caused many things to fall into place and the tweaks and cuts became a cascade. Artillery bombardments were no longer awkwardly inserted into combat support as a separate stage, instead artillery could either bombard or support combat with the same sort of stats as the bases fighting, and combat orders all merged into a single attack or counter attack order. Changing combat results to a chart also freed us up to simplify suppression recording (which used a system of coloured dice to track amounts of damage) to a couple of suppression states, with no numbers involved. Scenarios and the idea of fighting bigger battles at the battalion level were also reintroduced from the first iteration as advanced rules, and an element of company customisation went back in with fixed core companies that could have up to four platoons of any type added to them.

At every stage along the way, special abilities, cards, orders and counters have been tweaked or dropped to bring you the game that now exists. At times I've been as frustrated as anyone over how long it has taken us to launch this title, but there is a bright side insofar as the rules are a lot sleeker and more polished than the first, or second iteration were, so I'm a lot happier with what we're releasing.

Mark Brendan
Author: Mark BrendanWebsite: https://gamesmeat.wordpress.com/
Writer & Game Designer

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