For my 4th of July, I took a break from making games to...make a game. Like my last free offering, this game has been playtested exactly once. (Well, twice, if you count me playing it by myself before I sicced it on my unsuspecting wife.) (Actually, playtested twice now. -7/7/07) The verdict was: "It's cute."
Sofi's just getting old enough to play with normal-sized legos now, so as I brought out my old collection of castle legos I thought, "I bet you could make a fun wargame that used these guys." I had this thought once before and don't remember the game that resulted out of it but it wasn't fun.
This time I did some research first, because nowadays if you have an idea like this chances are somebody else did too and already published it on the internet for free. And there is, in fact, a ton, the pinnacle of which seems to be BrikWars by Mike Rayhawk.
But BrikWars isn't quite what I'm looking for. 1) It was designed for large-scale battles. I own a total of 14 minifigs, and I'm not about to buy more. If I wanted to buy more miniatures, I'd buy tiny ones. They're cheaper. 2) I want to play it with Cathy, who has very little tolerance for grognardia. Mike Rayhawk jokes that a single turn of BrikWars can last a long time and often a game will stall out in the first turn. "QuikWars", (see chapter 2 of the BrikWars core rules) is much closer to what I'm looking for, here, but even a five-on-five battle will go too slow for her - I know. 3) Critical hits. Minifigures are perfect for some kind of critical hit system. Their hands, heads, and legs come off, after all. The critical hit system from BrikWars is: when a minifig dies, take off some limbs.
But Mike Rayhawk says, hey, it's Lego, change it all you want. So I did. And here's Jamie's BrikWars Mod.
If anybody actually plays this, or a variant of this, please let me know. It would make my day. And send me the variant.
This game is in no way endorsed by or affiliated with Lego or any of the other companies that make interlocking plastic brick toys.
Although this game ended up fairly different in mechanics from BrikWars, it's worth skimming the BrikWars rules (particularly the introductions, the bit about 'fudging', and "QuikWars") just to sort of get the feel for what I'm trying to do here. I want the same spirit of mayhem, and the point is more, "Now that we've built some stuff with our legos let's find a cool way to destroy it," than to be an actual strategy game with...strategy...and realism...and meaningful decisions.
[Game Design Note: Feel free to ignore stuff in brackets, no actual rules here. I just wrote them because I like to hear myself write. Anyhow, I'm obviously a bit more fond of rules than Mike Rayhawk - as for his anecdote about a kid being able to tell a great story about his legos without the need for rules, I remember being that kid, and remember those stories I'd pull out of my ass about my legos, and also remember thinking So, Is That It? What Now? What's The Point? I'm talking actual angst, here. I think I wanted the framework and resistance some rules and structure could provide for my story - otherwise it merely existed in a vacuum, a place where "And Then The Hero Defeated The Villain Against Overwhelming Odds" had no more meaning than "And Then Everybody's Heads Popped Off". Another way to look at it: if you roll dice to score a hit, that hit is somehow more real than just saying, "And then I hit him." Otherwise I've just wasted my holiday.]
What you'll need:
- a handful of plastic brick minifigs with removable body parts, ideally medieval-themed. I used 12; 10-18 should play great; 20-26 should play well; 28 or more probably untenable.
- a handful of small plastic brick plates, half of one color, half of another. 3x4 is ideal (since a minifig can stand in the center of one) but I don't have any of those, myself, and make do with a hodgepodge.
- a handful of small plastic bricks (1x1 or 1x2 good here) in four different colors
- a handful of six-sided dice, one of which you're willing to deface.
- a deck of blank cards. Business cards work great.
You'll need to do this once and theoretically never again.
Deface sides 3-6 of the die by marking each one as one of the four different colors you have on the aforementioned small plastic bricks. Leave 1 and 2 unmarked. This is the "Who Moves?" die.
The blank cards will become your critical hit / fumble deck. [Designer note: Paizo currently makes a cool critical hit deck for d20, but that's not where I got the idea - I originally saw the idea in some Dragon or Space Gamer magazine decades ago. (Space Gamer #74, author Tom Riley. Just stumbled across it while unpacking old games. -JF 7/7/07)]
Your crit deck will contain:
Disarmed, Left Hand. Two handed weapon always dropped. Fumble. [x2]
Disarmed, Right Hand. Two handed weapon always dropped. Fumble. [x2]
Dismembered, Left Hand Remove minifig hand. 2 Dismembers = Dead. (Reshuffle)"
Dismembered, Right Hand. Remove minifig hand. 2 Dismembers = Dead. (Reshuffle)"
Dismembered, Left Leg. Remove minifig leg. 2 Dismembers = Dead. (Reshuffle) Move 1". Unmount.
Dismembered, Right Leg. Remove minifig leg. 2 Dismembers = Dead. (Reshuffle) Move 1". Unmount.
Knocked Back d6 inches. If you collide with a wall or figure in the knockback, you're both stunned. Unmount. [x2]
Bleeding. Will die in d6 turns unless ally stabilizes. [x2]
Stunned. Knock over minifig. Takes an action to stand up. No defense dice while stunned. Unmount. Fumble. [x2]
Headgear Knocked Off. Fumble.
Headgear Backwards. Takes 1 action to straighten, or fight blind: -1 die to attack and defense. Fumble.
Decapitate. Remove minifig head. Dead. (Reshuffle) Unmount (duh)
Riven In Twain. Remove minifig torso from legs. Dead. (Reshuffle) Unmount (duh)
[You probably already know how this game works, don't you?]
You'll need to do this every time.
Lay out some terrain, ideally with plenty of walls and structures to block line-of-sight and movement.
You can setup your opposing squads anyway you want. Here's the way I did it:
Take all the adornments (weapons, shields, armor, etc) off your minifigs. Divide them evenly between the players.
Choose one minifig on each side to be the Hero - you'll be decorating that one in a more "bad-assed" way than the others.
Take all the adornments, put them in a pile, and take turns choosing one for your squad. Once you're out of adornments or you don't want any more, stop, and outfit your squads with what you've got. What the adornments actually do comes later, but I tried to keep them somewhat balanced, so if you just go for looks more power to you.
And the not-so-optional step:
There are "team colors" (the colors of the bases, which side you're on) and "unit colors" (who moves more-or-less together, the colors of the bricks you decorate the bases with). Each player puts their minifigs on bases of their color. Each player puts some kind of ostentatious decoration on their hero's base. (Like a flag with a pennant or something.) And, the important step: each player puts a block indicating what color unit each minifig, other than the hero, is in. If you only have five minifigs on each side, it's trivial. The hero gets his ostentatious direction and everyone else gets a different color. Once you have more than five, you have to start grouping guys, and you'll probably want (but don't have to) have likeminded guys in the same group.
I've got 8 minifigs. 1 hero, 2 archers, 2 swordsmen, 2 axemen, and a crossbowman. I put them all on grey bases because I'm team grey. Then I put yellow 1x1 blocks on the archers' base, blue 1x1 blocks on the swordsmen base, red 1x1 blocks on the axemen base, and a black 1x1 block on the lone crossbowman's base.
During the game, if I roll "yellow" on the "Who Moves?" die, my archers will go; if I roll blue the swordsmen, etc.
Placing soldiers on the map:
The way we did it was just to say "You put your guys anywhere you want on your half of the table, I'll put my guys anywhere I want on my half of the table." Depending on how grognardy your opponent is, this may not work. You may have to take turns or something.
Whoever's played the game before (or at least read the rules, if nobody's played) goes first.
On Your Turn:
Rolling the "Who Moves?" die.
If you roll a color, you get to move and act with each minifig in the unit of that color, and your hero.
If you roll a 1, you get to move any 1 minifig of your choice, and your hero.
If you roll a 2, you get to move any 2 minifigs of your choice, and your hero.
[Designer note: Wargames tend to be boring, because one player moves all their units and then the other player moves all of theirs while the first player goes to the bathroom, gets a snack, checks their e-mail, etc. You can patch it by having some kind of system for which units go when, like initiative from d20 or the action phases of Champions / Car Wars / Star Fleet Battles but that's ponderous. (Phases are *really, really* ponderous.) One of the brilliant things about Battlelore, et al, was they just let it be (mostly) random which unit(s) get to go on each turn. Short turns, no overhead, the expected results balance out more-or-less the same, and it "feels right", like some of the chaos of war has been captured. So this is a nod to Battlelore (actually, so many nods to Battlelore in this game I could have almost called it Bricklelore), and also to Obstgarden (my daughter's favorite boardgame) where which fruit you pick is determined by the roll of a colored die. I would have used the Obstgarden die instead of marking one up but we didn't have enough tiny green legos.
Additional designer note: The hero gets to go every phase? That's not realistic! That means he's moving, like, four times faster than all the other units. True...I was tempted to have special rules about hero movement like "you can move a guy in the unit or your hero" but any extra complexity would just make the game harder to explain and piss Cathy off...and if you had a rule like that you'd just probably move your hero all the time anyway at the expense of all your other minifigs...and realism isn't exactly a design goal, here...]
The Pity Move Rule:
If you roll a unit color on the "Who Moves?" die, and all minifigs of that unit color are dead, and your hero is dead, you get to move one minifig of your choice. (But don't think you can exploit the Pity Move Rule by starting the game with no minifigs in a certain unit color! Then you don't get to move jack, you weasel.)
[DN: Worms! is also an inspiration - turn-based, but you only get to (and you always get to) move one worm a turn, which has the side effect of making the last worm on your side more powerful relative to the enemy worms. A sort of "come-from-behind" mild negative feedback loop.]
Alternate Pity Move Rule:
A different rule that gives more options is you can move a different unit other than the one you're supposed to, but then you risk a fumble. Draw a fumble card - if it says fumble, apply the effects, and if there are any effects you lose the move. (Therefore a helmetless, unarmed man is more likely to be able to execute the extra move.)
[Nod to Heroclix there, and how you can move out-of-turn if you take damage.]
A Minifig's Move:
A minifig can move up to 5", just like in QuikWars. Convenient side note: an index card just happens to be 5" long, and folding one in half makes a good ruler. But with our second playtest we played on a hex-map (with lego walls) and found that just went quicker.
A stunned/fallen minifig cannot move, but they can act.
A minifig's move (or lack of move, if they're stunned) may be immediately followed by an Action:
A Minifig's Action:
[Nod to Steve Jackson's Melee here - I really liked the way those rules were laid out.]
Attack. See Attacking, below.
Drop the minifig's weapon or shield or helmet (if they have one) and grab and ready a weapon, shield, or helmet from the ground or from a dead minifig. Or from a minifig's severed hand. (Weapon must be within 1" of the minifig.)
You can also trade a weapon, shield, or helmet with an ally. Counts as an action for one, free for the other.
A stunned unit may come out of stun. And nothing else that turn.
Set your helmet straight:
If, for whatever reason, your helmet's on backwards, you can straighten it. And do nothing else that turn. You may want to choose to fight blind, instead, at a one die penalty.
Stabilize A Comrade:
If the minifig is within 1" of a bleeding comrade they may tend to their wounds and prevent their imminent demise.
Jump Over An Obstacle:
A minifig may jump over an adjacent wall that is up to chest-high.
Dismount or Mount Horse
Random Designer Hand-Waving Action:
Here's where I put the obligatory "What if my minifig wants to do this weird thing" section. I don't know, figure it out amongst yourselves.
A minifig with a ranged weapon (bow, crossbow) can make a ranged attack to another minifig within 11" of it. Convenient side note: an 8.5x11" sheet of paper is 11" long. [DN: In QuikWars it was 10". I am a Game Design Genius.] Again, folding one up makes a good ruler, and you can use it to check line-of-sight, too. If a line in space from the minifig's belt buckle to the target's belt buckle is unobstructed, etcetera, etcetera. If there's another minifig in the way, you can't shoot the target. But you can shoot that minifig that's in the way...
A minifig with a melee weapon (sword, axe) can make a melee attack on another minifig that it can touch with its melee weapon, just like QuikWars.
To resolve the attack, you then get to Roll Dice:
How Many Dice Do I Get To Roll?
[That is the question my wife asks the most often during our boardgame sessions, whether it's Emperor's Treasure, Battlelore, or this.]
Bow & Arrow: 1 Die [but hey, it's ranged]
One-Handed Weapon (sword, spear): 2 Dice [but hey, you could carry another weapon or shield or yellow goblet in your other hand]
Two-Handed Weapon (big axe, polearm): 3 Dice [but hey, you can't carry anything in your other hand]
If the minifig is a Hero, he gets a bonus attack die.
If the minifig is mounted, he gets a bonus attack die.
What Does The Roll Mean?
Any die that gets a 4, 5, or 6 is a "Hit." Any die that gets a 1 is a "Fumble" - the attacking minifig borked.
[DN: That means a hero is not just more likely to hit than a regular guy, he's also more likely to fumble. A bunch of Inspector Clouseaus, these guys are.
Also, again, Tom Wham games (Awful Green Things, Emperor's Treasure) are the first place I saw this roll-dice-and-such-and-such-is-a-hit mechanic, later taken by Battlelore and Heroscape...]
Can The Target Do Anything To Defend Themselves?
Glad you asked. Yes - if the target is wearing armor, helmet, or shield, or is a Hero, they get defense dice. They get 1 die for an armor, 1 die for a helmet, 1 die for a shield, and an additional bonus die if they're a Hero. If the attacker gets a hit, they can roll these dice to try to negate it. Any 5 or 6 is a block - 1 less "Hit" occurs.
[Used to say a fumble was possible here, too, but after a 2nd playtest decided it was just too much fumbling.]
When attacked, if the attacker didn't roll a hit, feel no need to roll your defense dice. (Why risk the fumble?) In fact, even if he does roll a hit, you don't have to roll your defense dice. (But that would be silly.)
What does a "Hit" mean?
A "Hit" means you draw a card from the critical hit deck and apply it to the target minifig. [Designer's Note: In Brik: Tactiks, every hit is a critical hit! But some are more critical than others. There's our USP. This is probably the most original game mechanic in here; I haven't seen anything quite like it in another game. But I don't get around much.]
If the card says a piece comes off your minifig, whether it's a limb or a weapon or whatever, once you've removed the piece, hold it about three feet above the minifig and drop it to see where it ends up. [Designer's Note: when Cathy & I played it, we actually used Rayhawk's "Stumble Die" and rolled a 6-sider to see how many inches it traveled, and I didn't come up with this system until later, so I haven't actually played a game with it, but I did experiment with dropping various legos at various heights to arrive at the scientific "About Three Feet" as ideal - you want it to go more than 5 inches from your minifig a little more than half the time, really, so your poor minifig will have to scramble after his dropped weapon, shield, helmet, whatever.]
A minifig can continue to function with a dismembered limb. (Obligatory Holy Grail joke here.) Once they get two dismembers, they're dead. [That's from Greg Costikyan and Paranoia. No hit points, just Normal -> Wounded -> Dead. And convenient, because now we don't have to make crawling rules for legless minifigs.] Take the minifig off its base, remove the base from the playing field (but leave the minifig there! That's good carnage!), and give the attacking player a victory point.
What does a "Fumble" mean?
A "Fumble" means you draw a card from the critical hit deck, and if the text of the card says "Fumble" in it, you apply it to the fumbling minifig. If the text doesn't say "fumble", you ignore it.
[Jeez, I typed this whole bit in once already and somehow lost it. Typepad failed me.]
Fred rolls yellow on the "Who Moves?" die. His archer is the only minifig marked with a yellow block, so he gets to move that and his hero. The archer is 20" away from the nearest enemy, so all he can do is move 5" closer to the action. His hero, on the other hand, is in the thick of things; he moves up to an enemy and attacks.
His hero is holding a pole arm. It's a 2-handed weapon. Three dice, plus one for the hero = 4. He rolls 4, 5, 6, and 1: three hits and a fumble.
His target says, "Well, I better try to defend myself." His target is wearing an armor breast plate, shield, and helmet, but is not a hero. Total of three dice: 5, 4, 1. One block, two ntohings. (When defending, 1's aren't fumbles.) Which means two hits get through.
The hero player draws two critical hit cards, and gets: "dismember left" and "bleeding". That's the target's shield hand - the player removes the hand, shield still in it, and drops it from a height above the target minifig. It bounces a few inches away. Then they roll a six-sided die and discover the target has three turns to live if the target player doesn't do something about it. On the bright side, he's not stunned, so he will be able to act the next time he's up on the "Who Moves?" die.
The hero player than draws the hero's fumble and gets "disarmed right". "Disarmed Right" is indeed a fumble so the hero cannot ignore it - he drops the polearm. The polearm skitters off about a foot - it's going to take a couple turns for the hero to run to re-arm himself! Maybe he should grab that shield that just fell in front of them instead? (If only it was the sword!) Meaningful decisions like this are the essence of good gameplay!
If your character is mounted, they can move 10" instead of 5", and they get a bonus die to attack with. If, when attacking or fumbling, the card says "Unmount", they fall off the horse. If stunned, they must first take an action to come out of the stun before taking the action to re-mount the horse. If not stunned, they land on their feet.
Anybody can mount either team's unmounted horses. The horses don't care.
When attacking a mounted unit, you always target the guy on the horse, never the horse, you sicko.
Engagement and Facing
Yeah, right. Cathy'll go for that.
How do you Win?
The first player who kills more than half of the enemy units wins.
[Designer's Note: Another nod to Battlelore - one thing that keeps Battlelore fun is that once you have 5 or 6 kills the game's over. You don't have to completely wipe out the enemy force while your opponent, who already knows they've lost, is numb with boredom. A thing I tried to fix from Battlelore is that this creates arbitrary victories - whoever noses across the finish line first "wins" but you still have no idea how the whole battle would have played out. So the way Cathy and I played it was you had to "Win By 2" (stolen from Tennis / Ping-Pong - again, barely an original idea in here)...but what ended up happening, unsurprisingly, was we had a fairly even kill count all the way to the bitter end. (And yet the game still only took one hour, fifteen minutes.) So Richard Borg's design decision makes sense to me now...hey, that's why he makes the big bucks.]
Skirmish at the ruined temple of Potter ended in a lot of dismemberments.
Random Fiddly Bits and AQ
For 'bleeding', I like to make a stack of alternate colored 1x1 cylinders, one for each round until your demise. Remove a cylinder at the end of your turn, until you have one of your other minifigs stabilize your bleeder. You'll always have at least one round in which to stabilize a bleeder.
I made these questions up myself - nobody, not even my wife, actually asked me any questions yet:
Q. Can I use a two-handed weapon if I've lost a hand?
A. No...but you could trade it with another friendly.
Q. Can I put a sword in each hand and get two attacks?
A. Only if you have the "Two Weapons" feat. Rim shot. No, that's crazy talk. But having a sword in both hands might be worth doing anyway - if you drop the first one you can always start using the second one.
Q. Is a bow-and-arrow one or two-handed?
Q. Can I throw a spear?
A. Ok. Although a spear (one-handed) would be a 2-die weapon for a melee attack, you can also throw it as a 1-die weapon. Makes spears better than swords in game terms, which bothers me a little. So...you can throw swords, too. How about that. Drama!
Q. I have a crossbow decoration. Can I have a special rule for it?
A. Ok: It's one-handed. It does a whopping three dice. But you only get to use it once and then you might as well throw it away. Better carry another weapon in your other hand. [Or how about...it's two handed, does two dice, but it takes a turn to reload? The first way seems more dramatic, the book-keeping's easier, and we actually played that way in the one playtest and it seemed to work. The team with the crossbow won, but I think that was coincidence.]
Where To Go From Here?
Since dismemberment turned out to be 90% of the fun of this game I guess it's not a game I'll be playing with Sofi anytime soon.
So, hmm, no mounted combat or vehicle rules. (Ok, there are now. 7/7/07) This is mostly because Sofi took all my lego horses and hid them somewhere in her bedroom and now I can't find them. But the ones in QuikWars are good and should require little adaptation to bring over, if I ever find the horses.
We also have some Harry Potter legos with a couple wizardly minifigs, so spellcaster rules would be good, but I figured One Should Make Melee Before They Make Wizard, if you know what I mean. Maybe the ones from BrickQuest would be easy to adapt. I'd want to have the spells on cards for the same reason I like critical hits on cards: knowledge exists in the world. [And aother nod to Magic: TG.]
If you actually read all the way to this sentence, you're crazy man. I love you.