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  Mechanic #104 - Composition Army - Revisited
Posted: 09/15/09

Revisiting one of the first ideas in the Three Hundred to make it more workable.

  Revisiting a Classic

[#017 - Composition Army] is one of my oldest and most dear entries into the Three Hundred. Seeing similar games starting to crop up, such as Plants Vs. Zombies and Vanguard Storm, albeit in Tower Defense form, really makes me happy. And yet I'm not happy with the original entry. It just won't work as presented (specifically the combat), and I feel that the additions made in further entries really started going towards crazy town.

Recently, I had a small inclination to "fix" the idea into something more workable. While I'm not really looking to update the Three Hundred anymore, I figured that it was worth the effort to at least fix up one of my favorite ideas.



The basic premise is the same - you build 5x5 formations of units that move and fight together (notice that I've removed terrain from the field - at least until I can figure out what to do with it). When an army attacks an adjacent army, the position of each unit will depend on the direction the formation was facing. In the image above, one army is about to attack another from the side. The defending army's defense heavy formation is focused towards the formation's front, so being attacked by the side leaves a lot of the units open to attack.

The way I picture this game is like a collectible card game. It is about creativity and tactics. A single new type of unit could potentially change how a formation works, and not having access to specific units forces the player to play creatively rather than being a true hinderance.

  Building a Formation


Formations are built from collections of individual units before a match begins, much like designing an army for Warhammer 40k or Warmachine. You go through the complicated procedure of design outside of the game itself, so that the tactics portion of the game can proceed smoothly. However, unlike those games, you build formations individually and decide which formations to bring into battle during the initial tactics phase.

For instance, you can build five 50 pt armies and three 100 pt armies. When you begin a battle, there might be spots for four 100 pt armies. You can bring any four armies you want, so long as their individual point values are less than or equal to the specified point requirement.


An army is built on top of a commander/formation combo. That is, each formation comes with a required unit attached. You may not move commanders between formations. Formations do not need to take up the entire 5x5 square, though at minimum, the middle 3x3 square should be available. Formations may also have special abilities for each cell, such as a cell which boost the defense of whichever unit is placed on it.

Commanders are special powerful units that represent commanding officer. They may have unique abilities, but largely they exist to give a face to the formation. Commanders are [b]unique[/b] characters with a name and special sprite. You can only field one of each unique character per battle (i.e. if you have three formations featuring Maxim, only one of them can be put into play at one time). Non-commander versions of unique characters may exist for use in other formations, but the unique rules still apply. Can't field both Commander Maxim and Bloodthirsty Maxim.

Each formation has a few basic stats, primarily a unit cap and a point cap. The unit cap is how many individual units may be placed in the formation, while the point cap is the total point value of the formation and all the units within it. A 50 pt formation can have up to 50 pts worth of units. Commanders don't count towards this total. Also, you don't need to have exactly 50 pts. The formation is worth 50 pts whether you have 50 pts or 32 pts worth of units.

The idea of the point system is to build a rough balancing into formation creation. One 50 pt army should be roughly as powerful as another 50 pt army - in numbers. However, the effectiveness of an army is largely based on the formation of the units. While a larger pt army may field a lot more units, a smaller, more specialized formation can be quite devastating. For instance, a 5x5 army attacking a 3x3 army will find itself hindered by the fact that the outside rows won't have anyone to attack!

  Let's Fight


Originally, the plan was for battles to be completely non-interactive. Under that premise, I came up with some really strange ideas for taming the complexity of formations - stuff like programming the AI. Crazy stuff, really. But being purely interactive won't work either, since you'd be playing a lengthy tactics mini-game every time you attack another unit. In games with even as few as three units per side, that could take HOURS to play through.

My solution, so obvious I'm ashamed, is to make it interactive at the formation level, rather than the unit one. Using just a few actions, you can create simple, quick combat that still has all that juicy depth and unit interaction I was looking for.

Combat consists of 10 turns where each army can make one of six actions:

Advance - Advance is your basic action. It moves the entire formation one cell ahead, attacking any units directly in front of it at the end of the move. Ranged units will fire up to four spaces directly in front of them after moving.

Fall Back - Like Advancing in the other direction, you fall back one cell, not attacking at all. Any units which fall back off the end of the field are considered in retreat and are no longer part of the current combat. A defending unit can retreat from battle completely by retreating his commander off the field. A defending army can not Fall Back at all for the first three turns of combat.

Attack - Units stay where they are, but attack any adjacent unit. Unlike advance, units can attack units to their side! However, enemies behind them will not be attacked. Ranged units will be able to fire forward and diagonally forward. Combat preference will be towards enemies directly in front of them, then enemies inward (toward the center square), then outward.

Defend - Units remain still, but increase their defense. Units will also turn towards whichever enemy is the biggest threat (especially towards enemies behind them). Direction is lost if advance or fall back are used, then units face forward.

Special Ability - Some units may have unique callable special abilities. For instance, a mage may have an AOE firewall spell that he can cast. A single ability from a single unit uses up an entire turn. Also, abilities may be on a timer. For instance, firewall must recharge for 14 turns before it can be used again. Commanders usually come with at least one special ability.

End Combat - The attacking play may end combat at any time without going for the full 10 turns. Defending players may only end combat by retreating their commander off the field.

  Condensing Formation

When an army has lost either it's commander or 70% of it's point value total, it will enter low morale mode. Basically what this means is that the formation will condense down as possible to be 3x3. Each row or column that has no units in it will be filled in by each outer row or column. This has a 20% chance of happening on every turn. This is to prevent an end game where two armies with minimal units can not hit each other due to incompatible formations.

  Units Are Fun

Finally, the real stars of the game are the units themselves. Much like a collectible card game, each unit has the unique ability to change the rules. Here are some quick ideas:

Opportunity Attack - Free attack on forward enemy falling back.
Side Step - When advancing, move to left or right of forward enemy.
Counter - Immediately attack enemy that just attacked you.
Backstab - If enemy is hit from behind, x2 damage.
Combo Master - Successive Attack actions increase damage.
Heal - On Defense action, heal adjacent allies.
Unead - 50% chance of returning from dead after 4 turns.
Knockback - Can hit forward enemy back one space.
Cannonball - On Advance action, throws behind ally up to 4 squares forward.
Architect - On Defense action, build/fortify wall in forward cell.
Wide Slice - Attacks 3 cells in front of unit.
Bamf - Teleports to random locations on the field.
Device - Requires adjacent Gadgeteer to operate (ie catapult).

And so on. The point would be to create special abilities which modify or circumvent basic attack rules. For instance, the ability to knock back could be combo'd with two melee units with opportunity attacks to hit the unit three times. Of sending a thief unit with side step and backstab into the heart of the enemy formation to take out the commander quickly. Or attack a catapult unit from behind and take out their gadgeteers so the catapults become inoperable.



Copyright 2007-2014 Sean Howard. All rights reserved.