Aug 28, 2016

BCG Retrospective XVIII: Tactician Powers

Tactician Powers are much like Champion Powers in that they take something most PCs are already decent at (teamwork) and make them better at it. This makes them less conditional than Trickster Powers, but not necessarily stronger. Most of them are best as 3rd to 5th picks (or as Assistants) for builds aren't dedicated full support PCs. The options have to be worse than self buffs, because they can be granted to the user as well as to others, but they have to be useful enough to be worth a Genre Point.

Can’t let you do That
This is perhaps the most obvious direct counter to a single strategy in the rules, and serves as a balance mechanism against builds that want to destroy the world on turn one by stacking Tension buffs. It is very conditional, the Power is worth taking but only by dedicated support builds that want to have the right buffs and debuffs for every scenario... Or by NPCs that want to keep technique-spammy PCs on their toes. On one hand, I wonder if this would have been better being less extreme and, say, halving the Tension bonus or putting a cap on it but having some other kind of benefit to compensate. On the other hand, making this conditional (and thus rare) people aren't getting hit with Tension debuffs constantly, so they get a chance to use those Techniques and Bombardments. I suppose this turned out alright.

Don’t Give Up
This is a decent heal-type Power. It heals one or two Threshold levels once per Operation, which should be enough to cancel a whole Grunt or perhaps even Rival attack. At its best, it effectively undoes an enemy attack for 1 GP. Probably best as a 2nd or 3rd Level Power, because that's when you can afford to take Systems to 8-10. I really like how this one worked out.

Mind Over Matter
Attribute debuffs are relatively rare so this Power removes all of them in an area, along with Maims because that's what it takes to make the Power worth taking. Mind Over Matter is actually at its best in the hands of a combiner's subpilot, cancelling out the weakness to debuffs of combiner builds, with the bonus of also being an effective antimaim when you don't mind spending most of your GPs keeping it active every Turn. Honestly, I'm not too happy with how strong combiners are once they can spam this, but they're not unmanageable as PCs or NPCs. Also, it's in-genre for combiners to run on prayers and fighting spirit, so I'm calling this one a success.

This is my Battlefield
I'd say this is the coolest Tactician Power, though it was actually one of the last Powers written down. As the only power that could modify terrain, I wanted it to make it work with all the different Terrain types... But I was worried about sick combos involving inescapable extreme Terrain, so it works only once per Operation and each instance of the Power creates only one kind of Terrain. It does last three turns though, making it backbreaking when you get to place it just right.

You are Going Down
This was a difficult Power to balance. The single advantage for yourself against one target is not even worth a Genre Point, but when there's four or more attackers this Power gives a ton of value for its cost. Remote Weapons were one of the first things written down to be in the expansion, and they synergize very well with this power, so I opted to keep this Power relatively weak for its debut because it would get much stronger later on. The one thing I'm not sure about this Power is its range. What I do know is that a map-wide buff regardless of positioning would be exploitable for PCs and hideously broken for NPCs. It was relatively late in development when the Power was still getting tweaked, and a flat 5 seemed like a safe choice to make. Maybe with more time we would have worked out a different variable like, say, Systems.

You can do Better than That
Probably the weakest Power of the Tactician repertoire. The problem is that the Power is at its best when you would miss, and you generally want to build so that you don't ever miss. It is useful against Bosses and Rivals with absurd Defense ratings, such as Combiners, but still fairly weak because it can be only used once. This would have been better off without the "once per Operation" limit or just as a debuff to stacked Defenses of some kind.

Looking back, Tactician Powers are very spread out in quality. Don't Give Up and This is my Battlefield are the ones I'm happiest with. Mind Over Matter and You are Going Down are very good but there's room for improvement. Can't let you do That is odd in that I would like it to be different but I'm not sure what I'd do. You can do Better than That is the only one that I'd say needs a rewrite of some sort. This is a good batch, with the best Tactician Powers having just enough power and coolness to carry the rest.

Next: The Mecha Chapter!

Gimmick Out.

Aug 21, 2016

BCG Retrospective XVII: Trickster Powers

Trickster Powers are some of the most unique ones in the game. The Powers in other categories are, mostly, fairly straightforward power-ups offensively or defensively. Other Powers ramp up the heroic elements of the game, taking something that PCs are already good at (fighting) and making them great at it. Trickster Powers are instead about enabling quirky builds and facilitating nonstandard strategies. Trickster Powers are rarer than others, especially in comparison to the ever-popular Champion Powers. They'll probably be picked only by PCs that need them to make their builds work or as one of the final Powers to round out a build with extra utility value or a flavorful ability.

Come at Me Bro
One of the problems with resilient frontliner PCs in RPGs is that they usually have trouble making enemies want to attack them instead of butchering the glass cannons in the back. All too often, they can take it much better than they can dish it out, and that results in ineffective tanks. BCG doesn't have dedicated tanks, except for the pure defense builds that use Guardian of Steel, and instead makes tanking more of a secondary ability for PCs that are competent already offensively and defensively. A good example of this are builds using The Beast, which want to be attacked in order to power themselves up. The reach of 5 Zones came about because at one point you could easily make a sniper who would attack safely from very far away, getting lots of free attacks every Turn. I think this power was somewhat weak before but it is in a good place now, after the expansion made frontliner distraction PCs way better at their jobs.

Gotta go Fast
This one is primarily for the Boosted Lance chargers and the Reversible Thruster kiters, for whom an extra 5 Zones per Turn can make or break a battle. It is a very simple Power with some personality to it (especially with the memetic name), making it attractive to PCs that want a focus on speed and... That's it, really. It gets the job done so there's not much to say about it. I do think that maybe it could have been a slightly little bit stronger, perhaps applying a Disadvantage to attacks against the user for one Round? Something like that could have made it slightly more attractive to take for builds that aren't all about Speed.

My Pain is your Pain
This is most likely going to reflect around 5 Damage or so once per Operation, which is okayish for a way to hurt NPCs without having to make any rolls. In hindsight, we might have played it a little too safe and this could have afforded to be stronger. I think this would have been fine (and much cooler) if it could be used more than once per fight or, even better, once per fight but mirroring the full Damage back to the source. It is still a good Power, and a fine 3rd to 5th pick for anybody who expects to be under fire regularly (read: everyone who isn't sniping), so it wasn't a terrible miscalculation or anything. A passing grade.

Take One for the Team
I think this one ended up a little weak, because transferring Damage without reducing any of it is hardly worth a Genre Point. The reasoning was that it wouldn't be much of a sacrifice for the user if they got to step in and take a bullet for someone else only to shrug it off. I didn't want this to end up being accidentally better than the defensive Powers though, so I opted to give it a small debuffing effect and allow it to be spammable, thus making it combo with the defensive Champion Powers. The debuff effect could have been stronger (let's say 2 Disadvantages to be in line with similar effects in the expansion) but this was probably never going to be a first pick Power anyway.

The Tacticool Approach
Probably the most niche Power in the core rules. It makes Systems builds better at straight up combat, which is probably more of a Plan B for them since they're most likely going to want to spam Supports, Restorations, or Guardian of Steel the rest of the time. It's a good Plan B though, Electro Sapper Pods and Electronic Cloaking System are very powerful with Systems at 8 and above. On one hand, I think this could be stronger so as to possibly make direct combat a possible Plan A for Systems-primary builds. On the other hand, that's not the point of Systems, and pushing the game in that direction more could have caused balance issues and made Systems the most versatile and strongest stat all around. Systems builds got a lot stronger in the expansion, so this is probably fine as is and doesn't need to be better.

Trump Card
A deceptively strong Power, granting two unmaimable Weapons once per Operation. That might not seem like much, but the ability to choose whichever Weapon is best at the time and be able to count on it sticking around for the rest of the battle is easily worth one Genre Point. Why, you can even take this as your first Power and use only Weapons gained this way, cheating an Integrated Weapons Upgrade into your build at a reduced price. It's a cool build-around Power that doesn't look like much at first glance but gets a lot of work done for very little.

One of the subtlest game balance mechanisms in Trickster Powers is that they make or break many of the builds that use them. For PCs (and Rivals) this means that they need to be taken relatively early or else the build won't tank/kite/whatever properly. For Grunts, however, it means they just can't do those things very well. This is intentional, because these abilities can be very annoying in the hands of Grunts. Imagine swarms of Grunt Mecha taunting and keeping PCs aggro-locked to them. That would suck to play against. Overall, some of the Trickster Powers could stand to be a little stronger, but most of them are the kind of thing that is better off being a little weak than too strong, as they would bog the game down with supertanks and untouchable snipers if that were the case. If it isn't broken then don't fix it, I guess.

Next: Tactician Powers.

Gimmick Out.

Aug 14, 2016

BCG Retrospective XVI: Champion Powers

Champion Powers do a lot of the work of carrying the super robot fighting spirit of the game's tone. If you take nothing but these, your super attacks will split the heavens and atomic bombs will be like mosquito bites to you. These are the powers you take to roleplay a badass who always wins their fights and they should make you feel like one. Let's see if they do that, hmm?

Believe in Myself
This is a power that was relatively weak but kept getting buffed to keep up with the Upgrades that also negate Maiming. Balancing all these antimaim abilities was by far the most difficult aspect of the rules from a development perspective. Believe in Myself is very strong if you can finish the battle in those three turns, but if you can't then you're better off with the Upgrades themselves. Three turns is a lot, especially if you already lost one or two HP bars, so the downside will rarely matter. Perhaps the effect should have been for two turns, but overall the power is more or less in the right place.

I Cannot be Defeated
Arguably the most suparobo power of them all, because you can tank pretty much everythin out there, particularly good against beamspam builds that stack Advantages. It is very powerful, but has two obvious weaknesses Just make sure it is not a tech or doesn't do bonus damage after the attack. This is a 10/10 Genre Power.

I'm Breaking Through
A clean, elegant design and a powerful effect. It seems a little weak compared to Signature Weapon until you realize two things: 1) Barriers often block 5+ Damage from each attack and 2) There are very few repeatable offensive powers. This power does more damage over time than Signature Weapon, but it does need more Genre Points, making it better for builds at Levels 2 and above.

My Defense is Impregnable
Another very strong defensive power. Defensive powers like this and I Cannot be Defeated have effects that can easily tank attacks that would be lethal to anyone else. In general, defensive powers are stronger than their offensive counterparts, because there's more offensive buffs to go around than defensive buffs. Glass cannon builds are very strong vs Grunts and certain Bosses, but Rivals with more than one defensive power can completely stonewall them until they run out of gas. It can't be used more than once, but it does work against all sorts of Weapons. It is not a 10/10, but it is a 9, and that's more than good enough.

My Style is Impetuous
Four Damage once per Operation is not a lot, except it is more like eight Damage with a Technique and a ton of automatic area Damage with Bombardment. The interaction isn't spelled out because players like feeling smart and figuring things out for themselves. By alluding to it, everyone can have the lightbulb moment themselves. Fun fact: The names of both this and the power above are Mike Tyson quotes made anime-relevant by way of the videogame God Hand.

Signature Weapon
Signature Weapon has the most raw strength of all the offensive Powers in the core book with a limitation that is very in-genre. It was the first of the offensive power set to be written and the one that the others got balanced around, much like Try Again but at a smaller scale. It is also probably the most popular Power overall, so it is obviously doing something right. This is another top tier power, and although it is very flavorful, I think it could be better.

In the last post I mentioned that, because the Character sheet is mostly irrelevant to Operations, Genre Powers had to have as much personality and be as unique and distinctive from each other as possible. Signature Weapon has a very flavorful name, but the effect is just so... Generic. It does +5 Damage and ignores Active Defenses. It turned out this way because I needed at least one offensive power that could be a very powerful effect available to most builds, so that the Signature Weapon could be a lowly Beam Rifle if that's what you wanted your Signature Weapon to be. That's what the power does.

The problem there is the name "Signature Weapon" evokes a Technique-like feeling, so a part of me wishes this was a Tension bonus... But then you'd be punished with a subpar build for having a Signature Weapon without an ability that depends on Tension bonuses! Maybe it could also turn non-Techniques into Techniques just for one attack? But then it would turn be very wordy and the elegance of this power is one of its draws.

At the same time, this was always a popular and effective power, so there was never any real need to change it. Time passed, development turned to focus on different things, and Signature Weapon got to print without any tweaks or rewrites. The power itself is evidently fine, I am just nitpicking the design.

Anyway, our six Champion Powers are some of the game's best and tightest designs in my opinion. There's very little I would change about them, which doesn't mean they couldn't be better, but it does mean they get the job done of making PCs badasses without significant balance or comprehension issues. All in all, I'm rather pleased with them.

Next: Trickster Powers.

Gimmick Out.

Aug 7, 2016

BCG Retrospective XV: Default Powers

Many games encourage giving rewards for good roleplaying in the form of Bennies/Drama Tokens/Aiki Chits/Fate Points and BCG is no different. Generally these games let you use this limited resource to reroll your dice, escape from death or activate one of your special abilities.

Where it differs from most of those games is that Genre Points are a fundamental element of game balance and PC builds. Genre Powers are often just as important as the Upgrades and Weapons of the Mecha itself in making an individual PC work. Each Player's selection of Genre Powers is very personal, representing an individual Character's fighting style and piloting skills, so the game needed to have a good number of Genre Powers to choose from and they needed to be very distinctive from each other.

However, making PCs unique from each other was secondary to making sure all of them were actually fun to play, so I knew from the beginning that everybody was going to have a number of Default Powers: Try Again, Mid-Scene Upgrade, Live Another Day and Not so Fast. Eventually the list expanded and everybody started with six Genre Powers plus their own personal ones. Today we're going to look at the six that make all PCs stand head and shoulders above Grunts, the Default Powers.

In alphabetical order.

Knowledge is Power
This used to be a Power that you had to pick, rather than a Default one, but the problem with it was that no one wanted to take it. Most Players preferred to guess at enemy stats and abilities than scanning them, even if it meant taking a big gamble against superbosses. Knowing what your opponent can do can be essential to help a PC Squad stabilize and turn the tide against a strong foe, so I wanted all groups to have access to this. As you can imagine, the solution I thought of was to make it a Default Power. If no one will buy it, then I will make it free! Incidentally, I would make a very bad amazing economist.

Live Another Day
Things have changed a lot from the days of early roleplaying, when every dungeon crawl was a meat grinder and the system told you not to give your PC a name until they had survived to Level 3. Mechanics have gotten more complex and character creation is a lot more involved and takes much longer, but anti-death mechanics for PCs are still an exception and not the rule. I find this weird, because it means either someone loses all that time and emotional investment to a critical hit or (more likely) the GM fudges and ignores the rules to keep things fun. Anyway, BCG was always going to have some kind of anti-death mechanic for PCs and I figured might as well use the game's most flavorful resource so all players can choose to either flee or fight to a bitter/glorious end spending that last GP elsewhere. This way, PCs only die if the player agrees that's how it should be, which is how it should be in a cinematic RPG.

Mid-Scene Upgrade
Mid-Scene Upgrade is sort of like Live Another Day in that I always thought it was a thing that more RPGs needed to have in-built into the system, because it lets PCs overcome challenges they were otherwise unprepared or too low-powered for, avoiding accidental total-party-kill scenarios. Also, it is a badass awesome thing that is pretty much a genre staple. With that said, Mid-Scene Upgrade is a little overpowered, because it lets strategically minded players be 5, 10 or even 20 points above the rest of the party at the cost of being perpetually on a debt of Mecha Points to the GM. Fortunately this is something that everyone can do so all it takes is for the rest of the group to get in a Mid-Scene Upgrade every now and then to preserve the group's balance. The problem that remains then is that the PC Squad is now noticeably stronger than the NPCs they fight, but that can be fixed by just making NPCs stronger. I'm not too comfortable with the idea of perpetual MP debt as a powerup but it is a small price to pay for having a really cool and useful Genre Power in the game.

Not so Fast
You would think that the counterpart to Try Again would force one enemy to reroll an attack made against you... but that's not the case with Not so Fast. Not so Fast only protects others, but inflicts 2 Disadvantages instead of one. The Power was made this way for 3 reasons: First, because it encourages good team dynamics and makes all the PCs be watching each other's back, especially at low Power Levels when everybody is quite frail. Second, because this way it can be stronger and make for a more meaningful debuff in a game that is full of very strong buffs. Third, because it keeps 1v1 battles from the constant repetition of using Try Again every low roll of yours and Not so Fast with every high roll of the opponent.

Synchro Attack
One of the things I wanted to convey with game mechanics as part of adapting genre conventions is the power of many characters united as one. To that end, I needed to have a mechanic for combination attacks, but none of the more elaborate versions that allowed you to combine weapon abilities or mecha stats were working. They were either too strong and impossible to balance or too easily repetitive and made combination attacks not feel special at all. Eventually I decided to make it a Default Power so that everyone can use it but balanced it by making the power very conditional. I say it is conditional because a +4 damage bonus for each party member that gives up a GP and a Turn is usually less than what they could pull off with a whole turn (plus a GP) to themselves, making the power look suboptimal in most circumstances. But sometimes you just have to kill a key target ASAP and some PCs can't hurt it or can't reach it or something else is in the way. Other times you are facing a large group of strong enemies and the best way to weaken them all is to help the team member with the best area attacks hit them for as much as possible. It is during those times when Synchro Attack shows its true power.

Try Again
Last but not least is the most basic Power in the game and the first that got written down. Dice don't care about narratives, their element of chance helps keep games fun and dynamic, but the results rolled are often unfair. Many games these days incorporate mechanics to mitigate this, but very few of them make the reroll have a better chance of success than the first roll. Heck, there's plenty of systems where the reroll takes a penalty. Spending a resource just to fail two times in a row feels pretty bad and just isn't fun. Try Again grants an Advantage to the reroll, hopefully keeping this from happening as much as possible. It is not the flashiest or strongest Power, but it is an invaluable tool to keep the game rolling forward.

I love this bunch and, outside of the aforementioned exploit with Mid-Scene Upgrade, I think the mechanics for them are in the right place. The only thing that I sometimes think I could have worked in is something a playtester suggested: A seventh Default Power that self-heals using Systems. But I'll elaborate on that when we get to Restoration Upgrades.

Next: Champion Powers.

Gimmick Out.