Sep 11, 2016

BCG Retrospective XX: General Upgrades.

General Upgrades can be divided into two categories. A few grant simple benefits that can be very useful if you have the spare MP for them, but most are very specific abilities that require you to plan a character build around them. They're all Internal, and thus can't be disabled, the former because it wouldn't make sense for your Mecha to lose those abilities and the latter because that would completely ruin your character if you lost that. They're a hodgepodge of assorted abilities so it's more interesting to talk about them individually than as a whole.

Commander Type + Early Warning and Control
Support Upgrades are very strong buffs or debuffs but also they're rarely worth your entire Turn, especially if they are also spent on use. Commander Type was designed from the ground up to be the thing that pushed Support builds to playability. The Upgrade went through several versions, at one point it allowed multiple Support activations each turn and at another it also had an Early Warning and Control effect... For all Support Upgrades, not just the ones that cost 5. One Actionless Support each Turn with replenishing the cheaper Supports was the right effect, but it was a bit too wordy for a single General Upgrade - and it was also hard to purchase early since it was so expensive at 20 MP. The Actionless activation and replenishing abilities were split into two Upgrades and that's how both of them came to be.

As for how they worked out, Supports had to be buffed several times before Support builds were competitive with other specialists. Even then, they do suffer from being a little too expensive to function efficiently at low Power Levels. The expansion gave them enough new toys that I believe this is no longer an issue. I'll go more into detail when we get to the Support Upgrades section.

Expert Support
The name should probably be different, considering this is an ability that doesn't really have much to do with Support Upgrades. Other than that, it is a very simple and useful Upgrade that lets the user avoid friendly fire. It's fundamental for artillery builds and games full of solo Boss battles. It doesn't really make the user more powerful, it just keeps them from potentially killing their allies, so it is a very cheap Upgrade to encourage people to take it.

Slippery Chassis
This was once a Mobility Upgrade, much like Reversible Thrusters, but at a 5 MP Cost. It didn't make much sense as a thing that could be Maimed though, and at 5 MP you could buy as an afterthought to ignore the most common forms of movement denial. The result was that, after the first few Power Levels, nearly everyone had it. That was a little too good, so it became an Internal Upgrade for 10 MP instead, so it's much rarer but also harder to deal with since it can't be disabled.

Stealth Field + Guardian of Steel
These two used to be a single Upgrade in Stealth Field. The game needed something to represent cloaking tech, but invisibility is not just an extremely powerful ability but also logically a very weird thing to give to a giant robot. It had to be a purely defensive ability and those are hard to make both interesting and efficient to use without accidentally making someone invincible.

The original Stealth Field had a range greater than 1 so it could cloak allies with its absurd tech. It was extremely overpowered and it took separating its effects into two Upgrades plus reducing the range of Guardian of Steel to the very minimum in order to keep it balanced. Even then, NPCs with it often turn into puzzle encounters of a sort, forcing the PC Squad to find a workaround around it. Stealth Field ended up very weak without its companion Guardian of Steel, but it is still worth taking for Components to make Combiners even more invincible when Maneuvering. It took some effort but I think both abilities turned out alright.

Artillery Frame
This originally only gave an Advantage to Blast type Weapons but made the Blast area much larger. It was extremely powerful against Grunt mobs but very underpowered the rest of the time and actively a hindrance without Expert Support. It was too extreme, so the Blast radius bonus got toned down (as did many of the Blast sizes of individual Weapons) and then made compatible with Line and Burst Weapons. It is still a very all-or-nothing Upgrade, but it's cheaper than most other weapon specializations and doesn't automatically make your party hate you, so it's about as good as it gets for its concept.

I knew that I wanted Subpilot PCs to be allowed to use only Utility actions. This would let them Maneuver, Support and Boost or Disengage which should be enough to cover any situation. The problem with this decision was that then Subpilot NPCs would be extremely powerful, there's no way we could allow a PC to essentially buy 2 actions for every Turn. So we were going to need separate rules for PC and NPC Subpilots. The question was, how do we represent having another Character? We already had Commander Type for Supports, Mobility Upgrades for extra movement, and Maneuvering was out of the question. The other thing that PCs had to contribute other than their Actions were their Genre Points and Genre Powers, so we tried Assistant as just one of each at 10 MP and it was a little too good. After changing it to 15 MP it was still worth taking but not too good to not take it, so it stayed that way. I believe this is the right way to do Subpilot NPCs.

Duelist Model + Sniper Model
Originally there was a single Upgrade that had you choose between Melee and Shooting, giving you an Advantage to using that Weapon type. It was split into two different Upgrades with some additional bonuses. Duelist Model makes you decent at forcing enemies to focus on you, while Sniper Model lets you shoot from very far away. Sniper Model had some additional conditions to making it work - the Range bonus only applies to Weapons with the Long Range ability and the Advantage doesn't work at Range 0 - because at the time Shooting Weapons were generally stronger than Melee ones. Now that the Expansion has done more to balance Melee with Shooting, I think at least the Advantage clause could go away. But at the time it was a necessary matter for game balance.

Integrated Weapons + Invincible Alloy
Unlike the previous double entries, these weren't a single Upgrade that got split into two during development. I'm combining them so I can talk about Antimaims in a general sense instead. As I explained last week, Maims do wacky things to game balance and tend to skew combat towards who can Maim the other first, so I wanted to have a couple of Upgrades in the game to mitigate their effects. Playtesting showed that they weren't just useful, they were obligatory in order to keep Power Level 3+ combat fun, so there was a lot of pressure on getting them right.

Balancing these two (and the Expansion Pack a few pages later) with each other was hard. They were the abilities that got tweaked and rewritten the most in the core book, because they didn't just need to be balanced in a vacuum, they had to be balanced in the context of the builds each one slotted well into. Integrated Weapons had to cost just enough to keep Beam specialists from having too much raw attack power and Invincible Alloy had to give Duelists the extra survivability they needed to keep the Enemy focused on them. Your ability to use one of the available Antimaims in the game was a huge factor to how good your build was. They didn't cover all possible builds effectively in core, but BCZ added juuust enough more Antimaims to make up for that.

Experimental Reactor
This is the weapon specialization upgrade with the most raw power vs single targets. Beam weapons were always powerful and this made them even stronger, so we had to be careful with it. It's expensive, and Beam Weapons already have an extra MP cost in Energy, which is their main balancing factor. The other balancing factor is that, if you go all in on Beam weapons, you need to find the ones with the right abilities and Energy. It's relatively tricky and the extra vulnerability to Energy debuffs keeps it in check. Overall, I'd say this one is fine.

Superior Morphing
We'll leave this one for later, when we get to the Transformation Upgrade.

The Beast
The coolest and most badass of all the General Upgrades. Originally this didn't nullify the base Disadvantage from using Default Weapons, nor did it allow the user to punch through barriers. Both of those came through as a result of playtesting showing that 1-2 Advantages with no other secondary abilities was not enough to build around. The addition gives PCs a higher Damage ceiling without making the base attack power of Default Weapons too much higher. It's one of the builds with the most raw power and the easiest to play effectively, nearly every PC Squad I've seen has one person using The Beast, so I'm going to assume everybody else likes it as much as I do.

Next: Active Defenses.

Gimmick Out.


  1. The Beast is all fine and dandy only until you run into a boss with Possession capstone.

    1. Warning: Taking abilities named after the devil may result in being a juicy target for demonic possession.

  2. The Beast is ridiculous. A single rival with The Beast, Invincible Alloy, Absolute Barrier, and the rest of its points pumped into stats destroyed three PCs. How do you stop that?

    1. What it has in brutality it lacks in flexibility, and it is vulnerable to most tactics that dont attack it head-on. Kiting builds will never take damage if the battlefield is large enough, and a dedicated support can debuff and kite them at the same time. Weapons with on-hit effects will nearly always always trigger against an absolute barrier user, with crippling being one of the most common and most useful abilities for this, but anything that does extra damage will do. A Signature Technique will simply ignore its defenses, including invincible alloy.

      It can only attack one target at a time, making Not So Fast an excellent defense against it. Worst case scenario, everybody can just mass suppress it and stack disadvantages on the enemy.

      I advise taking advantage of how things turned out and build up this rival as an enemy that must be taken down ASAP. Beast users are also surprisingly vulnerable to concentrated focus fire, and hey, synchro attacks are a default power.

      Basically don't try to stack advantages and tank its attacks, that is what it is best at.

    2. Yeah, but what if there's more than one? Rivals are supposed to equal PC on a 1:1 ratio. Outspeeding it isn't realistic, since it is able to dump all its points into stats. So without a dedicated Support frame to try and keep them down, you're basically screwed.

    3. Outspeeding depends on map size and starting positions but is easier with a supporter to use ensnaring trap or gravity manipulators.

      Using weapons with debuffs, ignoring barriers, and protecting each other with not so fast are still applicable tactics against multiple beasts.

      If there's more than one, focus firing is even more important, because they're not all that strong until they've taken some damage. They don't control when they get their damage buffs, you do (when you hurt them), so it is in your best interest to minimize how much they get to use that buff.

      Don't try to overpower them 1v1 with advantages and a barrier, because they're the best build at doing that.

    4. BCG is very much a game of Rock Paper Scissors... for the build you mentioned with The Beast, Invincible Alloy, Absolute Barrier, I'm not sure why it destroyed 3 PCs... I'm assuming everyone was at power level 1?

      ... Now that I think about it, my opinion is that the deadly thing about The Beast is not just that it gets +1 advantage for every Threshold lost... it's the fact that The Beast gets to ignore active defences all day long, for just 2EN. That's equivalent to "I'm Breaking Through" genre power.

      ... The Beast is also one of those things that is more powerful at lower power levels. At power level 0, a Beast is really hard for a level 0 PC to deal with, but I think a power level 5 Beast can be fought 1v1 by a power level 5 PC? ... cause at level 0, those extra advantages are HUGE, whereas at level 5, +3 advantages is probably more commonplace... Haven't actually tried it out, but that's my opinion looking offhand.

    5. Some PC/Rival battles are playing a glorified rock paper scissors game when 1v1-ing each other, yes. I don't think this is a bad thing, as operations tend to have more than two units and that keeps things from being that simple. I'd rather have this and have different character builds play and feel at least a little bit different from each other, even if it means some of them have very hard counters.

    6. ;)

      BTW, what's the timing for the Beast's using the 2 energy to be immune to active defences? Doesn't matter for Absolute Barrier, but it's pretty important for say Custom Defence... Does beast announce cqc, roll dice, then spend 2 energy for Immunity-to-Active-Defences, and the victim says "ok, I won't waste 2 energy on custom defence then". Or is it Beast does attack rolls, if victim activates custom defence, beast counters with IAD, and if victim doesn't use custom defence, beast also doesn't use IAD?

      The RPS part, I wasn't so much mentioning to you Gimmick, as mentioning to Anonymous. Since he said Beast is ridiculous, I'm saying it was partly due to his party composition. To a party of Beasts, a kiting build is ridiculous. ;) ... Like Gimmick said, at the end of the day, it's the GM's job to set the difficulty! And the difficulty in BCG is very much not just based on pure power levels, but on positioning, composition, etc! ;) ... the GM just has to be careful not to send in 4 scissors against a party of 4 papers I guess! ;)

    7. Its cool, I just wanted to point out that the many hard counters in the game are, at least partly, intentional.

      So an active defense gets activated in response to an attack, and after the attack resolves you choose to activate the beast to make it ignore active defenses.

      While we're on the subject of it, the attack is the only thing that ignores them, so the secondary effects of an active defense like, say, attack absorbers, still happen.

    8. OOO... didn't realize that! I thought that all those immunity to active defence things circumvented the entire active defence! ... so Signature Weapon doesn't bypass the damage return of Reflecting Barrier? ... good to know!

  3. Now that I look at it, I think the main issue with The Beast is that it's far too "easy" to optimize... this would be a bigger problem for a group of players that are new to the rules... the thing is, it's perfectly do-able to make a build that is just as brutal as a Beast build at power level 1... BUT, it would require a fair bit of min-maxing, knowledge of game mechanics, munchkinism, etc. ... and even after I made said mecha, other players give me funny looks when I pull off my combos. ... And I don't blame them! The book itself clearly states that highly min-maxing makes non-optimized builds look bad.

    ... The thing about Beast builds, is that you don't have to put them thru that munchkinny min-maxing process to make them strong... you just slap a few upgrades on, give them moderately balanced stats, and they tear things apart. :O

    1. This is accurate. The Beast is playing BCG on "Easy Mode" in a way. You pretty much have to be actively trying to sabotage yourself to not end up with a build that looks optimized.