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Build a Minis Game, Ep. 2 – Initiative – MM 43

It’s Mini Monday, where I share customizing, scratch building, kitbashing, and miniature painting projects for your roleplaying and tabletop gaming. This week we’ll continue building a miniatures game by adding an initiative system and a turn order. When we’re done, we’ll make a simple prototype game so we can get playtesting!

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Last Mini Monday we looked at a concept and theme for our little miniatures skirmish wargame, Dagger Lords. Now we’ll get started on an initiative system (woohoo, stealth pun) and the turn order. This is an important bit to get right because everything else we do will happen in the order this subsystem dictates.

Once we’ve got the activation mechanic worked out, we can put it into a simple prototype that we can test out. That’ll help us see if our rules are fun on their own, if they take too long, and if they’re intuitive enough. We also want to be sure our rules tap into our theme of fantasy crime lords fighting a turf war. That might sound like a big ask, but I think we can do it.

Episode 1: Concept and Theme
Episode 2: Initiative and Turns
Episode 3: Movement
Episode 4: Combat
Episode 5: Powers and Playtesting
Episode 6: Polishing the Game

Remember that, as we go, we’ll update a public document so that you can see the latest version of the game.

Design Goal

I’d like our activation system to do a few things:

  1. It should be fun
  2. It should involve a wager, supporting the “crime lords” theme
  3. It should allow for up to six players taking turns, but without too much boring wait time

Example Initiative Systems

Not too long ago, Tabletop Minions posted a video about wargaming misconceptions. In it, Uncle Atom mentioned disliking Warhammer 40,000’s simple and boring activation system. In 40K, you roll to see who goes first, then take turns in that order.

In the aforementioned video’s chat, a bunch of wargamers weighed in with some great activation systems from other games, including rolling against a target number to activate, pulling dice from a bag, or activating one unit per turn.

We can also look to games like Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop roleplaying games for ideas. Personally, I’m a big fan of systems that let players make choices about who goes when, such as Marvel Heroic Roleplay that lets the players decide when heroes and NPCs act. In those rules, whoever goes last picks who starts the next round, so it’s always in the PC’s favor to have one of their group end off the round. This gets especially interesting when there’s a chance of finishing off the enemies by going before them: miss, and the baddies are going to get in a lot of shots before you can do anything about it.

Dagger Lords Initiative System, Draft 1

Here’s my proposal for both the initiative system and the structure of each round:

  1. Each miniature gets between 1 and 3 Reflex Points, which are replenished at the end of the turn. Because the average is 2, we’ll assume all minis have 2 Reflex Points for now. We can specify the exact number for each model later in our design process.
  2. A model can spend a Reflex Point to jump the initiative queue, but it’s a gamble.
  3. A model can spend a Reflex Point to interrupt another miniature’s movement or attack.
  4. A round consists of the following phases: Initiative, Activation (Movement and Combat), Top-Up

Dagger Lords — Prototype Game 1

Let’s break these concepts down a little more by jumping into a prototype game.

Setup and Rounds

Each player controls 3 gangster miniatures, with the player representing the gang boss. A game can have up to six players. Any miniatures can be used, and for these rules, only close combat weapons are considered because of powerful magic influencing the battlefield. Each mini has 2 Reflex Points and 3 Hit Points.

The game is played in a number of rounds, and each round has three phases:

  1. Initiative
  2. Activation (Movement and Combat)
  3. Top-Up

1. Initiative

Each player rolls 2D6 for their gang. Each miniature can spend 1 of their 2 Reflex Points to add +2 to the roll. Play proceeds in order from the highest to the lowest total. The player with the highest score regains 2 Reflex Points to share among the models in their gang.
Dice off for ties.

2. Activation

Each mini then acts in initiative order and can do any two of the following:

  1. Move up to 6 inches
  2. Make an attack

To make an attack against an enemy model within 2 inches of your model, you much roll a 4, 5, or 6 on 1D6 to hit. If your attack hits, you must roll another 1D6 to deal damage. A roll of 4 or 5 deals 1 point of damage, and a roll of 6 deals 3 points of damage.

Any model can interrupt another model’s movement to perform one action from the list above by spending 1 Reflex Point. If two or more models from different teams wish to act at the same time, they dice off to see who goes first. The order is decided in the order of declared interrupts, so it’s possible for a model to interrupt another model that is interrupting its turn, the player only has to declare their interrupt after the interrupting player does.

3. Top Up

After all the models have activated, each model that isn’t destroyed regains 1 Hit Point and up to 2 Reflex Points. A model can never have more than their starting amount of these points.

Winning and Losing

The last team with any remaining models in it is the winner.

Some Final Thoughts

Reflex Points might be compared to actions in D&D, but they also let a player play when they want. Reflex Points are replenished at the end of the round, and no Reflex Points are carried over, so there’s plenty of motivation to use them. They’re our currency for the action economy, and there’s some risk involved in spending them, especially if you’re trying to go early.

We’ll be able to tie abilities to the Reflex Points later, which could get interesting. Imagine if ghouls can spend their RP to steal RP from other minis, or if wizards can cast a haste-like spell to grant their allies bonus RP.

Our prototype is very basic, and probably not tons of fun yet, but it does let us test out some ideas that’ll be at the core of our skirmish game. In fact, we already tested an earlier version of the initiative system and found it needed major tweaking. We want to get this core right, so it pays to test it out and tweak it before we continue. If you do play our little game, please drop your thoughts in the comments below. What worked, what didn’t, how do you think the initiative system could be improved?

You can check out what we have so far by clicking on the button, which will take you to the Dagger Lords working document.