Space Weirdos: Review and Number Crunching
Following our first gamed of Space Wierdos, Reviewer Extraordinaire Mattias returns to give us an in depth review of the game.
THINGS THAT MAKE SPACE WEIRDOS ACTUALLY QUITE GOOD:
As I think I mentioned before and as you can probably tell, we had a great time playing this game. Greater, to be honest, than I had expected. The game felt really nice to me. And because I have a passing interest in designing skirmish games that feel nice, when I got home I started to ruminate on some of the reasons why the game felt that way to me. Here’s what I came up with:
- SMOOTH PROBABILITY CURVES
Something I’m always on the lookout for, especially in a game with a novel dice system, is whether the mechanics feel like they match up with the actions they are meant to represent. A problem that I’ve run into designing my own game is that sometimes the probability curves don’t line up right, which makes some outcomes feel like they happen more often than they should or not often enough. An example of this is when small advantages, like adding modifiers to an attack roll, cascade too quickly to a certain success (SoBH can run into this problem if you have high C-score characters). The result is a mechanic that doesn’t quite feel ‘right’ or like it’s not really representing the abstract action that it is meant to represent.
The Space Weirdos opposed roll mechanic of rolling pairs of RPG dice (d6 through d12) avoids these problems and nails the feel part of the equation, in my humble opinion. There are a couple levels here. First, by rolling pairs of these dice instead of singles, it makes the average results far more likely than the extremes.
Think about this like 2d6 vs. 1d6. On 2d6 there’s a 1/6 chance of rolling the average result but only a 1/36 chance of rolling the highest or lowest result, whereas on 1d6 the chance of all results is the same—1/6. Furthermore, the chance of rolling near the average (e.g. 5-9) on 2d6 is twice as likely (24/36) than rolling 2-4 or 10-12 (12/36).
This holds true for rolling two of any sidedness of die, of course. All that changes is the average result—and not by that much! The average result is, in fact, equal to 1+the sidedness of the die pair; so the average results for each pair of dice from 2d4 through 2d12 are 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13.
This has the effect of making your 2d8 Prowess character perform pretty reliably as a 2d8 prowess character. They will beat a 2d6 character by a little bit on average, and a 2d4 character by a bit more on average. The breakdown is pretty smooth, with a 12ish percent increase in your chance of winning a roll for each +1DT (Dice Type) advantage you have on your opponent.
It also appears to be pretty rare in-game to have a DT advantage of +3 or more, so all in all the combat rolls feel very even and reliable in terms of who wins the opposed roll. But at the same time, this system allows for and capitalizes on the possibility of extreme outcomes as well—because in Space Weirdos, it’s not just about who wins the roll, but by how much they win.
That’s because after an opposed Firepower (shooting) or Prowess (close combat) roll, if the attacker wins, then the loser has to roll on the Under Fire/Attack table. This is a 2d6 table that looks like this:
So again, weighted toward the average results, but the kicker is that if you double the defender’s opposed roll, they have to add 1 when rolling on this table. If you triple the defender’s opposed roll, you add 2. These modifiers move the average result further up the table and make it more likely to score an Out of Action result.
Now, if you and your opponent have the same dice type, the chances of doubling or tripling are pretty small—around 1/8 depending on the dice type. BUT this chance increases for each +1DT advantage that you have over your opponent, as detailed here:
(So for instance, the chance to double or triple (total) a 2d12 opponent on 2d12 is only 13.3%, but the chance to double or triple a 2d10 opponent on 2d12 is 19.4%. Likewise, the chance to double or triple a 2d8 opponent on 2d8 is 12.9%; a 2d6 opponent on 2d8 is 22.8%; a 2d4 opponent on 2d8 is 45.7%. Make sense? God, I hope so.)
There are a couple of subtle emergent properties of this table that I REALLY like. First, the advantage becomes less at the high end of the dice types than the low end; so a 2d12 character has less advantage over a 2d10 character than a 2d6 character has over a 2d4 character. This gives the feeling of the most powerful characters really vying to outdo one another, while the grunts further down the food chain are more likely to have decisive wins. Second, it is very difficult to double or triple your opponent if you are at a DT disadvantage. This means that if you win you are almost always going to be rolling on the Under Fire/Attack table without any modifiers. This in turn means that the chance your opponent will roll a “return fire/riposte” result will stay at 1/12, whereas if you double your opponent they only have a 1/36 chance of returning fire, and if you triple them, they cannot return fire at all since a result of 2 or 3 is impossible on 2d6+2—though there is still a 1/36 chance of a “snap shot” result. I CANNOT EMPHASIZE ENOUGH HOW ELEGANT I THINK THIS IS! This brings us to…
- THE UNDER FIRE/ATTACK TABLES
What the previous example made me realize is that there is a game design technique at work here.
Let’s take a counterfactual example in SoBH. In that game, if you double your opponent’s score in combat, you get a kill. If you triple it, you get a gruesome kill. This has some problems. First, because there are only three win states (i.e., win, double, or triple), you can only put three different results (though SoBH also folds the ‘down’ and ‘recoil’ results in as well based on the even/oddness of the die roll). If this method were used in Space Weirdos instead of the Under Fire/Attack table, then it would be pretty unlikely to score any kind of kill on equal DT, but quite likely to score a kill if you have a big DT advantage—this would feel very swingy, and like fighting at a disadvantage is a foregone conclusion. However, using the Under Fire/Attack table, the chance of putting your opponent Out of Action for the various DT matchups breaks down like this:
Compared to the previous table, it makes the differences between DTs much smaller. The highest probability you could possibly get is still less than a 1 in 3.
What happens here is the extreme results that are possible in the opposed roll get kind of normalized or redistributed through the 2d6 probability curve of the Under Fire/Attack table. This kind of files off the spiky results possible at the edge cases and makes the results in the +/-2DT territory regular and gradual.
That’s a lot of dry waffle to cram in, but the sweet sweet syrup is this; on the table, the result of these design choices is a combat system that feels balanced, tense, and competitive. You feel rewarded for every DT advantage you can eke out, and no fighter feels so powerful that they have an automatic touch of death (with the possible exception of the ‘Mind Stab’ psychic power; but that is beyond the scope of this already bloated write-up)
I should also note that some weapons also give you modifiers on the Under Fire/Attack table. A +1 weapon affects the breakdown like this:
…which I point out just to show that these modifiers make things pretty deadly. I suspect +1 on this table probably gives you much more chance of killing your opponent than +1 to Firepower or Prowess. That’s on you to figure out for sure, though. I’ve had enough math XD
- MOVEMENT TOKENS
Not many games, skirmish, indie, or otherwise opt to track movement the way this game does, which is with tokens. There are good reasons for that—some people think it’s fiddly or crowds the board or is an unnecessary complication.
I think it absolutely works in Space Weirdos and in fact might make the game excellent. My biggest argument here is that in this game, moving fast makes you harder to hit; in some cases MUCH harder. If you move twice, you get a +1DT on your defense roll—the same bonus you get for being in cover! If you move thrice, you get +2DT. Compare this to a game with shooting that does not track movement. Because you cannot tell when a model has moved, you cannot make them harder to hit. Invariably, then, being behind cover is a bigger advantage than moving, so your characters just tend to stand still and shoot. The movement tokens actually reward you for playing a mobile, dynamic game. Which I think is just rad.
Furthermore, far from being fiddly, the tokens also make it easy to tell which characters you have activated, which can otherwise be confusing in an alternating activation game.
- LAYERS AND GRANULARITY
Ultimately, Space Weirdos is not a simple game, but it is full of simple systems. It is the layering of these systems that give it a highly satisfying complexity. The opposed roll system on its own would be simple, but not necessarily satisfying. Layer it with the Under Fire/Attack table, and it is suddenly more complex and satisfying, without really making it that much more complicated. Further, the Under Fire/Attack table has more options than just ‘Out of Action’ or ‘Fine’; in fact, there are many different possible results with different narrative feels and different in-game effects. Staggered and Down are two completely different status effects that signify different things in the game. Other results on the table combine these with movement and counter attacks to make it feel like each result is distinct and meaningful—in a word, granular.
This isn’t limited to the combat system. There were a lot of layers that Karl and I did not really get to explore in our one game so far; things like equipment (both Karl and I forgot that some of our guys had grenades), Warband and Leader Traits, and Command Point options. Again, none of these things are very complicated, but when layered together, they create a feeling of complexity.
And I think that’s ultimately what makes Space Weirdos quite good, actually: It prioritizes and rewards dynamism; it is complex without complication; and it makes for a really fun game.
PS A few words from Karl who doesn't have enough thoughts to warrant a full post and doesn't know what math is:
I really liked this game. It had the speed and streamlining of mechanics that I generally prefer. It managed to push all the results of a combat hit into one roll in a way that feels a bit like Song of Blades (a favorite of mine), but with more exciting outcome possibilities that really benefit the feel and the flow of the game. I was truly surprised to find that I didn't mind tracking movement or the added game clutter of markers, something I usually detest in wargames.
Despite having a lot of flavorful options for warband building, I think the game is ripe for expansion in terms of new abilities, equipment, scenarios and unit lists. I would certainly buy such a product. However, I don't think it needs anything expanded in the core mechanics which play quick and easy. Though I'm pretty happy with my current rules options for fantasy skirmish, playing Space Weirdos has me psyched to try Sword Weirdos which is just about to be released.
All in all this is a very fun game that manages to play as fast and enjoyably as Song of Blades and Heroes while incorporating some very useful mechanics and capturing the zany feel of what I wish Rogue Trader was. Plus, I get to play with all my fun dice!
Very much looking forward to playing again.