Friday, 31 July 2015

Campaign Balancing - the 20/20 of Hindsight (Mordhiem Musings #2)

Several months ago, I did an article discussing Mordhiem-esque campaigns.  This topic fits well with the recent release of Frostgrave (reviewed here) which seems to aim itself squarely at the Mordhiem demographic.

I only experimented with the mechanics and gameplay, but Calmdown and some mates over at Bad Karma has explored the campaign, and already spotted some balance issues. He is supportive of the game but he points out a few issues he has encountered in the campaign system.  He has also made some suggestions to "fix" the issues encountered with houserules, so it's not a negative post - I found it interesting from a game design perspective (it echoes quite a few things I said in a post last year).  There are about half a dozen points, but I feel they fit under two main headings:

Kills/Deathmatch > Objectives
Due to some scenarios with no game length, once you get ahead in collecting treasure, it's preferable to switch your focus to "kill 'em all" - kill or chase your opponent off the table, and thus get all the treasures by default.

The second related point is wizards are overly rewarded for "kills"/"damage"...  Hmmm. I think this was also a problem in Mordhiem.  I recall dual wielding was a must-have, as doing more damage always gained more XP than defence, thus levelling your character faster.  If XP is tied to kills, damage-dealing spells/stats are always preferable.  In Frostgrave, certain classes of wizard have better damage-dealing spells, and thus level up faster (more than double, in the test campaign) than wizards who merely buff/debuff. 

Warband Balance ("Snowballing")
The article highlighted how easy it was for one Frostgrave warband to quickly "snowball" in power and pull ahead of opponents - i.e. noticeable in game 2, and by the end of game 3, there was four wizards at level 12, 12, 6 and 0 respectively - quite a large power gap between the haves and have nots.

Tied to this was a fourth point, which was once you lose your wizard (and  thus 10 levels), you had an almost insurmountable gap to make up.

Finally, there was the ability for powerful warbands to go shopping for any specific powers and items they want - to sell off unwanted magic items etc for cash, Diablo-style, and to max out magic gear, base upgrades and for rich warbands to replace losses without blinking.

They've made a post and have some a download on how to fix the issues, and they look sensible to me. Don't go cancelling your Frostgrave order, folks!

Ok, Why R U Bashing Frostgrave?
No, I recommended it. I said it's the closest thing you'll get to Mordhiem. I also said its mechanics, while simple, aren't perfect.  And it's evident its campaign isn't balanced. But is that a surprise? I suggested campaigns are naturally imbalanced - and will naturally snowball "the rich get richer" unless you take strong steps to limit it.  This post is more a "how to balance a Mordhiem-esque game" rather than about Frostgrave per se.

I'm using this example as a way to reflect and expand on my previous post.  The points from my old post relevant to the case are included with (*), along with extra things I learned from the Bad Karma blog.

*Advancement not be tied to winning/killing. Interestingly, it's one of the first steps the "house rules" have taken to balance Frostgrave in the example given.  "Don't punish the loser" - his extra losses in men and material are punishment enough.  You can learn from your defeats as well - usually more than from your victories. (At least, that's what I've noticed in coaching sport - which I do for a living)

*Campaign lengths be pre-set. This allows you to dole out a steady gain in XP/gold, at a rate where you can expect a winning warband to peak (i.e. by game 8, for example).  Otherwise you might have maxxed warbands that "have it all" by game 3....   Something I didn't consider - the need for pre-set game lengths, to stop superior warbands simply picking off weaker ones at leisure then collecting all the loot.   Players can play beyond that set point, but at least you've balanced it as well you could up to that point.

*Playing catch-up.  A Frostgrave house-rule suggested was to allow losing warbands to scrabble around for some gold, i.e. kinda a "mercy payment."  I like the idea of a NPC-style game where a warband plays against the local fauna (controlled by either dice rolls or a human opponent) matched to their level; which allows them a chance to "level up" in a fun way without competing directly against a tougher enemy warband.

I also suggested warbands who miss a game (or take a terrible loss) still get to roll for XP or advancements. At a lower rate than winning, sure, but there should still be progress.  Like a bye in sport.   They could be spending their free time practicing their archery/swordsmanship/spells or whatever, if you need to justify it.

*Handicap min-maxing.  I was thinking along the lines of random skill rolls to prevent players getting the perfect attribute set. E.g. in the case of Frostgrave, you can pick your school of magic, but must roll and sometimes you get a random one, not the one you wanted.  However this also applies to gear and replacing losses.  Even the richest warband might not be able to replace a loss if no one is available.  You can't always get the precise +2 flame-enchanted sword you want. They're rare magic items, after all.  As the Bad Karma post pointed out, it shouldn't be like shopping at Tescos.
They house-ruled it by limiting what you can do out-of-game - you can improve your base, or recruit a soldier, or buy gear. Not everything at once. This also forces "decisions" on players in the out-of-game phase. A rich warband can replace its losses, but misses out on buying up on magic items.    I also like a hard limit on how much mini stats can be increased - 20% is max increase (given by a PC FPS MMO) at which skill and tactics can still triumph over better 'hard' stats.  Past the 30% mark and the advantage of the better stats is almost impossible to consistently overcome.

Playtesting
I've since discovered that Frostgrave is the product of one of the guys over at the LAF. Now that (sterotypical and narrow minded as it makes me appear) brings to mind a certain style of player - more interested in narrative, cool paintjobs, and open ended, imaginative games and whacky charm than game balance or competitive rules - just like TMP brings to mind anal retentive, angry/arrogant old men who like historical games - and Dakka Dakka brings to mind 40K addicts who flirt with other points-based competitive games, and include their win/loss ratios on their forum signatures.

I'd be interested to know how extensive the circle of playtesters were for Frostgrave - and if they were primarily like-minded individuals to the game designer, or from his club.

It also highlights that the more special rules (be it spells or abilities), the more difficult a game is to balance, and the more it heads into the realm of "rule of thumb" rather than math and %.  Although properly "scientifically" playtesting a game, I reckon, is all but impossible.

By the way, if you are new to this blog or the game design series, Brent Spivey did a great article on playtesting games which is recommended reading.

TL:DR
I found the whole Bad Karma discussion about campaign balance interesting.  It adds quite a bit to what I know, as well as supporting many ideas/suggestions I had previous made.  (I'll refrain from saying "ha! I told you so!"... oh wait...)

Furthermore, it is an useful lesson on the pitfalls of balancing a campaign. And it shows players DO care about campaign balance, even if the designer doesn't.  Chucking a bunch of cool spells and gear into an advancement section doesn't cut it if your game is going to make campaign play the centrepiece (I doubt many would play one-off pickup games of Frostgrave - the mechanics aren't that crunchy) - the campaign section needs to be planned every bit as much as the mechanics.  Unbalanced campaigns might be realistic, but they are not fun.

And if you like Frostgrave, a lot of solutions and ideas came out of the posts/blogs, making it a better, more balanced campaign/contest.

Game Design #49: Musings about Activation Pools & Resource Management

Most game designers are now aware that IGOUGO doesn't cut it anymore.   They (in the least) do alternating units (like Chess discovered 2000 years ago) and most are experimenting with other ways to activate troops.

I think a lot of promise lies with combining activation with resource management (another currently "new" concept), you know, like the PIPs from DBA-esque games from the 80s.  

I'd like to highlight my two favourite systems I've seen recently.

Good = Robotech: Tactics
...may have had the most fiddly minis I've ever had the misfortune to assemble (basically a 1:72 Revell modelling project in 1:285 - i.e. 6mm - scale), but I did like the ideas in their activation system.   Basically, it was stock alternate move, and each model got the usual move/shoot action, but you got Command Tokens (=1 per model) which you could spend any way you want.  You could attempt to steal an activation, dodge or mitigate incoming fire, move extra range (afterburners) - it gave a complete new layer of resource management and activation choices, elevating a otherwise bland set of rules.  And the pool of tokens (kept off table) is easy to track, adding a lot of depth to the game for very little complication/slowing of play.

Good = Lords & Servants
...this medieval game has some unusual mechanics, but I thoroughly approve of their activation system.  Each player gets 3d6 of activation "tokens."   You can keep up to 6 of them to use in reaction to your opponent in his turn.  This adds an interesting decision right off the bat - how many points do I keep to mess with my opponent in his turn?   Units then have an activation cost equal to that of the leader and a single mini i.e. a group of 5 AV2 troops + a AV2 leader would cost 4AP to move - 2 for the group and 2 for the leader.  Moved individually, they would cost 12AP - using leaders is thus optional but very attractive. These rules create a lot of decisions on how to best to move leaders in order to the most economically employ 'grunts' in a way that is organic rather than "forced."  Also, units may make extra activations, but at an increasing cost i.e. the 1st action might cost 1AP, the 2nd action 2AP, and the 3rd action 3AP.  So there's another cost-vs-reward to factor in - do I move a second time, at an increased cost?  The activation pool and the way Lords & Servants have used it create a lot of decisions for the player. 

Meh = Bolt Action
Basically you have a token for each unit, and draw them randomly out of a cup to show who moves next.  Basically a randomised "alternate move" that sits somewhere between card-based activation and alternate move. A bit meh. It's got the same tokens as the first two examples, but there's no "resource management" or extra decision points being introduced.

But wait....
I've been thinking about ways you could add depth to it.

1. You can "set aside" tokens next to a model to store an action (aka overwatch) to react to enemies. Ok, nothing new here. Bolt Action sort of does that already. But what about....

2. You can use these "set aside" tokens to do a group move with a group of minis who are within a certain cohesion distance. This means a group move might take a while to collect and "build up" enough tokens to move all the guys you want to, and enemies could kind of see it coming.   

3. A "leader" would allow a group move without buildup. I.e. you only need one token to activate  the leader, then you move as many as you want within cohesion distance.  Of course, you'd then have to remove some tokens remaining in the cup equal to the extra minis you moved.  This makes leaders useful, as they can spontaneously order group actions without waiting to "build up" enough tokens. 

Why Don't Actions "Carry Over?"
Most rules have a section saying "any unused actions/moves/shots etc are lost and do not carry over until next turn." But why not?  Yes, you would need some way to track this.  But we're already using tokens on the tabletop from the example above, so let's add:

4. One unused token can be used to give a model an extra action in their next move. So you can "build up" or "store" momentum.  This represents models psyching themselves up for a charge, or pausing to collect themselves.  That way you could store momentum in a "lull" to spend it later in a frantic attack. 

There. The tokens, which were only serving as a random activation, are now clearly a "resource" to be managed.  Hmm. Might work for my homebrew medieval rules, actually.

TL:DR
Anyway, those are some samples of resource management-meets-activation, and an example of how random activation tokens like in Bolt Action could be adapted to add an element of resource management to a game.

....I've got some further thoughts on resource management but it's my 2 year old's bedtime*... another day, perhaps.  (*Am I the only one who thinks Dr. Seuss was definitely on drugs back in the 60s?)

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Game Design #48: Wargames and "Setup" - a Neglected Topic?

Setup - a Necessary Evil or Gaming Opportunity?
This is an area, along with morale, that I often don't emphasize much in my reviews.
Basically, it's always the same.
1. Roll for initiative. One side gets to choose the table edge or to deploy his troops first.
2. Deploy troops 12" from your table edge

Now, sometimes the rules are a bit frisky.  They have you alternate placing units.
But the closest they come to "depth" or a "metagame"  is sometimes you take turns placing terrain pieces.  Admittedly in some mass battle games placing your units opposite the best matchup of the enemy is the game, but that's because you're playing a game where battle lines stretch across the table and maneuver is not important. In that case you've got worse problems than setup - the game sucks anyway*. (*Napoleonics' red horse-foot-guns vs identical blue blue horse-foot-guns facing each other in two straight lines is the only genre more boring than Space Marine-on-Space-Marine 40K).

But wait! There are different starting positions in "scenarios" you say.

Ah yes. The obligatory 5 scenarios tacked hastily onto the back of the book.  Let me guess, there will be an "ambush" scenario where one side starts in the middle of the board and the other can start along opposite edges of something like that.  Deep, very deep.

While everyone (except Games Workshop) is finally moving away from IGOUGO and investigating different activation methods/sequences, no one has really done much to revolutionize the setup phase. 





Except Too Fat Lardies, who may take a bow. 

Chain of Command has a minigame which determines setup - the "Patrol Phase."
Basically sides start with 3-4 patrol markers. They take turns moving the patrol markers 12".  Each patrol marker must be within 12" of another friendly marker - forming a "chain" across the table.  Once a patrol marker gets within 12" of an enemy patrol marker, both are now locked in place.  Once one side has all its patrol markers locked in place, this phase ends.

Now players place "Jumping Off Points" - in a triangle formed by the two closest enemy markers and one of their own.  They must be placed 6"+ back from their own marker, in cover. As I feel my words are failing me, I'll include a diagram:

The Patrol Markers are now 12" from enemy markers and are "locked" in position. The "grey" zones show where you can place "jumping off" or deployment points. You can see the small crosses are the German "jumping off"/deployment points "A" and "B".

Players then dice to see which troops can deploy.  Better troops can deploy farther from the jumping off point.  You use your "orders" to bring on more units or move the ones you already have on the table.

*The setup is not "paper scissors rock" - i.e. the usual laying out units opposite enemies they best counter.
*There is less "waiting period" to engage enemies i.e. no trundling across the table for several turns before things get "interesting."
*There is uncertainty, and fog-of-war in deployment (i.e. some games you can tell who has won by the time you have placed your last unit, before the game even starts)
*The setup itself is tactical and gives many "decision points" as you manuever your markers to get the best deployment spots.

You can even see how you could fiddle with this patrol phase further to get more depth i.e. units with a scout squad get an extra Patrol Marker or can move the marker 16" or similar.

Another game that does setup quite well is Dropzone Commander. Whilst the mechanics of the game itself are rather boring, it does a great job of integrating a combined arms approach (i.e. dropships+infantry+mechs/tanks+air attack).  It also has scenarios strongly integrated into its play (i.e. I feel scenarios have been considered/designed from the outset to impact playstyle, not "tacked on" later).  Troops start as "directly deployed" on the table, in "readiness" - they can enter any time from indicated table edges; and "in reserve" - they must dice to see when they can enter.  Admittedly this is nothing new either.  But Dropzone Commander, which doesn't have a revolutionary "patrol phase" also does quite well in the setup stakes due to how it integrates its setup with its combined arms games philosophy, and its scenarios which fit with the gameplay style.  In fact I think scenarios and setup are linked - besides that both are somewhat ignored topics.

The Setup - TL:DR
My argument - "setup" is a neglected area in wargames.
*In a "historical" sense you'll know that often a battle was often won by what preceded it
*In a "gaming" sense we are missing out on more tactical choices and "metagaming" potential

Setup can be more than just 'chuck your minis on the table 12" from your board edge.' or 'make sure your pike unit is placed opposite their cavalry.'

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Superheroes vs Necrons (Savage Worlds Skirmish)

Inspired by the trailer to Suicide Squad, I went ferretting through my shed and found about 80 HeroClix prepainted plastics.  I recall buying them in a job lot for about $20 a few years back (I think with the intent of adding them to a Secrets of the Third Reich Weird War 2 game) then forgot all about them.

Until now.

I simply jimmied them off their clix bases and put them on 25mm slottas, and dabbed a bit of brown wash over them to get rid of the "artificial pre painted plastic" look.  I'll get around to tidying up their bases and neatening the paintjobs, but they're table ready at least.

 Ever wondered why super villains seem to re appear so quickly after being incarcerated?  Doing deniable black ops for the government to shorten their sentences, that's how.

I've been having great fun researching and statting-up heroes for the Savage Worlds system. My wife even got involved, compiling a brief bio/powers list of the minis. 

So far I've only converted my duplicate minis, which tend to be the more obscure ones.  This is good, as I can keep them "low powered" without any preconceptions of what they should be like according to movies/comics etc.

In Savage Worlds superheroes are rated pulp (one or two minor powers, or perhaps only gadgets), four colour (standard comic fare with significant powers, say Wolverine), heavy hitters (Magneto, Pheonix), and cosmic level (Superman etc).    Since SW heroes are already quite powerful compared to the average mook, I'm trying to keep things to pulp level where possible, and keeping the powers toned down. 

Personally, I think superheroes should be restricted in their abilities.  Ever wonder why there hasn't been a good Superman movie?  He's just so "overpowered" it's hard to connect with him.  You don't fear for his safety either.  Plots have to be on cosmic scale to be even vaguely threatening. Weaknesses have to be contrived.  Batman vs Superman? It isn't even a contest.  Who'll be the underdog everyone cheers for?  ....well, perhaps it depends more how much they hate Ben Affleck...

Anyway, there has been a power surge deep beneath the Nevada desert at Area 52.  A alien device which was regarded as inert has suddenly powered up. It's a homing beacon.... a warpgate opens, disgorging undead robots, who naturally want to "destroy all humans."

Supported by a sniper team, The Darkness corners a Necron... gosh, it's so long since I played 40K... it's some sort of tomb-thingy?

The beautiful android assassin Aphrodite IX leads a fire team through the underground corridors... (Magdalena is about to engage Necrons with her own fire team in the background)

Scarab swarms are no match for the arcane powers of the Witchblade...

Some of the minis I've rebased so far. The cool ninja chicks are Noh agents from Kabuki.  They could be tidied up, but the prepainted schemes are perfectly table-worthy...


A few thoughts...  Savage Worlds is not really balanced for warband vs warband combat from what I can see. It's more a rival to Two Hour Wargames type narrative/co-op stuff.  Also, I'd like a program where I simply select from dropdown boxes and then print out player stats on Warmachine/Gruntz-like cards as writing them out is too clunky - there's a lot of prep time. That said, creating superheroes is really good fun in itself - so it's not a great hardship.

 I'm enjoying it do much I'm delving into the rest of my box, and putting in a few bids for random clix bundles on eBay.  (...don't get any ideas from this post and overbid me, damn it!  grrr - postage to Australia sucks)

Friday, 24 July 2015

Savage Worlds - Fantasy Companion Review

The last of my pdf purchases. I primarily bought it to see how it would measure up to Frostgrave in its expanded form (Savage Worlds excellent base Explorer Edition has enough content to play generic fantasy, but it didn't seem a fair comparison).

As usual, I view it through the lens of "would it be good for skirmish wargaming" rather than its value to a RPG.  If you're a diehard RPGer, I suggest you read another review.  

Characters
The race creation has your classic orcs-dwarves-elves etc as well as a useful "cultural template" - a list of simple, subtle tweaks to differentiate your races. Basically there are +3, +2 and +1 abilities which can be offset by -1, -2 and -3 negative traits.  Very useful for customizing new races/minis.
There are ~16 new Edges (troubadour, knight, assassin etc, as well as racial edges like barbaric rage)

Gear
There's about ~20 items of gear, of which half are useful for wargaming, and a range of new melee weapons like bastard swords, orc axes, flails, and crossbow pistols.    There's a few new armour types which will be useful.  There are siege rules but they seem to be added in for abstract/mass battle games, so whilst interesting they are not so useful for skirmish gaming.

Arcana
There's a bit of info on Deities and the likely powers/spells associated with them (i.e. gods of healing, justice, knowledge, nature, sea, war, thieves) which would be useful for making racial/religious magic.  There's also a completely new form of magic, Alchemy, which would be useful for steampunk games and the like.  I found it interesting and am now wondering what what an alchemy-based wargame might look like.  The section on sorcery and ritual magic are smaller, useful but not revolutionary additions.  It also explains how trappings work in more detail than the Explorer's Edition (i.e. specifically how an ice blast differs from a fireball blast) which is adds value.

The spell list has a lot of "repeats" which are already included in the basic rules, so the list of ~60 is much less impressive than it seems. The upside is the Fantasy Companion uses the exact same system as the base rules so slots in seamlessly (compared to the Super Powers Companion whose "powers" work completely differently to the generic magic/psy/weird tech).

Hmm I feel the urge to dig out and rebase my old Confrontation models...

Treasure
Handy for Mordheim-style games is the tables for generating loot - treasure, armour, magic items and weapons.  It even has tables for generating random magic powers to assign to weapons/items.

Perhaps most usefully, each weapon/item/armour piece comes with a $ cost, which would be invaluable if running a Mordhiem-style campaign, and you want to buy/equip your warband between rounds.

This section is very, very comprehensive - with bucketloads of generic examples of magic weapons, potions etc -  more than enough crunch to satisfy the most insatiable tinkerer.  There's even examples of cursed items, and intelligent (self aware) magic relics - like an ensorscelled, possessed blade - which can possess stats and personality of their own.  It looks like great fun, but abandon hope of balance, all ye who enter here.

Terraclips are cool and easy to store - but a pain to assemble.  I'm considering making up a table though...
Bestiary
There's a solid amount of choice, from human villains and warriors to monsters of every ilk. I lost count after 40 pages, and I'm guesstimating about ~120 critters.  Lots of new weird beasts as well as all the fantasy favourites.  There's a fair bit of choice even within standard fantasy tropes i.e. trolls come as marsh trolls, sand trolls, or sea trolls as well as the standard version.  You not only have giant spiders, but giant zombie spiders. Golems (yay!) come in grass, stone, lava, straw, metal varities. You get the idea.

TL:DR
I felt that the Sci Fi Companion and the Super Powers Companion were a bit light on - and probably could have been merged into a single supplement.  Not so the Fantasy Companion.  I was impressed with the thoroughness of each section, and I felt the book really added onto the base Savage Worlds core book. An embarrassing amount of treasure, loot and items to "level up" if you want to run a Mordhiem-style campaign, enough beasts, villains and monsters to cover every contingency, and the "alchemy" section was a nice addition.  Quite a few spells in the magic section were repeated, which is my only gripe.  Otherwise, good. This is what I was expecting when I bought the other Companion pdfs.

Recommended? Yes. 
If you're interested in fantasy skirmish (RPG or wargame) this is a well worthwhile purchase.

Psychic Powers in Savage Worlds

I've been looking for ways to play modern pulp (XCOM, psychic warfare, horror) and the hassle of making a homebrew "core" system to hang it on (I'm simply recreating a d10 minimalist version of Infinity) has me looking for ready-made solutions.

Savage Worlds is the king of pulp, and is more wargame than RPG.  So what psychic powers can I borrow to fulfil my psychic power wishlist?

Savage Worlds uses a generic "magic" system that lumps together psychic powers, miracles, arcane "magic" magic, super powers  and weird science.  It uses generic spells, in which the "trappings" are different but the end effect is similar, i.e. the "Bolt" spell could be a bolt of lightning, ice, a fireball or just raw energy.  Italics are superpowers from the Super Power Companion sourcebook.


Telekinetic
-Push/Pull/Crush
-Deflect/Barrier
-Biokinesis (heal) Heart stop (destroy)
-Teleportation
-Cyro/Pyro/Electrokinesis
-Levitate/Double jump
Barrier
Blast (Ranged AoE attack)
Bolt (aimed attack)
Burst (AoE spray)
Deflection (Protector - protects others)
Healing/Greater Healing or Regeneration
Stun
Ensnare
Telekinesis
Teleport
Absorption (absorb/deflect telekinetic attacks)
Decay (destroy materials/wound)

Force Control
Fly, Flight or Leaping
Malfunction (electric items)
Matter Control
Resistence (to fire, ice, electricity etc)
Smite/Attack (Melee/Ranged) (telekinetically guide/boost damage of blows/weapon)
Telepath
- Mind Read
-Mind Control
- Mental attack (freeze)
- Illusion
-Psychic Link
-Psychic Block (nullify)
-Fear
Dispel (negate psychic power)
Fear
Invisibility
Puppet (control enemy) or Possession
Chameleon (imitate another)
Illusion
Mind Control
Negation (block psychic abilities)
Paralysis

Mind Reading
Esper
-Remote Viewing -> Bilocation
-Clairvoyance
-Scrying/Divination
-Psychometry
-Precognition
Boost (raise/lower stat of self/other) = precog
Detect Arcane (sense other psychics)
Awareness (ignore obscurement/gang ups)
Danger Sense (ignore ambushes, pregame advantages)

Copycat (psychometry - mimic abilities)
Duplication (bilocation)
Heightened Senses
Intangibility (spirit form/remote viewing) - maybe mix with Altered Form
Uncanny Reflexes


Phew. That's... ....quite a list.  Maybe I don't have to start from scratch after all....

Actually, the more I look through Savage Worlds material, the more I wonder why I don't see more wargame AARs using this system. Perhaps it's too pigeonholed as a RPG.  It certainly has some decent mechanics - better than games like, say, Frostgrave, which everyone is so hyped about, and can be adapted easily through the fantasy-pulp-sci fi spectrum, plus it comes with a huge array of in-depth settings (and in some cases, miniature lines.)  

From comments on the first psychic powers post, I've decided to allow shorting/malfunctioning of electrics (it's an extension of electrokinesis I guess).  The rest of the powers gel with Wikipedia (source of all mankind's knowledge) as I'm looking for "realistic" or "commonly acknowledge" psychic powers, rather than something seen once on a random anime.  However I'm interested in any other common abilities that I may have missed...

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Savage Worlds - Superpowers Companion Review

Hmm. Maybe I'll find some pychic powers here....

It has a completely new "superpower" system which replaces the magic/psychic/weird science generic system from the base Savage Worlds.  This feels more like a genuine expansion rather than simply an expensive PDF list of weapons and vehicles.

Again, I remind you I'm not a RPGer and I view this supplement against its usefulness for skirmish wargaming, which the base Savage Worlds system does quite well. 

Heroes
7 new Edges, and mostly useless "hinderances." This section is mostly RPG-y and not terribly useful to my wargaming-centric outlook.

Rules
Besides using all the pulpier optional combat rules from Savage Worlds, there are some new rules, for combining powers, power synergy, finishing moves, and powerful knockback rules for super-powered blows. Degrees of super-strength are defined. In addition, there is a Back from the Dead roll for defeated enemies that mimics how comic characters seldom really die for good.

Gear
Not a huge selection here. About 9 gadgets and a few basic armour types.  The melee weapons repeat those from the Sci Fi Companion.  New weapons are limited and tend to be gimmicks like superpower nullifier beams, foam or net guns.  Not a lot new here.  Vehicles are almost non-existent. Basically, you are expected to own the Sci Fi Companion as well.

While I ultimately found the Super Powers Companion worthwhile, it could have easily been merged with the Sci Fi Companion, and for the price, probably should have been.  Only the Rules and Powers were useful - the rest was shallow "garnish."
Powers
This is the guts of this supplement.  Powers are assumed to be always on and their costs can be modified by things like activation requirements (touch, delayed activation) or range.

There are about ~80 powers, most with several "levels" of potency. And - yay! - quite a few superpowers that are also psychic powers i.e. chameleon, copycat, danger sense, mind control, and various telekinetic powers, that add to and enhance those in the core rules.  

HQ
Again, this may be good for role playing purposes but is utterly useless for wargaming.  I mean, I don't care if my underground base has a kitchenette or two ensuites.  Actually, I don't even know why role players would care, unless they like role playing interior decorators.

Supervillains
There is some generic NPCs - civilians, cops, thugs, and soldiers etc, but a rather large collection of ~70 supervillains.  There's a few recognizable archtypes, as well as variations on legendary and fairytale characters.  They range in power from pulp villains with a gimmicky suit or minor power to cosmic supervillains who can destroy the universe.   This seemed a bit overenthusiastic, to be honest, and took up a disproportionate part of the supplement.

TL:DR
The rules and powers section make this supplement worthwhile, whereas the rest is almost useless for wargaming purposes.  It seems to be designed to be used in concert with the Sci Fi Companion, as both are strong in areas where the other is lacking.  I'd rather they just added the Powers section into the Sci Fi Companion - the rest was just fluff and window dressing.

Recommended: Yes.
The powers and new rules make it worthwhile if you are trying to run a superhero wargame, and they do add value to the base rules.  Although a bit overpriced, it DID pique my interest in superpower skirmish wargaming, getting my attention in a way that the Sci Fi Companion failed to match. 

That said, I'd recommend it more confidently when it is half price. I don't see the value in it, when (in my opinion) it's half a supplement, with some fluff.  

Savage Worlds - Sci Fi Companion Review

Although I am not a RPGer (apart from a brief flirtation with FUDGE and GURPS in my teens) I'm a bit of a Savage Worlds fan.  Why? Because it's a rather good skirmish wargame, disguised as a RPG.

In fact, if you brush away all the RPG special rules, you can see it was a wargame - in fact the engine comes from the Great Rail Wars - capable of handling 40-50 miniatures at a time.   Whilst there isn't one skirmish ruleset that works perfectly for all genres, the Explorer's Edition base rules do a creditable attempt to cover fantasy, pulp, horror and sci fi. Remove some of the pulpier game mechanics and it could do grittier historical gaming at a pinch too.   

Anyway, since the PDFs were reduced to the only mildly outrageous price of $13, I grabbed the Sci Fi Companion to see if I could adapt anything for my sci fi wargames.  This isn't a proper review as such, more a browse/summary of the rules, with an eye to their usefulness when wargaming. 

Characters

Whilst not a watertight competition points system, it obviously has creation rules for "costing" NPCs and characters.  The  36 positive and 13 negative sci fi attributes seemed small for a RPG, but it'd be presumed you'd already own the base Explorer's Edition which has a range of generic attributes.  The sample races might be useful when adapting wargame factions.

The Sci Fi Companion is decent but not a "must have."  I think it's simply overshadowed by the great value, versatility and depth of the base Explorer's Edition rules.
Gear
There are 33 pieces of gear, from med scanners, psionic shields (tinfoil hat?), camouflage suits and beacons.  There are a range of armour pieces which are useful but not comprehensive for wargaming i.e. more about type (glide suit, space suit, stealth suit) than degree of protection i.e. a +1 to +5 range.

The melee weapons have a decent range but are more about type (energy, vibro) than type (does not distinguish daggers from polearms).  There's a decent selection of ranged weapons, from gyrojets (bolters) to lasers, blasters and plasma weapons. Enough choice to be a Jedi Knight or fight for the Imperium of Mankind. 

Cyberware
The maximum amount of cyberware a person can install into himself is limited by his Vigor or Spirit stat.   This cyberware can range from subdermal armour, to vision enhancements, to adrenal boosters or even retractable weapons. Could be a way to "spice up" otherwise vanilla 15mm humans - would be useful. 

Power Armour
This comes in light, medium and heavy varieties and can be equipped with a range of equipment and attachments, such as strength, stealth and targeting enhancements, jump packs and more.  

Robots
There is a "build your own robot" section where you buy stat and skill increases to a base robot chassis/body, as well as generic warbots, sentrybots and similar.

Starships
You can build and fight a wide range of starships, but the rules are designed with an abstract rather than tabletop combat in mind.  So it could be used for a narrative skirmish, but this won't replace Full Thrust...

Vehicles & Walkers
The vehicles include a range of example motorcycles, cars, and military vehicles (tanks, hover-tanks, APCs, helicopters).   I found the mech section inspiring.  I found myself wondering what tabletop and anime franchises I could convert.  Given vehicles use the same basic mechanics as infantry, it's plausible to use 6mm mechs.  I liked the special rule "death from above" - I wonder where that came from...

World Maker & Xenos
This was more RPG than wargaming in nature.   You know, the random generation charts for planet type, gravity, atmosphere, population, customs, tech level etc.

There are also generic characters like pirates, psi-knights (Jedi?), scientists, cyborg commandos, smugglers, spies etc.  There are also lots of interesting critters - batspiders or mantis gorillas, anyone? - which sound cool but are useless for wargaming without dedicated miniatures.

But... but....  No new psychic powers?   Geez.  There's no psychic powers here that isn't in the base Explorer's Edition.

TL:DR
A useful toolkit for adapting Savage Worlds to sci fi settings - but not as useful or comprehensive as I hoped.  Perhaps it is simply shown up by the excellence of the base Explorer's Edition, which is a $15 softcover I strongly recommend for value and content. The Sci Fi Companion is generally "OK" with only the mech and cyberware sections catching my interest, and lack of psychic powers was disappointing.  I'd give it a 3 out of 5.  Capable but unspectacular.

Recommended?: Maybe - at half price. 'Sif you'd pay $25 for a pdf... 

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Mordhiem-style Game Design Musings #1

Whilst Frostgrave was far from revolutionary - indeed a very basic, derivative game, I predict it will scratch the Mordhiem itch more than many games before it.  Why?

It got me thinking.  Here are some factors I'd point to:

Stats. An old-school, descriptive stat line.
Gameplay.  Familiar. Unimaginative, but equally, does not try to be "different" just to be trendy. Spell-centric approach gave it a bit of "x" factor.
Background. A interesting adventuring background.  "Explore ruined city" appeals to nostalgia.
Detailed Progression System.  Injuries and levelling up.  Gain gold or new spells. Choose a base.
Lots of customization.  A good selection of gear, magic items, armour, weapons. Lots of spells.    
Attractively Packaged/Complementary miniatures line. Not a dealbreaker, but the professionally presented rulebook and "official" wizards from NorthStar don't hurt.

I'm planning on exploring some of these categories in more detail. What would my ideal Mordhiem-eque game look like?

STATS

Stats.  When should something be a stat, and when should be a special rule? 
Stats are used for things that are regularly used in the game. Common factors that need to be differentiated. Descriptive stats can remove the need for excessive special rules.

A fantasy game may have varied races, from trolls to pixies, ogres and elves.  They wield a range of weapons, and melee, missile and magic may be equally commonplace.  Thus we can conclude a larger stat line may be useful to describe the wide range of fantasy warriors.

Contrast this to modern combat where everyone is roughly equivalent physically, and shooting dominates.  The ability to use cover may be more useful than "armour" or physical bulk.  Well trained troops could use a single stat for shooting and cover - melee being so rare, that above-average melee ability could be a special rule.

Let's look at the old Mordhiem stat line:

M - WS - BS - S - T - W - I - A - Ldr

That's quite a few stats. Let's have a look at them:

Move. I never liked the tendency to make everyone move 6".  A halfling and an elf won't be the same speed, and the game should reflect this without a range of special rules.   I like a move stat. I vote - keep it.


WS/BS: How well you fight or shoot - pretty much a mandatory selection.  Unless you want to add in special rules every time they differ, I'd keep them as individual stats. It's not like they're complicated to understand.  In a modern combat game, for example, there'd be a better case to amalgamate them.

Strength.  This is one I'd ignore for a modern/WW2 game, but in a setting where most weapon damage depends on the muscles that wield it, it is a relevant trait.  A mace will make a difference if wielded by a puny goblin or a 7-ft orc chieftain.  The question: can it be figured into fighting abililty, or is this an unnecessary abstraction?  A goblin ninja may be a brilliant combatant, but his small physique may mean he cannot inflict as much damage as a clumsy troll with a warhammer.  Or could Strength be lumped in with Defence as factor of bulk? 

(Defence) = Armour/Wounds/Toughness.  These can really be lumped together.  This stat simply answer the question: how much effort does it take to put this guy down?

Inititative.  We could also call this agility/nimbleness. Mordhiem uses it for climbing and to see who strikes first.  In a game with lots of vertical terrain, an agility stat could be a sensible inclusion.  Perhaps it could also do double duty for dodging missiles or in reaction tests, if the system used it.  It could be dropped depending on your setting.

Attacks.  This one could definitely be dropped as it could be factored in depending on the gear the model is equipped with i.e. dual daggers, 2H polearm - I don't think this necessarily needs to be a stat. 

Ldr:  Let's call this "will" but often there is a single stat that is a catch all for a character's morale and his intelligence, his level of discipline/training, and his magic casting ability.  These are commonly lumped together in many rules, but should they?  Those are some rather different attributes and roles. I don't think if someone is brave he will naturally be a better magician, or that discipline and raw courage are the same thing (think Roman Legions vs Norse beserkers).  There's good arguments to subdivide this category I'd say.  Magic could certainly be a special add-on rule or stat if you only have a few mages per army.

We're left with:

M - WS - BS - S - D - I - Ldr

In go so far as to say 6-7 stats is a reasonable "sweet spot" for a fantasy game. Also quite similar to LOTR:SBG which I've always regarded as a sensible, clean game system.  Obviously, it's all relative - a modern Afghanistan game could get away with far less stats - perhaps "troop quality" and "morale."

Let's contrast this with Song of Blades and Heroes.
You have two stats:

Combat.  This is your missile, magic and melee attack, and your defence against attacks.

Quality.  This is your discipline, quality, intelligence, reactions, as well as activation chance, which impacts your combat results and even speed. It effects your spellcasting as well. Basically, this stat covers "everything else."

Can you see how this may be mixing too many disparate elements and lumping completely unconnected skills together?  The only way to differentiate then is to create lots and lots of "special rules" aka extra rules or exceptions to the base rules, to separate these elements which never belonged together anyway.  

--

So for the audience....  what is your ideal stat-line for a Mordhiem-esque fantasy skirmish game?  Lots, or none at all?  Why? What stats would you combine and what would you abstract?

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Frostgrave - (Review) Skirmish Campaign Wargame

A skirmish campaign-based wargame, with adventurers exploring a ruined city, battling other warbands for riches. Sound familiar?

Frostgrave was a magic city, devestated by a warpstone meteorite covered in ice by a cataclysm.  A millennia later, it's thawing out - and warbands lead by wizards are exploring the city, seeking riches and hidden knowledge.  Hunting treasure is important - and is a way to win without "killing em all."

The Shiny
Frostgrave is a hardback put out by Osprey. At $25 delivered it is great value, and good quality.  Easy to read layout, and plenty of Osprey artwork as well as pictures of miniatures.   There's no quick-reference sheet but there is very handy spell cards to keep track of things.  I found no difficulty navigating the book using the table of contents. The rules go for about 40 pages but they're pretty simple - the remaining 70 or so are campaign-related.  Two thumbs up - easy to use and good quality for the cost.

 The rulebook is hardcover (surprising for Osprey) and has original artwork and pictures of minis. Glossy, and good bang for the buck.

GAME MECHANICS
Magic #1
In a recent post I was wishing for a game where magicians are the central characters.  Frostgrave delivers.  Your hero is a magician, supported by an apprentice.  There are 10 schools of magic - chromomancer, elementalist, enchanters, illusionists, necromancers, sigilists, soothsayers, summoners, thaumages, and witches.

Each school has its own spells, but wizards can also use other "aligned" or neutral schools (at a penalty) .  Wizards get 3 spells from their school, one from each of their aligned schools, and any two from the neutral schools.  Later in a campaign, experienced wizards can learn and use opposing magic (at a significant casting penalty)

Stats. A straight forward, descriptive stat-line similar to games like LOTR.
Move, Fight, Shoot, Armour, Will, Health. All of which are familiar.  I nodded approvingly. Until I realized "Health" meant "Hitpoints."  Ugh, I hate hitpoints.

Your wizard is your warband leader and primary fighter, but he is ably backed by an apprentice - who uses similar spells and abilties, but simply has a weaker stat line and casting chance. Both can be equipped with items (both magical and mundane.) The apprentice can take over as warband leader in the case of mishaps.

Finally, you can have up to 8 soldiers/thugs/adventurers (of about a dozen archetypes) to 'round out' your warband, and to act as meatshields valued assistants. 

Weapons are pretty generic - LOTR-style: 1H, 2H weapons, daggers, bows and crossbows.  Spells, not weapons are the main focus of Frostgrave, so it makes sense to keep them simple.  The "staff" was interesting as it had a weak attack, but also blocked some enemy damage.

Activation & Movement
Dice off for initiative.
1. Wizard Phase. Basically Wizard A acts first, along with up to 3 soldiers who are close to him. Wizard B then does the same
2. Apprentice Phase. Apprentice A acts first, along with up to 3 soldiers who are close to him. Apprentice B then does the same
3. Soldier Phase. Any soldiers from A who have not already activated do so. Then side B's soldiers.
4. Creature Phase. Any wild critters/undead etc act and attack either side.

Minis get 2 actions, of which the first is movement, and the second can be another move/cast spell/shoot/melee etc.  There are rules for jumping and falling, and "rough ground/climbing" is done at half speed.  Nothing revolutionary here.

Fightin' and Shootin'
Both add their Fight + d20.  The winner then deducts the loser's Armour score to see how many HP the loser lost.  Shooting works the same, only the firer uses his Shoot and the target uses his Fight.  Modifiers are sensible and few. Once hitpoints get to 0, a model is out of the game.  Optionally, a model reduced to 4HP or less can be wounded and restricted to a single action each turn.
Simple, easy and old school. But... hitpoints... grrr.

Spellcasting
Casting is done as an action in lieu of shooting/melee.  The caster must equal or beat the spell's casting number.  If it fails by a large margin, the caster himself can take damage.  Casters can also trade health to "boost" their chances of success - a nice decision point.  Many spells can be resisted by rolling a dice and adding the target's Will stat, to beat the spell roll.

Creatures
These act as NPCs with their own simple rules - they move to attack warband members within 10" or otherwise move randomly.  They add a random element to the game and act as "interactive" terrain of sorts.

In short, these mechanics are notable only in their simplicity. Which is useful if you intend to play a few games in an evening.  A platform, as you were, for the campaign and magic system.   So how do they measure up?


North Star do a complete range of wizards, apprentices and henchmen, though most readers will already have enough fantasy/medieval minis lying around to play...

CAMPAIGN & MAGIC

Given the simple but unspectacular rules, this is the "guts" of the book.

Soldiers do not level up, and casualties either are OK, miss a game, or die for good and need replacing - like LOTR's Battle Companies. Wizards have more complex results - they can suffer from a list of permanent injuries* and lose items they were carrying.   Wizards also level up - earning range of XP bonuses by killing enemy wizards, apprentices and soldiers, recovering treasure and even casting spells (the latter might be a bit of a pain to track).
(*Permanence is relative if your mage is a powerful healer)

Wizards who gain a level (each 100XP) can improve their stats or lower the "casting cost" of a spell.
For each treasure collected and carried off-board, a warband can roll to gain gold, potions and scrolls - even magic items and armour.  Your apprentice mirrors your mage, with a reduced stat-line - which reduces record keeping a bit. 

Warbands can establish a "base territory" (sound familiar?) that conveys various benefits, such as improved healing (temple), extra warband size (inn), random scrolls (library).  The base can even be upgraded - perhaps with a cauldron to improve potion brewing, or a kennel to keep a warhound.

There are 10 interesting scenarios, described in detail, from "worm hunt" to "genie in a bottle" "mausoleum" and "living museum."

The bestiary includes ~25 creatures, with a focus on undead and demons but plenty of wild beasts and even constructs (golems, etc) which I thought was a nice touch.  As well as a few weirder ones. Ice spiders, yes... but ice toads don't exactly fill me with fear.

All in all, a very thorough toolbox for those who like a bit of meat on their campaign.

Learning to Spel
This is a game of battling wizards, and there is a solid spell line-up (~80) to choose from.  Whilst many of your spells come from your specific school, you can choose some aligned and neutral spells, giving a decent, well-rounded arcane toolbox.

Let's say you're an Illusionist. You start with three spells - let's say invisibility, teleport and transpose.  You should have great mobility and keep your opponent on the back foot with those.

You choose a spell from each of the aligned schools of Soothsayer (mind control), Sigilist (explosive rune) and Thaumage (circle of protection).

Finally, you select two spells from neutral schools like Witches, Chronomancer, Necromancers, Summoners and Enchanters.  Petrify and Grenade are chosen.

You can't use the opposed school of Elementalism (the flashy gits) so no fireballs for you... yet.

TL:DR
A pretty basic game system is anchored by a comprehensive magic range and Mordhiem-esque campaign system.  I'm not a fan of hitpoints and there isn't any innovative game mechanics, but it does what it says on the box.

Revolutionary gameplay? No. It's pretty basic, to be honest.
Is it the new Mordheim?  No. But it's the closest anyone has come. And that's a recommendation in itself.

Recommended?:  Yes. 

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Near Future Sci Fi - Robots & AI

Tomorrow's War takes the view all future combat will be humanoid combat, and act similarly to modern combat with some trimmings.   Basically, they state "all weapons act the same"  i.e. a plasma rifle will in practice act like a pulse rifle or a shard launcher coilgun, and a personal shield will have the same effect as a power armour suit.  You can rename it, but it has the same end effect.  The philosophy might be accurate, but the gameplay is boring.  

Take robots.  You can say they are simply humans who are merely slightly tougher with perhaps different morale rules.  Electronic warfare might simply give a +1 buff to dice rolls.  But that's kinda missing the point of sci fi, in my opinion.  Why have all the cool toys and simply re-fight Afghanistan 2003?  Why have all this diversity and then simply decide they all have to act the same?

I think the real answer is to address one aspect of technology, and focus the game around it (for example, teleportation, so game revolves around blocking/teleporting and perhaps involves more close-range weapons).   But I've already covered this topic.  Twice.  The horse is well and truly flogged.

Ok, I'll try not to repeat myself.  What was my point again?

On a broader front, I was thinking about robots and AI. 
What would I enjoy playing around with? How might a robotics/AI revolution make the tabletop more interesting?

Human + Machine - the new "combined arms." You can play it almost on two levels - human soldiers who are less powerful, and have morale/suppression weakness, but are immune to hacking and technical wizardry.  Then you have robots and drones - who may be immune to suppression and morale, and can carry more firepower, but are vulnerable to EMP weapons and hacking.  Each has distinct strengths and weaknesses.  You might need a combined-arms approach - an all-robot force is similar to an all-mechanized modern force - it's powerful but also very vulnerable in certain situations - perhaps to EW more than heavy weapons.   

Sleeves (thanks, Richard Morgan)
Vat-grown clones or synthetic bodies which are fitted with cortical stacks which into which the users' consciousness uploaded.  Sleeves can be DNA-customised for speed, power, agility, pain/wound resistance, given redundant organs etc and many other special rules.   Synthetic sleeves are more unnatural and "awkward" to use (-1 to stats?) but can can be completely pain-resistant, radiation-resistant etc.  They are unhackable as their cortical stack only records experiences and has no "input."

Game Effects:
-Can allow a wide range of abilities within a human-centric setting - i.e. you can use your generic 15mm sci fi troops but give them a wide range of fantasy-esque stats, or even special abilities like super jump, climbing, extra damage resistance, double speed, +1 to reactions etc
-Winners of a game keep the losers cortical stacks and can trade them, as a kind of currency.
-Characters who "die" can be re-sleeved, but may risk a stat loss (i.e. dying would give PTSD)
-Invulnerable to cyber attack

TL:DR - Instead of all wacky alien minis acting like humans in rubber suits, minis of humans in rubber suits can act like wacky aliens. 

RANT:  I sometimes hear "we can only play/make hard sci fi mini games cos that's what most of the minis are."  Rubbish.  It's sci fi.  Make things act the way you want.  It's what handwavium was invented for.  People play Vietnam-in-space/Aliens because that's all they're used to/get offered. Designers then treat this as an excuse to recycle their WW2/modern ruleset.
 
Remotes
"Avatar"-style - a robotic drone is controlled by a human operator.  This could be normal humanoids, tiny nanobot drones or giant mechs or even vehicles like tanks.  These could even be wasp-sized flying munitions which can be flown into enemies and detonated. 

Game Effects:
-Utterly immune to all morale effects.
-Susceptible to "jamming"and "EMPs"
-Allows "wrongscale" minis and mechs that can't fit a 15mm operator like Heavy Gear mechs and 10mm
-Slower "reactions" due to lag
-Maybe drone operators have to be on the battlefield to break through jamming - creating a vulnerable target that must be protected (like a HQ unit of sorts); assassinate the operator to take out the powerful heavy chain-gun wielding mech

Hacking
These could be devices wired into the hackers skulls, some sort of implant.  They would act like "mages" of sorts with a range of spells/attacks.  They have most of the same skills as "telepaths" in my pyschic powers post. 

 Game Effects:
-Steer smart weapons/deactivate or redirect enemy smart weapons in midair
-Control/retask nanite swarms within AoE radius
-Can overpower AI and retask
-Can detect and cyber-attack other hackers to cause direct damage to them
-Jam remotes and drones
-Non-human units have a "encryption" stat which gives their resistance to cybernetic attacks
-Can be "stealthy" to cyber units by confusing their detection systems

AI Nanite Swarms
Maybe nanites are a resource that can be reconfigured to do many roles - i..e. healing, attack, shielding.  Hackers can retask them in battle. They have very simple AI.  They are very vulnerable to EMP weapons as they have no shielding.  Perhaps they can even "join up" to form simple small robots if they come in enough numbers? 


Game Effects:
-Vulnerable to EMP
-Maybe comes in "modes" (different colour token) i.e.
"Travel mode" - can fly quickly, long distances
"Attack" mode - expendable, self-guided munition 
"Heal" - expends self to heal any robot/machine 
"Shield" - deflects projectiles, acts as a CAP to intercept enemy nanites

Nanite swarms would be the most game-altering in terms of tactics. Basically, nanite swarms are a resource that can be expanded (or retasked) in-game, adding a layer of decision-making to gameplay. In fantasy terms, they act like the mana to power the spell and the spell itself.


EMP Weapons 
These would be useless against conventional human troops but powerful against mechs; perhaps giving an Achilles heel to powerful mechs and vehicles who are well-armoured against conventional weapons, and act as AoE area denial weapons.  Maybe regular human troops carry them as backup weapons like grenades or underbarrel launchers. So rather than bazookas and ATGWs troops might carry EMP weapons for dealing with power armour, mechs and vehicles.
 Game Effect:
-Powerful against nano-swarms/bots/mechs, weak vs humans
-AoE area denial weapons

SMART Munitions & Weapons
 Weapons can be launched to fire around corners or over walls/buildings out of LoS.  Perhaps fired from larger weapons like grenade launchers/bazookas.  They can be hacked in-flight and redirected.  Maybe limited-use. This could include smart mines.
A standard rifle could have an ammuntion block of self-assembling "SMART" ammo which can be fired as std, explosive, fletchette, and AP.   You can elect how you intend to use a rifle every time you fire - adding an in-game choice. I'm actually a bit against this as it reduces weapon variety when creating your force.
Electronic Decoys/Personal Jammer Shields
Decoys that are effective against electronic sensors but not the Mk1 human eyeball....

A personal "shield" might not be a classic forcefield , but rather a jammer to defeat electronic targeting.  So instead of blocking fire it would be -1/-2 or similar modifier to fire - making it harder to hit rather than offering a "save" or similar.

Forcefields
Not really robot-related but I'll toss it in anyway. Classsic forcefield. An AoE "grenade" that can be tossed as a semi-circular template on the table to provide instant, but temporary "cover". Instant terrain - thats why I like AoE.  Shields are rated to a certain level (usually small arms only) and are collapsed by heavier weapons.

TL:DR
-Genetic engineering/synthetic humans can mean you can give your generic 15mm humanoids unique stats and special abilities. 

-In an EW-dominated battlefield, an unhackable human (with a gun aimed via a Mk.1 eyeball which can't be fooled by EW chicanery) still has an important place

-Remotes are powerful, but can be jammed and have vulnerable operators. Vulnerable to EMP.

-AI robots can't be jammed, but can be hacked and taken over. Also vulnerable to EMP. 

-Nanite swarms are a "resource" that can be expanded or reconfigured; this could add a complete extra level of tactics, resource management and gameplay

-Hackers act like "wizards" who can hack both robots and smart munitions, and reconfigure and control nanite swarms

-Combined arms might be a balance of robotic and conventional humans, rather than the armour-infantry meaning it has today

This is a bit of a random ramble, but hey, it's a blog.  I think I'm trying to get the point across that robots don't have to be a human with a +1 save, and electronic warfare should go beyond a +1 die buff/debuff.  

Even if you're stuck with "humans in suits" as the main 15mm sci fi lines, it doesn't mean you're stuck with treating them as human.  Even if sci fi is rather "hard" and "gritty" as seems the fashion, you can still have an element of fantasy. Hacking and advanced tech is space magic.  A human-robot combined arms approach might replace the armour-infantry of modern warfare; with powerful mechs being vulnerable to magic hacking rather than needing heavy weapons to counter them.  And I think nanites/nanobots are a rather ignored but potentially gamechanging future tech which (given current modern trends towards drones and miniaturization) seems surprising it isn't used in many (if any?) sci fi games. 

I'd like to see more games that look for potential points of difference between sci fi and modern warfare and emphasize them, rather than making excuses why they should act the same.