Archives for 2017

Huckleberry Halloween Game

We had a great game of I’m Your Huckleberry this weekend. I tweeked the carbine stats just a bit to bring it more inline with the Rifle at all ranges under LOS. I then came up with a game that would feature Legends (4 skill points). Originally it was going to be a 6 player game, where a prisoner was being escorted to a county jail and all of the players were Sheriffs. 2 of the 6 were to be corrupt, though, and would try to free the prisoner and help them escape. I ended up with 3 players and in my random bits box I spotted two bags of rubber spiders I wanted to use in a game some day. I got them YEARS ago. So we did a Halloween game that was a mashup of High Noon and THEM! (Ok, THEM was ants, but spiders are creepier so there!)


The spiders just started boiling up out of the desert surrounding the town. At first, it seemed to be manageable. However it quickly became apparent that every turn, 2-3 spiders needed to be dispatched. Failing to do so would create an overwhelming problem for the heroes. However, there was a sort of saving grace. The spiders were perfectly willing to spend a few turns eating absolutely every civilian they could get their mandibles on! Luckily there were 15 civilian figures to munch upon! The helped slow the pace, but presented a problem for how the characters would look in the after action report. However, the problem at hand was survival. These things needed killin’!

To model the arachnid menace we made the following rule. Every spider would plot #9 Charge every turn. At first we limited the LOS vision of the spiders and randomized their movement a bit. Basically, if they were outside of 6″ of a building or a living creature, we’d roll a die and see what direction they went in. Also, the movement of the spiders was a fudge move which made them a bit more frightening!

The final rule for the spiders was that each hit required at least 2 red faces to cause a wound, unless it was a powerful weapon (rifle or full sized shotgun) at close range (3″ or less) then damage was normal. The first few pistol shots in the game just went *spang* of the carapace! 

Fast moving spiders were often on top of the cowboys before they knew it!

The game gave a false sense of hope at the spiders randomly converged mainly on the two places with the most civilians, Miss Kitty’s Distractions, a club for gentlemen, and The Old Peat, the bar! This allowed about 9 of the spiders to concentrate and spend time chasing down civilian targets. Mean while the heroes were busily trying to determine what their strategy. Jeff took the stance of remaining on the opposite side of town and protecting his sniper on the water tower! Eventually he took to the streets to apply the power of his shotguns. He had 2 of them, one normal, and one sawed-off. The other players set up a mutual defensive ring that they tightened to back to back guns akimbo in the streets of Hell, Oklahoma. It was fun, but failed to create the rate of spider incapacitation needed. Much of that was really bad die rolling. One fellow rolled 9 (nine) dice and got no hits. Here is the probability distribution of 9 dice and the expected number of hits.

What we see here is that we expected 3 hits. 0 hits is around 2.5% of the time. So that was very unlucky! (Probability was determined using a binomial distribution.) Even more of a shame, we added a new rule that will become a defacto rule of the game. Using a weapon that only causes 1 wound and can be aimed (pistol, carbine, rifle), 1 red face indicates a hit, any additional red faces improve the results by adding 1 to either location (white die) or severity (red die). This rule was really a great way of improving the game. It gave a true edge to legends, and made for a faster playing game. There were still a lot of shots that did no extra damage because the initial roll was so low, however there were some really important rolls where it made the difference between a wounded spider and a dead one!

The great hoard of spiders, mandibles dripping blood of gamblers, drunks, and soiled doves, spills out onto the streets of Hell, Oklahoma!


Make sure you have a sawed-off shotgun loaded when you invoke the power of Christ against these foul abominations!


The. End.

Game Design Thoughts #1

It is my belief that any game that can be considered well balanced, must involve 

some hidden information and a complete rejection of Nash Equilibriums in tactical decisions. While those Equilibriums are good when the game involves cooperation between subsets of players, they are harmful when it comes to individual tactics. There must always be an unstable choice between what you choose and what the enemy might choose.

In the game I’m Your Huckleberry, I tried to find and eliminate all such equilibriums so that if one player choose a certain tactic, the other player was not forced to choose a complementary tactic, but had, instead, several choices. This leads to dynamic play, and is more interesting.  The tradeoffs in Huckleberry are accuracy for time, movement for function, and defense for offence. The sequence of actions reflects this. The most lethal tactic is aiming with a rifle from cover. Getting to cover requires movement. Aiming at a target requires a turn. Then taking the shot in the third turn happens quite quickly and with a massive boost to lethality. During this time there are 7 actions the target can take between the aiming and the shot being taken. If the target had not already taken an action in the turn the shooter plotted aim, then those actions are walk, reload, shoot, charge, and action.

The target wants to get out of line of sight to avoid being shot at, OR they want to wound the shooter to cancel their aim. Walking can give an opportunity for either of those, because you are allowed to take a low quality shoot at the end of walking. Reloading has a fudge move, which could get you out of line of sight. Shooting is a quality shot, but the rifleman, if they were smart, could be quite distant to make the best use of a rifle’s advantages. However it is an option. Charging the shooter is certainly a way to dealing with someone aiming at you, but if you come up short and they stand… it could be bad. Action has a minor fudge move, but it could be put to use. In the next turn, before being shot at, your choice is limited to duck back. Sure, you could use the snap fire action, and it would be a glorious achievement if you managed to prevent a sniper from hitting you at range. All of those are options. Depending on the circumstances, one or a few are better choices. The choice is unstable because there is not perfect counter.

When we apply this to a greater strategy, this one on one battle is often part of a much bigger fight. By knowing what choices are available to the target in this case, making sure another member of your posse is in position to take advantage of some of these choices creates an overlapping set of tactics. The dynamic flexibility lends itself to smarter play choices and a richer experience.

This concept can be applied to any game, even ones where static lines dominate the individual tactical situations, as we see in 18th and 19th century warfare, the dynamic tactics are then at a larger level, with brigades acting at the true maneuver elements and the regiments are simply structure. Every choice should have several possible response choices. In a game like The Devil to Pay, the responses are often at the whim of the cards and the choice is to seize them or not. This added level of friction in command makes balancing the game to not have pre-determined nash equilibriums even more important. Otherwise, rational players will simply wait turn over turn, doing nothing until the card combinations come up the way that satisfies that equilibrium. I know Nathanial worked on play balance a great deal in that game and examined every play test with great care. I don’t think he was especially looking for equilibriums, but he certainly noticed when I made a rule change that no one every shot their muskets in the game, but instead just used artillery and charges. The use of musketry was seen by the players as too weak an option in that early draft.

I’m Your Huckleberry #Nashcon 2017

You know it’s the end of a long editing cycle when the biggest problems you are encountering are kerning issues with your font on the charts! I’m Your Huckleberry has been in a long development processes for a little over 3 years. The first edition was in March of 2014. The biggest impact it has had has been on the development of The Devil to Pay, actually. For myself, its also been a great learning experience. At all times it has been a process of improving the game theory present in gun fighting games and improving the gaming experience. I was first driven to write it because just about every other game I came across did not scale well at all as players were added. So I set out to create a system where people had fairly atomic choices of action, and all players went simultaneously. The rules are the system that makes it work, because otherwise you’d think it would explode instantly into chaos and fist fights among the players. 

Taking careful notes about how people played the game gave me good insight into how to set the levels of certain modifier and in which order actions are resolved. The latest version that I’m running at Nashcon will be the last version of the chart updates. I am confident the game works as intended. The next phase, which I’ve already started, is the writing of the verbal description of the rules. Thankfully I have an editor who has worked with me before and is excellent at technical writing.

As stated in previous articles, the damage has been changed to remove all of the markers and many of the special states models could get into. It made the table top ugly moving all of the markers and it did really lend itself to a more immersive experience. In this version there are 4 wound states that have an impact on the game.

I’ve also changed the dice up. There are now equal odds for hit, unloaded, and no effect. Basically 2 red faces (hits), 2 blue faces (unloaded) and two blank faces (no effect.) The benefit is that the game is more dangerous. Its more likely you will get wounded. It’s also more likely you’ll be out of ammo. In many ways this is more realistic. Before you could take great chances and get away with them. We had a game, in the past, where someone took two aimed shots at someone in the open with 11 dice and missed both times. The odds of missing with one roll of 11 dice was actually 43% back then. Now, with the new system, it’s only 7.5%. So still possible, but far more unlikely. Once you start taking shots is much more likely to get deadly if you aren’t in cover.

We have also cleaned up the way shotguns work. The way blazing away with a repeater works. We’ve defined the difference between blazing away with two guns verses fan firing a six shooter. It’s realistic and cinematic. That doesn’t make sense. No, it’s cinematic because, honestly, that just isn’t a good use of ammo. It’s realistic because that shit happened and a lot of unintended people died which is in the rules.

The campaign rules are coming along. I’ll write more about them as we play test them. Just like the way the gunfight rules are not your grandfather’s Old West game, the campaign system is going to stir up things quite a bit as well. See you on the range next time!

Devil to Pay 2

An evolutionary update is in the works for the ACW game Devil to Pay. After 4 years of running these at conventions we have a few reasonable rule updates that will improve the game without changing it too much. There are various abuses we have seen that are being tweaked out of existence. They were legal abuses, but still. We also discovered a rules hole or two simply because out of all the playing we’ve done, we just haven’t seen every single permutation! The ones we did see are fixable though.