Word Forge Games will soon be launching the Kickstarter for Absolute Decimation, a tactical miniatures game that pits telepathically controlled super tanks against each other in a struggle that can only end in, well, absolute decimation. In this exclusive sneak preview, Games vs Play recently caught up with Chris Reynolds, the lead designer behind Absolute Decimation and longtime Warhammer fan, to find out more about this intriguing new tabletop battlegame.
Games vs Play: Thanks for talking with Games vs Play, Chris. You’re the lead designer behind the new tactical miniatures game Absolute Decimation, due to hit Kickstarter in May 2017. Can you tell us a little about what people should expect from Absolute Decimation?
Chris Reynolds: Certainly! The game set in a high-tech post-apocalyptic world where humans and AI have fought each other to a stalemate. The primary weapon that allowed humanity to survive were the Digipaths, people whose brains are structured in such a way that they can reprogram a computer instinctively, the same as you or I might ride a bike or throw a ball. They lead small squads of drones from the belly of their command vehicles.
The game itself is a skirmish tabletop miniatures wargame set in 1/100 (15mm) scale, with each player bringing about a dozen combat drones to the fight. It’s played with an innovative programming mechanic, where players select a handful of orders programs (represented by cards) for each of their Digipaths each turn. Each card has an action on it, to make a unit move, shoot, go to ground, etc. No unit can perform any action except what’s written on those cards – there’s no default moving or shooting here. It also features the ability to build new units during the game, which opens up a range of strategy options. Players can bring their whole collection and build new units that aren’t on the table. They can replace their losses or alter their strategy mid-game.
GvP: So what’s the objective in Absolute Decimation?
Chris: This is actually a bit wide open. Players have to achieve a number of victory conditions – holding more ground, destroying the most enemy units, degrading the enemy command vehicles. Normally, players have to achieve any two out of three. So if you’re holding more ground, you can conserve your forces. But if you’re forced into a corner, you can try to kill as many enemy drones as possible, or make an attack on their commander. However, choosing one of the factions actually gives you a fourth method to achieve victory, depending on the faction’s objectives… some may want to overrun the enemy, some may want to grab as many resources as possible.
Of course, players may have some more immediate aims within the game itself, like taking and fortifying the automated mines to deny them to the enemy. And (if all goes well at Kickstarter) there will be new game modes in the future that provide objectives-based victory conditions and a campaign system.
GvP: The team here at Games vs Play were intrigued by the mechanic that allowed players to build new units in the middle of the game. How do you think this will transform strategy and tactics for players?
Chris: This is one that looks simple at first, but it opens up a massive amount of possibility for the game. The first is that you can expend your forces, letting tanks die in battle and then replacing them with new ones from the Assembler. If the game is going badly for you, just focus on production for a couple of turns and you may be able to recover.
Another thing it can do is that you can actually change your force to counter the enemy’s lineup. Have you brought all Rhino tanks and the enemy is nothing but Wolves? Normally that would be an uphill battle for you, but in this game you can play a Scuttle orders card to remove one Rhino and then immediately build an Elephant, which is a hard counter for a Wolf.
But you can also take it a step further. Some of my longer-term playtesters have experimented with strategies like taking a full lineup of Wolf tanks (fast raiders) at deployment, and not expecting them to survive long. They then replace them with Rhinos, and later with Elephant artillery tanks as backup. This forces their opponents to change their strategy mid-game.
The Assembler is also a prime target. It’s vulnerable to the Wolf’s short-ranged plasma cannons, and not nearly as well protected as the Command Tank. Players have very successfully stripped their opponent of the means to produce, but fortunately the game doesn’t end quickly after that. Commanders without a production unit can steal the enemy’s units by using the Capture orders card (representing reprogramming enemy units), or even stealing the enemy Assembler itself! And of course, the same sorts of things can happen with the logistics vehicles that collect resources and return them to the Assembler during the game – destroyed or captured by the enemy. Canny players even like to use one of their logistic vehicles as a disposable spotter for artillery, amongst other things!
Chris: Oh yes, very much so! Of course, it all depends on whether the game will perform well at Kickstarter. We know that it’s a new IP from a small company in a market full of games based on much loved settings, but there are some big plans in the pipeline. For one, we’re going to expand beyond tanks and include hovercraft, insect-like walkers and aircraft in future expansions. There will be new gameplay methods, objectives and campaigns as I’ve alluded to above. There will be new commanders, new units and new orders cards to expand your options. There will be super-heavy units, massive combat drones that take up two or three slots each. And for those who like bigger battles, there will be an all-out-war game mode that lets you take small squads of combat drones instead of individual units.
GvP: Where did the idea for Absolute Decimation come from?
Chris: I’m a writer as well as a games designer, and one of the wonderful things to play with creatively is to build a world in which you can put things like tabletop games, RPGs and novels. This game came about by degrees, but then evolved alongside a novel that I’ve started writing in the same setting. The two works have sort of fed off each other, and I’m a big believer in the fluff fitting the game.
The concept itself comes from a lot of reading that I was doing on Artificial Intelligence, the future of work and automation of jobs. That fed into the concept of AI-guided labour, which gets sabotaged by human beings and sets the world afire. The scary part about the story is that there’s plenty of real-world fear in there… we don’t yet know how to handle AI in this context. Plus, the AI aren’t deliberately malicious to humans. When they were sabotaged, all that happened was that the safety protocols were removed. So an AI that manages crops suddenly looks beyond the boundaries of the property it’s managing and decides to bulldoze the neighbouring village to put up more fruit trees, for example. Then a mining AI comes and digs them up to get at some minerals, before a construction AI fills it all in and builds apartments to plan, although no human will ever live in them.
GvP: Was there anything that caught you by surprise while making the game?
Chris: Absolutely! For one thing, until recently the game was called ‘Absolute Domination.’ This is based on how the military uses the term: they ‘dominate ground’ or ‘find a dominating feature.’ However, that word means something very different to most people, so we’ve had to change it to prevent gamers googling the game getting search pages full of porn! We probably waited a little too long to change the name … we’d already launched on social media and started building our mailing list before we came back to it. There may still be a few places where the old wording persists, so we’ve got to be careful to weed those out.
GvP: Yikes! Yes, it’s a good thing you changed the name. We’ll make sure to get the name right here on Games vs Play! Um … moving onto something less controversial, could you tell us how many people does it actually take to make a tactical miniatures game?
Chris: Quite a few! I’m both writer and games designer, but that can only really produce half a rulebook by itself. My publisher, Word Forge Games in the UK, will produce the minis, cards etc. and distribute them internationally. They are also on top of the graphic design for elements like the cards and rules. Then there’s the 3D designer, Hao Dinh, who produced all our 3D files. Then there’s the playtest team and a whole heap of artists. It’s incredible the reach that online services provide us as well – I’m in Canberra, Australia along with most of my playtesters, but the publisher is in the UK, the designer in the US, artists are from the US, UK, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, France, and there are others in places like Indonesia and Japan helping with other elements. It’s truly a creation of the internet age!
Chris: I have always enjoyed board games, and I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family that played them a lot. My particular favourites were big-format wargames: Axis and Allies, Risk, that sort of thing. When I went to high school I managed to completely nerd out and join up with a group of friends who were into tabletop wargaming, and that was where I truly got started.
Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 was the first, closely followed by Target Games’ Warzone. I played both through my high school years, and even dabbled in some design at that age. I created a token-based Eureka Stockade game and another with plastic bugs, both with rather simplistic rules. But it was a start, and look where that attitude has taken me!
GvP: What are some other games you like or admire, and why?
Chris: I loved the original Warzone, particularly with its alternating activation system and the freedom that choosing actions gave you. There were certainly some quirks with the game, but it was a really effective mechanic. The modern version (Warzone: Resurrection) is similarly great fun, and the added resource pool mechanic is fantastic. Making decisions about where to put those resources is a critical part of the game: do I increase the rate of fire on this model as he fires at the high-priority target, or do I use it to activate a special ability to keep my other soldiers safer? That’s where the real tactics come into the game, and you’re not just hostage to the dice rolls. I also enjoy Flames of War, Team Yankee and Star Wars: Armada. Unfortunately, designing this game and being a father to two toddlers means that I don’t really get time to play anything outside of AD lately!
GvP: What tips on game design have you learnt from the experience of working on Absolute Decimation?
Chris: This game looks almost nothing like it did at the start of my design process. Initially the orders mechanic was a simple selection of maybe five different orders, and then they were sent to each unit before the turn started. However, a lot of what I call ‘exploratory’ playtesting combined with the guidance from the fluff turned it into a more ‘programming’-based experience. Knowing what to hold on to and what to let go from your initial concept to the final product is really important. I was fortunate enough to have a great group of playtesters who gave both feedback and advice on how to improve the game all the way through, and in no small part this game is a product of their imaginations as much as my own. The other thing is to maintain an idea of what you want the game to be like as a play experience. There was a culminating moment in the initial playtesting where I stopped intently dismantling the game while I was playing and instead just enjoyed playing. Since that point, there have been more changes to the game, but at all times it has remained an enjoyable play experience.
Chris: Our aim is to bring it to Kickstarter in Q2 this year, aiming for mid-May. Of course, in any project there’s the risk that dates will change. We were hoping originally to bring it out at the end of March, but another Kickstarter for the Devil’s Run RPG (a Word Forge Games licensed product from Red Scar Publishing) was already planned during that period. We thought it best if the attention of their prior customers wasn’t being pulled in two directions at the same time.
If people are interested in seeing more information about the game (the miniatures, the backstory and the gameplay), they can sign up to our mailing list – it’s very important to include the word ‘game’ or you’ll get a very different website!). This will be our primary means of communication for people who are interested, and we will be sending out pre-campaign updates on AD‘s development. They can also head on over to our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter (@ADWargame) or email me directly.
Games vs Play would like to thank Word Forge Games and Chris Reynolds for permission to use images of the Absolute Decimation game appearing in this post. You can check out more of Hao Dinh’s fantastic graphics and artwork at his website. To find out more about the latest reviews, stories and other cool things in the world of games, like us on Facebook. And remember – if you’re game, we’ll play!