Correcting the Deficiencies in Card-Based Activation


A common issue with card-based systems is that everyone sits around watching one person perform actions.  For years I eschewed card-based activation in my designs.  I employed card-based activation for Blood and Swash, because a figure can’t do much with a single activation, so the amount of idle time for other players is short.
The LSNC family of rules (and Battles of GASLIGHT) addresses this through the double activation TM mechanic.  Typically, but now always, many people are acting at the same time.  This has been demonstrated to limit idle time, even in really large games — particularly if the players are thinking about their next move before their card comes up.
With the use of the joker (or reshuffle card that ends the turn before everyone has gotten to move), however, it occasionally occurs that a unit cannot activate for several terms.  While this is probably realistic, it can be frustrated from a gaming perspective.  You could pull out the joker, ensuring that everyone activates during a turn, but to some extent this defeats some of the fog and friction that intended in card-based systems.
Two Saturdays ago, during a small gaming session at Buck’s War Room, we were discussing this.  Below is what I’d like to try.  It’s too late to test this in time for the upcoming release of Bear Yourselves Valiantly, but I’d like to try it during my next G.A.M.E.R. session.  If it works, I can publish it to the yahoo groups gang as an “official” optional rule.
Proposed optional rule:
The overall commander from each side is issued some number of “activation tokens.”  When the reshuffle card is drawn, all the remaining cards (below the joker) are turned over.  If a number (e.g., three) did not get any cards (e.g., neither the black, red, nor “handicapping” three was drawn before the joker), an overall commander can spend ONE activation token to pull ONE of the undrawn cards ahead of the joker.   The player may choose whether to pull either the red, black, or “handicapping” card ahead of the joker.
Players declare that they want to use an activation token and give the token to the game master BEFORE either commander declares what number card will be moved ahead of the joker.  Only one activation token may be spent in any given turn per side.  If both sides wish to spend an activation token during a turn, they each declare which card they wish to bring forward AFTER having already paid the game master.  If both commanders want the same card, it will be activated only once.  In the case that both commanders want the same card, neither commander gets his activation token back.  One player may choose to activate the red card while the other player chooses to activate the black card with the same number.  If both sides pull a different card forward of the joker, the cards are activated in the order that they would have appeared if the reshuffle card had not been pulled.
Units from BOTH sides whose die matches the card, may activate according to all the existing rules for activation, including die swapping and “rolling off” when units from both sides have the same activation number.
The recommended number of activation tokens to give to each side is two or three.  Most four-hour games only last eight to ten turns.  You want enough tokens to be meaningful, but not so many that you may as well pull out the joker.  The GM may allocate additional activation tokens to the attacking side to ensure that they actually get to attack instead of sitting at the edge of the table waiting to activate.
Let me know your thoughts.

from Buck’s Blog
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Author: hawksgameclub

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