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TWEAKING TB (by Tom Russell)

Mary Russell

As I've written about before, I generally don't revise my games after they've been published. It's not that I think my games are unimpeachable pinnacles of design; it's that I have new games to work on, and would rather spend my time on those. I learn from every game and its reception, and I'd rather apply that knowledge forward than backward. 

There were a number of lessons I've taken from the Table Battles base game, and those lessons have been applied forward as the series has continued to evolve. For example, the Bombard action has essentially disappeared from the expansions, and is probably the weakest part of the original design. Expansion scenarios tend to have fewer morale cubes in more dramatic splits, resulting in battles that are more likely to end decisively. The card numbering scheme is more consistent to make historical spatial relationships easier to grasp. Those scenarios will also be more likely to have more forgiving distributions of dice numbers, making a "null roll" - one where you simply can't place anything - much less likely given a certain number of dice. 

There's been a steady visual improvement as well - though, much to the disappointment of some, these haven't included illustrations. The newest expansions use different color blocks for actions and reactions. Starting with the very first expansion, it's also gotten much more friendly to color-blind folks. One of the most consistent complaints about the base game is that it was sometimes hard to tell the red and pink cards apart, and the expansions don't have the same problem. One of the things that's been on my to-do list for a while is to redo the original base set cards to correct the red-pink problem, and to more generally bring them in line aesthetically with the later releases.

But, like I said, I have new games to work on, and I've been spending my time on those - as well as doing development work and some graphic design for games by other designers. Redoing the base set layout would essentially be the same as doing layout for a whole new game - exactly as time- and labor-intensive. As a result, it's been kind of easy to continue to let "re-do those 84 formations and 8 scenario cards from scratch" get pushed down the list, and pretty soon it got to the point where, wow, I should've done this like a year or two ago, this is getting embarrassing. 

And the long and the short of it is that it got so embarrassing that I finally did it. Look, I don't have an excuse. It's entirely on me. Mea culpa. 

Now, again, as I said up top, I generally don't revise my games after they've been published. The eight base game scenarios have some flaws. I've designed thirty more scenarios in the time since, and with that experience, I am acutely aware of where those early scenarios fall short. To be clear, it's not that I think they're "bad" or broken - they're just not as good as what I've done since, and the only way to really improve them would be to redesign them all from scratch. 

That way lies madness: that's not a rabbit hole I'm at all interested in jumping down. Besides that personal reason, I really don't want two radically different versions of the same battle out in the wild, because then there's confusion as to which is the "real" one, et cetera. So, for the most part, I've left them as they were. 

For the most part. Because as I was toiling away card-by-card, there were a handful of cards that said to me, "Tom, I'm not quite right; could you make an exception and do a tiny little change?" And my first reaction was, nope, not gonna happen, and my second reaction was, wait a minute, why do I think this card is talking to me, man, I really need to get more sleep, and my third reaction was, well, maybe. 

Of the eighty-four formations in the original Table Battles set, I have made some small balance adjustments to seven of them - about eight percent. These don't change the essential character of the scenario, or bring them in-line with how I approach scenario design now. They're not really necessary, but they are slight improvements that make some of these matches a bit more competitive.

"Second Charge of the Guards when they retook the Two Gun Battery at the Battle of Inkerman', 1854. Coloured tinted lithograph by E Morin, 1855. One of 40 lithographs from 'The Seat of War in the East - First Series' after William Simpson, published by Paul and Dominic Colnaghi and Company, 5 February 1855. See the National Army Museum website for other items in their Crimean collection.

Before I spend the balance of this article delving into these seven changes, I'm going to try to head off the questions that Mary and I are anticipating about this new iteration of the Table Battles base game. We will be offering the base game again at some point in February as a "Second Edition". To sweeten the deal a little bit, we're adding two brand new scenarios, Pharsalus and Inkerman, bringing the total number of base set scenarios to ten. If you're not particularly interested in buying the base game a second time - and we don't blame you - we are going to be offering an "Upgrade Deck". This consists of only the seven cards that have been tweaked, plus the two new scenarios - it's not the complete deck with new layouts, but it does have everything you'll need to add the new scenarios and the tweaked cards into your collection. We will be updating the files on Wargame Vault for the PNP version but we will do that once we've caught up on our PNPs. Okay, moving on. 

White Mountain - Hohenlohe

The Hohenlohe card in the first scenario originally had eight sticks. I've revised that to six, giving him a little less staying power. My original reasoning for eight was that he had a lot of dudes. The problem is, those dudes weren't of the highest quality, and neither was the hapless Hohenlohe, so I brought him down to six. 

Marston Moor - Rupert's Lifeguard

I've added a small condition to this card: while it remains in play, the two Tillier formations suffer one less hit when attacked. This gives those formations a bit more staying power until Rupert leaves the field, and that in turn gives the roundheads an increased incentive to hammer at the cavalry wings to force him off. 

Marston Moor - Cromwell

A common complaint about the Marston Moor scenario is that Cromwell's "Any Dice" makes him overpowered, and tends to induce a stalemate. While I think there are ways around this, they can be pretty tricky, and it isn't necessarily appropriate to expect someone to have developed those skills when they're playing scenario number two. I still wanted our boy Ollie to be powerful, but I've reigned it back to "1 - 3". This means that he won't necessarily always be able to place dice, but it does mean that the roundhead player will be able to put dice somewhere, since all possible die results have a card that can use them. 

Plains of Abraham - French Right

From left-to-right, the French forces in this scenario originally could accept the following die results: 6, 5/6, 6. The British on the other hand are 5/6, 3/4, 1/2. While the essential character of the scenario is that the French are pretty terrible and hapless (but just need to rout one formation to win) while the Brits are very capable (but need to rout all three French formations), the disparity here is a bit too severe. So I changed the French Right's die number to 4, opening it up a little bit. 

Bosworth Field - King Richard III

Similarly, I changed Richard's die number from 5 to 4/5. Originally, the prerequisite for Commanding his reserve Formation was "five dice"; I changed this to the more obtainable "full house" (same as Henry Tudor on the other side of the field). Finally, I swiped the "while this is in play, put dice on two blue cards" from the leaders in the Plains of Abraham scenario. Generally, I think the original version of this card put Richard in a very tough spot - it was very despair and die, and while this version isn't quite glorious summer, it does make his side a little more formidable, at least until the Stanleys enter the fray. 

Malplaquet - Reserves

One of the quirks of non-screening reactions is that, like attacks, they work in order. The original version of this card absorbed first for Villars, then for the Center, then for Boufflers. I made the card slightly more powerful and flexible by changing this to "any friendly formation". It's the same formations, but now it can be used for any that apply instead of being restricted to this sequence. 

Brooklyn Heights - Knox's Artillery

Because Knox was a special formation (Roman numeral), any dice assigned to the card would immediately reenter the Patriot Player's pool. This could lead to stalemates, especially with players who, like Brown Ben Plumm, do not play to win, but play not to lose. I nerfed Knox by turning him into a normal formation (Arabic numeral), which retains the dice once assigned. I also restricted Knox's screen reaction to Grant and the Hessians, rather than including Clinton's flanking column.

And that's it! Like I said, these are fairly minor balance tweaks in the grand scheme of things - they're not intended to radically rebalance these older scenarios, but to make them just a little bit tighter and more interesting.


5 comments

  • Tom, sounds great! I’ll keep my eyes posted for the upgrade cards.

    Hilary Hartman

  • Hi Bendik, yes, once we’re caught up with our pnps.

    Tom Russell

  • Will the files on Wargamevault.com be updated to reflect these changes? I bought the files in December, but have yet to assemble my PnP copy.

    Bendik

  • Hi Peter, we’re not offering the whole deck as a separate purchase.

    Tom Russell

  • Will it be possible to buy the complete new deck plus the two new scenarios without having to buy the box, sticks, and dice again?
    Or will the choice be between the “Upgrade deck” and the whole new box and dice, to use a phrase?

    Peter

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