Autonomous Miniatures

The design for A Billion Suns is currently in the state where it is stuffed full of great ideas: none of which work yet.

One of the ideas is for ships in your fleet to have some level of artificial intelligence in the way that they move and fight.

There are three reasons for wanting AI ship flight in the game.

Firstly I want to reinforce the idea you are the admiral of a vast fleet, and you don’t have detailed individual control of every vessel. Before the battle you will have given your captains commanders battle-plan now you’re waiting for them to carry out correctly. The AI mechanics are intended to enforce “distance” between the player and the units under their control.

Secondly I want the game to scale as much as possible and this means making it remain fast reply even when there are potentially fifty ship miniature’s on each side. removing the finishing of movement and making movement of ships very quick and easy should help the game stay fast even with large fleet.

Lastly, I just think it would be really cool to have a wargame where your miniatures move almost autonomously around the board, with you barking orders from up high. I know that this fog of war or uncertainty of command mechanic is a feature of quite a few games – Warhammer has stupidity, frenzy and panic, Warmaster and it’s family has the command roll, Song of Blades and Heroes has the Quality roll, and so on – but I want to make it here feel different. I want A Billion Suns to feel more like a real-time strategy computer game.

The first computer game I can remember completing on my own was in Dune II.  It set a lot of the patterns for the real-time strategy games to come after it, and I was playing it at pretty much the same time I was discovering wargaming, so the two have always been quite entwinded in my imagination. it sowed the seeds of my love of RTS games, which continued for a long time including a long-term love affair with advanced wars (which I actually used as the basis for a fantasy battle system that is yet to be published).

I haven’t seen too many attempts in tabletop wargaming to replicate the sort of “dragged to select” and “click to command” AI mechanics that is so familiar in a top-down real-time strategy game.

The big question is: are there so few games that attempt this simply because it hadn’t occurred to many people or is it something that is too difficult to implement or two irritating in play! Regardless, it seems like an interesting area to explore, given both the thematic centre of the game being the distant command module of the Admiral and wanting a hugely scalable game, and I really want to try to make it work. It’s going to have a huge impact on the movement mechanics, but I almost want it to feel like you are an old school general, using a wooden stick to push armies around on a map.

As a war games designer I am always on the lookout for unique mechanics and systems to make my designs stand out from the crowd. The other starship fleet battle games in the market don’t feature this mechanic explicitly and so why not try and make it work?  If it turns out to be awkward or unsuccessful that’s fine, and i’ll take it out again. It’s worth a go!