PREVIEW: Audience Votes

Gaslands, the game of post apocalyptic vehicular mayhem, was released last week. In the next in our series of introductory articles, I want to show you one of the optional advanced rules that makes the full Gaslands experience so awesome.

One of the most difficult design goals that I set myself at the start of writing Gaslands was this:

Never knock a player out of the game.

I knew I wanted Gaslands to be a multi-player tabletop wargame. My regular group of players is very social, and we very often play games with three or more players at a single table. Even games that are traditionally head-to-head games, like Warhammer, SAGA and Frostgrave, we tend to play multi-player.

If you are going to support multiple players, the worst possible outcome is that a player gets knocked out half-way through the game, and is left making tea or messing around on their phone, rather than playing the game they made the time to play.

The problem is that this is also a tabletop wargame AND a death race game. Vehicles have to get blown up or the game doesn’t have any teeth. How do you have bucket loads of cinematic explosive destruction AND never knock a player out? This proved to be an incredibly difficult design goal to meet successfully.

Many early iterations of the game either allowed for players to be knocked out, or provided things for knocked-out players to do that felt either petty or, worse still, bitter, and didn’t improve the play experience for anyone.

For example, an early handicap rule introduced automated gun turrets that could be activated by knocked out players to shoot vehicles still in the game. The intention was that, although you no longer had any vehicles in the game, you could still participate. The problem with this was two-fold: firstly, you had no stake left in the game, so why would you care who wins now? Secondly, as using the gun turrets just felt spiteful and wasn’t actually that fun. Amusing the first time, but it quickly became clear that this solution wasn’t really working for anyone.

Happily, what Gaslands ended up with is an in-game handicap system that provides a route to get knocked-out players back into the game, but also rewards players for playing well and – crucially – playing to the thematic strengths of their sponsor. This system is called Audience Votes, and tries to capture the feel of a televised death race, whilst also providing a mechanical system to get players off the ropes.

How do you gain audience votes?

Outside of the special “Saturday Night Live” scenario, which sees players attempting to complete more and more ludicrous stunts to gain the attention of the crowd, audience votes are mostly gained via two routes: losing vehicles or triggering your sponsor conditions.

All players get audience votes when one of their vehicles is wrecked or if they start a turn without any vehicles in play.

In addition, each sponsor provides a way to gain audience votes by performing actions that are in keeping with the sort of stuff that their fans love to see. For example, if a vehicle in a Rutherford sponsored team causes six or more hits in a single attack step, their team gains an audience vote. If a vehicle in a team sponsored by Slime begins the wipeout step with more hazard tokens than hull points during its own activation, their team gains an audience vote.

In this way, the game seeks to reward you for playing to the theme of the individual sponsors. If you build your team to the strengths of your sponsor, and then play them in a thematic way, you get more audience votes to spend!

How do you use audience votes?

Audience votes can be spent at the start of any of your activations, before you select a vehicle to activate. Spending one vote will let you immediately shift gear with one vehicle, or remove D6 hazard tokens from one vehicle as the crowd eggs them on.

By spending two audience votes, you can reload a weapon (adding an ammo token to it) so you can get a crucial shot off, or take the pole position marker to ensure you get the initiative when you most need it.

With three votes, you can re-spawn a wrecked vehicle! This provides the mechanism by which knock-out players get back in the game. You can only re-spawn a vehicle if you have no vehicles in play, and the re-spawned vehicles come back into play damaged, but you get back in the action!

If you think this all sounds a little Mario Kart, you aren’t wrong. As I’ve said before, the racing video games of my childhood are a big influence on the way Gaslands feels on the tabletop. The immediacy of the re-spawn mechanic in so many video games is enjoyable. In many such games, there is an agonising moment whilst the player gets replaced onto the track and competitors zoom by, but the player is quickly back in the race and back in with a (now slightly reduced) chance of a position.

Audience Votes are one of my favourite aspects of Gaslands, and I really think they provide a solid answer to the challenge of how to have a carnage-filled death race game that remains fun for everyone, even as players are getting their cars knocked to pieces.

If you think this sounds interesting, you can pick up a copy of the game in our store and give it a spin yourself!