Themes Explained: An Inside Look at Killzone Design #3

Reposted from A Gentleman's Ones (02.27.12).

As stated previously, this series is designed to offer a peek behind the curtain, and to illuminate our collective thinking about the current state of Special Operations: Killzone as we run up to AdeptiCon.

Themes: During the process of revising the old, ambitious, but challenging version of Killzone in this last year, we stumbled square into a problem that, to my mind at least, seems utterly indicative of the tension fundamental to the fun and fluff v public stresses imposed on the peculiar nature of Special Operations in the 41st millennium. Killzone is, unerringly, a fluffy game –positively inviting characterful attention to individual teams, sportily indulging the desire to craft carefully small numbers of models, and yet also working extremely well when brought into the greater public sphere. Those basic impulses do not always sit well next to one another. Check the internet if you doubt me.

Also please note that I did not mention the word “competitive” above for a good reason. To be clear, Killzone can never be competitive as such. I mean, we have rewoven a game notorious for its intuitive approach to “balance” and then asked enthusiasts to play said game in a manner it was absolutely never intended. When played in the basement with your mates, these issues should never be a problem, see any Standard Bearer column to confirm; however, in the setting of a public event like AdeptiCon (even among players fully aware that they are playing a system in a manner it was never originally intended, nor designed to withstand) there are stresses of balance and propriety looming like an 8 foot bio-engineered monstrosity in the corner.

Blood Angel Assault Marines move into position.  Chaos Raptors countermove to protect the objective.
Themes, then, represent this tension writ boldly –as they attempt not only to partake sportingly in an already threadbare system but also to make it even more wildly evocative and, well, rich in vitamin fluff. Put simply, a “themed” Special Operations force ignores one of the “Standard Restrictions” discussed in the last post, and there are four basic themes:
  • Armored Might: This theme allows you to ignore the standard restriction and to field additional models with 2+ Armor saves in your team.
  • Death From Above: This theme allows you to ignore the standard restriction and to field additional Jump Infantry models in your team.
  • Behemoths: This theme allows you to field a Special Operations team composed entirely of models with 3 wounds. ouch.
  • Swift As The Wind: This theme allows you to field additional models that are Bikes, Jetbikes, or Cavalry/Beasts in your Special Operations Group (you must pick which exactly). Furthermore, any Bike or Jetbike model may add the Skilled Rider USR for an additional 5 points per model.
Any one of these comes off pretty saucy at 250 points.

Space Wolf Terminators prepare to enter the fray!  A Blood Angel Assault Team flanks the objective building.
Initially, we worked out a series of costs and counterweights designed to offset the effect that breaking restrictions (if even only slightly) might have for a particular team. It was a morass. Every step we made to offset a broken theme caused another problem somewhere else down the line. We were sinking in this soup. The solution we found is wonderfully simple in its brilliance. We called it the “in for a penny, in for a pound” mechanism.

In short, if one wants to further break the game mechanism by opting for team that breaks a standard restriction designed to introduce a bit of balance, then one most embrace that break fully. For example, my “Armored Might” themed SW team has more than two 2+ saves… thus the entire team must have 2+ saves. While that might sound like a wild boon, it is also a very costly and serious impediment. In a 250-point team, I can bring about 6 models to the table. That’s rough, particularly as we have stretched mission objectives in manner that really taxes a team’s resources. Playing this team is extraordinarily tense, as their elite nature stands directly in the forefront, and I feel the cost of each model with each and every roll of the dice. Great stuff, really, and just the thing. At the end of the day, I can’t power game this list because its greatest strength is also a rather telling handicap.

Likewise while playtesting, we were most concerned by the “Death from Above" theme, in which the entire team must be Jump Infantry. We were concerned that this might swing the game too dramatically; again however, we very quickly discovered –on the back of three consecutive maulings- that the boon is also an impediment. In other words, teams that rely entirely on “jump” also forfeit a broad number of other weapons options that make the team organization a very fickle monster in the field.

All of which is to say that the themes work exactly as they should, and that “balance” as an issue therein seems to have a kind of self-correcting equilibrium when a boon becomes a burden as well.

What a wonderful thing.

Find out more about Special Operations: Killzone at AdeptiCon 2012 over at b. smoove's blog, A Gentleman's Ones.

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