Game Design Thoughts #2 - CyMS, CyMS, CYMS!

Oh boy that was a rough 2 weeks of internal playtesting!

As many of you know already, one of the unique mechanics of Omicron Protocol is the existence of a 3rd party enemy called the CyMS (Cybernetic Mutation Syndrome), or “Crazies” as the locals of San Lazaro call them. The cool part is that besides having to do your objectives and fight off your opponent’s faction, you also have to deal with these pesky citizens who seem to randomly decide to attack you. The not-so-cool part is moving and keeping track of them at the end of the turn when both players have finished activating their heroes.

In the past, when we first started playtesting, Brendan and I did all the CyMS moving and attacking for the players, but as we began more and more “hands-off” playtests, we realized (read: our friendly playtesters politely told us) that keeping track of the movement, attack, status, and hitpoints of up to 16 CyMS on the board quickly got unwieldy and “not fun”. And we really don’t like “not fun”.

 This is the old version, where you keep track of their 4 HP and then the 6 HP when Boosted.

This is the old version, where you keep track of their 4 HP and then the 6 HP when Boosted.

So 2 weeks ago, we began streamlining the hitpoints (HP) rules as well as the number of CyMS on the board. The goal is to have enough of them on the board, and be hard enough to disable that players have to manage the ever-increasing CyMS on the board while getting their objectives done. Yet, we don’t want there to be so many to keep track of that it detracts from the main game itself. We also noticed in recent playtests, that there were too many “crowd control” type weapons that stun the CyMS into uselessness, and that crippling fear… er, I mean, tension that we want our players to feel at the end of the game was completely gone.

After 2 weeks of frustrating internal playtests of one iteration after another, we believe we’ve gotten the CyMS simplified enough that players will find them tactically interesting yet not tedious. Their HP has been reduced to just 3 “states”, Normal, Impaired, and Boosted. All characters have standard abilities to impair the CyMS, and impair a “Normal” one twice, they’re gone from the board. A Boosted one however? You need to Impair them 3 times, going from Boosted -> Normal -> Impaired -> Disabled. No need to use HP trackers besides a 2 sided token of some sort next to the CyMS to see if they’re Boosted or Impaired.

 This is the mockup version of our new CyMS rules. Don’t worry, CyMS mug shots will come back!

This is the mockup version of our new CyMS rules. Don’t worry, CyMS mug shots will come back!

Combine that change with a reduction in the number of CyMS (but an increase in their power), means that they will be annoying and scary to the characters in the game, but they won’t steal the show completely. This whole experience has taught us how some simple tweaks to streamline the game take a lot of effort and playtesting to get right, and that we still have a LOT of little mechanics to tweak in this game before we’re ready to deliver a polished experience to players.

So what do you think? Is there a way to simplify the CyMS even more? How do you think about streamlining your games, or what do you look for in a game with a 3rd party AI