Skuffle Wammer with robots

Dev diary 3

gaming meta tools scifi

I'm the developer and publisher of Skuffle Wammer, the universe's smallest wargame. It's designed to be played in 5 minutes or less, with the intent of being the tabletop gaming equivalent of a good stand-up-and-stretch at work. The play area is an A4 sheet of paper, you throw out some miniatures and some dice, and play to the end. The dice are used as both ammunition and as hit points, and each mini possesses just 3d6, and its rules are just half a page, so it really is a fast and fun game, and easy to play. Lately I've been experimenting with expansion ideas, and my first idea is to bring some ghouls into play.

In my first and second dev diary entries, I designed special rules for zombies and ghouls as an expansion to the original half-page ruleset of Skuffle Wammer. I want the expansion to add extra fun options, but part of its purpose is to grant "permission" to play Skuffle Wammer as a true solo game. I developed the game as a solo exercise, but only in the sense that I was the one playing it and really I was doing the work of two players. It's inoffensive in a 5-minute game to serve as two different players, but technically I never feel like it's great design to force one person to play as two.

The expansion I'm working on now creates the façade of a basic automated opponent. It doesn't actually, but by making the "bad guys" of the game mindless zombies or packs of ghouls, I think it'll broadcast to the solo player not to overthink the other side. They enemies defined by the expansion are meant to be single-purpose. They aren't chaos cultists or traitor marines with lofty goals of galaxy domination. They're mindless creatures driven by instinct. They may not make the best tactical decision, but they do scary things like swarm you when you're down, or relentlessly pursue you even as you retreat to buy yourself time.

Robots are similar. They don't think, they follow an algorithm.

Robot stats

I have four drones from Games Workshop's Blackstone Fortress game, so I've been playing with them for my playtests. I guess they use lasers or elecroshock mechadendrites. It's hard to tell from the miniature, so WYSIWYG doesn't exactly apply, but I think it's safe to assume that they have a melee weapon and a ranged weapon attack. I see no reason to boost their attacks, so I started them out with the usual Skuffle Wammer 3+ for melee and 4+ for ranged.

Instead, I'll play into the borg and nanite trope, where a mechanical entity can auto-repair itself based on the power of a networked hive mind. Each robot starts with 3d6, but as a free action, at any time, it can send a any number of its dice to any other robot.

So if a robot is in a particularly beneficial position and has run out of d6, another one of its pals can gift in a d6. That could mean life or death at least to a specific miniature opponent. It's probably not enough to change the tide of a skirmish, because the total nnumber of dice doesn't change. But it can definitely be a boost for a specific play.

Playtest 1: Robot overlords

This felt really good. I really enjoyed the dice swap mechanic. As expected, it doesn't really turn the tide of the battle, but it feels powerful.

And it is powerful, technically. The game's win condition is how many toy soldiers are still standing at the end of the game. This playtest ended with 3 robots possessing 0 dice, but only 1 space marine. The robots obviously did better, but only strictly. They took hits but balanced out the damage to keep robots on the board.

I did some math (or tried to, anyway) and I don't think it's necessary to reduce the robot's starting pool. Further playtesting is required.

Playtest 2: First law of robotics

This time, the robots rolled poorly and were defeated. My strategy (aside from robots rolling poorly, which I can't control) was to keep attacking one robot, "tricking" the robots in donating die to keep their mesh network strong.

Once all the other robots were down to 1 die each, I distributed my attacks and managed to pick off half their force.

I also moved my melee marine to first position. That means he "loses" an attack on his first turn as he moves into melee range, but after that of course he hits on 3+ instead of 4+.

The game ended with 3 space marines and 2 robots.

Playtest 3: Artificial intelligence

This time, the robots won again. They distributed their dice, turning almost all hits into functional misses, and my marines didn't focus fire like in the previous playtest. There were some bad rolls on both sides, and it looked like it was destined to be a 3-3 tie until the final robot attack rolled a solid hit with a 5.

I'm starting to feel like this is a challenge on the level of zombies. It's a real challenge. To win, it takes a clear strategy and the luck of the die. Assuming the robots blindly donate die to one another to keep as many of them on the board as possible, it can start to feel pretty futile.

It is possible to win, so maybe I'm happy with this being a special challenge. The default game relies a lot on the luck of the die. You can make poor decisions and throw a game, but mostly it's a roll-off game that simulates a miniature skirmish. I'm fine with that. It's one thing what makes the game so fast, and it also provides kind of objectivity that players can latch onto. Didn't win this game? That's OK, blame the dice and play again.

When an extra challenge gets introduced, I feel like there's a risk of frustration, but also the possibility of real elation.

Another playtest might help decide whether the challenge level could be adjustable by the player.

Playtest 4: Better one or better two?

This time, I reduced the dice pool of the robots by 1. My space marines started with 3d6, so robots started with 2d6. It was still a struggle, but the space marines were victorious, 3 to 2.

The dice swap mechanic is definitely a good one. I admit it makes keeping track of which robot has taken its turn during a round a little difficult, but turning the miniature 45° solves that problem (as long as you remember to "untap" it at the start of the next round).

I'm happy with these playtests.

Robot rules

The final robot rules I'll write into the forthcoming expansion pack:

  • Robots have either 3d6 (hard mode) or 2d6 (normal mode) each
  • Any robot may at any time take any number of die from its pool and give it to any other robot on the board

Download the game

You can download Skuffle Wammer from As of this writing, the expansion is still in development, but eventually they'll be added to that download.

Images by Seth Kenlon

, Creative Commons BY-SA.

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