Action Points!

Having finished the first draft of Pandora’s Box, I now turn my eye back to game design.  Let the others play with their rpg designs for now- what I really want to do is write a board game.

I’ve been toying with a game design inspired by Doom, Descent, Heroquest, and Tom Nipple’s ‘Dungeon’ (which likely has much of the same source material.)  A bunch of peeps go into the dungeon, another person controls the monsters, hack and slash ensues.  Good times.

What I’m looking at using is a form of Action Points, these are often used in board games to good effect, and were also featured in the Fallout computer games.  I’m not aware of any RPG games that utilize them to heavy effect, but perhaps some intrepid reader will prove me wrong.  (D&D doesn’t count.  You need more potential actions than that.)

In an action point, or AP, system, you have a number of AP per turn.  You can spend these to do things.  For example, in the boardgame Tikal, your AP can be used to place guys on the map, move your guys, or do actions with your guys, like dig up pyramids or claim artifacts.  In Fallout, you usually use your AP to move, shoot, reload, or use healing items.  Even the Doom boardgame and D&D have a primitive AP use- do you move twice, attack twice, or move and attack?

The key with action points is that you need to not have enough of them.  You always need to be in a position where you’d like to be able to do just slightly more than you have the points for; this puts you in a position where there is a choice, and hard choices are the root of good games.  If you have 7 AP, and there’s only 7 AP of stuff you want to do, you can just stroll along.  If there’s 10, the game is golden, and you have to sweat.  If there’s only 5 or 6 AP of stuff you want to do, that’s pretty bad.  The idea here is that the game rules, not just the game situations, force tactical decisions on the players.


One thought on “Action Points!

  1. Rahvin says:

    I’ve had some experience playing with action points. At the time I was trying to model the X-COM series of computer games. I’ve also played Aria, which had a similiar “action point” concept measured in meters.

    An “Action Point” system like you describe could work if you don’t mind your game turning into a board game / minitatures game. Most of the pitfalls (which are too numerous to mention here) will become evident within three playtesting sessions.

    I prefer cinematic combat, and the key aspects in such a system are to keep everyone moving and keep things abstract. Action Points do the opposite. The way I’ve found to resolve this is to keep “movement” and “attacks” on two different scales (MP and AP). Bold and risky movement-related stunts (which can be attempted by spending MP), will get you more AP for attack or defense. Having two different scales gives you a lot of potential maneuvers, tradeoffs, advancement options, etc.

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