The Principles of Mission Design behind the 20×20 System
This article shall give you an insight of my thoughts when designing the 20×20 mission system. Yes, the design is still in the process and there will be changes for a while. I just updated to version 2.8 with new missions. It is just impossible to think of all the options Infinity offers. There will always be undesirable options to be eliminated and interesting ones to be explored.
What I mostly want to achieve with this article is to provide people who want to develop their own scenarios with approaches to the design process.
The 40 missions of 20×20 were not arbitrarily dreamt up. There are ten principles which I tried to respect as much as possible when designing missions. These principles often limited what I can do with the missions, but I am confident that this is for the benefit of the players.
- Simplicity. Less is often more. The less text, the better. No mission shall take up more than one page. I try to stick to the original rules as much as possible and do not want to confuse people with convoluted rules.
Few people want to read complicated mission descriptions shortly before they start a game.
When playing, the attention should be focused on decision making, not on the rules. Infinity is complex as it is, there is no need to add to the confusion. Simpler is better, especially in a fast paced tournament.
- Fairness. No faction should be disadvantaged, no player should feel at a disadvantage due to the mission rules. Therefore, for example, if a mission requires specific equipment, one of such will be given out for free.
When it comes to the objectives, fairness requires that they will be placed before the roll for initiative has been made.
Fairness is also why I chose only to have symmetrical objectives. They are much easier to balance than asymmetrical ones.
- Reduce random. Players should think about probabilities, but not get frustrated with flat random. I therefore don’t like random event tables as game mechanics. I also loathe classified objectives. I want players to be able to plan knowing what they and their opponent have to do. Classifieds just take away from the strategical experience of the game, I think. There should not be random when it comes to the mission. I don’t want to give one player an easy task and the other one a hard one.
- Inclusiveness. I want players to enjoy the abilities of their troopers. There should be as few restrictions as possible. I was thus very reluctant to include exclusion zones, for example. I realized such restrictions are sometimes necessary, so you find exclusion zones in a few missions. They are, however, not as exclusive as the ITS or Paradiso ones.
- Background based. We play Infinity in order to get immersed into this fascinating universe. If we only wanted to outsmart each other, we would better be playing chess. However, the reasoning for game mechanics should not be based on the background fantasy.
The background is a good source of inspiration for scenarios. I often put the fantasy first and then develop the game mechanics to make it work. I have put as many different background themes as I could into 20×20.
I dislike how specialists are treated in ITS because I feel it violates the fantasy a bit. Thus, in 20×20, hackers and engineers are the ones good at pushing buttons on consoles. Doctors shine in their profession by healing people and thus denying the opponent objective points. Forward observers can set up signalling systems to mark the position of the enemy.
- Variety of beneficial abilities. I am fascinated by how much the troopers differ in their abilities in Infinity. I see a multitude of categories of ability: Mobility, deployment, vision (e.g. MSVs) specialists, close combat, ranged combat, survivability, etc. Remember that troopers are chosen into a list based on the mission they have to accomplish. For the sake of variety, the missions differ in which abilities are of advantage.
- Variety of tasks. There are basically four types of missions: Killing; occupying target areas; touching objectives (markers); holding on to movable objectives. I have not really found anything else in other tabletop mission systems, inside and outside of Infinity. 20×20 offers all of those four types with some variations.
In each game, there is a bit of a balance between the main two types of mission: Killing and claiming objectives. The primary missions of 20×20 are largely objective based, whereas the secondary ones have a focus on killy themes.
A further difference in tasks which is specific to Infinity is scenarios where there is a need to move all troopers to achieve a goal (Supremacy, for example) and those who allow for troopers to be used as “rambos”, while others are “cheerleaders”. 20×20 has primary missions which cover both necessities.
The third aspect of this principle is where the main action should take place. Most objectives are in the centre of the board. I have tried to put some variations in where the main activity will be.
- Enforcing the action. Normal military procedure would be to push the enemy back and then order the specialists to approach the objectives in relative safety. In Infinity, this would make for rather repetitive annihilation style games. Therefore, game mechanics are needed that encourage the players to go for the objectives straight away. I do not like the ITS mechanic that basically ends the game when one player goes into Retreat!, but I could find no better way to enforce the action in two primary missions.
- Suitable for casual play. Often, strangers will meet at gaming places and want start a game without much planning. 20×20 caters to that because any list can compete. Specialists have their benefits, but are not strictly necessary.
To facilitate casual game play, players do not need a special board setup or terrain. You will not find terrain specifics such as in The Armory, for example.
This extends to the objectives. My original idea was that every player should only have to provide a maximum of two crates and two civilians. I have strayed from this a bit in two missions for the benefit of diversity and background. This should not be a problem as objectives may also be represented by markers.
- Suitable for tournament play. 20×20 is designed for tournament play. It uses the 10 objective point system of ITS. My idea of the mathematics behind the scoring in 20×20 is the following:
- a) There are decisive victories, narrow wins and draws. The loser should also be able to get some points.
- b) The primary mission should always be more important than the secondary one. A win in the primary mission can be compensated by scoring the maximum of points in the secondary mission, leading to a draw. In the case of a decisive victory in the primary mission, the secondary mission cannot be used to draw anymore.
- c) There are bonus points in the primary mission when something special is achieved, e.g. getting the lieutenant into the target zone. This adds another option into the game and allows a losing player more points, potentially allowing a draw.
- d) All missions are designed in a way that scores will be equal no matter how many turns have actually been played. In tournaments, it often happens that players do not finish their 3 or four turns the game should take.
- e) It should not be possible for both players to get a high score by basically ignoring each other.
Well, that’s it. Oh wait… there is an eleventh one, listen to feedback! When you have been creative, it is sometimes hard to endure the criticism of others. You want to stick to the ideas that became so dear to you that you just fail to understand well-meant advice. Remember, eight eyes see more than two. Don’t be shy to change something when it is explained to you well that it simply does not work or could work even better!
So if you are playing 20×20 and you have a comment, please let me know!