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Part 1 - Playing Code Zero: Introduction

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Miniatures are great to collect, paint and have but at the same time they really shine when you have a rule system to go with them. We have already established the baseline for our lore, history for the environment and the universe that the game takes place in. Now it needs some rules to go with the story. I have covered various parts of game design and our process in a couple blogs, here I’ll start with the basic outline we created. This outline was a list of things that we knew we wanted the game to incorporate and do. 

Miniatures are great to collect, paint and have but at the same time they really shine when you have a rule system to go with them. We have already established the baseline for our lore, history for the environment and the universe that the game takes place in. Now it needs some rules to go with the story. I have covered various parts of game design and our process on a couple blogs, here I’ll start with the basic outline we created. This outline was a list of things that we knew we wanted the game to incorporate and do.  

Code Zero originally evolved from a card game design that was similar to some popular TCG (Trading Card Games). The players gain X resources a turn, these resources are used to do actions and other players react to those actions. From there we evolved that into a miniatures skirmish game, keeping the action/reaction system. From the brief description, it can sound similar to other popular miniatures game with similar systems, but the experience is much different. The main focus of the game becomes almost like a chess match, where one player’s actions can have more of an impact or interaction with the other player. The game has a good ebb and flow, with the back and forth between players putting the strategy more on timing and maneuvering.  

Game Outline

Skirmish Game

  • Scaleable games utilizing a few miniatures (5 models) but able to handle squad based games (15-30 models).  
  • A Squad is made up of 1-3 fireteams which consist of 3-5 models per fireteam. 
  • Squad commanded by a hero who is a ranked commander like a Lieutenant or Sergeant.
  • For every squad, you can have up to 2 Lieutenants or Sergeants (single models).
  • Uses D10 
  • Gameplay should have a cinematic feel to combat and movement.

Activation Point System

  • Activations Points are utilized to activate units. AP is generated based on unit type. Single units generate 1AP, while fireteams generate 3AP. 
  • Activation allows 2 short actions or 1 long action. 
  • You can’t use all activations on just one or two units, but you aren’t limited to only one activate per unit. 
  • Units can usually be activated up 2 times in a turn, otherwise, they gain a negative status trait “Fatigue”. 
  •  Alternate Activation but don’t just limit it to 1 activation per round.
  •  Ability to steal the initiative. 

Campaign / Scenario System 

  • Missions are about achieving objectives, not simply wiping out the other player. 
  • A scenario is a basic one-shot game that most game systems use.
  • A campaign is a set of 3-5 scenarios. 

Right now the outline can seem similar to other games out there with some minor changes. We will need to better define how it is different. But before we jump into that, we need to take a step back.

Taking A Step Back

“Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” - James Baldwin  

Paraphrased the same saying goes, “You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.”  

Instead of jumping into things, it is good to take a step back to examine other game systems or more so the negatives of some of those mechanics. This understanding will help create an outline and goals for what we want to accomplish.  

There are many mechanics that make up a game, even a simple game can have multiple layers. For that reason, we want to break it up into more manageable pieces. For this segment, we’ll focus on game size, initiative, deployment, and objectives.

6’x6’ gaming table is a large table, most dining room tables are either 6’x4’ or 4’x4’. If the game surface is too big, it then becomes less accessible to the average person and requires a more specialized play surface. Too large of an area for a small game means wasted space, also more expensive to get terrain to properly cover the table effectively.  

For many games, initiative and deployment usually go hand in hand. Players have a roll-off, with the winner choosing to deploy or go first. There are a couple variations of this, but they all still put a strong position on winning the roll. Either going first and/or having the first pick of a better deployment zone can have a huge impact on the game. Not just simply choosing a better spot but also knowing how to properly deploy. If a player is going second, they make a mistake deploying, then it becomes even harder to come back from, which can lead to a poor game experience. If the game doesn’t have objectives, then the goal is usually wipe out the opposing force.There are subtle differences between systems but mistakes cascade negatively on themselves.  

That is a simplifying it a bit but it explains the general outline and why we wanted to make some changes.

Code Zero Game Setup

Code Zero can play on a 6’x4’ game table but ultimately it is designed to work with a 4’x4’. We did some testing with 3’x3’ games but they tend to be short but lack room to allow effective maneuvering of units. 4’x4’ was a good middle ground between the large game table and small game area.  

The game does require terrain but having an effective, dynamic game table with terrain doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. There are many inexpensive options from laser cut terrain, board/card terrain or simply just creating your own buildings. It only takes a little imagination, some time and paints to make a good looking and effective game table. Most of the terrain we suggest are buildings, crates, and walls since battles tend to take place in populated or city environments.  

You usually want terrain to block line of sight, requiring units to move around instead of simply shooting at each other across the table. A good basis to start with is to have a minimum of eight big terrain pieces and 6 small pieces of terrain. We suggest having an asymmetric table, meaning that both sides are not identical. This creates an artificial imbalance by giving an advantage to one side of the table over another.


Objectives, Scenarios, and Campaigns

The game is Objective based. There is a public objective that both players are trying to accomplish as well as private objectives only known to them. We use an Objective Deck that is shuffled up. The first card is flipped which becomes the Primary Objective that both players are trying to achieve. The players then each draw 3 cards and keep 1 of them, creating their Secondary Objective. This is a private objective only known to them until it is accomplished and then it is revealed. This can have an additional impact on how players deploy their units. 

Some objective examples: Hacker Infiltration, Locate the Admin, Rescue Unit, First Blood, Forward Observation, Sabotage, Data Retrieval, Terminate, Infection, Assassinate, Rescue Hostage, Implant False Data, and Aggressive Deployment. 

If you are only playing 1 short game, we consider that a Scenario. It is a basic one-shot game, achieve the objectives and then get to the extraction point to get out or eliminate the other team. This would probably be considered more of a casual game environment. In order to create a wider range and emphasis on the importance of decisions we also added a Campaign system. 

A Campaign is a set of 3-5 scenarios. You have a higher battle value to create your army with. However, it places an importance on heroes, fireteams that are destroyed can be replaced in other scenarios but heroes can’t. The goal is to win the majority of points within the scenarios to get the most points and win the campaign. The campaign setting would be considered a tournament environment as that is the setting it was designed for. Someone could lose a scenario or two but still win the campaign depending on their points. However surviving becomes important as you only have X amount of points for all the scenarios in that campaign. As you lose units, you use up those points to where you might not be able to replace lost units.

Initiative and Deployment

Now that the game table is setup, objectives have been chosen. We need to look at how we handle initiative, deployment and their relationship with the rest of the game. Players will roll against each other for the Initiative Roll. The winner will then get to choose between “Activating First” or “Deploying First”.  

We have an asymmetric table setup, which puts reliance on someone wanting to have the first pick to deploy. We have also chosen the objectives, one is public so we at least know the main thing both players are working towards. The secondary objective is private, one chosen to suit that players strike force, play style, and table. That can impact if they still want to deploy first or activate first.  

How can we lessen the impact of losing the initiative roll as well deploying badly?

Objectives was a small step into lessening the impact. Players can win based on points even by only achieving the secondary objective but without knowing the other players secondary objective, they have that same opportunity. We added a type of reaction called “Steal Initiative” which is tied into the Action/Reaction system we’ll get to later, but this softens against not going first. 

Traditionally games deploy in an IGO-UGO fashion, where the player that wins deployment deploys their whole army. Then the opposing players deploy. Some variations allow them to keep a couple units back to deploy after the opposing player.

We took this a step further with alternating deployment. Instead of creating an “all eggs in one basket” scenario, it creates back and forth almost chess type interaction. The player deploying first chooses to deploy 1-2 units. They could deploy 2 or only 1, then the opposing player gets to deploy in their zone 1-2 units. The players alternate until all units have been deployed. This allows players, based on the known knowledge of objectives better anticipate and plan how to deal with each other. Instead of one playing placing all forces one side of the zone. Then the other player placing on the far opposite. It instead lets the player distribute units based on the opposing player's unit placement. 


Now that everyone is placed, the player that has “Activating First” gets to activate their unit first. Players use an alternating system to activate. The first Active Player will activate 1-2 units, while the opposing player is the Reactive Player. Then they alternate roles until there are no more Activation Points left to activate units. One of the actions that a Reactive Player can take when an Active Player expends 1 Activation Point to activate a unit for their first action is “Steal Initiative”. It allows the roles of Active Player and Reactive Player to temporarily switch, letting that player expend 1 Activation Point to activate their unit. 

With all the small, subtle changes that we have made and combined with how the system works, it has a larger impact on how a game will unfold. By simply changing the order of events in some cases, it drastically alters game play. This creates a unique experience because of how they mix along with the order of events changing. We can do some things that usually wasn’t available to do as well, like a feint for example.

The next article will be, "Part 2 - Action | Reaction System" in which will we explain more in depth about the Action | Reaction System we use and how it is different than the traditional known ones. There is a lot to cover under it so it will need its own post but I wanted to set the basics up first. 


Part 1 - Playing Code Zero: Introduction

Part 2 - Playing the Game: Action | Reaction System

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