GunFrame is almost here! After a year of work, intensive play testing and more re-writes than I really want to talk about, the game is in its final stages of production and almost ready to unleash on the world. I thought I would take the time today to explain a little more about it.
What is GunFrame?
GunFrame is a tabletop miniatures battle game that lets you emulate your favourite giant robot anime. Players build a squadron of mecha and battle one another until one side has achieved the mission victory conditions. In this respect, GunFrame is much like any other war-game. What makes it different, however is the style of giant robot combat it emulates. The titular “gunframes” are fast, agile mecha that tumble and dodge enemy fire while swinging swords and blasting away with artillery sized rifles. They are weapons of war piloted by brave young men and women who have relationships and pasts that can affect their battlefield performance.
Battles are always objective based and play is broken into turns, during which each player will activate their forces. During a turn players go back and forth, activating one unit at a time. When a unit is activated it can take up to two actions, choosing to move, shoot, target lock, evade or perform a special action of some kind. Enemy units may be able to react to a mecha’s actions. When all the units on the table have been activated, the turn ends an a new one begins. The game continues in this manner until one side has achieved the objective conditions, or the turn limit has been reached (usually 5 turns).
A game of abstractions
GunFrame was designed from the ground up to let players build their own giant robots (or their favourite anime ones). It is not tied to a specific line of miniatures or background, which lets you use whatever figures you like, in any scale you want. It was important for me to be able to put down anything (and everything) I had and see them battle against one another, and my starting point for the rules was actually the unit construction system. When I knew what kind of things it needed to cover, I was then able to build a game that delivered it.
As a consequence, there are some abstractions in the rules that leave your imagination to “fill in the blanks”. Many of the unit special abilities, called upgrades, have generic titles and can be used to represent a wide variety of actual mecha features. The Deflect upgrade, for example, provides a defence bonus to attacks originating in the unit’s front arc – but this could represent a giant shield, a force field, or just reinforced armour on the front of the mecha.
One of the major abstractions is the loadout system. Mecha are not equipped with specific weapons, like the “Star blaster 5000” or “short range rocket pods”. That would have necessitated a long list of specific weaponry that may not effectively represent the kind of giant robots you love. Instead, each unit has four weapon systems that represent how deadly it is at close, short, medium and long range. The more powerful a mecha is at a particular range band, the more dice they will roll in an attack. It is left to players to decide whether a 5 dice weapon system represents a powerful cannon, a bunch of machine guns, chest-mounted missiles, or some other devastating weapon!
Another abstraction is the way critical hits and special types of attack work. While GunFrame does have area effect weapons and chain attacks and weapons that can burn an enemy, all of these are treated as power attacks that come into effect if you roll really well. This speeds up play by making the attack procedure the same for every weapon system, no matter their special rules. You only worry about checking area of effect, or the proximity of other targets, or bonus damage, if you roll one or more 6’s in an attack. A weapon with the Blast upgrade, for example, attacks a target as normal, but if you roll one or more 6’s, it will also do damage to every other unit within 3 inches. In a traditional war-game you would check to see who is in the blast radius, then roll to see if the target(s) is hit, but in GunFrame we do it backwards and see if the hit was effective enough to hit just the original target, or everyone, then check the area of effect. It seems weird at first, but works very well in play and makes for some exciting moments when rolling dice.
The power attack system also covers what other games would call “critical hits”. Whether your weapon system has a special ability or not, you can “spend” any 6’s you rolled on a basic power attack, such as distracting the pilot, knocking the target over, throwing them or shutting them down. If your attack destroys the target, you can spend those 6’s on making it explode!
Move and counter-move
Movement is key in GunFrame. You will constantly be moving to optimise your firepower and to obtain objectives. As weapons operate in distance bands, an opponent can move forward or back to get out of your more effective fire zones, which in turn forces you to move. When you successfully block an attack there is a chance you will also get to move a little. It’s a bit of a game of cat-and-mouse, and it is a lot of fun.
There is also a reaction system in play. When an enemy takes an action you might be able to respond with a move or attack of your own. Not every unit on the table will get to react, and this forces both players to carefully think about which units to activate and when. Reactions are taken by spending Focus Points, a resource that is in limited supply and can also be used to power other special actions. As a consequence you need to carefully manage your points and plan your turn ahead, while remaining flexible enough to deal with your opponent’s actions.
The movement and reaction system makes the game feel dynamic, forcing players to respond to their opponent’s actions and ensuring that one side cannot just set up in a defensive position and pummel their enemy into submission.
More than just giant robots
The optional rules introduce conventional units, such as infantry, tanks and flyers. While not particularly powerful by themselves, they can operate as groups which make them deadly to the mecha they will face. Infantry can also move into structures, making them a real pain in the backside! Conventional units are constructed like giant robots, though their statistics are never as good – they are meant to be annoying and then die horribly, just like in the source material!
But wait, there’s more!
The core rules of the game are just 15 pages long, but there is so much more than how to move and shoot. The gunframe construction rules explain how to build transforming robots, and list more than 70 upgrades to customise your units. There are twelve missions, environmental conditions, and details on how to play with combining mecha (yes, your giant robots can join to form an even-more-giant-mecha!). Optional rules for panic and crippled units, and how to fight battles in the depths of space add even more ways to tailor your games to emulate your favourite mecha anime.
Stay tuned for more details on the release of GunFrame very soon. In the meantime, the GunFrame Facebook page has more regular updates and discussion.