Fury of the Swarm: 40K co-op developer diary #1

Fury of the Swarm is an attempt at a co-op mode for Warhammer 40,000, in which the players face off against a swarm of Tyranids following instinctive protocols. This week we have our first developer diary following on from the release of the barebones campaign mode last time.

In accordance with The Plan, today’s Swarm post is going to talk about the feedback we’ve had so far, and what changes emerged as a result. If you want to skip all this commentary and check out the rules, click the big Tyranid head below.

The Plan

One post every fortnight

  1. Announcement post
  2. The initial release, with test mission
  3. Campaign mode go! Four missions in total, one for each campaign phase.
  4. Developer diary #1, with advice on writing co-op army lists. <<<< YOU ARE HERE
  5. 2-3 new missions
  6. 2-3 new missions
  7. 2-3 new missions
  8. Developer diary #2 going over feedback, and resulting rules changes.
  9. Developer diary #3, with a few previews of the laid out pages.
  10. The release of Version 1 as a downloadable PDF.


How does one send feedback?
If you’d like to send me feedback or questions, you can head to the feedback form, email contact@goonhammer.com or reach out to me (Charlie) on Instagram. If you’re a Goonhammer patron, you can also @ Charlie B on the Discord server. Here’s some highlights from the feedback process so far:

Retake & Hold is too brutal
My take on Swarm is that it should be bracing but not un-winnable. However I did get feedback from multiple players who felt that the Fulcrum mission Retake and Hold was perhaps over-savage, so the victory requirements were softened. Slightly.

It still works with tiny armies
We had one player who used a 610 point Tau force to take on just over 800 points of bugs, and said the game was a ton of fun. I’ve generally been running games of a thousand points or more, so this was an interesting bit of feedback to receive!

[thing] is broken/unclear: say hi to the Changelog
Where there have been particular rules or concepts that are straight up erroneous, I’ve been issuing hotfixes. You can track such hotfixes in the changelog at the end of the rules document.

Sample army lists would be nice
I’ve avoided providing multiple lists in the rules since it’d take up a crazy amount of space, and honestly I worry about being overly prescriptive, but enough people have now asked for this that it needs to happen. I think it’d work best as a post here on Goonhammer, so I’ll try and slot it in between new mission posts. I actually tried to put that together to append to today’s post, but work and prior commitments got in the way. Probably for the best, since there’s plenty to say about writing lists in Swarm mode, particularly if it’s aiming to help out anyone new to collecting Tyranids.

Feedback forms are useful
Stunning, I know. But sincerely, thanks to the people who filling out the feedback form. So far your responses have been both useful and encouraging. Imagine my joy at hearing from total strangers saying things like, “I’ve not played another game mode yet that has felt as narrative and as exciting as this,” or, “We’re already planning on roping in more players usually only interested in the hobby but not the adversarial aspect of Warhammer.” This is so good to hear, particularly since these same people also had really constructive questions about how certain things work, and that gives me plenty of actionable feedback to refine the rules governing the Tyranids’ behaviour, among other things.

We need your help
The constraints of time and practicality mean that my little group of ten gamers cannot possibly test every faction in every mission. That’s where you come in.

If you have access to a Tyranid army and another army to fight them, we cannot run too many test games. Hopefully, given what I’ve said above, it’s clear that any feedback I get is absolutely acted upon when it reveals exciting possibilities or problems that need fixing.

How’s the project going?

It’s still early days, but I’d say it’s going reasonably well. My expectations were pretty low; I assumed limited interest, but the comments section and the traffic counts on the articles tell me I was wrong about that, which is a joyous surprise.

I’m enjoying the test games I’m participating in, and I hope that lasts. It is, after all, traditional when designing something to be extremely over it by the time you finish. Time is the main challenge, but on the upside, the fear of embarrassing myself by being late after publicly announcing my plans is keeping me beavering away (for instance, today I pulled what I suspect is a classic Goonhammer Crew move of working a full day at my actual job, coming home, and sitting down to write a slab o’ content. It’s now 23:00, since ‘write Dev diary #1’ has been interspersed with ‘impliment feedback from Swarm players in the WIP rules doc’).

The Light Metal Team, and what he’s up to

Tom, who painted the Tyranid army we’re using to play our test games, continues to find ways to enhance what we’re doing. Since the Extermination missions involve going on the offensive into bug country, he’s started work on some Tyranid structures, and has been collating STLs of Tyranid terrain we can print.

Don’t worry, I’ve made a point of having some Extermination missions that don’t require special Tyranid terrain. Even with those missions that do call for special terrain, I’ll avoid being too specific as to their size or appearance, since everyone’s miniatures collection is different. With those provisos aside, I’m really excited to fight over truly alien terrain for the first time, and projects like this provide the ideal impetus.

A Tervigon approaches some hapless Tempestus Scions. Credit: Charlie Brassley & Tom Saunders

How does the design process work?

Several people have asked me this. The main challenge is time (isn’t it always?). I’m comparatively lucky on the time front, in that I only work 3 days a week for the NHS. When you add in volunteering, socialising, embarrassingly small amounts of exercise, and at least SOME time painting toy soldiers, then each week I get about one and a half days per week to spend on writing Fury of the Swarm.

So there’s the context. Now what was the actual process?

Firstly, I ensure I have the ability to note ideas down any time, anywhere. Mostly this involves my phone and a Google Doc. When I’m working on a project, it bounces around in the back of my head, occasionally eating up brain cells that should be doing other things. So for a while, snippets of ideas for game mechanics or missions just get thrown into a file of notes.

Once I started to think Swarm was something worth having a crack at, I rearranged my conceptual notes into a non-chaotic order (still utterly impenetrable to anyone else, mind) and then ran a test game with Tom to see how those concepts worked in practice. The act of explaining stuff to him helped reveal the gaping holes in what I had, and forced me to improvise placeholder mechanics that I could refine later on. Improvising like this forces me to make decisions rather than overthink or prevaricate. One just has to remember that ideas are free, and therefore should not be allowed to become sacred.

With the initial experiment a success, it was time to write the shitty first draft. This time the rules had to be readable by another human being, but before I put anyone else near them I ran a few test games for myself, following my own instructions very literally. This helped reveal and then clear out the low-hanging problems. After that I slowly hammered the first draft into shape. Then more test games, this time with someone other than myself reading the rules. Tom returned, and my friend Harvey got to have a crack as well. We repeatedly played the first mission, Retake and Hold, as a control sample to test the base mechanics.

Once I was happy that they were enjoying the tactical challenge without it feeling hopeless, I took the time to write up the rules more formally, and cracked out Photoshop to produce the Mission maps. A certain amount of midnight oil was burned. This, I am learning, is not something one should do in one’s late thirties.

Deployment map for Fury of the Swarm Fulcrum mission: Retake and Hold. Credit: Charlie Brassley

After that it was time for one final test, just to check everything was working OK-ish, before putting out the v0.1 beta.

At that point, while waiting for the initial feedback to come in, the process began again, but this time with new mission designs. So: random notes when thoughts occurred, then rough drafts, then a quick test, then a tighter draft, then another test, then that gets refined and written up as beta rules along with producing the mission maps, and thus: v0.2, now with four missions rather than one. The goal is for each mission to offer a different tactical challenge, rather than just being filler. I’d rather end up with eight really fun, repeatable missions than 30 samey concepts with maps. A bit like how a restaurant menu gets exponentially more suspicious the longer it is.

A proper release from GW will of course have had waaaay more testing, but I’m one person with limited time, and that’s why this project is dependent on people participating in this open beta.

A side note on making mission maps

Like I said, these are done in Photoshop. The vital thing is to keep the layers organised so that once I’ve created an asset, such as an objective marker or whatever, it can be easily found and duplicated to make new maps. I started off looking at the GW studio’s map iconography and then did my best to reproduce it from scratch (since it’s not ok to steal official art assets).

Deployment map for Fury of the Swarm Evacuation mission: The Last Shuttle. Credit: Charlie Brassley

Deployment map for Fury of the Swarm Sporefall mission: Big Guns Mustn’t Tire. Credit: Charlie Brassley

Deployment map for Fury of the Swarm Extermination mission: Let None Escape. Credit: Charlie Brassley

For illustrations, since I’m not a professional studio I’m very much limited to slapping my miniatures on a table and taking a photo with a cheap-ass camera. I’ve taken one or two more atmospheric shots in full terrain with sexy lighting, but that can take a few hours per photo as I fiddle with layouts and lighting levels. Right now my priority is the rules, but I’d like to do more atmospheric photos for Version 1.

What’s next?

No promises, but I suspect the next missions to get written up will be Fulcrum: Resupply Run (an escort mission) and Fulcrum: Breach Containment (in which the bugs have created a gap in the front line, which you have to plug long enough for reinforcements to arrive).

I also want to write a post on Tyranid army lists for co-operative play, since several people have asked about that. I think that’ll work best as an article rather than taking up loads of space in the rules document. If it turns out that producing missions at the rate set out in the plan is unworkable, then that would at least offer useful content to tide over Swarm players while I work on the new rules.

If there’s some element you wish I’d gone into more detail on in this post, sling a comment at me below, or ping an email to contact@goonhammer.com.