Archive for August 2009
Downtime, or the time between turns, in games is often acceptable, provided it isn’t too long. It can get out of control, though; Tikal is probably the most egregious offender. While an excellent game, you can often take a nap between turns as other players optimize their moves. The ideal ways to minimize this are to have a little something for everyone to do on every turn or streamlining the rules. Lets have a look at a few ways to minimize downtime, shall we?
-Trade. If the game allows for it, trade is a good way to allow players to do something when it isn’t their turn. It encourages players to pay attention to what the active player is doing so that they can offer up an optimal trade.
-Turn Structure. Remove extraneous and repetitive steps from the turn structure. As an example, if players are required to count how many areas they control every phase (and there is notable change between each count), your game is gonna bog down due simply to counting. Either do a control assessment once each round or have a ‘leader board’ that tracks it for everyone (although this can still potentially cause issues due to fiddlyness). Or, if players have LOTS of action points each round to the point of causing excessive cognitive suffering, reduce the amount of action points (and corresponding costs) and see what happens…
-Simultaneous Action Selection. Players select their key actions to perform at the same time as the other players. While players will still need to wait for everyone to choose their action(s) and perform it, choosing what to do all at the same time reduces the AP factor a bit.
-Streamline Combat. Make combat as swift and simple as possible. This is one of the most common sources of excessive downtime. Unless you’re designing the next ASL, your combat system should resolve quickly while still giving players some strategy to their moves. Modified die rolls, card play, rock-paper-scissor unit types; the list goes on as to what can be implemented.
Now if only downtime were as easy to get rid of in real life…
Keep on designing, yo!
Time for another design experiment. Lets throw another game out of whack this week as another warm up. Power Grid needs power stations, right? Out they go. What happens to the game? Is it still feasible? What else would need to change?
Here’s an example while keeping the ‘Power Grid’ theme…
-To stay ‘Power Grid’, the game would need a way to compensate for the power stations’ loss…
- They are what generate your income each turn, and allow you to increase said income.
- The power stations transition the game into ‘Phase 2′ and are the end game condition.
- A level of depth is lost to not needing to plan out your ‘route’ any more.
If it were to stay ‘Power Grid’, it would more be ‘Power Grid Light’. Make the board smaller, remove the connections, and have a numbered ‘Demand’ track for each city that is kept in the game. Each turn, players generate power one plant per player at a time and chooses a city to provide the power to. Then, slide the corresponding ‘Demand Track’ marker as many spaces as power was generated for that city. Once a city’s demand has been met, no further player may provide power to that city. Further, players get paid piecemeal for each power plant individually, as some power may end up being wasted on ‘oversatisfying’ a city’s Demand Track.
So what can you chappies come up with? Something positively electrifying, no doubt.
Keep on designing, yo!
An underutilized concept in board games is telling a story. Sure, in a sense, many games tell a story. But not in the same sense of a movie or a book. Movies, books, even video games, can portray stories of astonishing depth and complexity leaving the viewer with a sense of loss, wonder or even a need for introspection.
It is a problem with the medium itself. A board game is a competition where specific rules must be followed in order to play. A game may be dripping with theme, but necessarily more attention is given to the play of the game by its players. While not every game needs to have emotional impact, it could take a good game and make it a great game. More significantly, a game often needs to have a winner (and a clear ending). Other mediums can leave story elements unresolved intentionally to provoke emotion. What if we were to sneak storytelling into the play itself? Here are a few specific examples of what I mean…
-Moral Ambiguity. Take a post-apocalyptic game where every player is a survivor in a small encampment. There are other ‘NPC’ characters that offer abilities, VP if they survive, etc. represented by cards, as well. Over the course of the game, food and other supplies would be divvied out to NPC and player alike (with supplies given to NPCs simply ‘returned to the bank’). If any loses too much health (or doesn’t eat enough), they die. Basic enough premise, yes? Curveball: some of the characters are worth a fair # of VP but have less ability in terms of special skill or are fairly frail (a child, elderly person, etc.). What kind of choices would players make as to who to save or give supplies to? Purely from a rules system perspective, some options will be better than others; keep the special skilled characters alive and so forth. What about from a gameplay perspective? In a situation like this, a child is a liability; they frighten easily, are very dependant upon others, the list goes on. But it’s a child. It’s human instinct to protect them. This kind of trick should not be mistaken for sensationalist design (although it could indeed be used that way). The point of this approach is to make people make difficult decisions and deal with the consequences. What would you do in a similar situation?
-Episodic Content. Have the game itself tell a story over several titles. Each game could play as a stand-alone game (or be an add-on) of the original title, with each subsequent release bringing the story proper closer to the final curtain. This approach would also allow for ‘campaign’ play, with the results of playing a previous title affecting starting conditions of the next installment in addition to stand-alone play. The trick would be to incorporate the story into the mechanics of the game to make each one feel satisfying to play on its own, but leave the players wanting the rest of the story.
This the ending, the ending of the po-ost. The ending.
Keep on designing, yo!
Special thanks to Mike Purcell and Chris Rock for their insights regarding this particular article.
Kingmaking is typically associated with a player that has little chance of winning arbitrarily helping a player in contention for the lead win. Lets expand that definition a bit today. What if kingmaker were a situation where an advantage must be given to an opponent in some form? This could open up possibilities like these…
-I Knight Thee. A player must choose an opponent to give a special ability to. This could create fun tensions where players must weigh whom to favor benefits with. Should I give this combat bonus to the player running a commerce strategy? Then his transports will have better defense if I raid them. Certainly not to the military player; she already has major firepower… GAAH! While more suited for a game with a large variety of things going on such as Twilight Imperium 3 (and TI3 does have small bits of this particular mechanic), it could easily be adapted to more Euro-stylings. Perhaps the benefit is free resources when mining. Or reduced cost in building widgets. The list goes on… and so does your players’ pain (which is the reason to include something like this).
-One For You, One For Me. Resources gathered are split between two (or more) players of the gathering player’s choice. The split need not be even, either. Take a Mafia-style game where players can extort money from businesses with ‘Protection Insurance’. When doing so, the collecting player must ‘pay tribute’ to another player’s Don as a show of respect. Which player should you give it to? The player lagging behind? Every other player doing this will bring said lagging player back into the lead… A player you’re neck in neck with? Mmmm…. Cognitive suffering. For a spin on this, a player collecting the Insurance money could only choose from players to give to who have goons patrolling the area. Sure, you could knock over the bank, but if the only player patrolling the area is the leader, that may not be the best choice…
-Free Rides. An action taken applies to the player that takes it and at least one other player. This would be more for games of worker placement or simultaneous action. Race For The Galaxy actually implements a form of this in its action selection. While other players may not get the bonus you do for choosing to Settle, they do still get to play Planets whether they chose to Settle or not. Or spin it a bit. Each turn, a player takes multiple actions and chooses one player to perform one action. This could simulate real time in a neat way. Take a multiplayer military game. On each player’s turn, she does her maneuvers, attacks and so forth. She must also choose someone else who gets to do one of those things during her turn.
Thas all I has fer ya today. I dub thee, Lord (or Lady) Designsalot.
Keep on designing, yo!
Trading is typically resource for resource… ore for wheat, ore for energy, ore for rowing power and so forth. Lets have a look at what kind of play trading other things as well may have…
-Board Position. Players exchange positions on the game board. This kind of trade would need a game where board position importance changes for each player as the game progresses. Perhaps it’s a fast food chain game where players exchange positions of their restaurants to maximize the desire for their type of food in different areas of town at different points in the game. Or you could offer board position in addition to resources. A claimjumping game where deeds to different gold mines are constantly changing hands could create some interesting play…
-Turn Order. Players may exchange when their turn takes place. In a game where going before another player is important later in the game, this could create some heated trades. In a stock market game, perhaps the order in which shares are bought and sold over the course of a round. You’d want to go earlier if you saw the price for what you want to buy is low, or later to give it a chance to go up. Bear in mind this would be combined with standard resource trading; you need to give ‘em reason to trade their turn order away…
I traded my time with the computer for this article. Fair traid, I’d say…
Keep on designing, yo!
Money is the driving force of Monopoly. Removing it makes Monopoly a fundamentally different game. Here are some other changes I’d pursue.
-Properties are no longer owned. No money means you couldn’t buy them, anyway.
-While we’re at it, let’s make it a space station instead of Atlantic City, NJ. Spaces represent different areas of the station.
–The board will probably need to shrunk down a bit, too. Combine each set of properties into a single space, remove the ‘Tax’ spaces and change Community Chest and Chance to ‘Security’stations, to a max of one Security Station per quadrant.
–The board should be round, too.
-Movement is no longer by die roll. You may choose which space you are moving to.
-Since it’s a space station and you have no money, the players’ roles are changed to down on their luck crew of a ship.
–The ship is docked, but is in dire need of repair.
–You are trying to get the ship fixed, stocked and disembarked without getting thrown in jail (or worse).
–There are several parts that are needed, some simple and others are hard to come by.
–Since you have no money, you’ll have to scrounge, barter or steal…
-Properties give different actions and parts. Actions range from trading resources, recruiting extra crew (in case someone is arrested/spaced/otherwise indisposed), stealing resources, fixing your ship, etc.
-Stealing starts to attract the attention of security which will start to patrol the station as a press your luck element.
-Potential ‘coopertition’ element if you make it that once the ship is fixed, it can disembark once it has a minimum crew even if the crew is partly met by ‘recruit’ cards while leaving your fellow players behind…
So what do you think? What changes would you implement?
Keep on designin’ yo!
Turtling, or playing very defensively, is often seen as a passive way to play. Most common in games with a combat system, you throw up your walls and ignore everyone else unless you absolutely have to interact with them. Rather boring. Lets look at some ways to make turtling a more dynamic way of playing…
-To The Last Man. Players are working together to last as long as possible in a losing situation. Consider an Alamo-style game, where the board spawns wave after wave of doods to attack the players’ fortress. The first few waves of grunts won’t be too bad; some minor damage to the fort itself, maybe some units lost. Once the board starts spawning stronger units (siege, ranged units, etc.), things start getting bad. Spend resources to repair your crumbling fortress or to activate units to fight? Tieing it thematically to the players ‘holding the line’ while others escape is often a good touch, as well. Castle Panic is a game that utilizes this, minus the guaranteed loss aspect. Players work together to maintain their castle while killing monsters that attack them. If the castle falls, everyone loses…
-Turret Defense. Players must build up their defenses (typically the aforementioned turrets) to withstand attacks from other players. Commonly a solo play game using Starcraft or Warcraft units, this can be easily adapted to players building their own castles and turrets to defend against each other’s marauding hordes. As above, players will have to balance building and upgrading their castle with sending out attacks against other players to keep them in check.
-Safety vs. Risky Gain. Players must weigh the relative safety of a ‘home location’ against venturing out into the (very dangerous) wilderness. Best suited for apocalyptic or horror based games, players must choose each round whether to take ‘home base’ specific actions (heal, repair base, repel ‘invaders, etc.) or go out into the wild to gather resources, achieve goals, etc. This can create a very tense cooperative game after a player has a particularly bad trip ‘out there’ and must spend several turns recouperating while everyone else carries the dead weight, so to speak…
There ya are, folks. Thanks ag… did you hear that? Oh no! ZERG RUSH!!!! I gotta get ou–*transmission lost*
Keep on designing, yo!
It’s inherent human nature: take down the person on top and maybe you can take their place… this occurs in many games naturally as a way to control runaway leader; Risk being the first to spring to mind. However, once a leader is thoroughly bashed, they are often out of the game just for being ahead at the wrong time. No fun. What if Bash the Leader was accounted for in the design instead of just being a style of play? If combined with suggestions from yesterday, you might get something like this…
-Scrappy Underdog. A player in last place gets an advantage to compensate for position. You need to be careful with this one. Lets take our combat racing game from yesterday. If the last place player were to get some sort of gnarly weapon as a potential catch up mechanism, he cannot use it on the leader. Everyone else between him and the leader, though… Give the weapon to the second (or third) place person, however, and it specifically hits the leaders only. Combined with the speed boost the leader gets, you get tense play. Can you take out the leader and take his place? If you do, can you maintain your lead? Or will you be blown up by that small yield tactical nuke as well?
-Target On Your Back. Create a special ‘Target The Leader’ deck/set of actions. Being in the lead is great, but it gives others opportunities to act against you. This works best in games where rounds are short and/or taking the lead isn’t to do. Perhaps in a claimjumping game other players may steal gold from mines of the leader with less penalty. In an First Person Shooter style game, players could get bonus attacks against the leader. Combine this kind of mechanic with some form of bonus for being in the lead and you have quite a frenetic game, indeed.
Bash The Leader-style games should focus on making the being the leader exciting and terrifying at the same time. Make being the Leader something fantastic… the leader will need it with the entire board turning against her. It should also focus more either on shorter rounds of play (to end the leader’s misery if completely destroyed and give others the chance to become the Leader). If you’ll excuse me, I have a small yield tactical nuke that is begging for use…
Keep on designing, yo!
Runaway leader is typically a problem in a board game. One player gets a dominant advantage or lead that is impossible for anyone else to overcome. It may be fun for the leader when it occurs, but everyone else is basically waiting for the game to end. However, if Runaway Leader is used to end a round (or the game itself) quickly, you have a new dynamic to play with. Lets have a look at when it may be okay to have a player break away from the pack…
-Threshold. Once a player has done X, that player gets a large benefit. This is the most straightforward way to implement this. Lets take a combat racing game. If any player were to get 7 spaces ahead of another player, they get a speed boost the following move. This would do three things: 1) players would be doing all they could to keep their opponents within seven spaces of themselves; 2) The moment a player breaks away, that player will have a huge target on their back; 3) The race will end more quickly so players can move on to the next heat.
-Snowball Effect. A player’s lead has the potential to grow dramatically. This kind of feedback loop is most dramatic in a war style game. Say I attack your doods and kill three of them. Instead of leaving play, they join my side. This results in a net swing of six units between us. Provided the combat system isn’t simply who has more units wins, the advantage is downplayed a bit but is still substantial. Hammer of the Scots uses this to great effect. A note of caution, though: while it can allow for dramatic swings in power, if used improperly this method can undermine itself and remove the dramatic tension you are trying to create. If the same three to five units keep being traded between players, that’s not dramatic; that’s boring.
-More Power To The Powerful. Players further back must give players in the lead resources, cards, etc. More for a game that ‘resets’ to a degree each round, this makes the those on top tend to stay on top short of a completely crazy round. The Great Dalmuti does this by forcing the lower ranked players to give their best cards to the higher ranked players. Take a gemcrafter game where every player is a member of the same guild. As orders are passed out each round, the player who did best last round may request specific orders from lower ranked players in exchange for an order they don’t want. It also helps if the rounds are somewhat short; it isn’t too bad if you’re on the bottom for a few rounds that are about five minutes each. It’s quite a different story if you are on bottom for a few rounds that are about 20 minutes each…
See? Who says runaway leader is a bad thing?
Keep on designing, yo!
Wagering is commonly associated with press your luck style games and big swings of fortune. That works well, but what about other types of games? I’m betting you haven’t thought of these uses…
-Pick a bonus, any bonus. Take a modern squad based tactical game. Normally, you either want to roll high (or low) to hit your opponent, regardless of unit type. Ho hum. What if instead you had an ‘effect’ board that ties different bonuses to what number is rolled? Each player would also have multiple tokens for each character that they could distribute on said board. Want Super Effective damage? Place your rocket launcher tokens on the bonus damage space. Bonuses to range? That would be the bonus accuracy space. This kind of approach could make a war game potentially more approachable by the casual gamer.
-Actions. Normally, players either get action points or everyone gets to do action X in a given round. What if players had action points they could wager on what randomly determined actions they think will be available for the round? An ‘Action Track’ would allow everyone to place their four or five action markers as they see fit amongst the possible actions. REALLY need to build a lot? Dump all your points into the ‘Build’ action and hope for the best. Or you could spread your action points out to assure that you at least get to do something.
-Resource Generation. A variant of the Action wager above, but refined to uncertain resource generation specifically. Take an industrial game where you are gathering raw materials to build factories and such. Each player can assign their resource gatherers as they wish to different mines; coal, iron ore, etc. At the end of each turn, it is revealed how much resource each worker generates at each mine. If you place five workers on the coal mine when 5 coal per miner is rewarded, you just made bank. However, if it was only 1 coal per miner…
That’s all I’m willing to wager at this point. Thanks for reading!
Keep on designing, yo!