Archive for the ‘Mechanics’ Category
Io, fellow designers. Lets shuffle up some possibilities with deck building.
-Here ya go!: Have your players build each other’s decks. However, building your opponent’s deck should be more than just throwing trash together so you can stomp them. That’d be too easy. Add a couple of twists:
- Cards in play generate resources for your opponents, with better resource generation tied to stronger cards. You may want 5 gold on your turn, but it’ll cost ya giving your opponent a good card.
- Cards with sub-par effects generate lots of resource. Give your opponent starting resources, or better late-game cards? Mmmm…. cognitive suffering.
-Working together: Players build a communal deck to play from. This could be used in a co-op game, with players pitching in for the greater good while weeding out chaff for other players. Or, you could have it be competitive. However, to avoid the free rider problem, cards could be drawn face-up onto the table as the set of resources and actions available for everyone at once.
-Tertiary Deck building: Deck building doesn’t necessarily have to be the main mechanic, either. Take Starcraft, for example. Players build a combat deck and draw from it each combat. You may have an Ultralisk bearing down on me, but do you have the card to utilize it properly? Perhaps players are building a resource deck in a game with multiple ingredients. Or, a riff on worker placement: I build a deck of how many and what kind of workers I get to place each round, with the cards drawn representing contracts with the workers.
Now that I’ve built the article, lets see what I draw. …Nothing but Victory Points?! BLAST!
Keep on designing, yo!
Time to duke it out! Combat is another staple of many games. From the dice fest that is Risk to the calculated move/countermove of chess, combat takes many different forms in gaming. Lets throw down some ways combat can be done…
-Dice. Combat is determined by opponents rolling dice. There are many, MANY iterations of this one alone, some of which I covered in my very first article. Another way dice are used in combat is by placing symbols on combat dice that have different effects/results. This approach has been popular lately, appearing in titles ranging from Doom to Memoir ’44. The gist is this: the dice you roll have different symbols on each face. Different symbols have different effects on combat, from hitting the opposing force to forcing you to discard an ammo token. God Dice takes this and turns it on its ear a bit; the symbols on the dice are used to match up different combinations on your character to determine what attack you use that round.
-Cards. Players use cards with numerical values to determine combat results. This is another common one. Typically, each player plays a card and the high card wins the battle (or adds the card’s value to the unit’s base combat value). Cosmic Encounter is probably one of the best representations of this. Essentially, a player attacks an opposing planet with 1-4 ships and both attacker and defender play cards from their hand and add it to the number of attacking (or defending) units with high number winning outright. But what if the cards represented ammunition? Take a wild west style game where each player had a gun with different ‘stats’; ammo, firepower, accuracy, range, etc. Each player also has a ‘bullet deck’ that she can draw from to load into her gun. Each card in the bullet deck would have an shot strength, accuracy modifier and so forth. Players would either ‘load’ their gun with as many cards equal to her gun’s ammo limit, creating an ‘ammo deck’ and shuffles them up. Each time they fire, the top card of their ammo deck is flipped over to determine how good the shot is. Once the ammo deck is empty, that player must reload by taking extra time/actions/etc.
-Capture. Players determine combat results by moving two pieces onto the same space. This one is probably among the simplest of all, with the attacker often being the automatic winner; chess utilizes this. Stratego turns it around a bit by giving each piece a ‘combat ranking’, with higher ranked pieces automatically beating lower ranked pieces and the attacker winning a tie. You could turn this into a ‘siege’ style mechanic by having capture still work this way, but requiring multiple units to capture a space/opposing unit. Take a fantasy siege game where units represent armies, siegecraft and supply trains; each unit also has a ‘combat rank’ as in Stratego. Players are trying to capture X cities from opponents by placing say, between three and five of their units in said opposing cities. If armies encounter each other outside of cities, a battle ensues much like Stratego, but where combat rank can be altered by card play. That sounds kind of fun…
Those took the fight out of me; I surrender.
Keep on designing, yo!
Tile laying is one of those core mechanics like trade or card drafting. Surely all possibilities have been laid out, right? In terms of area control or a modular board, much has already been explored in this mechanic. Place a tile, maybe place a dood on it to exert influence on it. Said influence contributes to scoring of that feature at a later point (such as a road being closed off at both ends, as in Carcassonne.) I’m going to line up a couple of possibilities you may not have thought of…
-Combat. Players could all be contributing tiles to a communal ‘combat board’ much like the tiles are laid out in Carcassonne, with the features increased/completed granting a bonus to attack or defense (or even a special ability trigger). The trick for players in this iteration is every tile you place gives other players the opportunity to build off of your placement for more powerful attacks… I loves me some cognitive suffering. Take a wild west style game where tiles laid out could result in increased accuracy (lining up bullseyes), more shots (lining up ricochet paths from tile to tile) and so forth. Or players could place tiles onto their own personal ‘combat board’, allowing for massive firepower all over the place.
-Movement. More for a race or pick up and deliver type of game, tiles would have features that would allow movement, turns, jumps, etc. Take a robot programming game where the tiles look like a stylized circuit board. In order to move each turn, players must add a tile to the communal Movement Circuit. Lining up ‘Speed’ wires from tile to tile would make you move one space per tile with said wires on it. Add in obstacles that may damage (or worse) your robot, and this can become a risky proposition to keep a particular wire live. Perhaps you want to turn instead. Line up a couple of ‘Turn’ transistors and you’re set. Now if only everyone didn’t keep changing the circuit…
I’d place a few more ideas out, but I just can’t line up those edges… DAMN!
Keep on designing, yo!
And another one gone, and another one gone… ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST!! Player elimination, while not for every game, adds a level of tension and danger when it can be implemented. Often, you are eliminated when you run out of resources (Monopoly) or out of units (Risk). That may be great most of the time, but surely we can eliminate them as possibilities while looking at these options…
-Poison. A player with the most of a given resource ‘Bad To Have’ at the end of the game is eliminated before final scoring. This is a fun one that is used to good effect by Cleopatra and the Society of Architects. Players are trying to help build a temple. Some goods are less expensive, but are considered ‘corrupt’; using them forces you to take corruption tokens. At the end, most corrupt player is fed to the Crocodile God. Like in Cleopatra, it is best if the ‘Poison’ resource is kept hidden to add to the level of uncertainty at the end of the game. You could even take it further by having each corruption counter have a different value…
-Only Faster Than You. At set intervals, the player with least of ‘X’ is eliminated. More for shorter games (or rounds with players returning to play next round), this form of elimination encourages frenetic play of attempting to attain what is needed to not be eliminated. Musical chairs is a good example of this. Players scramble to find a seat at given intervals with players unable to being eliminated. Take a survival style game where you are periodically being chased by a bear. At the end of each chase, the player in last place gets eaten. Rounds would consist of frantic gathering of food for energy (to help you run faster) and setting up traps for your opponents (to trip them up). Combine with random round length and you have a good recipe for nervous breakdown… that is what we want for our players, right?
-Tall Nail Gets Hammered. The first player to accomplish ‘X’ is eliminated. Similar to Poison above, the elimination actually happens during play instead. Take a court intrigue game where players are positioning themselves to inherit the throne once he is assassinated. In order to position oneself, a player must gain favor (or be given favor by other players) of various chancellors and such. If one player ends up with favor from most or all of the chancellors, the king gets suspicious and has the player executed for his treachery. Ooh! What if instead, it was EACH player that has X occur? For the example above, that would be even better. You could frame ALL of your rivals instead of just one… Struggle of Empires also has this as an endgame elimination possibility. If your country ends up with too much unrest, the people revolt and dethrone you (and this could happen to multiple players…).
Well, I’ve eliminated the other options already, so it’s time to eliminate this article.
Keep on designing, yo!
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!
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!
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!