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Archive for August 2009

Downtime Reduction, 8.31.09

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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!

Phil

Written by krinklechip

August 31, 2009 at 1:31 pm

Power Grid without Power Stations, 8.31.09

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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!

Phil

Written by krinklechip

August 31, 2009 at 5:08 am

Posted in Concepts, Game Design

Storytelling, 8.28.09

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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!

Phil

Special thanks to Mike Purcell and Chris Rock for their insights regarding this particular article.

Written by krinklechip

August 28, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Concepts, Game Design

Kingmaker, 8.26.09

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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!

Phil

Written by krinklechip

August 26, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Trade, 8.25.09

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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!

Phil

Written by krinklechip

August 25, 2009 at 5:27 am

Design Experiment: Monopoly Without Money, 8.24.09

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Oio, peoples.  About once a week, I’ll post a ‘design experiment’ to further get our gears turning.  I’ll start it off with revisiting the one I posted to Board Game Geek awhile back.  You can visit the thread and see the ideas people had here.
What would Monopoly be without money? How would it work? Would it remain feasible as a concept in some other way, or would all of the required changes change it into something completely new?
Here’s my take…
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!
Phil

Written by krinklechip

August 24, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Turtling, 8.24.09

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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!

Phil

Written by krinklechip

August 24, 2009 at 5:17 am