Game Mechanic For Hire

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Turtling, 8.24.09

with 2 comments

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!



Written by krinklechip

August 24, 2009 at 5:17 am

2 Responses

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  1. As has been discussed, “turtling” isn’t so much a game mechanism as it is a player behavior… however that behavior can be more or less controlled by the design of the game, and is worth looking at.

    I believe the impetus for “turtling” behavior stems from the relative costs and benefits of aggressive and defensive play. In Mortal Combat and Killer Instinct (old school arcade fighting games) you would win by dealing damage to your opponent, but being aggressive opened you up to deadly combos and juggling, so many players preferred to sit in a defensive stance for much of the round, waiting for their opponent to go on the offense rather than allow their opponent to ;and a damaging counterattack. The game mechanisms in those games encouraged people to turtle by providing a high reward/low risk counterattack. By comparison, a regular attack was higher risk/lower reward, and therefore was not as attractive to players.

    In any game where there are defensive actions and offensive actions, players will have to evaluate the risks involved and the benefit gained by an offensive move, and factor in the ease of their rival’s countermove. If the game provides better incentives to be defensive than to go on the offense, then you can expect to see turtling behavior from the players.

    So how can this information be used by a designer? Look at Blood Feud in New York. That game is purposely set up to encourage offensive behavior, because the designer thought turtling would be boring. Look at the costs of attacking, cost of replacing guys, the way combat is resolved… it’s designed to not punish the aggressor, so that people will be aggressive. Give too much advantage to the defender and players will prefer to defend than to attack!

    Seth Jaffee

    August 24, 2009 at 8:41 pm

  2. Yes, the rules of the game definitely encourage or discourage turtling. I’ve never played “Blood Fued in New York” but another good example is “Supernova.” Speaking with the designer at BGGcon last year, he said encouraging aggression and removing turtling were big factors in the direction of the design.

    I think there is one cause of turtling as a player behavior, and that’s in multiplayer gamers. Frequently, multiplayer conflict games create a situation where players A and B fight each other, which only weakens them compared to player C. In games like this, turtling up while other players pound on each other, and then swooping in for the kill, is a strong strategy. That can also be controlled via rules — I think “Viktory II” is a multi-player game that discourages turtling. The designer’s article on V2 is quite good –


    August 27, 2009 at 7:18 pm

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