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Archive for September 2009

Puzzles, 9.14.09

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Riddle me this:  what kind of games typically have puzzles in them?  Not too many, save for RPGs and some adventure games.  The key reason is that once you know the solution, the puzzle can’t be used again.  But!  It could be argued that deduction based games are a type of puzzle; gathering information until you arrive at the answer the game requires (be it the perpetrator of a crime or some kind of code key).  A re-usable puzzle, much like in Clue, simply switches out the variables each game.  In Clue’s case, the murderer, weapon and room are swapped around each time.  This could be applied in other ways, as well.

-Substitution.  Players use equipment in ways not intended by its design.  Take an exploration game where the players choose their starting equipment (or scavenge it as they go along).  During the game, problems that are potentially outside the scope of the equipment they have; needing to cross a narrow ravine for example.  If the group has an ax, they could just cut down a tree and lay it across.  If they don’t though, the players could combine (and downgrade) their current equipment to make a makeshift bridge:  break apart a tent for the poles, rope and ‘planks’ (out of the fabric).  You don’t have a tent anymore, but you now have rope and poles (with the fabric being too torn up, gamewise).  The potential problem of this is that players may run into a situation that they genuinely have no answer to.  If that occurs, be sure to give them an out (alternate path, can still continue at some penalty, etc).

-Chain Reaction.  A player’s action has an immediate ripple effect with other elements of the game.  Take a dungeon-crawl where the doors are activated by levers.  Pulling one lever sets off the other levers in certain ways (resets them, activates them as well, locks them, etc.) in addition to opening the door in the room.  This creates a logic puzzle where the players must figure out the best order to activate the levers to move from room to room.  This type of puzzle can suffer from two problems:  fiddlyness and ‘dead ends’.  If every time a lever is pulled every other lever is affected in some way, that’s alot of extra stuff to do from one single action.  Board design (such as each lever on a ‘slider’ path to show pulled or not) can mitigate this to some degree, as can the scale of the game.  If it’s just five or six levers, that’s not too bad.  If it is around 15, though, you have a problem.  The ‘dead end’ issue can be a bit trickier if you are building the dungeon randomly as you go.  One way around this is to allow for a reset of the chain reaction components, which may open paths that were previously blocked.  Another way is to allow a ‘force’ for the cost of time or some other resource.

Puzzles are one of those things that are difficult to properly implement in a way that has good replayability.  If done correctly, though, they can take a title over the top.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to figure out this damn finger puzzle…

Keep on designing, yo!

Phil

Written by krinklechip

September 14, 2009 at 7:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Dexterity, 9.9.09

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Dexterity is typically associated with:  a)  sports, b)  video games, c)  being a fan of mass murder and d)  STR & CON.  When it comes to board games, though, dexterity ususally brings to mind games such as Jenga, Barrel of Monkeys, Crokinole and the like.  However, with titles like Cornerstone where elements of strategy are mixed in (building a tower for little doods to climb), we may start seeing more strategy to put our steady hands to.  Things like…

-Skill Shot Randomization.  Players flick a disc along a ‘randomizer’ board to determine various effects.  Take a game where the players are gods and the weather needs to be determined for each round.  You could just make it a card draw, die roll, etc., but why not give the players a chance to play planetary Crokinole?  A disc that represents the Sun is placed on the edge of a modular ‘Weather Board’ and players flick it toward a weather type they may want next round.  A shot that falls off the board counts as the last weather the disc touched before falling off.  This could be applied to just about anything that needed randomization that wouldn’t suffer overmuch from players sort of being able to control the outcome.  Stock price changes?  Check.  Warp Drive malfunction result?  Check.  Combat?  You would be better going with…

-Skill Shot Combat.  Taktika is the game that currently best does this.  Each unit is represented by a disc that must follow different rules to kill an opposing unit.  Infantry must ricochet off another infantry before hitting its target,  archers must get close to their target without touching it and cavalry is all about knocking the opposing piece out of play.  It’s essentially a light wargame meets Crokinole.  What if different weapons were represented by different disc sizes?  Units themselves could be about 3 CM, an arrow may be a disc that is about 2 CM, whereas a catapult payload could be upwards of 5 CM.  And why do the units and such need to be discs?  Sure discs glide fine, but so do cubes, meeples and so forth.  If weapons were represented by cubes, whichever face ends pointing up could confer some sort of effect; extra damage, free move, etc.

-Stacking.  Players build different structures out of cubes and discs on the board for different effects.  For example, building a pyramid out of cubes is reasonably easy and would hav a more nominal effect than say, a hollow tower.  Effects would depend on the game, but could be anything from combat bonuses for towers to more actions for a monolith.

With breakthroughs in concept like Taktika and Cornerstone, game designers should think twice before dismissing dexterity as a mechanic in games.  Now if only my hands weren’t so shaky…

Keep on designing, yo!

Phil

Written by krinklechip

September 9, 2009 at 9:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Scoring Timing, 9.8.09

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In terms of broad concepts, scoring is in every game.  The end scoring in Coloretto, unit generation in Risk… the list can go on.  What makes each game’s scoring different?  And not just in what is scored; of course you get points for settlements and cities in Settlers of Catan and hexes captured in Memoir ’44.  One of the key differences (and the one we’ll be investigating today) is the timing of said scoring.  Are points score instantly?  Do you need to wait for the right time to cash in?  It doesn’t even have to be the final score you’re aiming for; hitting your opponent in a fighting game reduces his ‘Life Score’, bringing you closer to winning that particular match.  Lets have a look at the effects of scoring timing.

-Instant Gratification.  Players are rewarded instantly for their actions.  Whether it be reducing your opponent’s hit point total or scoring a goal in a sports game, this is about as straightforward as it gets.  This form of scoring is typically combined with other scoring techniques to create different strategies.  Ticket to Ride is an excellent example of  this.  A player is instantly rewarded points for placing trains on a route, but said route may or may not contribute to their destination cards (which tend to offer big point swings in the endgame).  In a combat game, each hit brings one player closer to winning and the victim closer to defeat; even if defeat is just losing a unit in a particular instance.  Even within the same way to perform scoring, the effect can be dramatically different.

-Save It Up.  Players save scorable resources until a time that it is most beneficial to them to cash in.  This scoring technique is all about timing and predicting what will (or won’t) be valuable later in the game.  This is often used in commodities/stock trade games.  You may have say, 30 shares of stock X, but you won’t score anything good at $1 per share as compared to say, $9 per share.  The Motley Fool’s Buy Low, Sell High is essentially this with the added spin that each share sold actually decreases further profits due to there being more supply available.  This creates a good tension if the commodities fluctuate a bit and increases if the scoring is based upon other players’ choices (much as in Buy Low, Sell High).

-Endgame Scoring.  Different ways of doing endgame scoring itself has been previously covered here; this is going to deal more with the effect it has on play.  Endgame scoing creates more tense play in making the game uncertain until the very end.  Perhaps that player in third place has a bunch of Resource X she has been saving all game to cash in for big points.  Maybe the leader didn’t account for final scoring and overextended, causing him to come in a close second.  If it creates tension and uncertainty in the final outcome of a game, end game scoring is being used correctly.

 

Well folks, I’ve written enough.  It’s time to turn it in for final scoring.

Keep on designing, yo!

Phil

Written by krinklechip

September 8, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Posted in Concepts, Game Design

Combat, 9.4.09

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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!

Phil

Written by krinklechip

September 4, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Tile Laying, 9.3.09

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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!

Phil

Written by krinklechip

September 3, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Posted in Game Design, Mechanics

Cadence, 9.2.09

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Games have a rhythm.  Dealing of cards, moving of pieces, bargaining… the list goes on as to what beats out the cadence of a particular title.  Choices in design greatly affect this basic cadence.  If you want a frenetic, fast moving game,  you don’t have the players reference 17 different charts to determine outcomes of an action.  Lets see some of the things that vary the pace of a game.  Also, please note that these do not account for Analysis Paralysis, or when a player is overwhelmed by the decisions available to him and ends up taking longer than the average player.

-Number of actions per turn.  As recently mentioned, the number of actions a player may take during her turn greatly impacts the flow of the game; with fewer actions typically increasing the pacing of a title.  Increasing the number of actions while reducing the possible options for each action is another way to keep the flow of a game faster.  There are exceptions to this due to other factors:  combat typically slows down a game (Warhammer 40k has only a few orders for each unit type, but resolving said actions short of moving involves several extra steps) as does a sheer number of choices (as in Go or Chess each turn).  Which leads us to…

-Number of options per turn.  Similar to the previous point, the number of choices available to a player can be overwhelming in some instances; Agricola and Tikal are both good examples of the sheer plethora of choice that can make for a slower paced game, with Agricola having the added weight of resources to allocate optimally.  Chess and Go can also be very long as it is expected for each player to take a reasonable amount of time to weigh every move.  It should also be noted that reducing options available doesn’t necessarily increase the pace of a game.  If each option triggered a different type of phase (production, combat, trade, etc), the flow would be more based upon the phase complexity of your chosen option…

-Turn phase structure.  More complex turns tend to lead to slower cadence games (or games with streaks of ‘quick play’ amongst slower moves).  If a turn has 8 phases in a particular title, odds are decent that there is a LOT going on for players to keep track of in the game.  Twilight Imperium is a good example of a complex turn structure.  Each player takes turns taking various actions (with each action having several steps) until everyone passes, then players perform upkeep on their systems, planets, ships and so forth.  The complexity of the turn structure is necessitated by how much is going on in a typical game of TI 3, though.  Compare that to say, Revolution.  Players place their bids, then each potential bid on the bid board gets resolved.  While being a 45 minute game, it has a good cadence to it thanks to simultaneous action choice in the bidding and the quick resolution of each bid.

-Level of player interaction.  Similarly, longer games with high player interaction can feel like they have a good flow.  Both a good and bad example at once is Diplomacy.  In Diplomacy, players negotiate with each other in timed rounds before turning in written orders for how their units move.  The negotiations with the other players are key to a player’s survival or being taken down.  We will look at Austria and Italy in the early game, respectively.  At the beginning of the game, Austria typically feels as though there isn’t enough time.  She must speak with Turkey, Russia, Germany and Italy (as all four of them are on Austria’s doorstep) while trying to come out on top.  Italy, however, has Austria to deal with, and possibly Germany in a stab at Austria.  Until the midgame, Austria and Italy remain this way; one overtaxed by the time limit (and feeling a frenetic play), the other underwhelmed by the interaction that everyone else (except Italy) is receiving.

There are a variety of ways to affect the cadence of your title.  Just be sure the cadence you choose for your game keeps your players marching on with the flow of the game.

Keep on designing, yo!

Phil

Written by krinklechip

September 2, 2009 at 5:41 am

Posted in Concepts, Game Design

Player Elimination, 9.1.09

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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!

Phil

Written by krinklechip

September 1, 2009 at 7:44 pm