Game Mechanic For Hire

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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

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Written by krinklechip

September 2, 2009 at 5:41 am

Posted in Concepts, Game Design

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