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Design Experiment, Guillotine without a line, 10.22.13

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All righty! Everyone form an orderly mob for today’s design experiment: Guillotine without a line of nobles.

Guillotine is a card game by Wizards of the Coast that puts players into the role of competing executioners during the French Revolution trying to get the most notoriety by beheading the most noteworthy people. 12 nobles are lined up each round, and each turn you get to play one action card and then take the noble at the front of the line and add it to your score pile.

Most commonly, action cards will let you rearrange the order of the line to some degree before taking the noble at the front. With planning, you can take exactly the nobles you want while leaving the low & negative point nobles to your hapless opponents. (Of course, said opponents are trying to do the same thing…)

The line of nobles is central to Guillotine. But what if it weren’t there? Here’s a couple possible solutions that might have also worked.

Grid of nobles

Perhaps the nobles for a given round are put into a 3×4 grid. This doesn’t really remove the line, though; it just makes three smaller ones if you could take from the front of any line.

UNLESS! The action card you played also stated a specific column or row you had to take from the front of at the end of your turn. It could create some interesting choices as you could end up affecting lots of rows & columns with a single play.

The downside of such a solution is that any sense of forward planning would disappear. With a line, you know which nobles are likely to be taken next based on the way they’re arranged. If each action card had a different set of rows or columns for a player to take from, it makes a fairly random game even MORE random (not to mention fiddly). It would work, but not necessarily be satisfying. This could be mitigated by each card only allowing to take from the front of a specific column, but then you just have three lines instead of one.

Hand of nobles

Perhaps nobles are cards in hand alongside action cards, where you draw and play one each turn. The action cards would be fundamentally different; there isn’t a line to affect any more. They would instead focus solely on hand and score pile manipulation.

The play feels like it would get stale pretty quick unless other changes were also made to the game. You’d simply play the highest-point noble you had at any given time and try to pawn off the negative-point nobles on other players. Whereas the first alternate was too random, this one is too scripted. And they BOTH lack good player interaction that the original design has.

One possible additional change could be what my cohort calls Knizia scoring (after designer Reiner Knizia for using it in Samurai, Ingenious, and others). In a game with set collection-based scoring, your best set does not count toward your score. Instead either your second highest set (or other sets if there’s just three or four) or your lowest set are your final score. If such a mechanic were mixed with action cards that specifically focused on set size manipulation, that could be fun  while still maintaining the theme.

That’s all for the possible solutions I lined up for ya. How would you tackle this change?


Written by krinklechip

October 22, 2013 at 5:27 am

Simultaneous Action, 10.16.13

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Quick! Try to stand on one foot, balance an egg on your nose, AND clap your hands. … now that we’ve all failed miserably and made a mess of our computers, lets have a look at simultaneous action in a more controlled fashion.

Simultaneous action can speed up gameplay considerably (or at least make it feel fast).  Whether it’s through phases where actions are taken by everyone or an outright free-for-all, here’s a few ways simultaneous action could be implemented.

Everyone’s turn… ALWAYS.

One way is for it to be always everyone’s turn. A few examples of this are Escape, Brawl, and Icehouse. This format tends to make for frenetic play as everyone rushes to complete the game’s objective first (or together if it’s cooperative.) A game that uses this does well to not have lots of bits everywhere, as players who get into the game may get… enthusiastic… about completing the game.

This form of simultaneous action also usually has a built-in timer of some sort, whether it be a sound track to play the game to (Escape), a component limit (Brawl), or simply a timer set off to the side (Icehouse) to help force players to actually do something instead of waiting out an opponent.

Simultaneous choice, ordered resolution.

Another way to introduce simultaneous action into the game is to break up the actions being resolved into discrete phases. Space Alert and Revolution (or any simultaneous bidding game) do this.

With Space Alert, each player maps out what she intends to do while playing the cards corresponding to the actions on an action track. After a set time, players then resolve the actions for that particular phase and hope something doesn’t go wrong elsewhere on the ship (or that she didn’t play the cards wrong…)

Revolution does it in a similar way, with players deciding how to place their bids at the same time, then resolving the bids in a specific order every time until the game is over. Even though Revolution is about 45 minutes, it doesn’t really feel like it thanks to the quick pacing of the rounds of everyone bidding simultaneously.

Simultaneous action can be tough to implement well (much like trying to drive, read, and eat at the same time), but when done right, it can create a great experience (much UNlike trying to drive, read and eat at the same time).

Written by krinklechip

October 16, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Posted in Concepts, Game Design, Rules

Design Experiment: Forbidden Island without sinking, 10.14.13

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Io there! We’re starting this game design blog back up with look at a game without one of its key mechanics. (We’ve done a few like this before looking at Monopoly without money and Power Grid without power stations.)

Today, we’re lookin’ at Forbidden Island without the island sinking.

A quick primer: Forbidden Island is a cooperative game where players work together to retrieve four artifacts from a sinking island and get everyone off to safety before:

  • A) an artifact is lost,
  • B) someone drowns, or
  • C) the exit is lost.

Each turn, players move about the island helping keep the island afloat while working to gather the four artifacts. Each player has a special ability nobody else has, and the sinking of the island intensifies as the game continues. It’s a fantastic intro co-op; go get it (or its older brother, Forbidden Desert).

One of the main mechanics that drives the action of the game is the fact the island sinks a little bit each turn. This provides the sense of urgency and danger a cooperative game needs. So if we take it out, what might happen? Here’s one possibility:

  1.  No sinking means there isn’t any danger of losing. Without a threat, the cooperative element falls a bit flat. To keep an element of uncertainty and danger, perhaps the game spawns guards each turn that must be dealt with or avoided. One per player could start in play at the beginning of the game.
  2. Guards could be spawned by the flood cards. Instead of the space listed getting flipped over, it either spawns a guard at that location or moves a guard on that space a set number of spaces with hitting an edge wrapping the guard around to the opposite side of the board.
  3. A hit point system could be implemented. You could take being landed on by a guard X times before you’re caught.
  4. Guards could be removed from play by moving into the same space from the side or behind.
  5. As gameplay continues, you would start drawing more than one card to determine guard movement and placement. Eventually, the players would simply be overwhelmed by the guards and be caught.

Still keeps a rough feel of being Forbidden Island, but with a funky twist. How would you work with the change? Let us know in the comments!


Written by krinklechip

October 14, 2013 at 7:51 pm

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!


Written by krinklechip

September 1, 2009 at 7:44 pm

Auctions, 8.18.09

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Up next, we have this lovely article about auctions.  It is guaranteed to have at least THREE different ideas on how to do auctions.  If you want more, check out this other article that hit the auction block a year ago…  Now, do I hear 10?

-Multiple currencies.  There are multiple types of money and each one trumps the others in certain instances.  Revolution! by Steve Jackson uses this mechanic to great effect; money is the lowest, blackmail trumps money and force trumps everything.  Another way to do it is to have each currency vary in its strength.  Say we have a Thief-style game where you are stealing different kinds of jewels.  In order to evade getting caught, you need to bribe guards that favor different types of jewels, with the player bidding the favorite of the guard being the only one not to get caught.

-Closed Economy.  There is only X money in the game which exchanges between players.  Ra and is a good example of this kind of auction system.  In Ra, whatever number ends up being the winning bid is part of what is up for auction next round with the winning player taking the number that was part of the current auction.  You could expand this to include the things that you are purchasing, as well.  Take a bazaar style game.  Each turn, animals, gems, food and so forth are put up for auction.  Not only can you bid money, but previous acquisitions (at a predetermined dollar amount) to gain what is put up for auction.  Whoever wins puts everything auctioned into the center to add to the next auction.

-Action Point bid.  For a twist to action point games, auction off the actions for the round for action points.  Say we have a gold rush game.  Actions would be revealed (pan/sluice for gold, explore for new stakes, etc.) that would then be bid on with the action points each player has for the round.  More action points spent thematically means that player took more effort than everyone to profit from the action.  Once all actions have been claimed, the round ends.  Any action points that are left over at the end of a round would be lost since action points (usually) refresh each round.

50,000?!  Going once… going twice… Sold!  This Mechanic of the Day is finished.

Keep on designing, yo!


Written by krinklechip

August 18, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Voting, 9.26.08

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I motion that this Mechanic of the Day be about voting. Voting encourages player interaction in hopes of each player convincing the other players to vote their way. While not for every game (partly due to voting needing at least 4 players usually), it can add a kick to your game if used properly… and shouting matches.

-Victory Point Distribution. Players vote how victory points are distributed. Mostly for party games (Nanofictionary), this would be an interesting way to shake up scoring. With the caveat of not being able
to vote for yourself, it adds another level to cooper-tition. In a senate game, players could be trying to pass specific laws and legislation for themselves while working with everyone else. At the end of the round, the points available are based on what passed the floor; One player gets 5 points, one player gets 3 points, etc. as listed on each law.

-Rule Change. Players vote on whether a change to the core rules of the game is implemented. A staple of civ games, this allows the players to alter how the game is played by democratic choice. However, you may end up with a playerset that refuses to change the rules. To mitigate that, have an effect if it passes OR fails (TI3). In a kids’ camp game where the players are camp councellers, the rules changes could open up new parts of the board (new hiking trails) or make new actions become available (new kayaks for kayaking).

-Special Ability Assignment. Players vote for who should get a special action or ability. This one is especially good for causing cognitive suffering. Super-shiny Ability is drawn that everyone wants but only one player gets. How do you decide who gets it(aside from yourself)? In a Swiss Family Robinson-style game, Abilities could include
rationing more food for yourself (The Food Rationer), access to additional supplies (The Builder) and so on.

The motion has carried and has passed. I declare this Mechanic of the Day complete. Ajourned.

Keep on designing, yo!


Written by krinklechip

August 18, 2009 at 2:31 am

Role Selection, 9.16.08

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It’s time for another Mechanic of the Day… Today, we shall delve into a few ways to utilize role selection.  Role selection is where each player chooses a ‘role’ for the current round to either take a specific action, get some sort of bonus, or both.  Lets look at some of the choices, hm?

-Single Action Role Selection. Players choose a role that has a single, specific action. In a game where you have only one action per turn and it is determined by the role you choose, it allows players to completely customize their strategy to their playstyle; provided there are enough roles available. Say you have a sandbox game where you can
build sandcastles, moats, etc. for points. Roles could include actions for gathering sand, digging trenches for a moat, building, and so forth.

-Special Action Role Selection. Players choose a role that grants a special action in addition to standard actions available to every player.  Puerto Rico uses this form of role selection.  It allows for the same kind of customization as Single Action Role Selection, only on a smaller scale, as everyone gets the basic action tied to the role. In a restaurant game, Roles such as Head Chef could allow you to spice up a meal for extra points in addition to your other actions, while the Maitre De action could allow you to rearrange customers.

-Reverse Role Selection. Players choose what action they CANNOT take for the round, or a penalty they must play with for the round. For an interesting twist of cognitive suffering (which we all want), have the players try and choose what they won’t be allowed to do for the round. Take a TV Programming game. If you take the writer role, you can’t
rearrange time slots; while the director role cannot draw new shows for the round.

There’s a few for ya to choose from…

Keep on designing, yo!


Written by krinklechip

August 18, 2009 at 2:05 am