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Sunday, January 17, 2016

auctions vs pay-to-draft

I've been working more on my "sports drafting game." The pitch:
As owners of 3-on-3 basketball franchises, players will draft teams and continue to build them over a series of seasons. The owners can use their scouts to see how players' values will change each season, or take risks on unscouted players. The results of each season is determined quickly to allow owners to carry their team through multiple seasons. The owner that can maintain the most successful team throughout the years is the winner.
That probably needs some work.

I prefer auctions in fantasy sport as there may be a significant value difference between subsequent picks. Auctions force owners to put a more precise number on how they value the players.

Unfortunately, traditional auctions are slow, and can be bogged down by small incremental bids. This is where drafts have the advantage over auctions. And so, I was hoping to find a way to combine the two. The process requires tracking the shifting draft order on a draft board, and goes something like this:

  1. Randomly determine the first draft order. Place the owner tokens on the 1st ($9) round, in draft order from left to right.
  2. Starting with the left-most owner, the owner can choose to draft or pass.
    1. Draft - The owner takes any player into their team area, and places the appropriate amount of money on that player. The owner's token will move to the next round. If they don't have enough funds to draft in the next round, they must move their token to the round where the cost equals the owner's remaining funds. The owner's token is placed in the rightmost open position in that round. If the owner has already drafted 4 players, remove their token.
    2. Pass - Move the owner's token to the next round in the leftmost open position.
  3. Continue with the next owner, going left to right, moving to the next round when there are no more owner tokens in that round.
  4. Continue in this manner until all owners have drafted 4 players, or until all owners' tokens are on the 10th ($0) round.
    1. Once all owners are in the 10th ($0) round, do not move tokens after drafting. Continue drafting in left-to-right order until all owners have 4 players.
This method of drafting teams is quicker than an auction, but still forces players to place a value on the players they wish to draft. It is more complicated, which concerns me from people learning from the rules. When being taught, I have found that it makes sense.

My bigger concern is if it removes the tension that comes from an escalating auction. It's fun to bid up an opponent. It's fun to get caught up in the auction and bid more than you planned. Sometimes it's fun to bid on something you know is worthless, and then stick your opponent with it when they try to bid you up.

You lose all of this with the draft.

I plan on continuing to use the draft until it appears that it's missing some spice. If I find there to be less tension, I'll have to make a decision -- does the increase in tension make up for the increased play time?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

quick notes - 25-Jun-2013

I started this post about 6 months ago. What I wrote originally pretty much explains why I didn't finish it:

It has been a bit busy around our house lately. The arrival of our twin baby girls have dominated any semblance of free time that I once had. This means I have little time to write journal entries, write rules, review other's rules, or build any prototypes. It's a bit frustrating to not be able to participate in an apparently thriving Twitter community of game designers, but I know that they will all still be there when my life reaches a point where I have more time to commit to hobby game design.

Things have settled down a bit, but my design time is still scarce. I have had the opportunity to participate in Hyperbole Games Pen-pal Prototype Program, but only as a play tester so far. I have had time to focus a bit on one game design, which actually played half-decently in a solo play test.

Here's what's on my plate:

Construction Contracts

No, this is not what I want to call the game, but it's what I got so far. I wanted to make a game entirely with cards, and this has been the result. On your turn, you play one card in front of you face down, discard a card, and draw two new ones. The first card you place face down is a worker of some type. Each subsequent card pays for that worker until you have met the payment requirement on the worker card. Then, the next card is another worker. At the end of your turn, you have the option to open bidding on any of the contracts for a building that are in the center of the table. You have to meet the requirements for that building with the workers that you have been placing in front of you. Each building has a certain type and victory point value. Sets of types score more points. Some buildings can count as two types. Play continues until all building contracts are won. It works, but I'm not sure if the fun is there. I need to get it in front of other people, but I want to tweak some values first. I had a ridiculous spread of victory point values which made the math a bit silly. Also, the game took a little too long, so I want to reduce the costs of the workers. Once I complete that, I'll print out a new deck and force someone to play it with me.

New Phoenix

My dice-pool-collecting game with a dash of role selection has stalled out, but I have a new idea I need to try with it. Instead of it being role selection (where players can "follow" the role chosen by the active player), I think it would work better as something closer to a worker placement. It makes more sense thematically as well. You take your dice roll and assign the appropriate dice to one of the tasks for the community (tribe? clan?). Subsequent players cannot perform that task this round and must choose another task or freeze one of their dice for the next round. After the tasks are all chosen, the players execute the tasks in a given order (develop technology, recruit/protect #1, recruit/protect #2, freeze die, scout). The turn order for the next turn is determined by the reverse order that the tasks were executed in (primarily so that there is incentive to scout knowing that you can choose recruit/protect #1 first). I need better developments, and well, to actually try this new system, but I think it will be better than what I had.

Franchise (or some drafting game)

My post on some ideas for a drafting game is pretty much where I left this one. Basketball would be my sport of choice if I pursued a sports-related theme. I think that some sort of racing game or goofy robot combat game would still be fun. This is definitely in the pre-alpha-you-can't-hardly-call-it-an-idea phase.

Partnership games

I had two ideas. My last post describes the issues I had with the card game. In the end, I think it was too long, and not really fun. I'm not sure it's worth pursuing any further, at least not until I'm happy with (or ready to abandon) my "contracts" card game.

The other idea was for a board game that involves some amount of terraforming and magic. Tricks make up the elements for spells that change the terrain of the board, and each team is trying to help their clan grow by terraforming the board in their favor. I believe I mentioned Populous as an inspiration. I should probably play Terra Mystica as well, although it sounds more complicated than I was imagining.

I can now say I've successfully updated my blog in less than a year. Now, to actually work on one of these games!

Monday, July 23, 2012

partnership card game highs and lows

I printed out a prototype for the partnership card game I've been working on. I've been calling it "Builder" for lack of a good name. I used nandeck with a data import to generate the cards, so they are functional but text-only.

The game works, which makes me want to continue working on it. I'm not sure it's fun yet. I think part of that has to do with limited decisions. However, sitting down and playing all 4 hands shed some light on some obvious problems. The out-dated, rough draft of the rules can be found here.

First, the game was moving too slowly at the beginning. This was easily fixed by given each player two workers to start instead of one. This also alleviated the pain of not gaining a worker cards in the first couple of hands.

Second, the prices and the card values did not match up. The prices were too low for the values of the cards. I couldn't lower the card values, which were currently 1, 2, or 3. Solution? I doubled the prices, and increased the card values by 1 (2, 3, 4). I think this allowed the values to match the prices better, and it decreased the factor between the maximum and minimum card values. Better!

I fear adding too much complexity without justification, but I think the game is too simple right now. I'm going to add "Advisers" to the game to see if it adds some extra decision-making without making things significantly more complex. The Advisers will be portrayed on the Worker cards, so now the Worker cards have three purposes: 1) play for resources, 2) player to gain a Worker, or 3) discard a Worker to place this Adviser in your tableau. A player can have up to two Advisers in their tableau at a time. Each Adviser gives the player an extra ability. Here are some ideas:
  • Architect - Allows players to use one worker like a foreman
  • Recruiter (idea #1) - May play a worker card when anyone calls produce to add a worker to a production building before producing
  • Recruiter (idea #2) - On your turn, may discard any card to add a worker
  • Production Manager - Without moving any workers, may produce from one building before taking your normal turn
  • Efficiency Manager (idea #1) - When opening a new project, after every other player has made their contribution, may contribute to any open project
  • Efficiency Manager (idea #2) - When another player opens a project, may contribute to another open project or directly to the Castle if you are unable to contribute to the newly opened project
  • Ambassador - After opening a new project, may compel one player to contribute a card of a specific type
  • Resource Manager - Maximum hand size is increased by one. This does not affect the capacity of a warehouse.
  • Merchant - May use the Market any number of times after producing
Right now I'm planning on 12 worker cards, so that leaves room for 2 copies of 6 Advisers. Hopefully I can come up with 6 that are reasonably -- but not necessarily perfectly -- balanced.

There are two things I need to work on still. At this point, I think there is still a distinct advantage to simply drawing the best cards. I think I can make some changes to affect this. Namely, I want to change the rules so that when someone opens a project, other players only score if they contribute to that project. I'm not sure if that's the way to go. I should probably play a few games to completion before making that call.

Lastly, I'm not too thrilled with the theme. You are a builder. In medieval times. Helping build a kingdom and castle. I think it's been done. However, the game mechanics do fit with the theme, and I haven't been able to think of anything else. So I'm sticking with it for now.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

drafting with hidden attributes

As a follow up to my previous entry, I want to consider some more specific themes that could be used with a drafting mechanic that utilizes hidden information. The drafting mechanic discussed here is not the typical "pick one and pass" card drafting that other games utilize. Instead, it's something more commonly seen in both real and fantasy sports. There is a known pool of items to draft from, and players take turns picking an item to add to their set of items.

If the draft is the meat of the game, the majority of the time spent playing the game should be spent during the draft. Resolving the draft -- i.e, determining which set of items is the best -- should be a relatively quick exercise. Ideally, multiple drafts would occur, and the winner of the game would be based on the outcomes of each competition that occurs between drafts.

The most obvious theme is drafting and managing a sports team. The obvious benefit to using this theme is that it closely mimics what happens in real life, and there are millions of people that play fantasy sports every year. The problem with sports is that most sports require fairly large teams. Of the major U.S. sports, basketball requires the least number of players with only 5 playing at a given time. Even then, 5 players for each team with 3 - 8 teams requires 15 - 40 players available for each draft. That's a lot of players to consider at once!

Sports do play well into the theme for other reasons. Players generally specialize in a position or skill that every team needs, and each team would need to have players that fill all of the needs of the team. Players can have synergy with other types of players that would enhance their value to the team. Using dice, players can be represented as providing consistent value, or they can be inconsistent but have high potential -- adding a bit of risk-reward to the situation.

Finally, the hidden attributes: each player could come with a randomly assigned card that slightly modifies their attributes, but the contents of the card are unknown to the teams. A team can hire a scout to allow them to look at the contents of the cards for a particular player. Teams with more money can hire more scouts. The teams that perform the best between drafts (in either head-to-head matches against other teams, or perhaps in some calculated ranking) earn more money to use for scouting in the next draft.

I could expand further on ideas I've had for doing a sports drafting game, but I want to focus on one other route that I've considered.

Instead of building a team, players are building a machine. Each machine requires certain parts to run, and each part affects the performance of the machine. Each machine also has a maintenance cost (again, randomly assigned) that is hidden from the player, but can be revealed to a player if that player sends one of his "experts" to examine the part. Each part has an initial cost that the player would have to pay when they pick the part in the draft. Before the next draft, they would have to pay the maintenance cost or trash the part. The game would flow something like this:

  • Create pool of parts for drafting
  • Send out experts to look at hidden maintenance costs
  • Draft parts, pay cost, reveal maintenance costs
  • Compete, earn payout based on performance
  • Create new pool of parts for drafting
  • Pay maintenance cost or trash each item (not sure when exactly this should happen)
  • Send out experts, etc.
So what are these machines?

One idea is to make it an auto racing game. I know nothing about racing, and I haven't played any board games based on the theme. However, the advantage of a race is that the results are determine in one race! You don't have to have several head-to-head matches. No matter how simple the method used to determine the winner in head-to-head matches, that process will almost certainly take longer than running one race. Additionally, defining how the head-to-head matches should take place between drafts can be difficult with variable player numbers, unless you do a round-robin. And nobody wants to do an 8-player round-robin.

The other idea is robot combat. Yeah, you heard me. ROBOT. COMBAT. Now the head-to-head matches don't seem like such a bad idea, do they? An interesting aspect of this theme is that players could design their robots with a particular opponent in mind if they were only facing one or two other robots between each draft. The makeup of your opponent's robot becomes one more factor in the decision on which parts to draft. 

Perhaps it should be a Robot Battle Royal.

So what sounds good? Sports? Auto Racing? Robot Combat? Robot Battle Royal?

Friday, May 11, 2012

distilling the nfl draft

A recent tweet reminded me that I have a "fantasy sports as a board game" design that I was once working on.

Let's break this down.

The purpose of the NFL draft is to give each team the opportunity to add pieces to their team in order to improve it.

The draft adds pieces to a whole with the intent to improve it.

The order of the NFL draft is determined by the performance (win-loss record and playoff performance) of the teams in the previous year. The teams with the worst performance select first. This is necessary as the draft is inherently unfair. The first selection is more valuable than the last player.

A draft is inherently unfair, so the drafters must start in unequal positions.

The players drafted are evaluated on a variety of aspects. They have shown their football abilities at the college level. They have shown their athletic prowess at the combine. They have a perceived potential. The position that they play can add to their value. Each player has a better fit in some systems than they do in other systems. The player's character is evaluated as well. All of these are factored into where a team will rank the player on their "big board".

The pieces have a known value, a potential value, and a value that is dependent on the whole they are being added to.

There is no winner after the draft is completed. Instead, the results of the draft are determined in a 16-game season, followed by a 4-round playoff. While favorites can be identified based on the make-up of the teams, there is enough unpredictability that the champion cannot be determined until the entire season is played.

The results of the draft do not determine the winner. Instead, each whole is has the potential to be the winner, but some are more likely than others.

But what about the "subterfuge and meta-gaming"?

Each team has its needs and has its own valuation of the players available in the draft. If there is a player that a particular team wants, but they are afraid that the player won't be available when it's their turn to pick, they will make a trade -- players or future draft picks -- to move up to secure the player that they desire. So when another team feigns interest in a player, they can convince a team to make a trade, perhaps unnecessarily, to acquire the player they want.

Can this be built into a game? Or does a game rely on players to create the meta-game?

A lot of this relies on the players. The design can encourage bluffing and posturing, but it can never force a player to act in such a way. Werewolf, Mafia, and games of that variety are built entirely around meta-gaming. If a player refuses to lie or otherwise trick and deceive the other players, the game will be much less interesting.

Auction games afford some amount of meta-gaming because players have the ability to affect the price for items that other players want. A player can force another player to pay more for an item that is only valuable to one of them. In the same right, a player could be caught bidding another player up too high, and be forced to pay more for something that isn't as valuable for that player. Games like Homesteaders and Power Grid excel in creating that tension of one player seeing how far they can push up the price for another player. Ra not only forces you to judge how much a player will bid on a set of items, but it also allows you to choose when to offer some items up for auction. In the right group, extensive meta-gaming can emerge from these simple mechanics.

Coming back to the draft, I believe that while meta-gaming could emerge from the uncertainty of how each player values a particular draft pick, the addition of hidden information would encourage meta-gaming even more. Imagine a draft where each item in the draft (e.g., a player in a football draft) has a set of know attributes that all players can use to judge the value of that item. However, each item also has some hidden attributes that not every player has seen. Players that have this information can use it to get a more accurate valuation of the item, and they can deceive other players in what they saw. If more than one player has seen the same hidden information, the two players can create confusion if one is trying to tell the truth about what they saw while the other is deceiving the other players. While this still requires the players to create the meta-game, it adds another layer to the design to encourage it.

Since this post is already too long, I'll save my game ideas for drafting games for another post -- hopefully soon!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

custom dice: oh, they're expensive?

A tweet I saw yesterday sparked some thoughts on my game involving custom dice.
(Side note: If anyone knows how to properly imbed a tweet within a Blogger post, please let me know.)

Oh really? Ouch.

My dice game, as is, requires 4 unique dice per dice type. That's 16 - 20 unique dice. Assuming the $2,200 is per unique die, that's roughly $35,000 to $45,000 for set up costs.

That will never happen.

For reasons like this, it's important for a designer to know the costs of production before they dive too far into a design. Unfortunately, it takes some leg work, and personally, I'd rather be designing. It's helpful to follow conversations on Twitter and from the BGG game design forums for this very reason.

As for my design, I came up with what is hopefully a solution to the problem. Instead of 4 unique dice per type, there would just be 4 unique dice. Essentially, all the dice were the same across types. So instead of having the unique icons for each type, the dice would display "primary" and "secondary" icons. The type of the dice is still signified by its color. There would have to be a legend that indicated what the primary and secondary icons were for each type.

It's not as ideal as a bunch of custom dice, but it should be would be much cheaper!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

hobos: the be-picked-up-and-delivered theme

In the midst of resenting the amount of stuff we have in our house, I must have had a romantic vision of getting rid of everything and becoming a hobo. Given how unrealistic (and honestly, not all that romantic) the idea was, I had to do the next best thing: design a game!

Be warned: what follows is a brainstorm. Ideas within may contradict each other, or might not make any sense!

The heart of the game revolves around jumping on trains to hitch a ride to various towns to find jobs. Jobs provide money and/or food, change your reputation (positively or negatively) with the town and/or the hobo community, and change your happiness. Victory conditions are based around money, happiness, and reputation.

Food is required periodically, or else you'll lose some happiness.

Happiness is factored into your final score.

Money is required to buy food and train tickets. It also factors into your final score.

Train tickets allow you to legitimately travel on commuter trains. Otherwise, you have to jump a freight train.

Reputation allows you to get better jobs or receive charity. It also factors into your final score.

The board is a hex map that contains several towns. The towns are connected by railroads. If it's not too complex, some of the railroads may be commuter trains while others are freight trains. If it's too fiddly, we can pretend they are one in the same.

The trains move between towns autonomously. The train tracks would be segmented into spaces, and each space would be 2 (or 3) hexes in length. Each turn, every train moves one space. Hobos can board trains when the train is at the train station (otherwise the train is moving too fast!).

In a town you can take one of the jobs currently available there. Jobs may have a reputation requirement before you can take them. You can take charity in town, which provides money or food but hurts your reputation. You can use money to buy food in town.

Turns correspond to trains moving one space. Jobs may take multiple turns to complete. Hobos may move by foot one hex space each turn.

That is the basic framework I have in mind, but I already see a glaring problem: moving one space per turn, or waiting for a train to get to the next town, or waiting for a job to complete could be boring. Perhaps in practice it would move fast enough that it wouldn't be a problem.

The map might be the biggest challenge. Routes would have to be designed so that there are multiple ways to get around. Going by foot should be inefficient, but viable if a train isn't immediately available.

I can see this becoming more interesting as a design problem than as an actual game!