analytics code

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

opposing progress with sub-goals and multiple actions

In (American) football, it's called "field position".

I grew up a fan of baseball, basketball, and football, but I never really appreciated the intricacies of the third until the past few years. The more I watch it, the more I understand, and the more certain subtleties become obvious to me.

Field position is one of these subtleties. The primary goal of the offense is to score points. However, if the offense is unable to score points, it does have a secondary goal of creating poor field position for their opponent. When making the appropriate play call, the coach has to take in to consideration a myriad of factors, field position notwithstanding. This is probably most evident in "3rd and long" situations where obtaining a 1st down may be a long shot. In some cases, it may be more desirable to make a safe call that will gain a few yards than to take a risky shot at a first down.

I've been thinking of this as a mechanic of the game of football, and am curious how such a mechanic could be implemented with a board game. Abstracting it out of the game of football can be a bit of a challenge because of all the different factors that play into the significance of the mechanic.

The integral part of the mechanic is opposing progress. This is when one player's progress reverses the other player's or players' progress. This can be anything quantifiable. In football, this is the distance to the opposing team's goal line. This is also seen in Othello, where turning over an opponent's piece results in the player gaining a piece of his own.

However, in Othello the progress is towards the final goal of having more pieces at the end of the game than your opponent. In football, the progress moves you toward a sub-goal of the larger goal of having more points at the end of the game. To make it more interesting, there are actually two sub-goals: the field goal and the touchdown. The latter is more desirable as it generally results in more than twice as many points than the former, but the former is easier to obtain.

Finally, in an oversimplified view, there are two ways to progress in football. One is to run the ball, which is generally a more sure way to gain a few yards (less progress, less risk). The other is to pass the ball, which may not gain any yards, but tends to gain more yards than running the ball when you do gain yards (more progress, more risk). This is an important dynamic in the situations described above; the player must decide which action to take to not only maximize his own progress towards a sub-goal, but which will also maximize the backwards progress of the opponent.

In summary, these elements should be present to replicate the "field position" mechanic in football:

  • Opposing progress - One player's progress negatively impacts the progress of the opposing player or players.

  • Sub-goals - There should be multiple sub-goals where the ease of obtaining a sub-goal is inversely related to the reward for obtaining the sub-goal (i.e., the touchdown versus the field goal). The progress described above should move the player closer to the sub-goals.

  • Multiple actions - Each successful action should progress the player, but actions that progress the player further should carry a higher risk of either no progress or negative progress (i.e., the run play versus the pass play).

  • Progress punt - The player should be able to "punt" (for lack of a better term) their ability to progress to drastically reduce their opponent's progress. Implementation of this element is easiest when only one player can progress at a time, and the progress punt ends their turn at progressing.

While it is possible to implement a portion of these elements, I do not believe that you can create interesting decisions similar to the "field position" decisions on a football field without at least implementing the first three elements. The final element, which I did not discuss in detail, would create a more complete analogy, but it could also be eliminated if it proves difficult to implement or creates an imbalance in gameplay.

I also did not mention an important part of the mechanic in football. The teams are limited to the number of plays they can run because they must progress ten yards within four plays. In the case of a game where players take turns performing actions, this would not apply as the player would be slowed by the progress of the opposing player. However, if they were to take turns progressing with multiple actions (as it is in football), they would need to be limited in the number of actions they can take before their turn is over. This way, there would be a reason to use the riskier actions instead of only using the low-risk actions.

In a future post, I hope to mock up an example implementation.

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