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Friday, September 24, 2010

adding situational value

As I thought about the value of the draftees in Franchise (which is what I am calling my "fantasy sports game" for now), I realized that their values were fairly cut-and-dry. While the offense and defense ratings provide a need for both attributes, it's pretty clear that a draftee with a rating of 6 in either category is always going to be a better choice than a 3/3 draftee.

The stat adjustment cards and the mandatory loss of a stamina token at the end of each season were created to make the value of a draftee more dynamic. However, this doesn't affect the first draft, and the value of the draftee is still basically the same for all players.

In order to make the first draft more interesting, the draftees will be displayed in 3 rows, with the number of draftees in each row being one more than the number of players. In the first row, the draftees have 3 stamina tokens; in the second, 2; in the third, 3. This would only apply to the first draft, and would create the same dynamic that you would get in subsequent drafts. For the subsequent drafts, the new draftees would start with 3 stamina tokens.

To create situational value, the draftees would have another attribute -- a classification of sorts. If two draftees on a single team had the same classification, they would each receive some sort of stat bonus. I haven't quite decided what the classification or bonus should be. For classification, I was thinking of something along the lines of nationality, play-style, or some generic "chemistry" value. One idea for bonuses would be that if the defender and midfielder shared the same classification, they would increase their defense attribute by one; if the forward and midfielder share the same classification, they would increase their offense attribute by one. A more simple version would be to increase the consistency attribute of any player that shared a classification with another player on their team, even increasing it by the number of players that it is share with (i.e., as many as +2).

This classification makes individual draftees more attractive to players that already have a draftee with that classification on their team. This situational value is key to making the auctioning more interesting, so that players have to be more careful about bidding an opponent up.

Friday, September 17, 2010

draft, play, repeat!

I had the idea about creating a "fantasy sports" board or card game for some time now. A recent Tao of Gaming post regarding the upcoming Blood Bowl card game brought it back to my mind again. I looked at my initial notes, and only made some small adjustments, so I might start prototyping the game -- the first time I'd ever consider doing this with any idea I've had.

The inspiration comes primarily from my own feeling that the best part about fantasy baseball is preparing for and participating in the draft at the beginning of the season. After the draft, it feels like there's a lot of motion to see what final result is, even though the majority of the season is determined by the result of the draft. An article by Ron Shandler (which may or may not be available any longer) showed the results of a survey amongst fantasy experts. The results mirror my sentiment: the draft contributes the most to success; next in line is luck.

I have less experience with fantasy football, but it seems to me that the situation is similar: a small percentage of time (the draft) is spent on something that has a large impact on the results. The rest of the time is spent on activities that have little impact on the results, or merely on waiting to see the results.

The goal of the design is to create a game that would involve spending less time on determining the results of the season, which would allow multiple rounds of drafting. Here are the key principles:

  • The draftees (I use this term to separate the in-game player from the player playing the game) have some sort of quantitative value or values (e.g., skill attributes) that force the player to determine an relative value for that draftee

  • Preferably, it would be an auction draft, allowing the players to assign a value to a draftee

  • The results of the draft impact the result of the season, but don't dictate the results of the season. There should be some luck involved, but players should be able to play the percentages.

  • The season needs to be resolved quickly.

  • The value of a draftee should change over the course of the game, forcing players to re-evaluate the value of the draftee versus newly available draftees.

I came up with a system that I'm fairly happy with, with a bit of a soccer flavor to it. The draftees have three attributes: offense, defense, and consistency. A team consists of three players: one defender (defense only), one forward (offense only), and one midfielder (situationally offense or defense). Each action is carried out by rolling some dice; the number of dice depends on the draftee's consistency attribute plus the number of active stamina tokens the player has remaining. The highest roll determines the result of the action, but the offense/defense attribute determines the draftee's maximum roll value (rolls higher than this are rerolled). The various actions are performed, eventually goals are scored, and the game ends after about a dozen actions by each player. Finally, there's a simple system for adjusting the attributes of the draftees, changing their attractiveness for the next draft.

It works, but only playtesting will reveal if it's fun. Here are my primary questions:

  • Is good drafting required to win?

  • Is the luck manageable?

  • Can the games be played quickly enough?

  • How many seasons can be played in 30/60/90/120 minutes?

  • Are 3 draftees enough for a satisfying draft?

  • Are both the draft and playing the game fun?

I wish that the particular sport doesn't matter, but I believe that it would be important to be able to simulate, even if at an extremely abstract level, a real sport. Unfortunately, the most popular fantasy sports, baseball and football, require drafting players with extremely specific roles. This would require a large pool of players to draft from. With soccer, you can fudge it a bit, as I did above, and probably something similar could be done with basketball. Choosing the theme is important for two different reasons: it affects how the game is played, and it affects the attractiveness (i.e., marketability) of the game. Hopefully refining the core mechanics will allow them to be applied to a high-level simulation of almost any team sport.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

eminent domain

I've been playing a prototype of Eminent Domain. Seth Jaffee provided the files needed to print it out, and I've been playing 2- and 3-player games over lunch. It took about a half dozen plays to get all of the rules right, but we even enjoyed the game when we were playing it wrong.

Briefly, it's an engine-building game that utilizes role selection and deck construction. In fact, the role selection is the method for adding cards to your deck, which forces you to weigh the desire to use the benefits of a particular role with the consequence of adding that role card to your deck. There are three ways to score points (planets, technologies, and trading), and so far it has proven viable to pursue any combination of these three. That's the short of it; I'll let the BGG entry and Seth's blog add details.

Our last two 3-player games proved to be extremely close. Starting with a fertile planet, I pursued a harvest/trade strategy, trying to take advantage of reasearch, survey and colonize when possible. My opponents dabbled enough in harvest/trade to take some advantage of my calls, while also using warfare, colonize, and survey to play some high-point planets. The VP token pool exhausted to end the game, and the final scores tallied 21(1)-21(0)-20 (I was the 20). The winner had successfully been collecting armies with a "Take 2 armies" technology action, and then utilized a single warfare card to occassionally attack planets. Otherwise, he primarily relied on colonize to settle planets, while also gaining moderate VP tokens. A single leftover army won the game for him.

In our second game, I drew a fertile world to start again, but decided fairly early to eschew the harvest/trade strategy for something different. Instead, I tried to use a combination of warfare and colonize, along with some research and survey. Unfortunately, my surveys were fairly shallow, and I was drawing fairly low-point planets. I was last, which is a nice advantage in that you can guarantee yourself a win if you know that you can end your turn with more points than everyone else. (Points are fairly easy to track; the only "hidden" points are on research cards purchased and placed in the player's deck, but these are not so many that they are hard to remember.) When it came to my turn, I recognized that I could end the game while also building a 5-point technology, and it was unlikely anyone else would be able to research for points. However, this would have tied me with the leader, who also had some armies while I had nothing to help in a tie-breaker. Instead, I extended the game another round. I believe I researched that round for 2 points, and then followed a trade or attack/colonize so that by the time it was my turn again, I was only down by one point. The leader exhausted a role card pile on his turn, which was immediately before mine. Down 29-28, I held only 3 research symbols in my hand, but I also held a tech with a "Draw 3" action. I played that tech, and drew 3 cards. Only 1 research card came up. With no other way to gain points, I was forced to end the game 1 research card short of victory. Final score was 29-28-27.

Eminent Domain is well-received with my lunch group. Although it fills a different strategy space than Race for the Galaxy, there is one major similarity that forces it to compete for playtime: we can play two games of either within 90 minutes (yeah, we take long lunches if we're playing games). The role-selection also gives a similar feel where it's important to read your opponent, and gauge the optimal play based not only on how it helps you, but also on how it helps your opponent. The deck-building mechanic in Eminent Domain adds another layer to the role-selection, which complicates that decision. However, the cards are much less complex, which makes it easier to teach and learn Eminent Domain. If I had a group that wanted to learn both, I'd probably teach Eminent Domain first.