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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.

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