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Friday, November 19, 2010

partnerships: bring out the board!

The card game idea discussed in my previous post was neither my original intention nor my original idea when I began thinking about partnerships in board games. I wanted to move away from card games, but the hidden information mechanic that is inherent in them made it easier to think in that space.

There is something different about a board game that separates one from card games. Perhaps they can have richer themes. Perhaps relaxed limitations on components can create for a deeper strategy space. Perhaps there is something more enjoyable about manipulating the wooden/plastic components. Whatever it is, I think it would be hard to deny that it is certainly a different experience.

Regardless, I wanted to introduce the partnership play as something that affects what is occurring on a shared board. Each player would hold some cards that would be combined with other players' cards to trigger some event or modify the board in some way. Immediately I began to picture a game where each player is acting as a deity controlling the environment in which one or several civilizations are forming.

The board is a discrete map (square or hex grid) that is seeded with tiles or markers that indicate whether the land is barren, fertile, or flooded. The civilization is represented by meeples that can occupy these spaces. Periodically (after a turn or a round of turns), the civilization can grow, shrink and/or relocate depending on their occupied and adjacent terrain. Before that happens, the players change the terrain by casting spells.

The players cast spells by completing a set of three colors that define the spell. The first player plays a card with the name of the spell he wishes to cast. This card is also one of the three colors in the spell. The next player must play another color in the spell, and the third player (the first player's partner) must complete the spell. Once completed, the spell affects a given area of the board -- perhaps each player has an avatar which he can move to indicate what area the spell will affect. After the board has been modified, the fourth player begins the next spell.

That's how I imagine the "happy path" play of the game. Where the game would get more interesting is if the players had ways to counter-spell, or boost spells. Rules would also have to be defined how to handle a player's inability to contribute to a spell. There are also thematic issues as to why one deity would contribute to another deity's spell assuming that it would be detrimental to him. Other open questions include whether it is one civilization of which all deities are vying for control, or whether there are separate civilizations that each deity is attempting to make the dominant civilization; and also the ever-troubling question of what an end-game condition would look like.

I hadn't consider this until I read Lewis Pulsipher's post on god games, but there is likely a bit of an influence from Molyneux's Populous in my idea. It's probably been more than a decade since I've played that game on my SNES (for hours straight!), but I'm sure the experience has affected my design subconscious.

I'm not sure whether I like the idea enough to put the effort in place to try to solve some of the unanswered questions. My best bet would be to mock up a prototype, and give it a try with the understanding that it wouldn't be a good game. At least then I might be able to recognize the parts worth keeping and narrow down what needs to be improved upon. If only I knew which of my design ideas were worth my limited "hobby time".

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

partnerships: next thought

Quite a while back, I started the thought process for a design for a partnership game that wasn't another trick-taking card game. It seems that this model of partnerships games is ingrained in my head, which made it difficult to "empty my cup" when trying to think of a new way to approach a partnership game. With that, I still felt that two components are important:

  • hidden information

  • communication through game play

Several ideas have (false) started, but there were two in particular that I need to record for my own reference. I started this thought process nearly a year ago, but one of Seth Jaffee's recent blog posts reminded me that I hadn't actually recorded any of these thoughts yet.

One of my ideas was a primarily a card game. The cards serve two purposes. First, each represents a certain resource, such as stone, wood, etc, with each card carrying a different quantity of that resource. Second, they depict some sort of building or improvement that you can bring into play -- I'll just refer to them as buildings for now. Each building requires a certain number of resources of one or more types to be built. The resources are separated by type into several decks, perhaps with there being multiple decks of each resource, with higher level decks providing higher value cards that have a prerequisite that must be met before a player can draw from it.

Each player starts with a small hand of one or two resource types. The first player (holding a start-player token) leads with a building that they wish to build. Each other player, in order, must contribute to constructing the building if they are able by playing a card that is represents one of the resources still needed to complete that building. If they are unable to play such a resource, they may play another resource to contribute to an incomplete building. If the building is completed after all players have played, the lead player places that building with his active buildings. Otherwise, the build remains inactive until it is completed in a future round. Following that trick, the player to the left of the start player leads, and so on. After each player has a chance to lead, the hands are replenished using the active buildings to determine which resource decks you can draw from, and how many cards you can draw. Then play continues with the start-player token being passed to the left, and the new start player leading a new trick.

Additionally, there would be one large end-game building (such as a castle) that players would contribute to building along the way. Whenever a player overpays with a resource, or is unable to contribute to any other building in play, the player helps build this end-game building instead. These contributions would have to be carefully tracked. This building would be represented with a game board with empty spaces representing the resources needed to complete it, and each player would be given tokens to mark the space(s) when they contribute a particular resource. The game would end when the end-game building is completed, and scores would be a combination of points rewarded for individual buildings completed as well as contributions to the end-game building.

I believe that this game would work just as well without partnerships as it would with, which is good because one of the hard problems of partnership games is figuring out a way to make it work for any number of players other than 4 (or 6, I suppose). I'm not sure that it would meet the goal of forcing players to communicate through game play. It certain could create some tense moments if you are holding on to a particular building with the hopes of getting it in play, and then your partner plays a building requiring the resource type that is on your building card, and it's the only one you have! It is possible that certain plays could telegraph particular intentions, but without further thought, I'm not sure how to design that into the game.

Since this post is getting a bit long, I'll save the other idea for another post. I think I like the above idea better anyway, but I should make the time to post about the other idea just for the record.