analytics code

Sunday, November 20, 2011

quick notes - 20-Nov-2011

For my dice game:
  • It might make sense to force the player to select a certain number of dice to roll on a turn instead of being able to roll all of their dice. Perhaps this would be based on the highest value die that they are rolling -- perhaps the value of their highest die plus one. For example, if they only have 1-star dice, they could only roll 2 dice on their turn. If they gain a 3-star dice, now they can roll up to 4 dice on that turn. This would prevent a player from gaining a bunch of 1-star die quickly and running away with the game. It would also affect the utility of buildings and techs.
  • I'm still not convinced I need both buildings and techs, but I'm also not sure which I would keep.
  • For thematic reasons, I'm considering making the role selection a vote each round where the number (or value) of dice committed each round would serve as votes for performing a particular role. This could fail miserably if one player could dominate the voting, so I'd have to include some restrictions to prevent this. Maybe it's too complicated.
For the train-deck-building game:
  • Card games really want cards with power. Right now all I have are links, loans, and money. Boring.
  • I'm considering giving the links a second use -- perhaps they can be discarded for some temporary effect.
  • I'm not convince this won't suffer from the dreaded "multiplayer solitaire" feel. The problem is that if the right links aren't available to buy, there's no competition for goods. Of course, I've only simulated 2-player games, so maybe this wouldn't be as evident with 3 or more players.
  • A possible solution to this problem would be to make the link cards generic (1-track, 2-track, 3-track, etc.). A player would purchase the generic link, and then could meld the card to claim a link on the map. This would require pieces to mark claimed links, but I was planning on doing this anyway. I don't want to move this into board game territory -- the point was to make a card game. I suppose as long as it plays quicker than the board game, it would be an accomplishment of sorts.
For Franchise:
  • Blood Bowl: Team Manager does a lot of things right, but it's still just as much about playing the game as it is building your team. In fact, it's probably more about playing the game. I want to do the opposite.
  • I think getting rid of the "games" would be okay in order to speed the game up. Some sort of team "strength" would determine how well your team does in a season (a la Basket Boss). However, I still want there to be some variance in the team's strength. The final strength should be unpredictable, but the player should be able to understand the likelihood of reaching a given strength.
  • I want players to have attributes that synergize -- like in basketball, a 4 or 5 that is a "Passer" would increase the value of a 2 or 3 that's a "3-point Shooter".
  • Basketball seems like a good target sport because you only have 5 players on your team. (American) Football would be more fun, and is a much more popular sport in the U.S. Soccer would be most popular world-wide, but I don't really know that much about it.
I should probably focus on one of those more. I think the dice game is winning out.

Friday, November 4, 2011

a train-themed deck-building game

Recently, a friend asked me if Railways of the World: The Card Game was a train-themed deck-building game. I think it's fair to say that he was turned-off by the theme and art in Ascension, and was wondering if a train-themed deck-building game had been published. RotW:TCG is certainly not a deck-building game, and I'm not so sure that one exists (a quick look at BGG suggests not).

Of course, this led to me thinking about what such a game would look like. I'm not an avid train game player. In fact, I've only played Ticket to Ride and Railroad Tycoon/Railways of the World. Those games all have one thing in common: the player buys links between cities. This is the basis of my train-themed deck-building game.

As much as possible, I want everything to be represented by cards in the players' decks. Links and money (3 denominations in $1000 increments -- $1000, $2000, and $3000) are the first two types of cards. In order to obtain links, players would have to spend money. Money can only be obtained in one of two ways: takings loans and delivering goods.

Loans are a single card that a player can gain at any time. When a player takes a loan, he also takes the appropriate amount of money (e.g., $4000). The money goes into the player's hand, and the loan card goes into the player's discard. Loans also have a negative victory point value.

I created 48 link cards to begin between 18 cities, borrowing heavily (okay, completely) from Railways of the World. At first blush, I think some cities have too many links (Toledo has 8!), and some links are too expensive (Buffalo to Boston is 14 times more than New York City to Philadelphia), but I recognize full well that this is just a starting set around which I will build the mechanics.

I'd like for only a limited number of links to be available to players at one time, similar to the center row in Ascension. Because of this, there may need to be a balancing mechanism to counter-act first-player luck. For example, maybe there needs to be a varying start player that players bid on after each player takes a turn (i.e., bid, everyone takes a turn, bid, etc). Alternatively, all links could be available all of the time, but that could still give the first player a significant advantage.

When a link is purchased, the player should have the option to either put it in his discard or immediately open the link (or maybe it should go directly into his hand -- forcing another action to open it?). Opening a link allows the owning player to deliver a good from either end-point on that link, and it also allows other players to use that link in a multiple-link delivery. Players only need to own the link coming from the source of the delivery. If the player chooses to place the link in his discard, he may later open the link when the card is available in his hand.

When a player opens a link, he must either discard any currently open links, or incorporate the new link into a single route with any or all of the links that he has already opened. This may be too restrictive, and it may be necessary to allow players to include other players' open links to create a single route.

There will need to be a small map to keep track of the goods available for delivery, at the very minimum. I found that it also might be useful for players to mark the links that they have purchase on the map as it can be difficult to keep track of what you have purchased. I don't want memorization of purchased links to be a necessary in order for a player to be successful in the game.

At this point I have four different colors of goods, and 11 cities that can receive one color of good (2 of one color; 3 of the other three colors). Every city is initially stocked with some random goods; the number of goods on each city is dependent on the city itself (a la Railways of the World -- surprised?).

When a good is delivered, the player receives one $1000 money card for each of his own links that he delivered across. If he utilized any other player's link, that player gains one $1000 money card for each of his links that were utilized. I think I want to also include engine upgrades, which would require a player to have an engine level at least a high as the number of links that he wishes to utilize in a delivery (e.g., he would have to have at least an engine level of 3 to deliver across 3 links). It's something that I would include in the beginning, but will be more than willing to cut out if it appears to be unnecessary.

On a players turn, he may initially perform two actions. The available actions are:
  • Buy a link
  • Open a link in your hand
  • Consolidate funds - Return any amount of money from your hand to the supply. Gain an equivalent amount of money in any denomination (to your hand or discard?).
  • Deliver a good
  • Upgrade your engine
  • Increase the number of actions you can perform (hire workers?). This increase would not be available until the next turn. (not sure this is necessary)
Players can take a loan at any time without using an action.

Play continues until a predetermined number of cities have exhausted their goods.

I haven't decided on a winning condition. "Most money (minus loan penalties)" would seem apt, but I'm afraid that not separating money from victory points could cause a runaway leader problem. However, they are so inextricably linked, I'm not sure that it matter. One alternative would be to give victory points for various other things -- delivering, each link is worth some points, perhaps some goals that give you points (again, a la RotW) -- but I don't want to make the game too complex. I'd like to keep it a fairly simple card game.

I've played part of one game where I was playing two players. I was only giving each player one action, and I was limited the "consolidate funds" action to returning exactly two cards to supply in exchange for one. This was much too slow, which led to the current rules outlined above.

The other difficult problem is determining how the links should flow from the center row. Initially, I was not only replacing purchase links, but was cycling out a link every time someone took a turn without buying a link. This was clearly cycling links too fast as it was possible for a player to never have the opportunity to purchase a link. I'm thinking about cycling cards when a link it purchased or if nobody buys a link for one round (i.e., if the last person that purchased a link passes on his next turn -- in which case everyone has passed on the current pool -- then one or more of the links are discarded and replaced). It's a tough problem that would probably work itself out better in playtesting than in theorizing.

I think balancing the cost of links, the number of goods, and the location of the various colored cities is going to be difficult. Hopefully cheating off of RotW will give me a good head start. I think that I can find out if the game has the potential to be fun without it being well-balanced, so it's pretty far down on the list of problems to worry about.

Monday, September 5, 2011

complexity reduction: simplifying research

I made my third annual trip to Gen Con this year. I didn't get to play as many new games as I prefer, but I did find indented blank dice for sale at Nich Vitek's booth. $40 later, I had 120 blank in my possession. (Tangentially, I also picked up 1955: The War of Espionage, which is a really great 2-player card-driven game.) Unfortunately, I found absolute no 0.5in or 14mm stickers to apply to said dice. I resorted to cutting up a full label sheet into 9/16in (14mm) squares, and then applying and writing on each sticker. 240 stickers and about 5 hours later, I had 40 dice -- 8 dice of each type for my prototype.

I sat down and rolled through a couple of rounds, mostly just to test out the dice. However, I knew I couldn't really continue until I created the player mats for the tech trees and the building cards. I went back to my notes and found that I had 24 of my planned 25 techs, and only 9 builds -- and 5 of those were just for scoring points!

I needed some new effects for the buildings, but I couldn't identify anything that didn't feel redundant alongside the techs. I decided that the diverging tech trees weren't necessary, and were probably unnecessarily complicated. The idea was that each type would have 3 levels of techs with 2 of each of the level 2 and 3 techs, and the players could only research one side of the tree. By creating a linear research path for each type -- something more like an upgrade than a tree -- I can free up 9 more effects to use as building powers instead of techs. I'm also eliminating complexity without sacrificing decision-making!

Unfortunately, I need to figure out which techs to keep, and which ones can be converted into buildings. The main difference between buildings and techs is that techs apply to one type of die whereas buildings tend to affect one action. There are various ways I can go with this; hopefully playtesting will bring some light to it.

With the new tech structure decided on, I was able to mock up some blank player mats to print out. Once I print those out and cut up some index cards for buildings, it will be time to start some solo playtesting!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

role selection and opportunity cost

I am not an expert on opportunity cost (or economics in general), but I've learned to recognize it's application in various game designs. I find it easier to think about the colloquial term "trade-off". I'm sure someone better versed in opportunity cost could point out the differences. I don't think it's important for this discussion.

In three role selection games that I'm fairly familiar with -- Puerto Rico, San Juan, and Race for the Galaxy -- you'll find that on a given turn there is generally an optimal role to choose when you consider only your position. When you start to evaluate other's positions, you'll see that the optimal role is not necessarily the one that is most beneficial to your play. For example, you may be able to build a better building (or world/development) if you trade first and then build. However, when you consider that your opponent is both low on cash and has a good that will trade for a lot of cash, you may find that building now is actually the better choice, forcing your opponent to either miss a build phase, or build a building that is relatively worse than the building you can build.

In these games the value of a role selection is driven by quantity of resources (abstractly, goods and cash) as well as timing (which choice do you benefit more from now relative to your opponents). You are gauging your abundance against your opponents' scarcity in the given moment, or vice versa. This is a simplification; there are more factors to weigh than this. At a high level, it summarizes my point sufficiently.

Evaluation of opportunity cost feels slightly different in Eminent Domain, another role selection game that I have had the opportunity to play several times. Timing is still very important, but quantity feels a bit different. In the case of EmDo, quantity generally refers to the quantity of icons any given player has. Resources on the players planets play into this as well, but a player cannot do anything with the resources unless he has the proper icons. The problem is that the majority of the time, your opponent's quantity is not known. You can infer a lot from what they have discarded (and discards are open information), but you are still limited in your knowledge.

Additionally, scarcity can be created simply due to diverging strategies. If two players are specializing in different roles, scarcity is a common occurrence when those two players are compare their positions when determining which role to choose. On the other hand, even when players have two similar strategies, it can be difficult to gauge scarcity unless one of the players had spent a lot of one type of card on the previous turn. With either diverging or similar strategies, timing is easier to gauge than quantity, and therefore it carries more weight in the decisions of the players.

Having played EmDo, I don't see this as a problem. It feels different than other role selection games, but not in a negative way. Most importantly, it doesn't feel like the game plays itself. However, this is an initial concern of mine with the dice game that I'm working on. Admittedly, it's still in the "theory" phase, so it could be that any concern will disappear once I prototype and play it. The above thought process was important to me so that I could understand a potential problem if I find that the game plays itself.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

finding the survivors

Locking down a theme really helped me narrow the focus of my design. As a player, you are seeking to lead a group of survivors in restoring society following the (still undetermined) apocalyptic event. Unfortunately, the survivors are scattered, and other survivors are looking to build and lead their own society.

Instead of making all of the dice available to every player all the time, I wanted to introduce a scout action where the player would randomly select X number of dice from a bag that they have scouted. This creates a "do the best with what you get" scenario. This created die type #1: Scouts. Players keep scouted dice, but cannot roll them until they add them to their society.

Next, I wanted to give the player two ways of adding scouted dice to their society. At first, I was thinking of using the war/peace diverging paths, but it didn't make sense to me that you could forcefully add a person to your society. Instead of ditching the military option, I decided to make the two paths to adding more dice "provide protection" and "recruit". Right now I'm giving recruit a religious bent, so two more types: Militia and Priests.

Finally, I wanted some modifiers on your typical actions, but I didn't feel like one more type would provide enough strategy space. Again, two paths to modifiers seemed interesting to me. First I wanted to be able to enhance a particular type of your choosing, so I decided to introduce small tech trees for each type. This tech tree could be advanced with the use of research; type #4: Engineers.

Finally, I wanted to allow modifiers that weren't necessarily tied to a certain type, so I introduced buildings; type #5: Builders. While Engineers develop a tech tree (where some technologies have prerequisites), Builders can build anything they can afford.

The general purpose of both Builders and Engineers is to introduce game elements that create exceptions to the rules.

With the 5 roles comes 5 actions: Scout, Recruit, Protect, Research, and Build. The roll of the player's dice determines how much support they have for performing a particular action that turn. Since the purpose of using dice is to introduce a random element, not every face on a given type's die should display the type's corresponding action (e.g., a Scout die should not have 6 Scout icons).

First, each die will have 1 - 3 or 4 (or 5?) VP icons. The total number VP icons on the die represent the die's value at the end of the game. However, the VP icons do not support any action. Therefore a die that is worth more VP at the end of the game will be less likely to help you build your engine. A die that has more icons has a better chance of helping you to build your engine, but it will be worth less points at the end of the game.

Next, a given type will actually contain icons for two actions. The majority of the icons will always be the primary action that corresponds to the given type. However, they will also contain icons for a secondary action. For example, a Scout's primary action is Scout, and its secondary action is Protect. A 1 VP Scout die will contain 3 Scout icons and 2 Protect icons (and 1 VP icon). A 2 VP Scout is 3/1; 3 VP is 2/1; etc. This allows for more variability that the player has to manage, while also providing access to actions without procuring the type of die that has that action as its primary action.

A turn would look something like this:

  • Active player rolls his dice

  • Active player chooses his action

  • Other players roll their dice

  • Active player carries out his action

  • Other players choose

    • carry out same action

    • task a die

At this point I believe that the active player should choose their action for the turn before the other players roll their dice. This is mostly to keep the game moving and mitigate analysis paralysis. However, if it makes for better choices, I am open to changing it so that everyone rolls before the active player chooses the action for that round.

In each turn, if the an inactive player does not want (or is unable) to perform the action that the active player chooses, he can instead "task" a die. This simply means that he can take any of the die that he has rolled that turn and set it aside, locking in its current value. On a future turn, he can choose whether to keep the current value of any tasked dice, or re-roll as many of them as he wishes. Once a player decides to perform an action, all of his tasked dice must be rolled on the next turn, regardless of whether they are used or not.

That's the game in a nutshell. Players will spend each turn building their engine by adding more dice, adding buildings, or researching new technologies. Currently I think the game-end condition should be when a player has no scouted dice, and there are no more unscouted dice (the bag is empty). Players tally their points from their dice and buildings. The player with the most points win!

Once I mock up a player board (maybe multiple -- with each one giving each player a different set of dice to start and/or a special bonus) and determine the dice distributions (roughly symmetric across die types, with low-value dice being more common than high-value), I'll have to start on a prototype.

I guess I need to find a bunch of dice and stickers...

Monday, March 28, 2011

rolling right along with a theme!

My first approach to my dice game was to keep some of the same elements as Eminent Domain (or Race for the Galaxy for that matter) while changing the theme. First, I thought about making it a game about getting people to join your faction. This can be done through persuasion or coercion. Each die represents a person: a priest (persuasion), a soldier (coercion, attacking), merchant (money which acts as a wild card of sorts), or a worker (builds buildings).

On your turn, you roll all of your people and choose an action (persuade, coerce, attack, build). Each die type requires a certain amount of persuasion or coercion to join your faction. If you have enough of the appropriate symbol showing on your rolled dice, you can perform that function. There are also buildings to build that, again, require an appropriate number of "building" symbols to show on your dice. I never fleshed out how attacking would work, but I saw it as a direct conflict with another player.

After your choose your action, each of the other players also rolls their dice. Then, each player chooses either to perform the same action as you or to "freeze" one of their dice, locking it's result in place. Frozen dice remain frozen until the player chooses to roll it again, or until the player performs any action (regardless of whether the frozen die is used or not).

Each person (die) and each building is worth points. I'm not sure what the game end was going to look like, but it would like it to be controlled by the players to some extent, as opposed to a fixed number of turns. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game has the most successful faction and wins the game!

The original goal was to create a "light" dice game. I originally planned on having different costs for each type of die, but I decided this was unnecessarily complex. To simplify it further, I threw out military as an option in order to create one way to gain dice, and to avoid having to balance direct conflict between players.

Finally, I started to think about theme. The labels for the various people and buildings were generically medieval. Not only was this boring, but it didn't really make sense -- why were there various factions trying to recruit people to build buildings? I went through various tropes for games in my head, and decided on a post-apocalyptic setting. While it's not that much more unique as a theme, it does lend itself to explaining the game play, and will hopefully provide a platform to solve some of the design problems. With a specific back story still to be determined, we find each player attempting to find and recruit the best and brightest of those that remain after the (again, TBD) apocalyptic event. Your recruits and the buildings they produce will contribute to your ultimate goal of being the most prestigious leader in the new society.

At this point I was still working under the constraints of the design contest; most notably, I was limiting myself to 40 dice and 16 half-cards. The cards were going to represent buildings constructed by the player. Having dropped military, I felt it was important to focus on multiple build paths for the buildings. I created 4 specialist types (Farmer, Architect, Mechanic, and Engineer) that would each specialize in locating different resources (food, structural, fuel, and electronic) and also serve as prerequisites for the buildings. All of the resources would be used to create buildings, but only food and structural resources were used to gain additional specialists. I added a fifth type, Laborer, that could be gained for free. They aren't worth any points, but are able to produce all resources with a higher probability of producing food and structural resources.

My first concern that with the limited number of dice, the game wouldn't be able to scale for a larger number of people (another contest-driven design consideration). To work within this constraint, I made the specialists a permanent gain for player, but the Laborers would be returned to the dice pool after they are used to gain a specialist or building. This allows for a smaller number of Laborer dice.

I playtested the game once or twice using a spreadsheet. The biggest problem I ran into was that food was too important, which made Farmers dominant. I exacerbated this problem by creating a "Farm" building that provides one food resource each round.

I felt that there was a foundation for something, and perhaps some simple balancing could solve some of the problems. However, I had moved away from a game where the action chosen was the more important decision, to a game where the resources and upgrade path chosen was the more important decision. At this point I had no more time to work on the game for the contest, so I decided to relax the constraints in order to allow for a larger design space to be investigated.

In the next post, I'll look at the game again by reducing the number of different types of resources, adding in a scouting action (to find the recruits), and toying with the idea of military.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

dice, cards, and managing probability

The latest Board Game Designer's Forum Game Design Showdown was a call for a game that uses many dice as a primary component with the added restriction of only being able to use one other small component. With the extra lure that the Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel Games would be looking at the entries, the contest drew 38 entries!

The idea of a "quick playing, light game made primarily of dice" doesn't really appeal to me on the surface, so I more or less wrote off trying to come up with a design for the competition. It didn't help that I didn't have any ideas either. I moved the competition to the back of my mind.

I've been able to get some Eminent Domain plays in lately, so naturally I've been thinking about the design mechanics that it utilizes. It's easy to compare it to Dominion, but it's not really like Dominion at all. The only common element is that you are building a deck, but the purpose of that deck in each game is vastly different. In Dominion, you are constructing a deck of cards that consistently work together so that you can gain points with more efficiency than your opponents. In EmDo, you are constructing a deck that will allow your role selections to be more powerful, and more suited to your situation. It really is a role selection game where you are increasing the chance of having the right role with sufficient power at the right time.

And that's when a light went off in my head. It's a game of managing probabilities as much as anything. When you draw your next set of cards, you want those cards to maximize your next best move. Your cards need to be the best they can be for the current game state, including your setup and each of your opponents' setups.

In my design for Franchise, I tried to design the stamina and consistency attributes as a way to manage probabilities. The consistency attribute guarantees that a player will always roll that many dice. The stamina tokens allow you to roll additional dice. However, stamina tokens must be spent to perform certain actions, which decreases the likelihood of high rolls as a game progresses. In short, players with high consistency and a high number of stamina tokens have a higher probability of rolling desirable results.

Looking at EmDo, it's interesting to consider what it would look like as a dice game instead of a card game. Instead of role cards and planet cards, consider using dice to serve both purposes. Each die will display 0 - 3 star faces, which represent its point value, but do not boost a role. The additional spaces will contain role icons which vary depending on the planet type, similar to the planet cards in EmDo: Advanced will contain a mixture of Research and Trade; Metallic, Survey and Warfare; Fertile, Produce and Colonize. On your turn, everyone will roll their dice. You choose a role and execute it. Everyone else has the option to follow or dissent. In this case, a dissent would be to "freeze" one die that would retain its value for the next turn. In this way, a player can build up guaranteed rolls for their turn if they choose not to follow.

There's a variety of problems with this that I haven't taken the time to consider or work out. How does the game start? Exactly how do Colonize and Warfare work? How can Produce/Trade be a viable strategy?

The point of this mental exercise was not to design Eminent Domain Express. Instead, it sparked an idea of how dice could be used in a light engine-building game. Such a game is more interesting to me than Zombie Dice, which apparently was the inspiration for the contest. I'd want a typical turn to look something like this:

  • Roll your dice

  • Determine your action based on the result of the dice roll

    • Gain more dice

    • Gain a permanent modifier ("building", "technology", etc)

    • Gain points

    • Attack an opponent?

  • All other players roll, and either perform the same action or "freeze" one die

At the risk of making this post too long, I will cut it off here and discuss specific game ideas in a future post. As for the contest, I did not enter mostly because I ran out of time. It didn't help that the contest deadline as March 6, and I spent March 4 - 6 at IndyCon 2011. I figure that's a pretty good excuse. I do need to make a point of getting design ideas out for critique, and BGDF seems like the perfect place to do so.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

franchise and similar games

It's important to be knowledgeable of existing work when working on a game design. I want to be aware of what is already out there not only to know if my design has already been done, but even more so to steal utilize the good ideas from existing games. Most existing sports games fall into one of two categories:

  • Play the game with varying degrees of simulation

  • Manage a team for a season

I'm not trying to accomplish either of those with Franchise. I want "playing the game" to be part of the experience, but only a small part. You could argue that the auction is managing the team, but it's not the same as dealing with match-ups and injuries and other factors that might go into a team management simulation. At its heart, Franchise is an auction game with a sports theme. Strangely, I didn't find much else out there like this.

Then I stumbled upon BasketBoss; I don't even remember how. It's published by Cwali, which appears to be the name of Corné van Moorsel's self-publishing company. Regardless, thanks to a video review from Tom Vasel, I discovered that BasketBoss accomplishes some of what I am setting out to accomplish with Franchise. In particular, the players are drafting a team through multiple seasons, and a draftee's value changes from season to season.

BasketBoss handles variable valuation by giving each player a color (which appears to translate to their position), height, and fame value. The colors affect the team's final strength, height is used for a tie-breaker, and fame increases the team's income. In Franchise, players aren't defined to play in certain positions, but their attributes will make them more effective in certain positions. I like the way that I'm handling the variable valuation as it affects how the players are used in playing the game.

That is where the biggest difference lies between BasketBoss and Franchise. In BasketBoss, you never play a game. The outcome of a season is determined by which team has the highest total strength plus number of different colors, with height as a tiebreaker. I think this loses something. I like to have a little bit of randomness effect the outcome, which is why I wanted the teams to actually play against one another in a season. As in real sports, you can try to build the best team possible, but you have to play the game to determine the winner.

I don't want to take anything away from BasketBoss. It looks like a fun game that accomplishes exactly what the designer wanted to accomplish. For me, it's refreshing to know that a game similar to Franchise exists as some indication that I'm not the only one whole likes the idea. It's equally refreshing to know that there are differences which separates Franchise from existing games.

On a separate note, I think I have all of the cards created and ready to print. I need to print them out and find a suitable 2-sided token to use for stamina tokens (at this point, pennies are the best thing I have). Once that is complete, I think I'm ready to actually try the game out. Hopefully it's fun!