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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.