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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.

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