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Monday, July 23, 2012

partnership card game highs and lows

I printed out a prototype for the partnership card game I've been working on. I've been calling it "Builder" for lack of a good name. I used nandeck with a data import to generate the cards, so they are functional but text-only.

The game works, which makes me want to continue working on it. I'm not sure it's fun yet. I think part of that has to do with limited decisions. However, sitting down and playing all 4 hands shed some light on some obvious problems. The out-dated, rough draft of the rules can be found here.

First, the game was moving too slowly at the beginning. This was easily fixed by given each player two workers to start instead of one. This also alleviated the pain of not gaining a worker cards in the first couple of hands.

Second, the prices and the card values did not match up. The prices were too low for the values of the cards. I couldn't lower the card values, which were currently 1, 2, or 3. Solution? I doubled the prices, and increased the card values by 1 (2, 3, 4). I think this allowed the values to match the prices better, and it decreased the factor between the maximum and minimum card values. Better!

I fear adding too much complexity without justification, but I think the game is too simple right now. I'm going to add "Advisers" to the game to see if it adds some extra decision-making without making things significantly more complex. The Advisers will be portrayed on the Worker cards, so now the Worker cards have three purposes: 1) play for resources, 2) player to gain a Worker, or 3) discard a Worker to place this Adviser in your tableau. A player can have up to two Advisers in their tableau at a time. Each Adviser gives the player an extra ability. Here are some ideas:
  • Architect - Allows players to use one worker like a foreman
  • Recruiter (idea #1) - May play a worker card when anyone calls produce to add a worker to a production building before producing
  • Recruiter (idea #2) - On your turn, may discard any card to add a worker
  • Production Manager - Without moving any workers, may produce from one building before taking your normal turn
  • Efficiency Manager (idea #1) - When opening a new project, after every other player has made their contribution, may contribute to any open project
  • Efficiency Manager (idea #2) - When another player opens a project, may contribute to another open project or directly to the Castle if you are unable to contribute to the newly opened project
  • Ambassador - After opening a new project, may compel one player to contribute a card of a specific type
  • Resource Manager - Maximum hand size is increased by one. This does not affect the capacity of a warehouse.
  • Merchant - May use the Market any number of times after producing
Right now I'm planning on 12 worker cards, so that leaves room for 2 copies of 6 Advisers. Hopefully I can come up with 6 that are reasonably -- but not necessarily perfectly -- balanced.

There are two things I need to work on still. At this point, I think there is still a distinct advantage to simply drawing the best cards. I think I can make some changes to affect this. Namely, I want to change the rules so that when someone opens a project, other players only score if they contribute to that project. I'm not sure if that's the way to go. I should probably play a few games to completion before making that call.

Lastly, I'm not too thrilled with the theme. You are a builder. In medieval times. Helping build a kingdom and castle. I think it's been done. However, the game mechanics do fit with the theme, and I haven't been able to think of anything else. So I'm sticking with it for now.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

drafting with hidden attributes

As a follow up to my previous entry, I want to consider some more specific themes that could be used with a drafting mechanic that utilizes hidden information. The drafting mechanic discussed here is not the typical "pick one and pass" card drafting that other games utilize. Instead, it's something more commonly seen in both real and fantasy sports. There is a known pool of items to draft from, and players take turns picking an item to add to their set of items.

If the draft is the meat of the game, the majority of the time spent playing the game should be spent during the draft. Resolving the draft -- i.e, determining which set of items is the best -- should be a relatively quick exercise. Ideally, multiple drafts would occur, and the winner of the game would be based on the outcomes of each competition that occurs between drafts.

The most obvious theme is drafting and managing a sports team. The obvious benefit to using this theme is that it closely mimics what happens in real life, and there are millions of people that play fantasy sports every year. The problem with sports is that most sports require fairly large teams. Of the major U.S. sports, basketball requires the least number of players with only 5 playing at a given time. Even then, 5 players for each team with 3 - 8 teams requires 15 - 40 players available for each draft. That's a lot of players to consider at once!

Sports do play well into the theme for other reasons. Players generally specialize in a position or skill that every team needs, and each team would need to have players that fill all of the needs of the team. Players can have synergy with other types of players that would enhance their value to the team. Using dice, players can be represented as providing consistent value, or they can be inconsistent but have high potential -- adding a bit of risk-reward to the situation.

Finally, the hidden attributes: each player could come with a randomly assigned card that slightly modifies their attributes, but the contents of the card are unknown to the teams. A team can hire a scout to allow them to look at the contents of the cards for a particular player. Teams with more money can hire more scouts. The teams that perform the best between drafts (in either head-to-head matches against other teams, or perhaps in some calculated ranking) earn more money to use for scouting in the next draft.

I could expand further on ideas I've had for doing a sports drafting game, but I want to focus on one other route that I've considered.

Instead of building a team, players are building a machine. Each machine requires certain parts to run, and each part affects the performance of the machine. Each machine also has a maintenance cost (again, randomly assigned) that is hidden from the player, but can be revealed to a player if that player sends one of his "experts" to examine the part. Each part has an initial cost that the player would have to pay when they pick the part in the draft. Before the next draft, they would have to pay the maintenance cost or trash the part. The game would flow something like this:

  • Create pool of parts for drafting
  • Send out experts to look at hidden maintenance costs
  • Draft parts, pay cost, reveal maintenance costs
  • Compete, earn payout based on performance
  • Create new pool of parts for drafting
  • Pay maintenance cost or trash each item (not sure when exactly this should happen)
  • Send out experts, etc.
So what are these machines?

One idea is to make it an auto racing game. I know nothing about racing, and I haven't played any board games based on the theme. However, the advantage of a race is that the results are determine in one race! You don't have to have several head-to-head matches. No matter how simple the method used to determine the winner in head-to-head matches, that process will almost certainly take longer than running one race. Additionally, defining how the head-to-head matches should take place between drafts can be difficult with variable player numbers, unless you do a round-robin. And nobody wants to do an 8-player round-robin.

The other idea is robot combat. Yeah, you heard me. ROBOT. COMBAT. Now the head-to-head matches don't seem like such a bad idea, do they? An interesting aspect of this theme is that players could design their robots with a particular opponent in mind if they were only facing one or two other robots between each draft. The makeup of your opponent's robot becomes one more factor in the decision on which parts to draft. 

Perhaps it should be a Robot Battle Royal.

So what sounds good? Sports? Auto Racing? Robot Combat? Robot Battle Royal?

Friday, May 11, 2012

distilling the nfl draft

A recent tweet reminded me that I have a "fantasy sports as a board game" design that I was once working on.

Let's break this down.

The purpose of the NFL draft is to give each team the opportunity to add pieces to their team in order to improve it.

The draft adds pieces to a whole with the intent to improve it.

The order of the NFL draft is determined by the performance (win-loss record and playoff performance) of the teams in the previous year. The teams with the worst performance select first. This is necessary as the draft is inherently unfair. The first selection is more valuable than the last player.

A draft is inherently unfair, so the drafters must start in unequal positions.

The players drafted are evaluated on a variety of aspects. They have shown their football abilities at the college level. They have shown their athletic prowess at the combine. They have a perceived potential. The position that they play can add to their value. Each player has a better fit in some systems than they do in other systems. The player's character is evaluated as well. All of these are factored into where a team will rank the player on their "big board".

The pieces have a known value, a potential value, and a value that is dependent on the whole they are being added to.

There is no winner after the draft is completed. Instead, the results of the draft are determined in a 16-game season, followed by a 4-round playoff. While favorites can be identified based on the make-up of the teams, there is enough unpredictability that the champion cannot be determined until the entire season is played.

The results of the draft do not determine the winner. Instead, each whole is has the potential to be the winner, but some are more likely than others.

But what about the "subterfuge and meta-gaming"?

Each team has its needs and has its own valuation of the players available in the draft. If there is a player that a particular team wants, but they are afraid that the player won't be available when it's their turn to pick, they will make a trade -- players or future draft picks -- to move up to secure the player that they desire. So when another team feigns interest in a player, they can convince a team to make a trade, perhaps unnecessarily, to acquire the player they want.

Can this be built into a game? Or does a game rely on players to create the meta-game?

A lot of this relies on the players. The design can encourage bluffing and posturing, but it can never force a player to act in such a way. Werewolf, Mafia, and games of that variety are built entirely around meta-gaming. If a player refuses to lie or otherwise trick and deceive the other players, the game will be much less interesting.

Auction games afford some amount of meta-gaming because players have the ability to affect the price for items that other players want. A player can force another player to pay more for an item that is only valuable to one of them. In the same right, a player could be caught bidding another player up too high, and be forced to pay more for something that isn't as valuable for that player. Games like Homesteaders and Power Grid excel in creating that tension of one player seeing how far they can push up the price for another player. Ra not only forces you to judge how much a player will bid on a set of items, but it also allows you to choose when to offer some items up for auction. In the right group, extensive meta-gaming can emerge from these simple mechanics.

Coming back to the draft, I believe that while meta-gaming could emerge from the uncertainty of how each player values a particular draft pick, the addition of hidden information would encourage meta-gaming even more. Imagine a draft where each item in the draft (e.g., a player in a football draft) has a set of know attributes that all players can use to judge the value of that item. However, each item also has some hidden attributes that not every player has seen. Players that have this information can use it to get a more accurate valuation of the item, and they can deceive other players in what they saw. If more than one player has seen the same hidden information, the two players can create confusion if one is trying to tell the truth about what they saw while the other is deceiving the other players. While this still requires the players to create the meta-game, it adds another layer to the design to encourage it.

Since this post is already too long, I'll save my game ideas for drafting games for another post -- hopefully soon!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

custom dice: oh, they're expensive?

A tweet I saw yesterday sparked some thoughts on my game involving custom dice.
(Side note: If anyone knows how to properly imbed a tweet within a Blogger post, please let me know.)

Oh really? Ouch.

My dice game, as is, requires 4 unique dice per dice type. That's 16 - 20 unique dice. Assuming the $2,200 is per unique die, that's roughly $35,000 to $45,000 for set up costs.

That will never happen.

For reasons like this, it's important for a designer to know the costs of production before they dive too far into a design. Unfortunately, it takes some leg work, and personally, I'd rather be designing. It's helpful to follow conversations on Twitter and from the BGG game design forums for this very reason.

As for my design, I came up with what is hopefully a solution to the problem. Instead of 4 unique dice per type, there would just be 4 unique dice. Essentially, all the dice were the same across types. So instead of having the unique icons for each type, the dice would display "primary" and "secondary" icons. The type of the dice is still signified by its color. There would have to be a legend that indicated what the primary and secondary icons were for each type.

It's not as ideal as a bunch of custom dice, but it should be would be much cheaper!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

hobos: the be-picked-up-and-delivered theme

In the midst of resenting the amount of stuff we have in our house, I must have had a romantic vision of getting rid of everything and becoming a hobo. Given how unrealistic (and honestly, not all that romantic) the idea was, I had to do the next best thing: design a game!

Be warned: what follows is a brainstorm. Ideas within may contradict each other, or might not make any sense!

The heart of the game revolves around jumping on trains to hitch a ride to various towns to find jobs. Jobs provide money and/or food, change your reputation (positively or negatively) with the town and/or the hobo community, and change your happiness. Victory conditions are based around money, happiness, and reputation.

Food is required periodically, or else you'll lose some happiness.

Happiness is factored into your final score.

Money is required to buy food and train tickets. It also factors into your final score.

Train tickets allow you to legitimately travel on commuter trains. Otherwise, you have to jump a freight train.

Reputation allows you to get better jobs or receive charity. It also factors into your final score.

The board is a hex map that contains several towns. The towns are connected by railroads. If it's not too complex, some of the railroads may be commuter trains while others are freight trains. If it's too fiddly, we can pretend they are one in the same.

The trains move between towns autonomously. The train tracks would be segmented into spaces, and each space would be 2 (or 3) hexes in length. Each turn, every train moves one space. Hobos can board trains when the train is at the train station (otherwise the train is moving too fast!).

In a town you can take one of the jobs currently available there. Jobs may have a reputation requirement before you can take them. You can take charity in town, which provides money or food but hurts your reputation. You can use money to buy food in town.

Turns correspond to trains moving one space. Jobs may take multiple turns to complete. Hobos may move by foot one hex space each turn.

That is the basic framework I have in mind, but I already see a glaring problem: moving one space per turn, or waiting for a train to get to the next town, or waiting for a job to complete could be boring. Perhaps in practice it would move fast enough that it wouldn't be a problem.

The map might be the biggest challenge. Routes would have to be designed so that there are multiple ways to get around. Going by foot should be inefficient, but viable if a train isn't immediately available.

I can see this becoming more interesting as a design problem than as an actual game!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dragon Sneak

Deep within the caverns of mountains, a dragon holds a treasure trove of unimaginable wealth. Even greater than the wealth is the dragon's desire to protect it. Yet, the dragon must sleep, and when he does, you'll seize the opportunity sneak in and relieve him of his gold.
I recently had an idea for a game similar to Incan Gold. I don't quite remember, but I believe the idea crossed my mind after reading the Belfort comic.


Instead of cards, the game uses 10 custom dice: 2 treasure dice, 5 black dragon dice, and 3 red dragon dice:
  • One treasure die has the values 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 on its sides
  • One treasure die has the values 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11
  • The black dragon dice have one side with a dragon eye, and 5 blank sides
  • The red dragon dice have two sides with a dragon eye, and 4 blank sides
There are three types of action tokens: "Take Gold", "Stay Still", and "Run!" There are enough for each player to have one of each.


Start with one black dragon die and the two treasure dice as your active dice. Set the other dice to the side.

Give each player three action tokens, one each of the "Take Gold", "Stay Still", and "Run!" tokens.


The game is played in a series of rounds. In each round, the following is performed in order:
  1. Roll Dice
  2. Choose Actions
  3. Distribute Gold
  4. Add/Remove Dice
Roll Dice

Any player (you can rotate for giggles) rolls all of the active dice. The sum of the two treasure dice indicate how much treasure is added to the amount of treasure found. Before the first round, the amount of treasure found is 0, so the first roll determines the initial amount of treasure found.

If two dragon eyes are revealed, the round ends immediately.

Choose Actions

Each player secretly chooses one of their actions by placing the chosen action token in one hand. The other two action tokens should be hidden in the other hand. Once all players have chosen an action, they simultaneously reveal which actions they have chosen.

The three actions are:
  • Take Gold - All players that choose "Take Gold" will divide the found treasure equally among themselves (see below). If no player chooses "Take Gold", all of the found treasure is available for the next round.
  • Stay Still - A player that chooses "Stay Still" gains nothing. If all players choose "Stay Still", one dragon dice will be removed (see below).
  • Run! - A player that chooses "Run!" does not gain any treasure. The player returns safely to the village with all of the treasure in his bag. The player does not participate in the remainder of the rounds.
If only one player is remaining in the round, that player cannot choose "Stay Still" as an action.

Distribute Gold

All players that choose "Take Gold" will divide the found treasure equally among themselves. If all of the treasure cannot be divided equally, the remaining treasure will be included in the found treasure for the next round. Players place the treasure that the gain in their bag.

Add/Remove Dice

If all players selected "Stay Still", and there is more than one dragon die among the active dice, one dragon die will be removed from the active dice. If there is a red dragon die, remove it. Otherwise, remove a black dragon die.

Otherwise, if at least one player did not choose "Stay Still", one die will be added to the active dice. If no dragon eyes were rolled, add a black dragon die. If one dragon eye was rolled, add a red dragon die.

Round End

When all the players have chosen Run!, or when two or more dragon eyes are rolled in a single roll, the round ends. If any player was still active when two or more dragon eyes were rolled, they lose of the gold they had accumulated in their bag.

Play would continue in this fashion until some larger end-game condition is met. This could be a fixed number of rounds, a particular amount of gold for one player, or until a certain amount of total gold is exhausted from a common supply.

There are enough differences between Incan Gold and this design that I believe that it could stand on its own two feet. That said, I'm not sure if the "Stay Still" action would really work out or not. In my head, trailing players may work together to build their wealth while a player in the lead sits out. However, it may be more of a losing proposition to take "Stay Still" if the only way you benefit from it is if everyone does it. If players never can trust each other, no one will take it.

If that is the case, the rules could be changed to protect players that choose "Stay Still". If two dragon eyes are rolled, players that had chosen "Stay Still" in the previous round could be safe from that roll.

Hopefully playtesting would reveal the right way to go with this.

The problem is that this game requires at least 3 players, and would probably be best with 4 or more (up to 6? 8?). I'm not sure I could gather a group like that regularly enough to test it out!