Saturday, September 24, 2011

Problems with Dog Eared Superhero and a new mechanic to address them.

There is a problem with Dog Eared Superhero. On any turn, is very likely that the card you create won't be accepted into the game. In a four person game, 75% of the time, your cards will be ignored and discarded. This really hurts the players engagement level, for if, over the whole game, their moves don't have much of an effect, why bother staying interested? If players have to force themselves to maintain interest in the game, the game is bad. It is the game's responsibility to get the players interested and maintain that interest, not the other way around.

So I have a possible solution. If instead of one card being chosen every round, one card was removed every round, I think players would be much more engaged. In a four person game with four cards being created every round and only one being discarded, players would then be striving toward being one of the three remaining cards, a much more achievable goal than being the only one of four cards to be selected, as it is now. It's an inversion of the voting mechanic. The incentive is for the player to not be the worst instead of be the best.

So if four cards are created and one is voted off, the three remaining might be completely at odds with each other, so we can't allow all of them into the game at once. There still has to be a selection mechanic, a choosing mechanic. This is the idea I want to try out for a new Location developing game, similar to Dog Eared Superhero:

  • Players are developing a location: ie a building or city or even empire.
  • There are different sub-areas within that location that players can contribute to: Physical Description, Major Events, Major Characters, etc.
  • Every turn players write a card and put in contention for a specific sub-area. All players create cards at the same time.
  • Players go around and vote for the card they want to see removed. Any card that gets 2 votes is removed from the game. Cards with 1 vote are not removed, but they can't be included in the game.
  • Cards without any votes can enter the game and are placed in the sub-area they were designed for, but they must be paid for. The cost to bring a card in-contention into the game is equal to the number of cards already in that sub-area. The player must discard that number of cards from their in-contention pile, which would be the cards with one vote on them.

I think this mechanic would increase player engagement. It brings the focus to the in-contention pile. Players want to build up this pile so they can pay to enter new cards in the game. The cards included in the game that describe the location accrete more slowly and across the several narrative paths of the sub-areas, rather than the one narrative path of Dog Eared Superhero. I'm curious to see how that would affect the narrative development of each game.

The rules for Dog Eared Superhero can be found here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Games: Alive or Dead?

RadioLab has a recent podcast on games, specifically why they have such a hold on us.

There's a great segment on checkers which talks about how two master players in the 19th century played 30 or so games together as part of a competition. Over 20 of them were the exact same game, ending in a draw. So this game that they played over and over again must have been the best game of checkers they could have played, otherwise they would have changed their moves somehow. Since they were the best checkers players at the time, that means that this game they played was the best checkers game ever. That's it, no better checkers games can be played, ever. Checkers was won. From a certain perspective, after that game there was no longer any reason to play checkers.

Checkers, for this reason, is a dead game. For someone who studies the game, there will be no more surprises. It has nothing more to offer. Chess, on the other hand, is very much alive. The sheer number of possible moves is so vast that it would take an incomprehensibly long time to play every single possible game of chess. The number of possible chess games is, however, finite, and there is some single set of moves, a single strategy, that is more powerful than all others. It's only a matter of time before we find it.

In fact, any game that doesn't contain any randomness will one day, like Checkers, be solved. Randomness, added to a game by dice or by a deck of cards, for example, adds a lot of time to a games lifespan. But randomness only delays the inevitable, for sooner or later someone will figure out the probabilities of every possible outcome of the dice or cards or whatever, and will craft a winning strategy accordingly.

Consider Risk. It's a game that relies a lot on randomness (and starting positions), but there is certainly a winning strategy that accounts for the possibility of each different outcome. The dice are factored into the strategy and thus become largely irrelevant. Thus, a player with the perfect strategy will nearly always win, despite the randomness involved. Is Risk a game that is still alive or is it dead? Once that perfect strategy is found, I would say that it is dead, since the outcome of the game is pretty much determined before the game starts.

My games can never die. They are continually being revitalized by new content created by the players. It is impossible to craft the perfect strategy for Thief or Dog Eared Superhero because so much depends on the subjective decisions made by the other players. Playing Thief, you may think you have a great strategy to defeat all the most difficult obstacles and grab all the loot. But the other players can and will create a new card that foils your plans and puts you back to square one. In Dog Eared Superhero, you might create a series of cards that the rest of the players love and will vote for, but there is nothing you can do if another player creates cards that the other players love even more, with the result that the chosen cards completely changes the direction of the character's development, away from your original plan. These games can be played hundreds of times by the same group of people and there will always be new content leading to new situations and new challenges. Each game is unique and alive.

Monday, September 12, 2011

New card type for Thief: Effects!

There is a problem with Thief. There is very little direct competition between players. Has been this way forever. RIght now if you want to take down the player with the most loot to prevent them from winning, your goal is to get to the loot first so they can't take it. But that's your goal for the whole game anyway; there's no change in strategy according to the situation. Not good, needs to be fixed.

I'm going to instate a new type of card to rectify this. The Effect Card. It's an idea that has been going around in different forms for a while, and it has the potential to come into existence now using Option cards but it hasn't materialized so I need to get the ball rolling by giving it a name. The idea is that you play a card that directly impedes your opponent's progress. It lasts for one turn only, like Options. It is played as your opponent comes up with a plan to defeat an Obstacle, and will interfere with that plan, perhaps negating it entirely. For example, Jim is facing a Giant Moat Filled With Barbed Wire and is using his Winged Kicks to fly over it. All of a sudden, there's a hurricane! Frank has played an Effect card that changes the weather to something that prevents the buoyant sneakers from being used. Back to the drawing board for Jim. It stays raining for the rest of Jim's turn, which might affect his plans down the road.

There is a nice balancing benefit of the Effect Cards. Create a Cards have until now been used as a get-past-an-obstacle-for-free card. You have a problem, a CaC will fix it. Now, there is a strong incentive to hold on a CaC to prevent other players from advancing, particularly if you are not in the lead. Players will have to way the pros and cons of using a CaC on their turn or holding on to it.