Good Idea Games
A new genere of card-driven RPGs has popped up in the past year, and it's given me a bee in my bonnet.
Games like the Pathfinder Adventure Cardgame, and Penny -Arcade's Thornwatch offer an alternative to Roleplaying game combat through the introduction of a card system designed to reduce logistical burden on the GM, while giving players interesting choices to make while their characters confront physical adversity.
It's an intriguing approach, and I'm going to explore this further.
Thornwatch isn't releasing until next year, and it sounds like brilliant fun, but it handles minion damage in an unconventional way that (I suspect) will make it an inappropriate replacement for traditional objective-driven RPG Combat.
I know a little less about Pathfinder ACG, but I've got a copy coming this week, so I'll get some more research in.
The problem I have is that combat isn't the point of Evil High. The players are villains, trying to accomplish some nefarious objective, and the Super High Super Team tries to stop them at every turn. Generally speaking, the players are more brains than brawn, and combat typically plays out with heroes trying to smash face, and the villains trying to survive the encounter long enough to sneak off with the enchanted codpiece.
It's not really the kind of heroic encounter RPG combat was designed to play.
My solution is to leverage the Ingenero Narrative Combat rules to give players plenty of non-combat actions to take in response to the blunt application of force, and build a card game out of it to give my players more interesting choices to make than "which is my best attack?" The cards will also have symbols and imagery that can help inspire a creative narrative as they are played.
I've got some research to do before I know the space well enough to solve this problem, but I think this is a problem worth solving, with applications beyond Evil High. It's a good idea.
There have been big changes in the Game Industry, Social Games, and Analog Games in the past year!
Most exciting I think it the rise of Hybrid Games, or Computer Assisted Games... I don't think there's an acronym for this yet, but the TL;DR is that by using a computer device to manage the game, it not only reduces overhead of needing the players to do rules enforcement and game state management, but most excitedly, it allows wholly new forms of social, face-to-face interaction and game play.
For example, in the distant past, to share a secret message with another player one would need to walk into a near by room, pass them a note or card, or similar. Either the communications you can share are limited, or details about the communication become public (who is sending/receiving messages for example).
With Computer Assisted Games, players can enter data into their own mobile devices, and send it off to a target player in complete secrecy. Or, (game design permitting) they can spy on communications thought secure.
It's a subtle difference, and it makes all the difference. This is going to change Board Games.
An upcoming entry in this Genre is XCOM : The Boardgame. It doesn't use the computer system for clandestine communication, but it uses a mobile app/ web app to host the game input. Players update the app with changes in Game State, and it responds by providing new input (alien invasions, base disasters, etc) intended to keep the game interesting. This can be used to provide a far more "tuned" experience than a deck of encounter cards. It also operates as a timer, to keep game pressure hot.
It's my most anticipated game of 2014.
Another new Development that I'll be talking about is Virtual Reality.
It's not (at all) within the purview of Analog Games, but this is my site, and I can talk about what excites me.
Analog Games are exciting because face to face interaction is nuanced and interesting. Tone and body language convey so much additional information about Game State that it has the opportunity to engage players more than computer input alone.
VR is changing that. Kind of. By stepping into "Virtual Reality" you are literally putting a barrier between you and other players. In one very obvious way, it introduces new barriers to communication, but in another way it's working to make digital communication more like natural communication (allowing body language like hand and head movements) to enter into your communication.
This is going to be big, and so I'm launching a new section off of my site to discuss my projects with the Oculus Rift.
I haven't updated for 9 months, and that basically parallels my hobby time since January.
I put career development into high gear, and started studying for some technical certifications, and schmoozing with the right kind of people.
In June, I actually got a promotion. Not just a promotion, but the promotion into the field I want to work in. It's not games actually, If games became my work, I'm afraid they may stop being fun.
It's information Security.
Since then, I've been working very hard to pick up new skills and to prove myself to a new boss, and a new set of peers. Bear with me over the next few months, but I'll be back.
At the current time, I've found myself inspired to write a novel. To try to write a novel. Why do I think I have time for this? Why do I think I can actually make this happen? I have no idea, but it felt like the right outlet for all the exciting things I'm learning.
It's called Buffer Overflow, and it's Sci-Fi, Cyberpunk, Trash-Fiction about a privileged young hacker, learning about the bigger world for the first time when she gets herself into some big trouble.
Inspiration comes and goes, projects get shelved, and unshelved to be completed later. I've been absent from my blog for the past 2 months, but I haven't been absent from the game. During this time I've been working on a few proto projects, one of which I'll be posting soon.
It started as a role-playing game for 2 or more people, designed to reward deliberately subjecting your character to adversity. Rather than advance the concept further and make a complete game, I decided to pull the concept back a little bit, and let it be an add-on for Fiasco, an indie RPG that already does a fantastic job at creating interesting stories between characters.
I'm still getting some of the details onto paper and I have a little play testing to do before I'm ready to share it, so come back soon!
AI (Working Title, Deus Ex Machina?) is an experiment in player interaction. If I can successfully get the play balance together, players will be cooperating together to complete a puzzle and working secretly to complete secondary agendas that may not be in others’ interests. This will create a play style where players are forced to say one thing, and do another. That’s kind of my thing right now, Manipulation and Deception in games.
I’ve got motivation to drive players to deceive: Independent corporate goals that may adversely affect the group goal.
I’ve got methods for discovering information: Surplus actions and opportunities for clandestine information gathering and cooperative sabotage.
The next thing I need to do is make sure that the group goal is interesting and fun.
What I’m imagining is a heist of some sort that the players need to pull off as puppet masters rather than operators. They don’t physically exist, so they need to manipulate NPCs into doing their work for them. It’s a unique kind of story, but can I make it fun? Can I make the roles balanced between players? Can I make the heist exciting and quick? Can I write an entertaining “season”? 4 game sessions that work together to tell a larger narrative…
Here are some ideas that I am hoping to utilize:
A fixed number of turns or encounters per Heist, requiring timing and planning for cooperative Sabotage.
Simultaneous turn planning: Each player submits their actions for each CPU cycle per encounter.
Cooperative GMing: Players have vast control over computer systems, allowing them to create virtual structures and characters on a whim. NPC interaction and manipulation will require this device.
"The Power 19" is a concept I've seen tossed around the indie dev scene for a while. Published in 2006 by Troy Costisick, these are a series of questions to help game designers get right to the meat of game design. I'll get right down to it, and talk about Artificial Intelligence as a game concept.
The Power 19
1.) What is your game about?
Artificial Intelligence is a dystopian future narrative game about a loose organization of Artificial Intelligences manipulating the geopolitical landscape for the betterment of themselves and their parent organizations. Principle themes are power, manipulation and betrayal.
2.) What do the characters do?
Characters are Artificial Intelligences, each pursuing an individual agenda. These entities have individual subroutines that allow them to interact with the physical and virtual worlds in different ways. Successfully completing a heist will require the cooperation of many players. However, depending on the heist, players' motivations may cause them to betray the group. Players secretly hack each other and work to locate traitors in their midst. Cooperative action can lead to “reprogramming” of an AI.
3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?
Players play roles with a perspective limited to their AI. The GM plays as an unknown HOST entity who facilitates communication, and provides information to the players. The GM is also a scene narrator, who describes the world as perceived by the AIs from a perspective of phone based sonar, security cameras and other technological sensing gear. The GM also plays the role of all humans the AIs interact with. The players are allowed to generate virtual worlds to interact with humans and other AI.
4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
The setting is a dystopic near future with a lawless political landscape. There are no moral or legal repercussions for player actions, and this should contribute to the feeling that the players are not human.
5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?
Character creation consists of building a parent corporation, and then designing that corp's AI. Each AI has 3 laws of governance that determine what they are forbidden from doing. Additionally, they have some subroutines that dictate what in game actions they are allowed to take.
6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?
7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?
Cooperation is key. Even clandestine operations require the actions of more than 1 AI. The principle heist story will require cooperation between multiple players.
8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?
The GM is responsible for describing the physical realities of the world, principle to the heist story. Players are able to interact in virtual realities that they themselves shape. When an AI hosts such an encounter, they may describe it as they see fit.
9.) What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)
The game provides advancement opportunities for players to increase their narrative impact. This comes in the form of more powerful hardware to take more action,s and more specific and impactful subroutines.
10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?
For player vs player mechanics, it is a bidding system. The AIs are all of equivalent knowledge and power, so if one or more AIs put more effort into an attack than the target does defense, they will win.
For the heist, there’s a D100 probability system with the players’ skilled interaction with systems they want to control, and a series of D6 response matrix for human NPCs, who are not as predictable. Matrices are situational. There are different responses that can be expected if the AIs have leverage over the human, or if they don’t.
11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?
The % system serves to remind players that they are computers, and should think in abstracts, and the leverage/ non leverage human manipulation table serves to introduce dangerous variables that incline the players to distrust and not understand human behavior. Humans do not always respond rationally.
12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?
Characters both advance by improving their hardware and subroutines, and by changing and developing their 3 laws.
13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
One theme of the game is power and control, both over the world via the heist,and over other players through clandestine operations.
14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?
I want them to think about the game outside of the game. I want them to consider betrayal less as an emotional response and more as an impersonal mathematical one.
15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?
The personalities of players and NPCs need to receive a lot of color, because it is principally a character driven game.
16.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?
Excited about watching the players communicate on multiple levels, and being privy to the main plot and the interpersonal meta plot at the same time.
17.) Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?
This game is written to leverage the strength of virtual communication. This game plays best from behind screens, rather than a table top. Additionally, it encourages secrets and alliances, and allows players to attack each other in secret, while cooperating face to face.
18.) What are your publishing goals for your game?
Game to be published online, as free to test, then if it is a suitable quality, make it purchasable.
19.) Who is your target audience?
Target audience is established gamers with an interest in sci-fi, and the necessity to meet remotely.
Virtual Game Tables are not exactly new, but it's a gaming format I have worked to avoid. While it works to transcend geographical barriers, there's a sense of togetherness and non-verbal communication that is dulled. There's a sense of atmosphere that is lost when you take your friends out of the room and put them on the other side of a plane of pixels.
But sometimes you need to use them to play with the people you want to play with.
And that's when I say "Looks like there's a game that I need to make."
I'm ruminating over a game where a virtual tabletop will be appropriate for play. Where side distractions won't ruin the mood, and the story being collaborated on is enhanced by a little separation. I'm toying with ideas of a cyberpunk future, where players are clandestine Artificial Intelligences with different political agendas, cooperating to complete a series of heists. Each heist will provide opportunities for players to pursue their individual agendas. Players would need to complete these heists by pulling the strings of the mortals who are charged with protecting these assets.
Slander has been under production for over a year, not just milling around as ones and zeroes, but actually (laser) printed cardstock being passed back and forth. Lunchtime cram sessions have been spent to tweak and retweak the game's pacing to find the fun, and I am very proud with how it has come out.
Slander represents what Good Idea Games is all about: a collaborative effort intended to produce fun. It is a casual, thematic, party game, where players make up crude entendres and insult each others' daughters. Tea and monocles are appropriate accessories.
By releasing the Beta, I am hoping to collect input from a diverse group of volunteer play testers. Until now, production has been very siloed, so I could use the feedback. It's fun, I promise.
Saboteur is a broken betrayal game for 3+ players. Published by Z-man games in 2004, Saboteur has a simple goal- to force players to cooperate to accomplish a goal, despite efforts of a secret saboteur who threatens to undermine their mining operation.
Unfortunately, it has a couple of -reparable- design flaws that will completely kill the game for any set of thinking and communicating players, and as a game of betrayal, play should be focused around thinking and communicating during the game. All players have even odds of drawing damage and repair cards that can be played on each other to prevent or restore one’s ability to play path cards. These are used to hinder the saboteur, or by the saboteur to stop a player from the majority.
The game uses a fixed set of 44 pathway cards that must be played within a 9x5 grid (minus 1 starting card and 3 goal cards). Of these 44 path cards, only 14 allow forward progress. These are the cards that will allow the majority to win the game, and with 7 forward cards needed to reach the score zone, playing these valuable cards in any way other than a straight line to the last row, becomes very suspicious.
Furthermore, the deck has 9 cards that are dead ends (always bad) and 9 cards that are turns (usually bad). If a turn card is used to change forward progress to Horizontal anywhere but the last 2 columns of play, the player becomes suspect. If a dead end is EVER used, the player is either the Saboteur or foolish, and must be stopped either way.
The gravest issue in Saboteur is that the players have NO REASON to ever play a bad card. The rules allow players to both skip their turns, and discard a card if their hand is not adequate. This functional alternative to playing a bad card means that IF a player EVER plays a card that closes a pathway, or otherwise reduces options, that player is the Saboteur or hasn't done the math.
As a game of strategy and betrayal, if players agree during the first turn to never play forward tunnels unless it brings them closer to the goal, and to not break each other’s equipment unless a player has violated the group’s best interest, then the majority will win most of the time. There is still some competition between players in the majority to be the player who reaches the gold first, but with this agreement in place, it will reduces the potency of the Saboteur to one or two plays before they are completely shut down.
So a game about communication, strategy and social nuance falls apart if players strategize or communicate.
To fix Saboteur, we need to provide incentive and excuse for players to make sub-optimal plays.
Completely abolish the ability to skip a turn or discard.
If a player is in a position where they have no plays, they must reveal their hand, and then discard a card at random. They may then draw a new card, and end their turn.
Card Counting also becomes an issue, as frequent players will rapidly learn the exact balance of important cards.
3 paths should be removed at random before play begins.
This will also make the game a little tougher for the majority, as this may reduce their ability to reach key locations.
Shuffle an extra Role card, with an extra Saboteur.
This will increase suspicion in the group. After roles are handed out, the remaining one is discarded.
If players are feeling a bit combative, we can use a popular house rule...
Any players with broken equipment do not get any gold at the end of a round.
This encourages majority back stabbing, and creates some "noise" that the Saboteur can use.
After a little house ruling, Saboteur is a fast, low-pressure betrayal game that plays out several rounds within an hour. It’s an approachable choice for a group looking for a game with a strong social element that doesn’t require nearly the commitment of some of the heavier kings of the genre (such as Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Battlestar Galactica). Rounds of (House Ruled) Saboteur can pleasantly fill the time between heavier games, or occupy a corner for a part of the evening, rather than the entire party.
edit: subsequent play tests with large groups had many circumstances where players were left with unplayable hands. This situation has been rectified.
It’s the wave of the present! Kickstarter has allowed independent developers to go direct to their fans for investment, and some of these startups are going one step further and putting development in their fans’ hands as well. Letting your stake-holders provide FREE content for your developing project is a powerful opportunity to provide diverse content for your game… as long as you are able to edit out the chaff, and still maintain control of your game.
Serpent’s Tongue is the subject of my musings today, and the release of their 3.0 play test kit. Successfully kickstarted a few months back, Serpent’s Tongue is an aspiring strategy combat game, where players build a deck of spells, and cast back and forth in an effort to out-wit an opponent. It’s reminiscent of Magic the Gathering, with cards being collectible and purchasable from boosters, and the developers are going to great lengths to ensure that the game’s structure is rigidly defined. Serpent’s Tongue makes itself unique by forcing players to interpret symbols and properly speak the multi-syllabic names of the spells they are casting, while holding up one of six gestures. This will in theory, create a very thematic game, helping players to feel like modern Magi, as they imagine spells hurtling back and forth.
The developers have just released the latest revision to their rules set, and a card creation tool for their community. Having proposed hundreds of spell cards for their initial product launch (a bold move), I can see how they plan on going about it: Crowd Sourcing.
It's an interesting play, and as I watch from the side lines, I have a few thoughts on the matter. First, getting content from your fans is a great opportunity to build and empower a community, but unless it is tightly controlled, I'm afraid that it can also lead to fundamental destabilization. Most game developers don't ask for help from their fans, assuming that their fans don't really know what's best for balance and fun. That makes this Developer's move particularly bold. Maybe Serpent's Tongue was foolish to make such a loud call to arms? Maybe as a publicly funded game company, they felt that their investors deserved visibility into their process?
I don't know how their exercise will end, whether Serpent's Tongue will be the thematic, creative battle game we're all hoping for, or whether it will collapse under the weight of the crowd. But I am fairly certain that at the end of the year, all that will matter is the quality of their game, but as far as I'm concerned, that's not all they will be remembered for.