Friday, April 20, 2007

Giant Gilded Statues of Yourself

I had someone email me recently asking a few questions about PocketCiv. In general, I find such questions pretty interesting, no matter how insignificant. If someone is willing to take the time to pose a few questions about a game to me, that pretty much means that something about the game has hit a nerve, and that they enjoyed the game.

Ultimately, noone cares about any background or balancing issues on games they hate. Thankfully, I've been somewhat surprised about the amount of email I've gotten, including one from someone who wanted to translate the rules to spanish (YES! PLEASE!).

Anyway, here's the gist of one question that I thought was interesting, mostly from an aspect of where my mind was at the time of a design decision.

"When comparing the costs between a Giant Gilded Statue of Yourself (4 Tribes, 20 Gold, and requires Art, for 15 VP) and Huge Monolith of Impressiveness (4 Tribes, 10 Gold, no requirements, for 12 VP), why would you even bother to build the GGSoY - it requires Art and 10 extra Gold to build."

Well, you know what, he was right. From a pure game design and rules standpoint, there is no good reason to build a GGSoY compared to the Monolith.

But from a esoteric mental image of what's going on in the game world, to me, I'm ALWAYS going to be building GGSoY. Heck, if I'm leading my people around, teaching them such simple things as Irrigation, Engineering, and Law, they better be building statues in my honor! Sure the Monolith may be impressive, but it's not me!

To be honest, I never really have spent much time on balancing the VPs in the game. I was more concerned with if the game played fun, and was hard, but still possible to play through 8 Eras. That was the driving goal of the game to me: to beat the game through 8 Eras and to experiment with differently shaped worlds and figure out the puzzles of which Advances best suited the terrain I decided to play against.

Scoring VP was pretty much secondary. Scoring really only came about because Advanced Civilization had it. I quickly did my best to think out some of the balance for VP to each thing as an after thought.

But I forgot that a lot of other people play games for different reasons. And score is a main fuel for the fire for many people who play.

Instead of seeing GGSoY as the abstract thing that it is (some little chit with text on it that scores 15VP when built), I see it conceptually as an entertaining motivator to canvass your Empire with giant gold likenesses of myself, lording over my little Tribes. Not that I'm this ego driven madman, mind you. I saw it more as a little side quest to do out of pure entertainment, just to be able to say "Look, I've got a little Easter island over here and they al look like me"

I guess you could do the same thing, plopping down Monoliths willy-nilly everywhere. But conceptually, that a series of overblown black bricks just isn't the same a bunch of muscle-rippling, heroically-posed, 50-foot high Scotts littering the view of the ocean.

Of course, the author of the email is correct. While the concept is amusing, that really shouldn't be the thrust of the game. And changing the stats to better reflect the cost of the things doesn't change my mental concept; but the concept itself shouldn't be driving the balance issues. The equations should not include "because you will find it amusing to build this."

I suppose this is why humor-based games fail. Once the joke is told, you usually find that the game behind the jokes is not very good. The equations to often include "you should do THIS because it is funny," and not "you should do THIS because it is a good play for you to make within the confines of the rules."

However, I do think an exception can be made. Maybe it should slightly fit in the equation in a game where you really ARE placing giant, oversized plastic pieces on a board. Because, part of the fun is in actually playing with the giant bits. A lot of the draw to the collectible figurine games have this element. Playing with the pieces is a huge part of the fun. I'm not sure if HeroScape is much fun in a cardboard chit on played on a paper hex map. But man, a large set with a bunch of figurines running around sure looks like a lot of fun.

Alas, PocketCiv has little colored chits that say "Monolith" and "Statue." The math will have to be fixed until otherwise.

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Blogger Seth Jaffee said...

VP rewards and thematic rewards need not be mutually exclusive. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that BECAUSE people want/should want/will want to build giant statues of themselves, that's the reason they shouldn't be strictly worse (mechanically) than a monolith or whatever.

12:40 AM  

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