Tuesday, May 01, 2007


When I get the chance, I've been play-testing a basic version of Leviathan a bit, tweaking some values and such, and putting the rules into some kind of understandable form. As a recap, this is a general overview of how things currently work, based on what I've fleshed out so far.

The object is to get as many Tales in each Port as possible. Your final score is based on the 2 Ports with the lowest Tale count.

When a player runs out of Strength, the game is over. A player gains Strtength by taking down ships (eating the sailors). But a player also loses Strength when doing this, and due to weather events.

Game Play:
The player first decides how much Strength to apply to an "At Ready" Strength. This is the amount of Strength he expects to expend during this round. All unused At Ready Strength is discarded at the end of the round. However, if the player did not assign enough At Ready Strength to cover "losses" during the round, he must cover start sucking up his Strength reserve with a penaltly of using 3 Strength for each Strength that is required to be paid.

The player may move to a new location.

The player checks out what he has discovered at this location.

If he finds a Fleet, he Battles them, using up Strength in the process, or attempt to run away.

Strength and Tales are awarded for sunk ships.

And then round finishes, all excess At Ready Strength is discarded.


Playtesting at this stage, I'm currently smoothing out the Battle system, and getting a feel for how the balance between using up Strength and awarding Tales feels.

And without the Evolution system, the game feels fairly dry. It's completely playable for sure. The game as it stands right now, is basically the player making decisions pretty much based on making decisions based on Strength/Tale conversions. And that's essentially the sole "motivator" right now.

Most motivations that move a game along are pretty simple, and they are typically all tied to "Winning the Game." Whether that means the most points, or getting rid of your cards first, or first across the finish line, or whatever, it's pretty much all tied to winning.

Usually, though, there are a lot of secondary motivations you can find in games. These things are a bit more varied, but they usually more exploratory in nature. These things are usually along the lines of finding the best strategy in order to win, but they can also be more about just trying to mess around with the game's systems and see what becomes of it if you don't follow the obvious path, like attempting to go the 100% corn producer path in Puerto Rico, or playing Princes of Florence without building ANY buildings. Or playing Tikal solely for chasing the masks and idols. A big part of the CCG allure in is this; often, it's not so much as winning the game as it is trying to get all of the cogs of some infernal machine together to come out of your deck just right.

Anyway, in my experience with PocketCiv (and really with games in general), you really need to have something more than a design that is simply "best points win." Or in the case of a solitaire game, just a running total of points. Sure, you can "beat the game," but the flexibility of the PocketCiv turned out to be much larger than I thought; there's a lot of things to explore in there.

Which leads me to Leviathan, which, in it's current form, doesn't have the same amount of flexibility. As a game design, it's pretty static, and the player has only a few real choices; these things I are Player Movement, Player Battle Decisions (which includes the At Ready/Reserve mechanic), and a player's decision to keep fighting or to run away after each sunken ship. There really isn't that much to explore.

And so, my next step is introducing the Evolution system into the mix.

Generally, the concept is this: When a player sinks a "good" ship (one that has a certain value), the player is awarded with a power-up (he Evolves). However, the fly in the ointment here is that giving the player an option of what he wants will most likely allow him to beat the game easily. PocketCiv controls this aspect by it's costing structure: more interesting or powerful technologies simply cost more, or have preresiquites before you can obtain them. Additionally, I need to have some control over the Evolution to keep the player coming back to explore new routes.

I don't really want the player to "target" a certain power-up, I would like him to discover it somehow. So if a player wants to follow a certain Evolutionary path he hasn't been down before, he can find something new.

Of course, this sort of relies on a certain amount of trust in the player in that he simply doesn't just read the entire menu before he plays the game. On my end, I sort of have to hide the power-ups as best as I can, so the player can't just happen along something cool that he isn't supposed to get.

In a nutshell, that is the design issue I'm out to solve, and here's the first pass. I think it will work out well, with the exception that I note after the description. The Evolution system requires the need for two additional grids (on one or two boards), and a book or manual for the "Captain's Log."

Ships come in two classes for the purpose of Evolving. Once a ship is sunk, the next Battle Card is turned over, and based on the Ship Type (of the defeated ship), the player can determine if the ship is "Named" (a cool ship, one worthy of songs to be sung by sailors), or "Unnamed". If a ship is Named, you are awarded a icon; there will only be 4 different icons a player can collect. Additionally, a player can only have one of a particular icon at a given time; so if a player collects a "spyglass," and he already has a spyglass, then too bad, he doesn't get an additional one.

I would've liked there to be more of a theme to "naming ships," but at this point, I'm going to attempt a simple route to keep the current, overly large component count down a bit.

Anyway, evolving is based essentially on a probability tree. A player starts a pawn on the bottom of the tree, he may spend on icon to move on a branch to the next space up on a branch, provided he has the current icon to move there. At the new space, there will be an entry number of a Captain's Log that the player will be required to read.

The Captain's Log contains two types of articles. First, a Captain's graphic description of the sea monster that attacked his ship, which will end with another pointer to entry somewhere else in the book. This entry contains the power-up rules description; the new rules that appply to the player now that he has Evolved.

Ultimately, the Captain's description is fluff, but important fluff it is! It is the link that hides the misdirection between the entry number on the Evolution Tree (which can be seen by the player) and the eventual reward of the power-up (the entry that the Captain's description points to). So while a player may glance and read about a potential rules change; he will most likely not know how to get there, short of scanning and remembering other Captain's descriptions.

So, let's break this down a little bit more, in terms of a player's choice.

The player now has fairly limited control over exactly how he will evolve. He has enough control where he can decide to wait and spend his icon (in this example, the "spyglass") on whatever the next "spyglass" Evolution will be. Now, if he has played the game enough times, and decides that he has seen the "spyglass" Evolution choice enough at the start of the game, he may wait and use it further up the tree in the hopes of exploring a new branch on the tree, and finding a new "spyglass" Evolution that he hasn't played yet.

However, this comes at a possible price, as getting another "spyglass" is essentially a useless endeavor, since you can't carry spares. "Collecting" a second "spyglass" is giving up one Evolution. So, there's a bit of fun risk/reward in this. You can collect the known Evolution now, or you can wait, and try for a different one, in the hopes of spending it on a new, unplayed Evolution later.

While conceptually, I think the basic design is strong, the hard part on my end is this: I need to somehow come up with a rather large list off power-ups to make this a useful and interesting feature. And they need to be fairly unique, especially the ones further up the tree, as these will not be seen very often. They need to have a certain "hey that's cool!" about them, so the first time a player experiences something neat 5 levels into the tree, he'll want to come back and try a different branching route in the tree to see what else is at level 5.

I'm somewhat concerned that the "base game" isn't robust enough to really pull this off. Or at least, pull it off to the point of making the player's choice meaningful with the Evolution Tree. Here are the current "systems" I can power-up:
  • Player movement
  • strength/healing
  • Battle options
  • Awarding of Tales
  • Weather effects
And so, that's the plan of the moment. We'll have to see how it all comes out.

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