Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mission to Mars

Seth may appreciate this, or maybe not.

Seth has been interested in doing a "Mission to Mars" based game, with somewhat realistic-based theme-ing, based on current scientific theoretical planning. However, as he described it more, to me, it became just another in a long line of M.U.L.E. like resource generative games: put a mining unit on mars, let it mine for minerals to make more stuff, which then let's you mine different stuff, etc. etc.

The thing that struck me of being interesting about scientific-based theme is dealing with the amount of time it takes to get stuff across great distances, and the general precise of doing space travel stuff. Additionally, as President George Bush found out when he made an announcement about plans to go to Mars, it is technologically feasible to do it; but it's mostly about the political will power to be able to push through a plan of such large scope and money drain, with no obvious payback to the American public within a lifetime.

At least in the case for the race for space in the 60s, it was sold to the public partly as a race against the evil communists, as a way to prove American know-how can beat the evil empire.

Currently, I don't think that anyone is remotely close to Mars.

Anyway, so the game I proposed was not about resource management, or pick up and delivery back and forth between Earth and Mars, but primarily about controlling political clout, and the timing of various modules to Mars, based on the long term plans within the Case For Mars.

Simply enough, the game, as shown above, works like this. The sheet with the yellow pawn abstracts out the "public's interest" in the Mars program. The higher the interest, the more actions, or "political clout" you have. As most things with the public eye, interest wanes over time, giving you less clout to spend on the issue, until an important milestone is hit (say, a man walking on Mars), which increases the awareness in the program, and therefor, giving you more clout to spend.

So, the top row of cards are event cards that randomly indicate how much interest wanes on a turn. This would represent various newsworthy things that the news cycle and the public replaces their interest with. Things like scandal, wars, economy, etc.

As a country figurehead, you can control this somewhat, by spending your clout to adjust the events; "it looks like there's a war brewing, we better put a stop to that." Of course, this is clout that you can't spend towards your mission to mars.

The bottom row represents cargo ships delivering modules to Mars. Larger ships are launched with more clout; and emptier ships move faster than full ships. Eventually, the modules are dropped off on mars (to the right of the picture, where the cubes are stacked).

Certain modules don't "work" without previous modules being on Mars, and some modules eventually expire if they don't have humans, and habitat modules, powering them within a few turns after their arrival.

And so, the game pretty much plays where you are watching your clout and interest in the project dwindle, then a milestone is hit, and you got clout again.

For a first pass, it's an interesting play; but right now the game needs to be a bit tighter to be interesting I think. I'm probably being way too generous with starting clout; it really needs to feel like you are racing between hitting the next milestone and hitting rock bottom on your public interest to be fun.

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Blogger Seth Jaffee said...

I like the sound of this game, it seems like a neat way to implement the things we discussed in chat - the "investors" (public interest), something of a tech tree element to the modules, the dynamic of getting things to Mars... it also sounds like it could be fairly compact, like the game might be 30-45 minutes long, not very complicated - a good fit with a lot of games that are hitting the market nowadays.

My vision or version was more ambitious with respect to game scope - admittedly perhaps too ambitious. I wanted to see a real "board" game, one where geography of the board matters, hence the idea of building Geodesic Domes to claim building space. I envy your ability to make a neat, clean, compact game!

I also wanted to reflect the stuff in The Case For Mars (or at least, the Wikipedia article about it) very closely, making the colonizing Mars part of the game actually realistic. Sure, maybe the way you actually DO the things isn't realistic, but at least the things you'd be doing are the same things people would have to somehow do in order to actually go about making a Martian colony.

Is the game you've made a Solo game, or a multiplayer game? I would definitely prefer to make a multiplayer game to a solo one as I never play solo games. My latest thoughts on the "investor" mechanism (your Public Interest) is that each player would have a set of 'public interests' (maybe 3 different ones), some will overlap with other players', and each of them would reset when certain milestones are hit. I like that idea because I think it will do a couple of interesting things:

- Differentiate players because different players will want different milestones to be hit in order to reset part of their 'income'
- Potentially give two players an incentive to work together to hit a particular milestone, because they share an investor who's interest will reset when that milestone is hit.

In my version, the "public interest" is replaced by the interest of some investors who are funding your endeavor. The less interested they are, the less money they contribute. The money itself could be abstracted out, and the interest level could directly correspond to how much stuff you can bring up to Mars.

1:15 PM  

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