Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I've been centering a lot of my prototype time on the Shipwreck game of late; as noted in this post, it has become more of an Indiana Jones-type adventure, where the game is about finding the clues through artifacts that lead the players to a final destination. And so, it continues; and I am strongly applying more thematic parts of that kind of adventure to the game.

Now, in this case, the word theme in the traditional sense of it being applied to board games would mean that I am taking characters and mythology from the movies series; well, this isn't the case. This is more about theme in the classical sense. In the sense that I am playing around with the ideas of running around the world is search of wacky magical artifacts, which have powers that can make you rich (the winner of the game), or can otherwise destroy you (put you is a losing position) due to your own moral compass.

One of the more interesting things to come out of the new direction that the game has taken is the idea of "playing the villain," which is something I haven't run across before in other games. Generally, this means you can play the "honest" way, which is full of hard work and a lot of money and actions being spent; or you can simply be the evil rogue, stealing need-to-use boats and hiring henchmen to steal artifacts. Or you can walk a fine line somewhere in between, and only play with treachery as a desperate last cause when needed. And of course, much like the Indiana Jones movies, those who take the easy, more villainous route, will most likely pay the piper when the "check comes due."

In general, the idea works like this: There's a set of rules how to obtain various important things in the game; these typically require some amount of money and actions to obtain. But, if you decide to not pay those fees in acquiring these things, you gain Villainy points.

Each artifact has a randomly (and unknown) Villainy threshold. Once a player acquires the artifact, the threshold becomes known, and if the player's Villainy is higher than the artifact, well, in true Indiana Jones fashion, the artifact turns on its owner and "bad things happen" to its owner.

From a design standpoint, I think it's an interesting concept as most games usually thematically assign a role to the player, either the good guy or bad (depending on the point of view). Then it is up to the player to win the game within the definition of that character. In this case, the player is self-defining their own character; do they see themselves as the honorable treasure hunter, or as the collector who collects through any means necessary? Are you Indiana Jones, or Rene Belloq? It's a risk/reward system where taking the low road early pays quick dividends; but the player does not know what the true risks even are (due to the random thresholds of the artifacts). So, a large part of the game is playing chicken with one's villainous self, while dealing with the race against the other players.

(I guess I should mention that there are not enough artifacts to go around for all players, so there NEED to be at least a little villainous streak in everybody. Let's face it, Dr. Jones was never one to shy against a little chicanery when times called for it.)

It also adds another layer of choice to the game. It's not just a racing logic puzzle anymore, where you choices were determined simply by trying to figure out the most efficient way to get the next part of the puzzle that you need. Now it's more about how you go about chasing down your clues long term, as decisions to use Villiany may or may not come back to bite you later on.

The closest that can find to this mechanism would be in Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, where you gain corruption tokens for using sub-standard building materials. I've never played it; I assume it's pretty close to what I'm talking about. And I guess that there must be other games out there that do this kind of thing.

How did this come about; like most elements of Eureka moments, it's about solving problems with the design. In the last playtest, I really wanted a strategy to exist where a player could simply spend all their time collecting money, while other players are doing the hard work. Then the money rich player could simply hire more goons and steal the artifacts away from the other players. However, even though no one attempted that strategy, it seemed pretty clear that it was the optimal one.

While suggestions came in about limiting what a player could do with regards to the money-rich strategy, I preferred to still let the player decide to take it or not, as opposed to the game limiting the collection of funds or steals in some way. The player SHOULD be able to take the role of the extremely wealthy collector if he wanted to, instead of the down-and-dirty tomb raider.

And hence the Villainy count was born, where every time the player tried to steal an artifact, he get dinged for a Villainy. Then it became second nature just to apply this concept to all of the other aspects of the game, and make it a prominent feature of the game.

**After all, the concept of tomb robbing, regardless of reasons for the robbing, is a little villainous no mater how you look at it.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010


I guess I'm a little late posting this up, but Matt Worden asked me a few questions about the development of PocketCiv, and here are the answers.