Monday, February 20, 2012

Epic or Not

A great article on the scaling of rules and designing with gameplay in mind.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Designing for Meaning: When to Stop Laying Ground and Start Fractal

Ok, that is a hideous blog post title. I've been brainstorming all day and finally slowed down now at midnight enough to write. It would probably be nice if I would take more notes along the way. Discipline, damn it, discipline! Let me lay the case study on you before I go all conceptual.

Imagine you want to represent something with statistics. But, these statistics are going to be read by people, not machines. Ok, so we are going to work with integers on a limited scale. Check. Also, this is for a game that wishes to evoke meaning. Limit the statistics and encourage the descriptive text. Check.

How many statistics?

I don't know. I've been asking myself this question for a bit now. Made myself feel good by reading reviews of games that suck. I can imagine a list of six to nine attributes that will be numbered. Numbered so they can interact with dice and therefore help in adjudication when there is conflict. These attributes take the form of verbs, because they are actions that can have varying success. Also there are adjectives to bring in all the color, all the imagination. But what about wealth, fame, and status? I'm wondering about languages known, as well, but I think they could be covered with adjectives in a record keeping sense, like "English-speaker." Probably would only influence die rolls if it was a social situation and the difference between having the adjective "Native English-speaker" and "(non-Native) English-speaker" make a difference.

With wealth and maybe even fame it is tempting to imagine a numerical ordinal system for ranked comparison and even power balance. But in this elegant system that I'm chasing like a Platonic ideal numerical designations are only for verbs. Oh, but maybe you might want to have some kind of business or economic contest. Yes, but that would be some kind of verb, like "Deals," which would designate an aptitude and could then be rolled or challenged, not a fairly static measure of wealth or fame. You see, if characters or institutions or whatever are going to have an adjective like "wealthy" will there then be different but comparable adjectives, like "modestly incomed?" And if you do, then how is it in the economy of character creation, where there is a certain number of adjectives initially, to designate the difference between "modestly incomed" and "wealthy?" It doesn't have a rating system, the difference in the game is handled by the players' and storyteller's interpretations. But if those interpretations are going to have any credence by the participants then it shouldn't be that everyone is effectively "wealthy" because there is no non-role playing reason not to be (a more positive way of saying this is, you would be punishing those who want to role play a low social level character), or everyone effectively of the same wealth level because there is no mechanic to illustrate a difference. The rules need to elicit meaning.

Here is my yet unplay-tested solution: Status, or Status and Wealth for those settings where you can be a rich unskilled laborer or poor emperor, is designated by a single long adjective (yay for hyphens!) which may "cost" more than one adjective during character creation to balance it. So if no Status adjective is designated by the player the storyteller will bestow some appropriate adjective for Status such as "Serf" or "Cobbler." This character would have X + 1 adjectives, where "X" is the number of adjectives allowed for initial characters, where all X were spent on non-Status designating things and the extra one is the Status, which is evocative of the character concept, but equivalent of a relatively poor person of no significant status in the games imaginary society. Then the next scale up in said society's socio-economic scale would cost one adjective, where the character would have X - 1 adjectives designated for non-Status things, the "X-th" adjective being Status. The next highest in the scale would cost two adjectives, so the character would have a total of X - 1 adjectives, X - 2 for non-Status things, the "X - 1th" the Status. If Wealth is a separate statistic then there is some additional considerations on how many adjectives are available for non-Status, non-Wealth designations, but the concept is the same.

Part of what the post title is referring to is the question of how many attributes do you stop with for the base expression before allowing the rest to be expressed in the context and interactions of the game. I imagine in a well designed narrative system what happens after releasing to the permutations of creativity can be expressed graphically as a fractal. On one hand is clutter, over-complexity, and tediousness, on the other is lack of meaning.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Monopoly Revised

The Boardgame Monopoly has been around awhile, almost a century, and is quite well known, if not widely played anymore. I believe at the heart of its decline in popularity is the fact that it is an anti-social game. Not many people want to take the time to set up the board when they may be eliminated before play concludes. With judgement reserved on the joy of playing Monopoly, I suspect few would disagree that it is not fun to watch. However, there is something to its popularity, so much so that the McDonald's restaurant franchise has licensed the use of the Monopoly imagery for their occasional promotions, which makes it worthy of revision. Something to do with the social nature of the trading of properties, the presence of random threats such as landing on a highly developed property or going to jail, and the idea of improvement with a relatively short time before a return on the investment.

We want everyone to stay in the game, so there is no elimination mechanism. There isn't individual currency piles, but a central bank from which every one is indebted. There is a debt limit which is equal for all players initially, then it increases as properties and improvements are acquired. There is no board, properties are randomly revealed when a player wishes to go to auction. When an auction is triggered the flow of play is interrupted until the property purchased or all players decline to bid. Bidding starts at half the properties unimproved value, bids can be raised by a minimum of one monetary unit and a maximum of fifty and goes around the players to the right (i.e. the opposite of turns). When a player expends funds cash goes from the bank to the player, signifying debt. Player income is represented by cash going back to the bank. Debt greater than current debt capacity sends the player to jail. Being in jail doesn't stop income nor random effects, but does prevent participating in auctions and improving investments. Random effects, think of the Community Chest and Chance cards, are checked for on each turn and happen on a sum of 9 or greater of two six-sided dice. Most of these will be additional costs, such as property tax, zoning infraction fine, building maintenance, et cetera, of course the iconic Get Out of Jail Free, and Go To Jail. Also, effects that modify other parts of the game, such as changing the cost of making improvements or changing the requirements to make improvements would be relevant and much needed spice to the rather dry fines that constitute most random cards in the traditional game. Checking for income happens automatically at the beginning of a turn by a six-sided die roll for each property. Each property will have a rating, modified by improvements, which is a number between 0 and 6 which shows what has to be gotten on a die roll, or lower, to garner income. A rating of 0 will not garner any, a rating of 6 will always garner. Additionally, there will be a corresponding income value which is also modified by improvements and is the amount the player's debt is reduced.

The game ends when the bank is void of all cash. Points are based on positive relationship with the value of assets and an inverse relationship with the amount of debt. Being in jail at the end penalizes points.

© Michael Mosher 2012