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Derakon

Adding "strategies" to a board game

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I have a board game that I'm working on. I've playtested it with some friends at the local group a few times; each time the feedback has been "the basic mechanics seem solid, but...". Which is to be expected, as it's still pretty raw and there's limits to how well I can playtest it on my own. One of the bits of feedback I got at the most recent playtest is that the game needs more strategies. As it stands, there's basically only one way to win, and the game is entirely non-random, so winning becomes a measure of your ability to perfect the only existing strategy better than your opponents do. In contrast, most games have more than one winning strategy. In Settlers of Catan, for example, you can go for ports, you can try for longest road, you can buy dev cards, you can expand your area or focus on a compact set of cities. In Puerto Rico there's a spectrum ranging from heavy focus on growing crops to heavy focus on buying buildings. In Ticket to Ride you can try to fulfill your tickets or just build lots of long routes and opportunistically get in peoples' ways. And so on. I want to have more strategies for my own game, but I'm having trouble thinking of them. Here is the current cheat sheet for the game, which is also a nearly-complete rulesheet. The game is played on a hex grid (I'm using Settlers hexes for the board at the moment), with four players starting in different "corners" of the grid. The goal is to expand to cover territory, destroy your opponents' buildings, and protect your own. Most of the strategy comes down to managing your workers, as they are required to build, upgrade, and destroy buildings, are needed for defense (since occupied buildings can't be destroyed), but can also be spent to get the money you use to buy new resources, without which you won't get very far. The different buildings largely give you bonuses to the different actions you can take. Of course, if you have any feedback related to any aspect of the game, I'm all ears. :) But I'm specifically looking for ideas related to adding new winning strategies to the game. So how do I augment this to make it more interesting? Things I've thought of but for now rejected include: * Adding a lot more buildings. Puerto Rico has about 20-30, for example. This creates a lot of complexity, which makes balancing difficult; moreover, it makes it a lot harder for me to make mockups of the game that are reasonably playable. If any of you have suggestions for ways to make mockups easier, I'm all ears -- right now, my process involves printing to card stock and a lot of scissorwork. * Adding more resource types, which tend to self-reinforce (e.g. being "invested" in metal will tend to make you more metal). This would limit players' abilities to build anything they want, so they'd have to pick the resource(s) that correspond to the buildings they want and do without the others. However, I'd need to rework the building destruction costs and I don't think I have room for more than three resources to have meaningful roles, without expanding the building list. My main issue is that I want to keep the rules as simple as possible. At the moment, my rubric for that is "I can fit the cheat sheet onto an 8.5x11" sheet of paper without losing readability." I want to have a game that has a few simple rules that create interesting emergent behaviors, instead of a game that has lots and lots of rules, with skill being determined by your ability to navigate them.

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I wrote a document a while back (work in progress) that deals with how to make "strategy games more strategic." You might want to read over it and see if there are any interesting ideas you can steal. It's easy to skim the subheadings if you don't want to read it all, but given your game mechanics, i'd say it's right up your alley.

The Strategy Game Designer's Constitution

I think your current issue is that everything does just one thing. Have you considered making your components multipurpose? If you can use a Widget for either X or Y, that's a lot more interesting than just saying that "Widgets are for X". Morever, if Widgets doubled their power when used in conjuction with Sprockets, that adds even more "Strategy". Basicaly:

- Go for fewer items but have those fewer items do more things.

- Have your few items interact in interesting ways.

[Edited by - leiavoia on May 17, 2009 1:18:50 AM]

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Quote:
Original post by leiavoia
I wrote a document a while back (work in progress) that deals with how to make "strategy games more strategic."

Odd choice, to leave the document anonymous/unsigned, with no copyright or any info about a creative commons or anything. Looks like a worthy read!

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Re: Some questions:

In Push, you wrote that the opponent workers are expelled. Are they dead and removed from the board or moved back 1 hex, at the choice of the player? How many workers can you jam on one hex?

During the Scoring Phase, what hexs are considered 'controlled'? Are those only hex with building or enhancement, or do you also count hex with only worker?

The total number of hex on your board is 37, is that correct?

The base building cannot be contstructed or destroyed.

What is the name of the game?

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Leiavoia: neat article! As a starting point for "how could I apply that to my project", it should be quite helpful. It sounds like your more specific suggestion is to make the buildings interact with other things more, instead of just providing a passive bonus. It'll be tricky to think of ways to handle that, and even harder to fit it all onto the cheat sheet, but it seems worth some serious thought. :)

Wai:

1) "Expelled" is a term that I haven't defined on the cheat sheet. It means that the workers must move to an adjacent hex that is either unoccupied (no workers or buildings) or is controlled by the owner of the workers. The owner picks where they go. If there's no eligible adjacent hex, then they teleport back to the player's base building, which, as you noted, is indestructible. The goal here is that you need to push your opponent's workers out of a building before you can destroy it, but in the process, he basically gets a free movement for those workers.

2) In scoring, only hexes that you have built a building on are controlled by you. Otherwise you'd have a strong incentive to just scatter workers all over the board, which isn't a very interesting tactic.

3) I just counted, and yes, you're correct. 37 hexes.

4) The game doesn't have a name yet. I'm calling it C221 for now, which is short for the code name ("Catan 2210") for another board game idea I had that I've since abandoned as being overcomplicated and not interesting. Of course, this game doesn't play anything like Settlers of Catan or Risk 2210. For awhile I was thinking of giving the game a "Soviet Civil War" theme, but then I replaced the old queue system of getting resources with an auction, so that doesn't really make sense any more.

Edit: I took some time to think about how I could make buildings have more options. How's this sound?

Let us posit that each building is a hexagon, each edge of which is colored red, blue, or green. Two buildings link if their hexagons share an edge of the same color. In addition, every building has three abilities, each associated with one color. For example, a resource-generating building might generate 1 energy on red, 1 metal on blue, or 1 money on green. The player, on their turn, activates one of the colors on one of the buildings, in addition to taking their normal actions. That building activates and does its thing, then activates any linked buildings, and so on. That color then becomes "exhausted" and can't be used the following turn. The player's goal then becomes to make as many long chains of like colors as possible, so that the maximum number of buildings is activated each turn, to maximize their bonuses. Naturally, their opponents will want to find the best place to break those chains to disrupt the bonuses.

Some examples of possible buildings under this setup:
  • Mine: as mentioned above, generates resources based on color.
  • Reinforcer: Red: Connected buildings cost extra resources to destroy this round. Blue: Workers may not be pushed off of connected buildings this round. Green: One designated connected building is indestructible this round.
  • Logistics: Red: If a move action is taken, all workers may move along connected buildings at double speed. Blue: Up to N workers may teleport from one connected building to one other connected building. Green: all workers on connected buildings may move once.
  • Reclaimer: Red: Buildings adjacent to connected buildings cost 1 less to destroy. Blue: Destroying a building adjacent to a connected building lets you steal 1 resource from its owner (after paying the destruction cost). Green: You may pay the build cost to move a building adjacent to the start of the chain to a hex adjacent to the end of the chain.
  • Ministry: Red: Gain 2 money for auctions. Blue: Steal 1 money from an opponent. Green: Destroy 2 money held by other players.
  • Bomb: when activated, destroys all buildings adjacent to it by the chosen color, regardless of owner. Cannot be directly activated (i.e. must be part of a chain).

Major concerns here:
  • Tracking effects that continue until the player's next turn.
  • Figuring out how to set up the colors for each building. For example, I might have three different bombs, biased towards the different colors...
  • Avoiding having to reprint all of the building tokens all the time, yeegh.
  • Balance, naturally. The different colors for each building should be more or less equal in power.


[Edited by - Derakon on May 17, 2009 3:31:57 PM]

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Maybe having the map change in predictable ways every turn (or every other). Maybe some hexes can be difficult to move across every other turn, or buildings are cheaper to build/upgrade sometimes on some hexes. Stuff that is reasonable to keep track of, but can be surprising if you aren't paying attention.

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Re:

I think your newer version is better but the rules are still too complicated.

For the color code, you could make it such that each edge of a building hex has one of the three colors. The building will use the mode where a color is connected with another building.

Each building can only have one connected color, and the player could rotate a building during a turn to change the mode of that building.



Question:

Suppose one of the players only make workers, how does the game end? Is the other player supposed to construct and destruct their own buildings to move the game forward?

[Edited by - Wai on May 17, 2009 5:27:33 PM]

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Original post by WaiI think your newer version is better but the rules are still too complicated.

For the color code, you could make it such that each edge of a building hex has one of the three colors. The building will use the mode where a color is connected with another building.
That was my plan, for each edge of the building to have one color. For example, one building might have two red edges, two blue edges, and two green edges, with the paired edges being opposite each other (red-blue-green-red-blue-green). Another might have them adjacent (red-red-blue-blue-green-green), which would allow for sharp turns in the chain. Looped chains would end after completing the loop, of course.

Quote:
Each building can only have one connected color, and the player could rotate a building during a turn to change the mode of that building.
Under this scheme, rotations would be actions that you take on your turn (along with the actions already on the cheat sheet). I'm not certain what having a building only be able to be in one chain at a time gains me, though. Why shouldn't a clever player be able to structure their base such that a given building is part of three different chains?

Quote:
Question:

Suppose one of the players only make workers, how does the game end? Is the other player supposed to construct and destruct their own buildings to move the game forward?
The game is meant to accept three or four players, but I see your point -- a player who has no buildings has no buildings to destroy, and I'm currently using building destruction to trigger scoring. I'll need to rethink that.

If you see any other major sources of complication, by all means call them out. :)

DoomHasCome: there's one big trick to a changing board: you need a way to represent the board state that doesn't end up with the board getting hopelessly cluttered. Then there's also the issue of making it balanced while still making it provide interest to the game. What do you think a changing board adds to the gameplay?

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Quote:
Original post by Tom Sloper
Quote:
Original post by leiavoia
I wrote a document a while back (work in progress) that deals with how to make "strategy games more strategic."

Odd choice, to leave the document anonymous/unsigned, with no copyright or any info about a creative commons or anything. Looks like a worthy read!


I honestly never thought about that. I'll add my credentials and look into CC a little bit later. Thanks for the reminder.

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Okay, I've written up a new cheatsheet and replaced all the old buildings with ones that use the "connect buildings together into chains" concept. I'd love to get some feedback on:

* The different powers. In particular, I feel a bit iffy about:
* The Logistics powers, which sound a bit confusing and at the very least should probably be rephrased
* The Saboteur's blue power - does that seem too powerful?
* The Reclaimer's powers, which seem a bit clunky, both in word and deed.
* Removing the Upgrade ability (to upgrade buildings). My thought on this was that having three powers per building was complicated enough; needing six (for non-upgraded and upgraded versions) would be worse. But I liked the ability to do upgrades. Can you think of a way to work them in that doesn't require lots of extra content?
* The Saboteur and Bomb icons, since they're new.
* Overall layout; does it work in your browser? I'm making this on Firefox 3 in OSX, and I'd never worried about cross-browser compatibility before because it was destined to be printed out, not shown in other peoples' browsers. But I plan to now try making mockups playable over the Internet (using whiteboard software), which means the cheatsheet needs to be readable in other browsers.

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