Another Step Forward

Short one today because I’m at TotalCon. If you’re attending find me and say hi.

A while back I wrote about play testers asking “what if you don’t?” That happened again today with a test of Plutocracy. Specifically they asked what if you don’t have costs for actions.

Out of the 5 actions, 2 already don’t have a cost. For 2 more the cost can be moved into the action itself, so they will remain the same mechanically. The only action that would change is moving. Moving would no longer cost 1 influence.

In the game paying one influence is a very small thing. It is unlikely to shift anyone’s score. Players start with 5 crystals that work as a wild influence for paying costs, and they earn more from exploring new planets. So it is very rare that a player would be unable to take a move action because they didn’t have the correct influence.

On top of this cost being essentially negligible, we also kept forgetting to pay it. So a rule that is easy to forget and has a minimal affect on the game. I can see the benefits of cutting it. Streamline the rules more. Free up space on the player board. And if moving doesn’t cost anything, it really removes the need for crystals at all. So dropping crystals saves on components and again simplifies the rules.

This seems like another step towards the game being the best it can be.

Short-Term Goals

Short-term goals are important in life and in games. In my experience, people are extraordinarily bad at long term planning and “seeing the big picture”. Perhaps it’s an evolutionary hold over from the immediate need for survival. For whatever reason people can get lost if the goal is too far away or too immense to fathom. In games this can lead players to become disengaged, take excessively long turns, or just be confused.

If your game is short, then winning can be the short-term goal. But if your game goes on for more than 30 minutes, I think you would do well to have some intermediate goals for your players. These give them something to work towards without overtaxing their ability to plan.

Short-term goals offer a few benefits in your game. They can allow a player to build their strategy over time. If players need to think over their entire game plan at the start they will need to take some time to do that. However if they only need to plan to their first short-term goal it is much more approachable.

They allow new players to get into the game more easily. Especially if the initial goals are straight forward. They don’t need to understand every rule yet, just the few rules that let them get to their first goal. Then they can learn more to get to their second goal.

They allow players to roughly gauge how much progress they are making in the game. While a lot of games keep who is winning intentionally nebulous, knowing how many goals you’ve completed compared to your opponents can give you a rough idea of how you are doing in the game. Though goals do not have to be equal, 3 goals for one player may be more than 5 goals to another.

A variety of short-term goals can allow a player to map out their strategy. This is how many tech trees work in games. If I want to be able to use lasers, I have to first learn optics and electricity, but I can ignore cooking and gambling. Again, this can simplify an otherwise overwhelming game by allowing players to ignore sections of the game and focus on their strategy.

Having multiple paths of short-term goals to win a game helps the game to be more replayable. After wining one way players can try and win in a variety of other ways.

Give your players many things they can work towards and achieve in a game. Even if they don’t win, they will have a sense of accomplishment from completing short term goals.

Auction Mechanics

I’m currently working on 4 games with auction mechanics. This wasn’t intentional. After getting Plutocracy complete enough for the Cardboard Edison Award I started working on getting things ready for UnPub. My focus lately has been finishing games I’ve already started designing instead of following shiny new ideas. The 4 games I’m working on were all started at different times and coincidentally all have auction mechanics. So auctions have been on my mind a lot.

Auctions can be a tricky thing to design with because they give a lot of power to the players. If you have a very open auction where players are bidding on things that they do not know the value of, the results can be very lopsided. Even worse is when one player does know the value of things, they can easily get things cheaper than they should.

If the things being auctioned are very integral to gameplay and a player’s ability to win, it’s important that they understand the relative value of things before the auction. This could be as simple as listing the rarity of each item, so players know to bid higher to get the rare piece they need. Or having enough auctions in the game, so that messing up on a few will not ruin your chances.

Another consideration for auctions is how much you allow players to ruin their own chances of winning the game. If players can bid any amount of money on an auction, they can easily over pay and be out of the running. This can be held in check by giving players specific amounts they can bid.

The type of auction also has an impact on how much players can sway the game.

A once around auction gives players more information to use the later they are in the bid order. So earlier players will have to bid higher to try and win an auction if they think a later player also wants it. While the last player knows exactly how much they need to bid to win. It’s important that bid order changes in a game with once around auctions.

A blind auction can have a similar feel to a once around auction, but everyone is going first. So no player has the advantage of information before their bid. For this reason you can get a lot of higher bids if players think they are competing on an auction. You also need a way to deal with ties in a blind auction.

A continuous auction allows players to always outbid someone else. So prices can get much higher if two or more players are fighting over something. These auctions can take a lot longer, especially if players are allowed to make small incremental increases. This removes a lot of the player order advantage found in a once around auction. It can also incentivize players to bid on items they don’t want just to force another player to pay more. This can introduce a push your luck aspect because they must be careful not to get stuck paying for the item they don’t want.

Whatever type of auction you use, try to establish some boundaries to control the players. These could be visible boundaries like predetermined price limits or invisible boundaries like a very tightly controlled economy that doesn’t allow any player to be too far ahead in cash for an auction.

Plutocracy Continues

I’ve been working on Plutocracy a lot lately to get it submitted to the Cardboard Edison Award. With the changes added last week it really seems like the major design portion is complete and now it needs development. I’m happy with the game arc, the player incentives, the timing, even the theme has become more specific.

I just found my first design document for it, which I started on December 13, 2016. The very first line of my design notes is “Currency manipulation 4x ish political intrigue.” That was the core of what I wanted the game to be.

It began life as an action card drafting game with a modular board. Players manipulated 4 tracks; economy, military, technology, and culture, for 3 kingdoms. It was supposed to have a lot of area control to push combat, but the economy manipulation was so rewarding no one did anything else. From that first design through player decks, rondels, static and modular boards, and buildings I’ve come to the current version which is still very much the “Currency manipulation 4x ish political intrigue” idea I had back then. Though the currency is influence and the political intrigue is very high level inter-faction conflict, it is more solidly a 4X game.

Games can change drastically during design. When you start a design, make one simple, solid guidepost. Use that as an idea to build everything else off of. In a creative endeavor that can easily circle back around on itself it’s helpful to be able to see where you started from.

That guidepost can change, but if the guidepost changes I would say you are designing a different game, which is fine. Sometimes one game design is the inspiration you need for another game. But always check what your game has become against that original idea.

Here is some Plutocracy stuff, since I worked so hard on it.

Plutocracy Rules