Author Topic: Game Design's Ultimate Challenge  (Read 1429 times)

rbuxton

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Game Design's Ultimate Challenge
« on: August 31, 2018, 10:05:08 PM »

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Game Design's Ultimate Challenge
By rbuxton

There are few things harder than compressing the entirety of human history into a video game, and one of them is compressing it into a board game. An example of this is A New Dawn, the latest board game adaptation of the epic Civilization series. In order to meet the Ultimate Challenge, the designers had made sacrifices: retaining the video game's random world generation had come at the expense (in my opinion) of any interaction with the world's oceans. I was disappointed with the absence of naval combat, but how would I have included it alongside a modular board?

I decided to make the tiles of the modular board as simple as possible: a single hexagon providing a given resource (wood, oil etc.). I used concentric hexagons to further divide the tile into three "tiers" - controlling all three would be necessary to gain the resource. Investing in new resources would slow down a player's exploration of the board, represented by flipping tiles over. The modular board would, coincidentally, resemble Catan's.

Next, I needed a single mechanic to simulate nations' military, scientific and cultural advances. I turned to deck building (hold cards, play cards, draw better cards, repeat) and gave players the Hunting (for movement) and Gathering (for recruiting troops) cards at the start of the game. Instead of playing cards, they could "scoop" all of their played cards back into their hand and choose a new one (representing a scientific advance). Their combat strength, however, would be tied to the number of cards they played before scooping - military and scientific advances would, therefore, be mutually exclusive. Cultural advances would be made by "building" cards to make them permanent - Wonder cards would score the most victory points (VPs).

I had mechanics, but did I have a game? I needed a certain kind of person to help me answer that - luckily, I knew where to find them. I sat down with five experienced playtesters (two of them game designers) for a three-player tussle. My team drew the Swords and Slings cards, allowing us to make two attack actions before scooping. Our neighbour drew and built lots of Wonder cards - war was inevitable, since capturing cities was another source of VPs. This highlighted some issues with the combat system: the "scoop and loop" effect trapped the defender on the back foot. They still managed to tie for first place, and we had a lengthy (and completely unbiased) discussion of suitable tie breaks, eventually awarding victory to the player with the most resources.



We found wood, but is it worth the investment?
It was a fun experience and the deck (or, more accurately, hand) building seemed to work, not least because it kept turns short and sweet. One of the main suggestions during my debrief was to tie each resource to a part of the technology tree:

> Iron - military
> Stone - building
> Wood - movement
> Wheat - cities and troops
> Oil - a "wild" resource which counts as anything?


Finishing this project would, however, require years of playtesting: I need at least three "era" decks, and haven't worked out naval combat yet. The game seems to have the potential to meet the Ultimate Challenge, provided I'm willing to write religion, politics, espionage, unrest, barbarians, literature and more out of history. We all have to make sacrifices, but I'm keen to at least keep nuclear weapons: I want the game, and the world, to end when the first is launched.

Have you got a favourite game which tackles the Ultimate Challenge, or any comments on this one? Please leave a reply!

Jubal

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Re: Game Design's Ultimate Challenge
« Reply #1 on: September 02, 2018, 08:28:56 PM »
I think one of the interesting things about trying to do a game that encompasses all of human history is that you have to try and answer a question which historians, especially nowadays, generally don't even try to answer - specifically, what are the actual driving/motivating factors in human history? What's the underlying theory and model of what drives human civilisation?

A lot of games work on it purely in terms of separate factions/cultures which thrive or not on the basis of access to resources, because those are fairly simple to represent in game terms, possibly with some sort of "culture" metric or "wonders" that allow alternative ways of turning resources into achievement. Civilisation definitely works on that premise. I'm not sure if that's the ideal model for a whole-of-history game, though - it can make sense for a strategy game of a few years or a couple of centuries, but the idea that you have a single state that goes from the stone age to modernity is something that we have precisely nil examples of. I feel like having ways of evolving the state of the world much more through the game would be helpful; you might lose the "this is my team for now and always" feeling, but you might gain something in epic feel if you managed to build a modern world on the ruins of what had gone before. I'm wondering if something like smallworld's mechanics for switching out old factions and starting new ones might be interesting to explore for this?

I think the other area to think about is win conditions: I don't know if one actually should premise human history spanning games on the idea of "the winner is when one player becomes master of the earth". It's quite a colonial era aspiration that I'm not sure necessarily works in the long run - or at least, it might be the goal of some factions but not others. Having randomised or variable victory conditions might be fun for this sort of game - especially if your victory condition involved the other players too which could lead to good player interactions. So if one player got bonuses depending on e.g. the total state of scientific research at game end, another one wanted to make the highest average living standards, and the third one was out to conquer the world, that would lead to some interesting strategic trade-offs.
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Tusky

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Re: Game Design's Ultimate Challenge
« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2018, 09:18:42 AM »
Excellent points.

Having randomised or variable victory conditions might be fun for this sort of game - especially if your victory condition involved the other players too which could lead to good player interactions. So if one player got bonuses depending on e.g. the total state of scientific research at game end, another one wanted to make the highest average living standards, and the third one was out to conquer the world, that would lead to some interesting strategic trade-offs.

That is the approach that civ uses, I suppose?

One similar alternative I just thought of is that the victory condition is either randomised or cyclical - but shared by each player. So perhaps there could be a "war" phase where the only way to win is to get a conquest victory, "science phase", "cultural phase" etc. Then in each phase a player could try and get the VP's that are relevant to that phase to win, but at the expense of gathering a range of types. Or a player could gamble on a phase type coming up and planning ahead to gain a victory of that type.
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Jubal

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Re: Game Design's Ultimate Challenge
« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2018, 11:16:26 AM »

That is the approach that civ uses, I suppose?

That's not what I was envisaging, in that in civ (at least in the civ games I've played) it's still mostly about whether YOUR culture/etc is best. I'm thinking more e.g. you could actually end up playing a small nation in the modern period but which had a strong interest in promoting democracy, or world peace, or communism, or whatever, so it's not just about the fate of your country, it's about how you can use your country to affect the fate of the world (and the state of the other players' factions) in ways other than just being "the greatest nation". Similarly, in a more medieval game phase, you may really want to conquer the whole world because it's impractical, but if you can persuade the other players into marriage alliances that might be a very good goal to have.
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rbuxton

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Re: Game Design's Ultimate Challenge
« Reply #4 on: September 18, 2018, 09:26:11 PM »
I agree the fundamental premise of games like this - being led from the stone age to the modern age, devising a single strategy across centuries - is counter to the things that actually make societies function. Interesting idea about the alternative victory conditions Jubal, I suppose it would rob players of their feeling of "ownership" of their little nations? I think the main problem from the outset is trying to simulate history in an area control game. For that you need continued or defined ownership of regions. I think the best approach may be a pure card based game, since cards can have such a variety of theme, applications and strategies. I wondered about creating cards for victory conditions like "The Internet" and "Emancipation" and basing the game around scores in various categories which would gain access to them. I dunno; how, for example, would you include warfare in that? That's often been the go-to of game designers.

Jubal

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Re: Game Design's Ultimate Challenge
« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2018, 12:32:24 AM »
I still think you could merge philosophical goals with area control by having players change faction through the course of the game probably? So your aims remain static, but your resources and abilities might change age on age.
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rbuxton

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Re: Game Design's Ultimate Challenge
« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2018, 08:56:15 PM »
We'd then still have the problem of a single civilisation lasting for several thousand years though. Somehow making the game related to the rise and fall of civilisations without players actually directing one would be interesting.

Jubal

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Re: Game Design's Ultimate Challenge
« Reply #7 on: September 26, 2018, 09:34:21 PM »
Not necessarily - you could adopt a smallworld-style system, so periodically throughout the game you "cash in" your current civilisation and start with a completely new one for a new age, removing your old one from the map. I agree that trying to find a way to make something work without the players directing a faction would also be a fun model for a game though!
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Glaurung

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Re: Game Design's Ultimate Challenge
« Reply #8 on: September 27, 2018, 12:45:12 AM »
This sounds quite like a board game I've played, named Vinci. The gameplay consists of running a series of empires, one after the other - each one will conquer territory for a while, then reach a natural limit (determined by its starting characteristics and the number of other empires on the board), and be put "into decline" (still occupying territory but no longer active), as the player moves on to a new empire with different characteristics and territory. Players can't get too attached to any one empire because they will typically need to run three or four during the course of a game, often with quite different characteristics - e.g. good at attack OR defence, prefer a particular terrain type, can attack across sea.

rbuxton

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Re: Game Design's Ultimate Challenge
« Reply #9 on: September 27, 2018, 09:23:14 PM »
Vinci does look like a very interesting game, and must have influenced the design of Smallworld with all these similarities. Looks much simpler, which I expect is a good thing.