Friday, March 31, 2017

Day 110 FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 110 - Lens 65: The Lens of Primality
Some actions and interfaces are so intuitive that animals were doing them millions of years ago. To capture the power of primality, als yourself these questions:

What parts of my game are so primal an animal could play? Why?
While I think the rules are simple and many of the impulses behind the game actions are primal, the specific actions required to play the game are pretty specific and technical. The basic actions of taking territory, fighting enemies, seeking allies... those concepts are primal, but the game is an abstract representation of them.

What parts of my game could be more primal?
Maybe the end game? I keep coming back to that in these final lenses, probably because it's the part of the game that I am least sure of and I keep hoping to find clarity through one of theis views. Realistically though I think that the tone of the game in terms of being visceral is about right.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Day 109 FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 109 - Lens 62: The Lens of Transparency
The ideal interface becomes invisible to the player letting the player's imagination be completely immersed in the game world. To ensure invisibility, ask yourself these questions:

Does the interface let the players do what they want?
Well, within the constraints of the rules the physical interface of the game works well to allow the players to pursue gameplay. I think that it's interesting to consider that in a board game the 'virtual interface is the player's perception and the world is their model of the game in their brain. So in a six player game there are six copies of the game that must be kept in sync by the physical interface of the board sitting between them!

Do new players find the interface intuitive?
The introductory section of the game shows the players all the ways that they can manipulate the game and what all of the abstractions are. While I have had players find some of the subtleties of the game complex, the basic interface that they arise from is usually easily grasped.

Can players learn to use it without thinking?
Yes, by the end of the first game most if not all players are taking all of the possible actions quickly and correctly to further their in game goals.

Can players continue to use the interface during stressful situations?
Yes, and. Yes, players can make all of the required moves under pressure, but the most stressful aspect of the game, the challenges, are broken out into a non-timed format both drawing dramatic tension from them and allowing the player more space to deal with the more complex interactions.

Does something confuse players about the interface? On which of the six interface arrows is it happening?
I think the most confusing aspect of the interface is that it exists for all six players and they must find their own interface among the aggregate interface that is the board. Also they must decode both the state of the overall game and what the state of each player is from the overall interface space. This is complication on the physical output to player arrow.

Do players feel a sense of immersion when using the interface?
I think that the thematic nature of the physical interface draws players into the game compensating for the abstract format. Also the simple interface (rules and pieces) of the game and the real-time play put the players into a state of focus that is different than what they are used to for a game.

Monday, March 27, 2017

GDC Playtesting

I had a chance to playtest FotLC recently at GDC in San Francisco with a group of Conference Associates. I got great feedback and everyone seemed to have a great time!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Day 108 FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 108 - Lens 59: The Lens of Control
This lens has uses beyond just examining your interface, since meaningful control is essential for immersive interactivity. To use this lens, ask yourself these questions:

When players use the interface, does it do what they expected? If not, why not?
The 'interface' is a little complicated, in that the players have a reasonably large number of pieces that they can manipulate. Each piece does a small number of things, and the rules are reasonably clear, but there are still a good number of parts laid out in front of the player at the beginning of the game. I think that while the parts are abstract that their function is inline with their appearance even it it's not self evident from just looking at them. That is to say that paths look like paths and bases look like bases. Your 'pawn' or main piece is larger than your 'warriors' which are less important, and they are larger than the citizens which are least important.

Intuitive interfaces give a feeling of control. Is my interface easy to master, or hard to master?
I think that the interface is easy to master, or at least players have mastered it by the end of the first game. I have yet to see a group of players play more than two games due to the limits of my playtesting opportunities... also to see a couple of new players play with a majority of experienced players.

Do my players feel they have a strong influence over the outcome of the game? If not, how can I change that?
I don't think that players feel this enough. Because of the player driven nature of the game it ironically can feel like things are out of the control of any individual player. I 'think' that in experienced gameplay that players will behave more predictably and that experienced players will feel like they can predict that behavior more reliably and thus feel like they have more control... but that has yet to be proven and I am nervous about it.

Feeling powerful = feeling in control. Do my players feel powerful? Can I make them feel more powerful somehow?
When players take decisive actions they feel in control, ironically these kinds of actions often weaken them in the long term, but that is often not obvious to new players and can leave them later feeling powerless. Even though there is a certain satisfaction for the other players in seeing the mighty fall I don't think that this is a good thing... but again that kind of behavior is a new player thing and may not occur in experienced play.

Day 107: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 107 - Lens 48: The Lens of Simplicity / Complexity
Striking the right balance between simplicity and complexity is difficult. Use this lens to help your game become one in which meaningful complexity rises out of a simple system. Ask yourself these questions:

What elements of innate complexity do I have in my game?
The basic rule structure of Fall of the Last City has some innate complexity, but I don't 'think' too much. It has more than Go, but less than Chess.

Is there a way this innate complexity could be turned into emergent complexity?
I think that there may be a little to be eked out in this direction. I think that I need to write down all of the rules without thought of explanation. All of my rule sets so fer have been aimed at understandability and explanation. That has made it difficult to look at all of the rules in there most reduced form. The rule set for the game is not something like 7 pages with illustrations. That's low for a game that has worker placement and resource management etc. But it's too much to keep in my head all at once. I think that a minimal listing of the rules might let me see where the actual innate complexity lies and how to trim some of it away.

Do elements of emergent complexity arise from my game? If not, why not?
Yes! There is a huge amount of emergent complexity. I have a hard time not including explanations of some of it in the rules. I want players to understand how the rules generate the complexity so that they don't miss the possibilities in their play. Hopefully my hint system will allow me to introduce the emergent ideas that might be missed into play without bogging down the game.

Are there elements of my game that are too simple?
I think that the endgame, which was too complex with the taking heads mechanic, is now to simple. I am not sure what a better end game would be. Perhaps alliances should factor into it somehow?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Day 106: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 106 - Lens 44: The Lens of Cooperation
Collaborating and succeeding as a team is a special pleasure that can create lasting social bonds. Use this lens to study the cooperative aspects of your game. Ask yourself these questions:

Cooperation requires communication. Do my players have enough opportunity to communicate? How could communication be enhanced?
Yes and no, players can take as much time as they would like to communicate... however they are not provided with time exclusively to communicate within the normal turn. In a challenge there is explicit time provided for communication. I think that most of the time there is enough communication in the game. Making some of the hint notes be about the importance of communication might be a good idea.

Are my players friends already, or are they strangers? If they are strangers, can I help break the ice?
I have playtested with friends and strangers. I think that in most cases players will already know each other at the point that they are sitting down to play the game. Or at least they will know some of the other players. Adding a formal introduction round to the fully themed game might be good. I am always looking for ways to hang more ceremony on the frame of the game, and names are good elements to include.

Is there synergy (2+2 = 5) or antergy (2+2 = 3) when the players work together? Why?
It is very unlikely that all of the players will ever cooperate. However players cooperating are far stronger than players being independent, that makes alliances matter a lot. If all the players decided to cooperate then the game would lose its teeth though.

Do all the players have the same role, or do they have special jobs?
Mechanically all of the players have the same role. One player is probably taking the role of the new Teller and reading the rules. Strategically the players may take on leader or follower or traitor or rebel roles. I could probably talk about those roles and their consequences somewhere, maybe in the hint notes.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Day 105: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 105 - Lens 27: The Lens of Time
It is said that "timing is everything". Our goal as designers is to create experiences, and experiences are easily spoiled when they are too short or too long. Ask yourself these questions to make yours just the right length:

What is it that determines the length of my gameplay activities?
The game has a built in timer in the form of the resource pool in the center of the board. There are 30 citizens per player. Players can draw from 1-3 items from the board each round. They may not draw every round so the game would take 20 rounds on average per game, on average.

Are my players frustrated because the game ends too early, or bored because it takes too long?
I have tried adjusting the number a bit. The game runs fine at 20 per player, but it does not have much middle or room for players to be aggressive toward each other... and with more than 30 the game gets kind of repetitive in them middle.

Setting a time limit can make gameplay more exciting. Is it a good idea for my game?
The overall time limit works well. Having a per turn time limit turns out to be a bad idea. I wanted one very badly, but it just makes the game stressful and un-fun. I allow a timer to be activated by any two players in order to break deadlock situations where two or more players do not want to move first. This does not happen often but does require a rule to resolve it.

Would a hierarchy of time structures help my game?
There is one, and yes they were necessary to make the game flow as desired.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Day 104: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 104 - Lens 24: The Lens of Novelty
Different isn't always better, but better is always different.
-Scotty Meltzer
To ensure you harness the powerful motivation of novelty, ask yourself these questions:

What is novel about my game?
Er, almost everything...
The board is painted canvas and the game pieces are all metal.
The game is played in realtime rounds.
The game includes a iterative prisoner's dilemma.
The game includes limited resources that act as it's timer.
The end game includes all players.
Scoring takes both social and tactical elements into account.

Does my game have novelties throughout or just at the beginning?
Novelty in the game is distributed throughout its structure, including the end game mechanics.

Do I have the right mix of the novel and the familiar? When the novelty wears off, will players still enjoy my game?
The ideas of territory control and worker placement are common in modern and classic board games. If the game is balanced then it should hold up to repeated play.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Day 103: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 103 - The Lens of Motivation
Every game is a complex ecosystem of motivations. To examine them more closely, ask yourself these questions:

What motivations do players have to play my game?
Many motivations apply to any game such as:
to have fun
to socialize with friends
to fulfill social obligation to friends who want to play
to achieve mastery over something difficult
to achieve mastery over their friends
to understand the story of the game
to maintain gaming literacy

Some are specific to my game (or a game)
because they like THIS game
because they like me and feel social obligation
because the realistic post apocalyptic setting speaks to them
because the idea of real time board games is interesting
because the have played and like the real time aspect
because the prisoners dilemma social aspect is interesting to them

Which motivations are the most internal:
Having fun and liking this game are pretty internal. The drive for mastery is sometimes internal but more easily motivated by external forces. Most of the motivations though are some complex interaction of internal and external elements. I may enjoy the social challenges in the game both because I want to interact in fun ways with my friends and because it lets me outwit them and I perceive that as granting me social status.

Which are the most external?
See above. The more I think about the source of the above motivations the more I think a binary internal external designation is mostly meaningless.

Which are pleasure seeking?
Having fun, pursuing the story of the game/game world.

Which are pain-avoiding?
Avoiding losing. Avoiding being betrayed.

Which motivations support each other?
It's possible that there is such a density of motivations in the game due to the many aspects of the social and tactical play that they are just a mess. Or it's possible that reaching a certain motivational density allows the players to construct a set of motivations for themselves (or selectively perceive their motivations) in a way that makes the game feel deeply and naturally meaningful.

Which motivations are in conflict?
Having fun and not losing are probably in some conflict. Which is to say if you fail at not losing then you are probably also not having fun. Social obligation and fun are probably in conflict. Other things are just not related much at all like being interested in a real time game and liking the setting.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Day 102: FotLC through the 113 lenses from The Art of Game Design

Day 102 - Lens 37: The Lens of Fairness

To use this lens, evaluate the game from each player's point of view and skill level.  Find a way to give each player a chance of winning that each will consider to be fair. Ask yourself these questions:

Should my game be symmetrical? Why?
Yes, the game should be symmetrical. While asymmetric six way multiplayer sounds interesting, that's not a feat I want to mix with the challenge of real time play and the balance of tactics and diplomacy that I am focusing on with this game. The symmetry makes the fairness of the game more clear, and that's important when throwing a bunch of new mechanics at the player.

Should my game be asymmetrical? Why?
Yes, well I at least think that a little asymmetry to allow handicapping experienced players is on the table for consideration. Things like starting more experienced players with fiewer potential warriors, or fewer paths. 

The board starts out empty but will essentially always be built in an asymmetrical way, so while the game is balanced and each player has symmetrical potential, the game as it manifests will not be symmetrical.

Which is more important: that my game is a reliable measure of who has the most skill, or that it provide an interesting challenge to all players?
Ok, so both is a cheap answer. So, while both are goals I want the game to be an interesting challenge for all players. I also kind of think that that is the wrong answer. I think that I should probably put more focus on making the game a measure of skill, and that is the stone that will polish the edge of the game's interest, particularly in repeated play.

If I want players of different skill levels to play together, what means will I use to make the game interesting and challenging for everyone?
Since the game is social and skill based I think there are two parts. The first is making the new players awair in the rules/tutorial that they should stick together and work against advanced players. Advanced players should be aware that they need the alliance of other players to win, so knocking a new player out of the running makes them a dangerous loose cannon... etc.

However there may also be the ability to apply handicaps to make the game more mechanically balanced for different levels of skill.