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War Games: Mechanics to motivate players

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larienna
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It's a long post, in fact longer that I originaly tought.

We have talked a lot about what can be used to motivate a player to act in a certain direction. Most of these mechanics generally rely on a goals to acheive. I have recently read a book about geo-politics and learned many reason that could lead a nation to invade another one. It works in real life but not necessarily in a game. We have also seen that there must be competition between player in a game for the game to work.

My basic question is :
Is it possible in a game to set players in competition with each other without setting to each player a goal imposed by the rules of the game.

There is 2 mechanics that I want to discuss about. For these examples, let's take a game that looks like axis and allies but there is no predetermination of who is in war with who, the player will have to choose themself according to their personal ambitions. The idea of the game would be to role-play a slice of a time period where there has been some wars.

--- Historical Background ---
I tought of implementing a mechanic that would determine what happened in the past in order to start some hostilities. For example, each territory in the nation, except it's core, could roll a die. If the player is not lucky, it could say that this territory is independent because it rebelled itself in the past or that this territory now belongs to your neighborg because he stole it 30 years ago.

Now normally, a real nation should be angry when she lost in the past a territory. It will generally try to get it back. This is what happen in between france and germany. During WW1, France wanted to get back alsace-loraine lost in 1870 under napoleon III. Now does the players will feel the same about it. Would they really try to get their territory back. They might just be really friendly with the thief nation and never attack each other. The original goal was to set trouble between nations.

--- Political relation, governments and legality of actions ---
Another mechanic that I am not sure the player would really follow is related to diplomatic relations. For example, maybe a democratic nation will not stand the invasion of an innocent nation. So if an "Evil" nation decide to invade another country without a good reason, the democratic nation might be forced to attack, because it's against it's principle. But does the player will really play his role and declare war with the "Evil" nation, or he will simply ignore it.

It could also be legal to get a stolen territory back. Or invade a rebelled territory with the excuse that you are suppressing a rebellion. By doing this, you have a good excuse that will make sure the other nations won't declare war on you just because you invaded a territory.

Another idea would be that your goverment could be against communist, so it wil oppose any communist government actions. But then again, the player might not care if a communist nation does something even if it is written in it's nation's profile.

Il also had the idea of having multi-party democratic government where they each have a different goal. The player would have to act according to the government that has been elected. Then again, will the player stick to the role defined by the elected party.

---

The problem is that there is no rule to follow and there is no goal stated by the rules to follow. It's like a role playing game where you are a nation instead of a character. I am not even sure when would the game end since there is not really goals. It is possile that there is no war at all.

I like the idea that you could make a "coup d'etat" and overthrow your own government in order to change your political or economic system. But then again what is your interest to do this since you would be vulnerable for many turns.

There is no punishment if the player does not play correctly his role as the leader of the nation. The only thing the player can lose is support from the other nations. Or maybe I could make some population revolt if the player does not play correctly his role. Or the senate oppose to the desicion the the leader and you cannot permor your action.

Finally, if you do not want to conquer the world, what would be the interest of playing the game if there is no goal. It's fun to see how your nation grows, evolves and how it deal with other nations, but at the end of the game it gives you nothing. There is not really any good reason to play.

If I must set a goal, I tought of using a victory point system where many many factors can give you points : Technology, army size, your type of government, nb of territory, number of alliance, number of war waged, Number of nation protected, etc. I think that a nation generally allways want to be the best in the world. The goal would be to become the most properous nation. Which mean that you do not necessarily need to go to war to win, but this is an option that can work.

Scurra
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War Games: Mechanics to motivate players

You really should look at Struggle of Empires for a lovely example of how at least some of the issues you raise can be addressed without forcing players to act outside of their own personal desires. Through the Alliance system, whereby all the players are in one of two alliances, players have the chance to pursue their own interests but may still have to act if circumstances arise in which they are forced to do so. What I like the most is that the game system also manages to impose enough constraints such that players don't have a totally free hand, and yet they don't feel like constraints during play (at least not until the crucial moment when all your plans fall apart ;-))

Nandalf
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War Games: Mechanics to motivate players

You could try using Victory Cards? as in risk, just more across the board... like reaching x technology? or freeing so many lands?

jwarrend
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War Games: Mechanics to motivate players

This is definitely an interesting question, and I'm wrestling with some similar concerns in a game I'm starting on about the 30 Years War.

First, at the outset, let me say that if you want a combative game, the game's victory conditions must encourage players to attack one another. There's simply no way around that; it's always better to encourage players to want to fight because it's a viable route to victory than to force them to attack one another simply because the rules say they have to.

In terms of players being natural enemies without the rules explicitly telling you which "side" you're on, one thing I'm going to try in my game is to have players restricted as to who they CANNOT attack. In my game, the rules will give each player one or two alignments, either Protestant or Catholic, and either Pro- or Anti-Hapsburg, and you will be forbidden from directly attacking a player who shares your alignment. This means that France can't directly attack Spain (because they're both Catholic), but they can fund Protestant armies who are willing to attack them. It's slightly ahistorical, but it's sufficiently historically motivated to be reasonable, and it should do an adequate job nudging players to attack the "right" opponents.

To further nudge this, I expect to give players individual goals, and it's here that I hope to incorporate historic effects as well. For example, a factor in the 30 years war was the Spanish war with the Netherlands, and the desire to use the Rhine to transport troops from Italy to the Netherlands. How can I encourage the Spain player to want to do this? Well, one way would be to make the Netherlands valuable resource-wise (which it was), but the problem with that is that it might encourage other players (France, especially) to try to take the Netherlands for themselves, which didn't happen. So what I may do instead is to make control of the Netherlands part of Spain's victory condition (or at least something that confers victory points, or whatever).

I think this latter could be helpful to you -- simply make certain territories part and parcel of victory, and put those key territories behind enemy lines, and players will have no choice but to attack each other. (And of course, it doesn't have to be territories that are the flashpoint for hostility).

But the first point I made is the key; the game will only work if players feel that combat is a tool to achieve a specific goal, and not just something that is done because it's a war game.

-Jeff

Emphyrio
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War Games: Mechanics to motivate players

Competition for resources (perhaps including territory) could be a potential source of conflict. You could either put victory points on the resources directly, or model the ways in which the resources contribute to the growth of your economy and award victory based on that.

To take your WW2 example, certain resources such as oil, rubber, and iron ore were very important to the combatants' overall economies, not just military production. But there were several ways to deal with the demand for resources: Germany bought iron ore from Sweden, but used military force to take over the Romanian oil fields, and developed synthetic compounds that could replace rubber, as well as importing some from the East Indies via Russia.

Obviously, some of these involve conflict (or the threat of conflict) while others do not. You would need to assign different ramifications to each. For example, invading a resource-bearing country would give you complete control over the resource, but would tie up some of your military forces and might provoke other players into attacking you. Developing a synthetic resource might be less reliable, but could have serendipitous effects elsewhere in your economy. Trade is subject to cancellation at the whim of the supplier, and blockade/interception by enemies, but might be a good option if your military is not well positioned to invade the supplier and you want a consistent supply immediately. Alliances and treaties could fall out of this -- one reason for the Hitler-Stalin pact was so that Germany could import goods from East Asia via Russia where they would not be subject to the British blockade.

I think it is the competition that motivates players and keeps them interested, not necessarily actual conflict (war). You might be able to work in some version of the Prisoner's Dilemma to reward cooperative strategies such as trade as well as provide incentive for conflict.

Deviant
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War Games: Mechanics to motivate players

There's a very simple way to make a player care about the fate of, say, Alsace-Lorraine, and that is to make its liberation a victory condition. Or at least, very profitable.

At the start of the game, players might draw an identity with specific victory conditions. Fulfill all of these, and win. Or you might draw secret missions from a large pile. Fulfilling a secret mission gives you money, power, or simply counts toward a larger "victory quota".

Although the concept of secret missions in a war game sounds very good in theory, I've yet to see it done well. Maybe someone on this board will be the first?

larienna
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War Games: Mechanics to motivate players

Thanks for the replies!

I tought about the aligment thing before. Like communist government supporting each other. I remember my civ game where as a democratic government, I was forced to accept a request for peace even if I new that the peace would be broken 2 turns later, and I could not attack any other country as I wanted.

The Idea of gainning a reward as ressource( money, material )for conquering a key region is good. You do not need to do it, since it does not give you victory points, but it can help you by giving extra ressource as income. But then again, the reward must worth the amount invested. Or maybe, reconquering a lot territory could boost the morale of your nation.

It seems that economics has a lot of influence on diplomatic relation as I read it in my book about geo-politic. Maybe indicating where are the trade routes on the map as strategic point to acquire could be interesting too.

Hedge-o-Matic
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War Games: Mechanics to motivate players

One thing that may help is the design of the game board. In Geopolitical "contests", factors that impact the psychology of the participants play a large part. While the historic feeling of injustice won't be present in your players, other psychology can come into play.

For example, if the board shows areas of your country are somewhat isolated geographically, surrounded by a hostile border, or otherwise vulnerable, the player will feel the need to strengthen those areas, and this may be seen by the other player as a threatening move, or a massing of forces, or even just a slipping away of advantage. All of these usrge the other player to action.

Another consideration is size. Being Korea, and having the looming masses of both Russia and China filling the rest of the board will be intimidating. Having Japan across the way won't make me feel any safer, but if the board is designed to show a lot of these other countries, I'll feel intimidated from the get-go. This defensiveness may make me more militant, to try to discourage aggression by my neighbors.

larienna
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War Games: Mechanics to motivate players

Of course, the terrain is really important. First because developed terrain worth more. But there are many other factor can encourage economic developement.

I know that was many conflicts took place because a nation did not have an access to the sea. I think that there is currently only a dozen of countries today that does not have one. So I tought of giving a value or a % bonus on your income for each sea where you have an access. For example, in our world, the mediteranean sea could give you a 20% bonus on your income and the atlantic a 30% bonus on your income. Since France have access to both sea, they would benefit from a 50% on their income.

If you decide to take control of gibraltar, you will be able to control which country in the medeteranean sea will have access to the atlantic ocean. Doing so will remove the atlantic bonus to other countries inside the sea.

Another element is land trade routes. There have also been many conflict around a land communication trade route. For example, the road to asia. Again, a trade route would be able to give a land region a certain % bonus if the trade route is opened. Controling the key point of a trade route would mean determining who will get the bonus.

So making a system like this might encourage negociation and war for the control of key points.

I have not yet consdered the internal economy of a nation. I know that the german before WW2 where in some kind of economic depression which was a reason to get more ressources. In a war game, less income only mean less soldiers or investment on tech, spy, etc. Now I might need to find an internal economy rule system that could force a country to conquer territories in order to get economic stability.

Hedge-o-Matic
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War Games: Mechanics to motivate players

I've been thinking about it a bit more, and, along the lines I was mentioning before, using normal psycological factors as motivating forces, here are a few others:

1. Cranking up the thermostat in the room.
2. Each of the players must destroy something irreplacable of personal significance to one of the others before the game begins.
3. Cities and civilian centers are assigned "values", such as "car", "saving account", "credit record", "all your clothing except what you're wearing", "house", and so on. When a city is lost, that players actual item of value is destroyed.
4. Players are hooked up to car batteries, and the loss of units is accompanied by appropriate shocks.
5. The player's circulatory systems are connected by open-ended transfusion gear to a large metal tub beneath the table. Resources spent during the game incur a cost in cc's of actual blood loss.

These are just some of the ideas I think will really make that next wargame stand out in your memory. After all, with proper motivation, even the shallowest wargame can become a contest of epic proportions.

larienna
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War Games: Mechanics to motivate players

One thing that I do not normally specify is that I want the player to stay ALIVE when the game ends. So that we can play another time next week.

Now I tought about the economy thing and it seem to make some sense. The problem with the growth economy would be that you always need more than you have in order to stay economically stable. Which mean to get more, you will eventually need to take it from somebody else.

I tought of making some sort of GNP indicator. If your income exceed you GNP indicator, it will increase, but if your income drops below the GNP indicator, you will have some problem. Maybe other factors, like hirering soldiers, can lower your GNP. There might also be an recession/inflation indicator. The GNP will determine the maximum unit production or your country.

There are other details to determine but, this is a rough idea of what it will look like. The main element that drives the player in a conflict will be that the economy will always force them to get more than they have to be stable. So conflict will arise naturally.

stumps
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War Games: Mechanics to motivate players

(hello all...been away for a long while for any that remember me)

Anyways....
Sounds to me like you are basically wrestling with the exact same issues that any RvR(realm vs. realm) MMORPG developer runs smack into.

True, you are working on a board game so your interested are definitively different, though fundamentally the same.

As for references to other board games, considering what you have stated as your desires, I would take a good look at DIPLOMACY, as it can be "saved" and continued into the next week fairly easily due to the nature of it's lengthy political and strategic turns.

Further, I believe you are mistaken in stating that you are looking for a mechanic free motivation for political rivalry and then comparing that to an RPG and it's characters.

PnP RPG, maybe...but that's a different ball game completely.

Online RPG's...now, they wrestle with player motivation for nearly everything in any of the games.
The only one's that have lacked motivational mechanics, are the same one's that are either outdated by now, or failed attempts.

As I always point out when working with folks on RvR mechanics (as is part of my occupation as of late) I simply state to go look at the game of RISK and find out if you can make players want to fight each other without providing a mechanic for them to want to.

For instance, in RISK, it's resource gain...Land.
Simply Land. Your goal is to take all the Land that you can.

That's it.

In RvR MMORPG's we want players to do the same thing. We want them to take Land. We want them to take as much of it as they can get a hold of, and we want them to fight each other wildly for it.

True, we don't want to put a yellow marker on some land and reward them with 5,000 XP when they reach the land and own it...no.

We want them to want the Land for it's resource return.

Just as in RISK, each piece of Land tallied up to your returning amount of troop supply, so Land in an RvR MMORPG returns appropriated resources relevant to the system's other aspects.

For instance, you may be after a new piece of Land for your "faction"/country because this new land has several rich mines on them where your present land has none.

Further, you might also want the land so that you can better get to another piece of land near the piece you are after at the time.

Point is, you are looking at a board game that sounds very similar to what developers look at when looking at RvR MMORPG's.

You seem to be attempting to slap it into a board game and remove the layer of the game where individual characters exist, and then to turn around and treat the country as the characters instead.
This is like cutting off an RvR MMORPG at the Leadership level and removing all other players from the game.

What drives those players?
Typically, as stated, Land and it's resources, Money, and further...one thing that you have forgotten...fun of fighting.

Make the combat really, really interesting between two countries, and really, really fun so that after all the politicking, economizing, alliance making/breaking, what players look forward to is some straight out elbow banging....

Often time when playing DIPLOMACY, which is HEAVY in political talk, alliance deals, and back stabbing, I felt like I just wanted to roll some dice and get messy and dirty with some good old RISK or AXIS & ALLIES mechanics.

So...while looking at your mechanical free dream of warfare motivation...keep in mind to make the warfare FUN. That may be enough motivation in itself. ;)

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