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[TiGD] State Tracking

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Zzzzz
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So there has been much talk about *tapping* and keeping track of states during a game, I thought it would be a great chance to open up the discussion as a wider range topic. Let us call it State Tracking for this discussion.

If you think about it, pretty much any game you play will contain some form of State Tracking. If nothing more than a pawn on a square of Chutes & Ladders, a position of a Chess piece, or laying down train cars for Ticket To Ride, State Tracking is and will be an important design element of current and future game designs.

With so many games it seems that there could be an endless number of ways to handle State Tracking, so lets discuss the following:

1) Is it possible to design a game without some form of State Tracking?
I am not sure that this is possible, though I am sure I am missing something that causes this misconception in my head. But basically if you have a way to determine a winner of a game, you must have kept track of each players score. Thus you have a state, since each players score is a state.

2) What are some of the more used State Tracking mechanics?
For example counters, rotating cards, writing down with pencial and paper

3) Are themed based State Tracking mechanics better to use in a design than simple unthemed State Tracking mecahnics?
Not sure it matters but keeping track of the longest route for Ticket to Ride using train cars, just works. And to me this state tracking is integrated nicely into the theme of the game.

4) What current games on the market use State Tracking mechanics in an original way?
Not sure, nothing is coming to mind besides that crazy *tapping* method. And that is no longer original in my opinion.

5) Do you attempt to find new ways to track states in your games? If so have you created anything *original*?
I have not really thought to much or to hard about creating original ways to track states in a game. I think for me my methods of tracking states in a game tend to be a result of other game mechanics and based on the objectives contained in the game.

Not sure I gave enough into to makes this a real TiGD topic, but I think it is an important topic because we might uncover some fun ideas! I did not even include any questions about how State Trackin does or does not influence player emotions..... might be fun to discuss also.

markmist
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[TiGD] State Tracking

Just off the top of my head - the two most common state tracking methods are collecting something (be it tokens, cards, chips, money, etc.), and using a tracking player board or scoreboard with markers to show your current state or score. Some games use a combination of the two.

Another type of game would be games in which you are playing cards or trying to get rid of cards (like Pit, 6 Nimmit, or Lost Cities) in which you need to use a pencil and pad to keep score. Likewise many party style games also use pencil and pad or scoring pads.

Some of the more innovative ways to determine state might be using dice (like in Shadows of Camelot), or using flip charts/books. I have heard that the Rondel in Antike is an original technique for determining game state. A fairly innovative way that I am using in one of my games is to have cards that have 2 front sides (with 1 side being one state and the other side being another state).

Zzzzz
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[TiGD] State Tracking

I need to look into the Rondel used in Antike, I have not had a chance to play Antike yet, sadly I do not get a chance to play many games these days.

I am still in search of a game that does not require the use of a State Tracking mechanic. Everything I own or look up on BGG seems to contain some form of State Tracking (as I have it defined, maybe my definition is too broad).

Anyone know of a game that does not track some type of information? And is this even possible?

zaiga
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[TiGD] State Tracking

Zzzzz wrote:
Anyone know of a game that does not track some type of information? And is this even possible?

What about a show like American Idol? Every "player" does his act, in the end the jury chooses the winner.

Zzzzz
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[TiGD] State Tracking

zaiga wrote:

What about a show like American Idol? Every "player" does his act, in the end the jury chooses the winner.

Ah.... did not think of that, very nice!

disclamer
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[TiGD] State Tracking

zaiga wrote:
Zzzzz wrote:
Anyone know of a game that does not track some type of information? And is this even possible?

What about a show like American Idol? Every "player" does his act, in the end the jury chooses the winner.

If there is no way to track information, there can be no game. You might consider a simple contest involving a single iteration, though even that can be said to require some sort of state tracking. Take Rock/Paper/Scissors - a single throw and it's over, one player is declared the winner. In truth, however, the sign he throws is the tracking of the information of which symbol he chose.

Shellhead
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[TiGD] State Tracking

Without some kind of tracking, you are playing "Pretend", a sort of game without rules that most of us played as kids. The closest adult analogue that I can think of is Amber Diceless Role-Playing, but even that has character sheets to track certain information about what the character was like just after character creation.

Epigone
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[TiGD] State Tracking

I think perhaps the infant playing peekaboo does not track state information.

MattMiller
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[TiGD] State Tracking

Quote:
Anyone know of a game that does not track some type of information? And is this even possible?

Double blind chess. Both players simply remember the position on the board. 'Course, you have to be pretty good chess players to play it.

Fundamentally, every strategy game is what computer geeks call a "state machine". The game can be in any of a (usually huge) variety of states. Transitions between states result from player moves and random processes.

The question here is how much of the state is represented by the positions of game pieces, and how much of it must remembered by the players. In general, I prefer as much as possible to be represented with pieces.

-- Matt

disclamer
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[TiGD] State Tracking

Epigone wrote:
I think perhaps the infant playing peekaboo does not track state information.

peekaboo is play, but not a game.

bluesea
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[TiGD] State Tracking

How about "Who or what Am I?"
A game we used to play in the car on road trips. My dad would give the initials of the person and we would have to ask yes/no questions about the person/thing until we guessed it. It was a lot more fun than it sounds...at least when you're eight.

I guess if you made it into twenty questions, then one would have to keep track of the number of questions. But we didn't do that for some reason.

But this brings up a questions: Does this imply that if non-state tracking game exists, it is potentially infinite?!

What other properties must a non-state tracking game have?

-John

Scurra
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[TiGD] State Tracking

MattMiller wrote:
Quote:
Anyone know of a game that does not track some type of information? And is this even possible?

Double blind chess. Both players simply remember the position on the board. 'Course, you have to be pretty good chess players to play it.There are quite a lot of variants of Magic: the Gathering that work a bit like this.
But I don't think this really counts, because the state tracking is still present, just not in a physical form.

I do a fair amount of Live Action Role-Playing - Freeforming - which can be done without any state-tracking if the players so desire. Of course,pretty much all of the time they do need to, but in theory it could be done.

larienna
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[TiGD] State Tracking

I think that a game is not a game if it cannot keep track of states.

I think the goal of this thread would be to find new ways of keeping track of states. For example, I once had the idea of making a card game that does not require a table to play ( allow to play in bus, car, etc). So theorically, you cannot keep track of any states by placing cards on a table. So the only way to keep track of states for a game with this restriction are:

- The card composition in your hand
- The card is upside or upside down
- The card is face up or face down in your hand.
- The position of the card in your hand ( 1st on left or right )

Here are some other restriction ideas. Let say a game which has a board and some glass bead of the same color ( for the same player ). Unlike tokens, beads cannot be fliped, rotated and cannot have different meaning since they are all the same. So what can keep track of states here :

- The position of the bead on the board
- The number of bead on the board, outside the board or in any other particular area.

disclamer
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[TiGD] State Tracking

bluesea wrote:
How about "Who or what Am I?"
A game we used to play in the car on road trips. My dad would give the initials of the person and we would have to ask yes/no questions about the person/thing until we guessed it. It was a lot more fun than it sounds...at least when you're eight.

I guess if you made it into twenty questions, then one would have to keep track of the number of questions. But we didn't do that for some reason.

But this brings up a questions: Does this imply that if non-state tracking game exists, it is potentially infinite?!

What other properties must a non-state tracking game have?

-John

There really is only one "state" to keep track of - "has the person been guessed?" No other factor changes during this activity. Once the person has been guessed the "game" is over. I would assume you are tracking the state of that answer, or you'll look foolish when you keep guessing after the asnwer has been revealed.

jwarrend
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[TiGD] State Tracking

It seems that most of the discussion is focused on the question of "can there be a game without state tracking", but I don't think that's really the most pertinent question for the kind of games that most of us are working on. To me, the opposite situation is the more likely one, where there is too much state tracking. This can lead to a game with too much information for players to process, or one in which playing the game becomes fiddly because every time you do something, you have to adjust the game state in a substantial way.

The metrics I typically look for is how many markers are required to notate each player's game state independent of the number of playing pieces, and how often the state markers need to be adjusted. The exception is the players' pieces that go on the board to mark territorial possession or whatever; it's a given that there might be a lot of those, or that they might move quite a bit. But if you have to mark, say, 3 production levels, 6 technology levels, 1 VP level, etc, it just becomes something to look out for.

I also find the question of clever state tracking mechanics to be an interesting one. In particular, are there ways to integrate state tracking so that it actually becomes a game mechanic unto itself? I think that's the ideal situation. One example that comes to mind is Knizia's Lord of the Rings. The various tracks on each board track the game state in that they measure your progress through the board, and indicate how far you are from completing it. But, they also have functionality, since most of the spaces either give you tokens or force you to lose cards or roll the die or whatever.

One system I've come up with that has a nice blend of state tracking and functionality is in my new Thirty Years War game. I wanted to have territories become "devastated" and have this reduce their production capacity. The way I initially wanted to do this was to give each territory a number indicating its base production, and to then add "devastation markers"; so, to get the production value, you subtract the number of markers from the base production. This was functional but not very elegant, and rather fiddly. The solution was to give each territory two types of features: cities and estates. Each devastation marker now covers up a city or estate, and the total production of the territory depends on the number of undevastated cities and estates. I made this of further interest by awarding VP bonuses to the players with the most cities or the most estates, so now there is also some incentive to preserve one or the other depending on which bonus you're pursuing.

-Jeff

BillDowns
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State Tracking

Please excuse if I don't post things right - I'm a virgin here :)

The original questions asked were

Quote:
1) Is it possible to design a game without some form of State Tracking?
2) What are some of the more used State Tracking mechanics?
3) Are themed based State Tracking mechanics better to use in a design than simple unthemed State Tracking mecahnics?
4) What current games on the market use State Tracking mechanics in an original way?
5) Do you attempt to find new ways to track states in your games? If so have you created anything *original*?

As a programmer, I would have to say that the questions - except the first - are insufficiently specific, e.g. the state of what?

To use a trivial example, Rock-Paper-Scissors, the game state is usually carried mentally unless you write down the number of wins/losses. Each player's position uses the tracking method of forming the player's hand: balled (Rock), two fingers extended (Scissors) or open (Paper). BTW, I think this counts as an *original* tracking method.

For a not-so-trivial example, the state of a game of Chess at any point, is the set of each piece's state (position on the board or removed).

In Monopoly, each player's state is represented by ownership status of each property, position of his token, total money possessed and the possession of the "Get of of Jail" cards.

As for the first question, I would submit that even the most simplest game requires some way to track the Game State even if it is memory alone.

w0rf
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[TiGD] State Tracking

It seems to me that the discussion may be getting a bit too broad in terms of what constitutes a game state. Games by definition are a form of competition and/or solitaire accomplishment, therefore if we define a state as any method of determining the winner, then even something as simple as peek-a-boo qualifies because discovering the adult grinning like a lunatic establishes in the infant a sense of accomplishment and "winning" the game. It's an interesting intellecutal exercise but does it accomplish anything in terms of provoking design ideas?

It's interesting that Ticket to Ride is one of the examples listed, because the given state-tracking mechanic, the train car, is not at all a way of determining the score, and is not a strong indicator of who may win the game. A player can have trains criss-crossing the country, but if he does not complete his assigned lines, they are virtually meaningless in the final tally. The score is kept with a nondescript stackable marker and the cards for the assigned lines are hidden from the other players.

So what do the trains represent? Obviously they represent constructed train lines, the immersive effect of which is part of their appeal. They also represent the development of a player's strategy over the course of a game. It's difficult to surmise a player's final score from his layout, but if somebody is making a beeline on a long route, then state tracking is defined as trying to divine a player's intended moves in the future and planning moves to either aid or impede that goal.

Look at Monopoly, destroyer of families. Is the state of the game determined by the amount of money held? The raw number of properties? Or is it the little houses and hotels that start to sprout from monopolized portions of the board? Those pieces indicate a state of advanced development and clue the players in to an additional (dis)advantage present in that area.

Look at Carcassone. Is there really any strong indication of how a dynamic tile-laying game is going? The endgame can mean a massive point swing when totalling open fields, or it can be a complete bust for the person trying to mount a comeback. Meeples do not represent areas you HAVE developed, as scored cities remove the meeple from the board, but areas that are BEING developed. The state tracking function of the meeple is therefore to show where future tile development may benefit you in the short term.

Look at Life. On second thought, don't look at Life as an example of gaming. Ever.

Zzzzz
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[TiGD] State Tracking

w0rf wrote:

It's interesting that Ticket to Ride is one of the examples listed, because the given state-tracking mechanic, the train car, is not at all a way of determining the score, and is not a strong indicator of who may win the game. A player can have trains criss-crossing the country, but if he does not complete his assigned lines, they are virtually meaningless in the final tally. The score is kept with a nondescript stackable marker and the cards for the assigned lines are hidden from the other players.

So what do the trains represent? Obviously they represent constructed train lines, the immersive effect of which is part of their appeal. They also represent the development of a player's strategy over the course of a game. It's difficult to surmise a player's final score from his layout, but if somebody is making a beeline on a long route, then state tracking is defined as trying to divine a player's intended moves in the future and planning moves to either aid or impede that goal.

This brings up a good point, and w0rf I agree that the topic might be getting to broad.

The main goal of this TiGD was to identify and discuss methods on how to keep track of various game states, objectives, or goals.

As for the trains cars in Ticket to Ride, to me they represent a method of keeping track of the longest route which nicely integrate with the theme of the game. Simple and seemless yet one of the methods in Ticket to Ride to track some form of information. And as a whole the players can see the actual state of the longest route bu just looking at the train cars of all players.

I should add that for me state tracking is not just about *who* is winning, it is more generic. It is about being able to see what people have, even a simple bidding game can use tokens as currency for bidding. These tokens represent the current state of each players ability to bid. This will not tell you who is winning but will allow players to track each opponents remaining tokens for planning ahead.

w0rf wrote:

Look at Monopoly, destroyer of families. Is the state of the game determined by the amount of money held? The raw number of properties? Or is it the little houses and hotels that start to sprout from monopolized portions of the board? Those pieces indicate a state of advanced development and clue the players in to an additional (dis)advantage present in that area.

Another great point, state tracking is more than just *who is winning* it is about visualizing or seeing what players possess. For example in Settlers, players track resouces in their hand by picking up additional resouces cards each turn (if applicable). They can have any number of cards but that does not mean they are *winning* nor does it really matter at all for score. But it is another method of keeping track of information in a game. And players know their own state with respect to resouces by assessing the cards in their hand. This again allows them to plan for future development.

w0rf
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[TiGD] State Tracking

Zzzzz wrote:
The main goal of this TiGD was to identify and discuss methods on how to keep track of various game states, objectives, or goals.

To this end, it might be good for people to keep in mind that games can have multiple objectives, and therefore, multiple methods of tracking the state of each objective. More on that in a minute.
Quote:
I should add that for me state tracking is not just about *who* is winning, it is more generic. It is about being able to see what people have, even a simple bidding game can use tokens as currency for bidding. These tokens represent the current state of each players ability to bid. This will not tell you who is winning but will allow players to track each opponents remaining tokens for planning ahead.

So in a sense, the topic is too broad, and yet not broad enough. By that, I mean that any feedback the game provides the player could be considered a form of state tracking, but on the other hand, certain tracking methods will be specific to their own assigned values, which may be of varying priority. Again, more to come, as my epiphany sort of developed through the course of the post.
Quote:
For example in Settlers, players track resouces in their hand by picking up additional resouces cards each turn (if applicable). They can have any number of cards but that does not mean they are *winning* nor does it really matter at all for score. But it is another method of keeping track of information in a game. And players know their own state with respect to resouces by assessing the cards in their hand. This again allows them to plan for future development.

Settlers is a perfect example of what I'm talking about, and here's why: tracking resources only tells you about one aspect of the game: how much one player is able to impact the economy of the game with what he possesses. But there is also the matter of the positioning of his settlements, the roads he has in place, the number of soldiers played. In the Settlers of Canaan adaptation, there is also the question of who has stones in the Wall of Jerusalem.

Each of these methods tracks one aspect of the game: economy, board control, developement, etc, and each of them help contribute to yet another state tracker, the victory points. The brilliance of the Settlers model (also reflected in other Mayfair games I've played like Domaine) is that anyone can examine the board and calculate the number of points each player has, by checking each of these various states.

Now here's the epiphany I just had: not only is it important to have ways of tracking a player's progress, not only is it better the simpler you design it, but I think it is also important to prioritize what states have the most impact, and make them proportionally more or less visible. In Monopoly, houses and hotels are what will destroy bank accounts in the endgame, therefore they are the only pieces other than the event cards and player pieces that actually have a home on the board. In Ticket to Ride, the points circle the perimeter of the board (at least, they did in the Marklin version), and are small nubs, while the trains are attractively molded pieces that spider-web across the board. In Apples to Apples, not only do the green apples make it easier to tell the clues apart from the responses, but the visual differentiation really cues in a player to who has points sitting in front of them. Risk is a conquest game, so the armies that populate the different regions are the most prominent feature of the game.

So not only should we tie specific trackers to specific goals, not only should we keep it as simple as possible to monitor them, we should also prioritize and design the display of those trackers according to their impact on the game. If this proposal is correct, one would assume that if the trains were not such a key element of Ticket to Ride, I would be more inclined to actually change my gameplay design to make them more central and integral, rather than either making (for example) the point total more visually grabbing, or just leaving it there and having trains of little use just cluttering up the board.

:edit: jwarren's solution for his Thirty Years War game is another elegant example of this. Simplified tracking mechanics that are visually integrated into the gameplay based on their import.

Thoughts?

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