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Creating a Hopeless Atmosphere

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ThisIsMyBoomstick
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I've always been attracted to universes and franchises with darker, hopeless overtones and grim feels to things, like Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, Warhammer, Hackmaster (though that one is goofy as well) and plenty of others.

I can't quite figure out how one could attempt to harness that type of atmosphere in a board game though. Does it come from good writing? Aesthetic design? Something else?

How do you implement melancholy into a board game? Even if you were to include a backstory for your game in the rule booklet, not everyone reads it. They might not attach to whatever feelings of isolation and lost hope you provide anyway. Would it stem from difficulty, maybe? I don't know.

So just what does it take? I know this is about like asking how to write a good horror novel, but I'll never get help if I don't ask.

Frahminator
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A scarcity of resources

A scarcity of resources (money, food, ore, etc) makes things feel grim. In Agricola, I don't feel "grim", but rather feel "stressed". I think that a different theme (horror or post-apocalyptic) would morph that feeling to "grim".

Experimental Designs
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Frahminator has made a good

Frahminator has made a good suggestion about the scarcity of resources so I'll advocate the feeling of constantly tittering on the brink of total defeat. I believe Warhammer is one example of that.

I think if you have things so desperate and so dire than anything that goes wrong it is a lost cause to avenge it. A favored character of sorts being brutally smashed and nothing in the world can be done about it. Just when you think there is a modicum of hope it all goes to hell by strong adversity though given it an inch only to end up taking a mile and then some. Make it as though it is fighting a losing battle and any hope of turning the tide is moot at best by impossible odds to paint a bleak atmosphere.

kpres
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Hopelessness in Pandemic and Betrayal

Pandemic is a game that creates a hopeless atmosphere through both the mechanics and the flavour.

First of all, it's a team-vs-game format. Everyone is trying to work together to control the spread of several viruses that threaten our species.

Every round, the plagues spread. By adding cubes onto a map, you can see the plague spreading to neighbouring countries and getting out of control.

There's also a "doom track" or something. Every time there's an outbreak, you move the counter on the doom track one step closer to the end. It can't move backwards, so there is no hope of that, and you know that as it gets more and more out of control, the doom track moves faster and faster. It definitely helps to create a feeling of hopelessness.

Flavour-wise, this game takes place in the modern age, on Earth. It reminds us that this scenario is possible. It has that connection.

Betrayal on House on the Hill is another example of a game that creates a sense of hopelessness. It's got a horror theme, which you mentioned you liked to see in games. This game is also a team-vs-game type of game, for the first part. The idea is that you're with some friends exploring a haunted house. Each time you move to an unexplored room, you bring a new tile onto the board.

There's a "haunting" mechanic, similar to the "doom track". When the haunting is triggered, one of the players in the game gets possessed and betrays the team. In this second part of the game, it becomes players vs the betrayer.

These are just two examples of board games that are fun and exciting through sense of hopelessness.

Procylon
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To get a feeling of

To get a feeling of hopelessness in a game, you need to set the stage. Your rules define the order of play, and so you should spoon feed the theme to your players using that order.

Connect the player with the game. This is you. This is your mission. You have to overcome these things or all is lost. Here are periodic examples of the price of failure. Here is this countdown that spells the end of all you hold dear. Beat the clock or die. No "losing the game"; instead, you die, and horribly at that.

McTeddy
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One thing to consider is

One thing to consider is "Irreversible Consequences".

I've played many games that allow you to prevent bad things from happening, but don't allow you to fix them afterwards. This could be a "Threat" track that causes more dangerous enemies to spawn or have a number of beneficial power locations that WILL be removed from play as the game progresses. You could even just makes wounds permanent or a limited total amount of ammunition. With no way to recover... the player will slowly find himself growing scared.

While this technically won't be a "Isolated" feel at the beginning... it will quickly spiral into despair. The loss of something important will hit them far harder than it never existing in the first place.

Candi
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Stronghold does this (sort

Stronghold does this (sort of). The defender will fail, that's the end condition of the game - the game ends when the attacker first breaches the walls. As the game goes on the defender, whose resources and soldiers do not replenish, is being slowly beaten and battered while the attacker, whose resources are constantly being refreshed (more goblins and orcs and trolls pour onto the field, siege engines are built, become calibrated and hit more often, offensive spells are being flung with ever increasing frequency and potency), becomes more and more unstoppable until the breaking point - a wall breach, and its over.

The defender's goal is to survive "long enough" (as determined by the sliding VP scale, the attacker starts with all of the VP and each round one is moved to the defenders side. There are also bonus points awarded at the end to keep you uncertain of the victor until the last moment after the breach).

As the defender, the whole thing feels constantly hopeless :) So theme, setting and mechanics all rolled together get that feeling across in Stronghold.

ThisIsMyBoomstick
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Thanks for all of the

Thanks for all of the replies, guys. I appreciate it bunches.
I'll definitely get back to work on both of games after these next couple of weeks are over (College Finals), and I intend to check back on this thread quite a bit for my fantasy game.

Again, thanks : )

larienna
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One idea could be to leave

One idea could be to leave the player on the edge all the time. So that any bad decision taken could lead to a player's death.

Another idea is to have limited use low effects power up. That reminds me of hero quest where some potions game you +1 die on your next roll, but you did not actually know if that would be the best moment to use that potions. So players are always struggling if they should use their ability now or later.

eviljohs
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Agree, "Irreversible Consequences"

I agree with Procylon and McTeddy. I feel most grim with games that I feel I have invested something personal into the game. Specifically the characters. Even if it is just some basic customization. So the grim part is facing a consequence of some action I took. The characters death or wounded or something. Or lose of resource in some way. But something that I feel somewhat invested in.

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