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Family space themed adventure: Trading commodities

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Desprez
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Joined: 12/01/2008

This is a little bit of "mechanic" and a little bit of "idea", so not sure of the best forum to post on, but here goes...

I've got a space themed adventure game in progress that should be suitable for family play, accommodating a fairly wide range of ages. This is partly due to asymmetric roles picked by the player. Some roles are more straight forward, some will require more complex thinking, and have different ways to achieve victory points. (Think: trader, pirate, humanitarian, etc.) (er... humanitarian... hmmm, what would the correct be here as there are aliens? Xenotarian?)

Anyway, one element of the game is to make money by trading resources between planets. Now, I want this to be interesting for players who like trade, but it also has to be approachable for younger players.

Instead of every planet having it's own prices (complex), I've classified the planets into 3 broad categories, say red, yellow, blue which trade in 4 commodities. Each color planet shares the same prices with the same color. (simpler)

Each planet deals in all 4 commodities, but for OPTIMAL trades, I've gone with a rock-paper-scissors configuration. So you can buy red items on red planets for cheap and sell them high on yellow planets (or medium on blue). You can buy yellow items on yellow planets and sell them high on blue, and buy blue on blue and sell to red.

So for a younger player all they need to know is buy the red stuff at red planets, etc. While an older player may look for increased efficiency in the route taken, and watching for opportunities in price fluctuation. (info about price flux at the end)

So, first question:
Thematically, I haven't decided what makes the most sense for what the planet classes and the commodities actually are.

Right now I'm thinking:
1) Food ($) / Ore ($$) / Manufactured Goods ($$$)

Red (Frontier/Mining) buys Food high, sells Ore low
Yellow (Production) buys Ore high, sells Manufactured Goods low
Blue (Developed) buys Manufactured Goods high, sells Food low

Or:
2) Food ($) / Industrial ($$) / Luxury ($$$)

Red (Frontier) buys Industrial Goods high, sells Luxury Goods low
Yellow (Production) buys Food high, sells Industrial Goods low
Blue (Developed) buys Luxury Goods high, sells Food low

What would fit well for a wide range of planets and goods that fits in a rock-paper-scissors model?

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Ok, next part:
You might have noticed that I originally said 4 commodities but only list 3.
The 4th I envision as contraband items. These are an optional item you can buy cheap and sell for a big profit, but at a risk of getting caught with them.

(This can remain themed as Contraband, as this is a family game, though it could conceptually represent anything from weapons, to drugs, to muffins made by people your faction doesn't like.)

I have two solutions so far:

1) Buy Contraband low at the frontier worlds and sell high at Yellow and higher on Blue. Faction has no bearing.

2) There are 2 Contraband items, one for each major faction. You buy them low at the faction that owns them and sell high at the opposite faction.

Option 2 adds a 5th commodity and I dislike it for this reason, but perhaps adds more difficulty in obtaining them - in addition to getting caught with them. However option 1, while simpler, tends to disrupt the rock-paper-scissors rotation a bit. Right now I'm leaning towards option 1.

But perhaps there's another way to go about this. Any thoughts?

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Oh yeah, price flux. So, I'm thinking that periodically a custom die can be rolled that changes the overall price of a commodity. A single item is temporarily raised, or lowered, across the board on all planets. The new prices are listed on a color coded die face. You'll still want to buy red stuff at red planets, but a savy trader could find ways to work the market.

Taavet
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Joined: 08/15/2008
Contraband

The Red/Blue/Yellow planet interaction sounds good.

Either 1) or 2) would work fine I think but it all depends on the rest of your game. I would lean towards 1) Food/Ore/Mfg

So how does a player get caught with Contraband and what are the concequences? Can't you see what someone is buying when they go to the planet and get their goods?

Not sure what you mean by factions (red/blue/yellow?). Is it harder to get to some planets then others? How does movement between planets occur? Do you actually move and manuever around things or just plot course and wait X turns until you are there?

Also I think making the contraband items comical would appeal to the family setting. Such as your example where the Blue Aliens have outlawed the Red Alien Muffins. It also builds into the theme more. Instead of just Contraband, Jimmy is trying to get his Muffins smuggled onto a Red Planet because there is a high paying customer there.

Price Flux sounds good as well. What will you be using for accounting? Money tokens, bills, paper/pencil, VP?

Sounds good so far!

Desprez
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Joined: 12/01/2008
Well, you asked quite a few

Well, you asked quite a few questions. I left a lot of that out because I didn't think it all that relevant to the main questions I had, and I didn't want to end up writing a novel of a post.

But basically:

Quote:
So how does a player get caught with Contraband and what are the consequences? Can't you see what someone is buying when they go to the planet and get their goods?

Yes you can see what they buy, but that doesn't mean your character can detect contraband in their hold. Something like the roll of a die compared to how many illegal items you have. Also, it's not just players that can catch you. Many systems have a "security fleet" that perform a check too. If you get caught, there is fine, but more importantly you will get "criminal activity tokens" (other ways to get these too) Enough of these and it will affect what systems you can go to without incident, and also make you an appealing target for Bounty Hunter type players who can get VP for going after you. If you manage to fend off and disable the Bounty Hunter, the Humanitarian may get VP for rescuing him. Many actions you take can open up new opportunities for other players. Some players will be encouraged to cooperate (not just compete) because they can earn VP for doing so, or benefit by the opportunities their actions generate. (so you may want to help them or keep them active)

Quote:
Not sure what you mean by factions (red/blue/yellow?). Is it harder to get to some planets then others? How does movement between planets occur? Do you actually move and manuever around things or just plot course and wait X turns until you are there?

No, red/blue/yellow just refer to the classification of a planet. The board consists of large hex tiles that represent different systems that are randomly arranged to form the playing area. Different systems can belong to different factions. Factions can determine where a player is allowed to go - but not all roles are concerned with this.

Movement between planets and systems is determined by your ship speed. Which can be improved by ship components you can buy (cards)

Quote:
What will you be using for accounting? Money tokens, bills, paper/pencil, VP?

Paper bills for money, tokens for the commodities, and a different style of tokens to represent victory points and crime points.

Taavet
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How Developed?

Cool, mostly I wasn't sure how developed your idea was.

The more developed an idea is the more it begins to answer those types of questions you were asking.

So with all that stuff in mind does Food/Ore/Mfg work better or Food/Indus/Luxury? If it doesn't make much of a difference then ask your playtesters which they prefer. It seems like to me with everything you mentioned that it is a little more serious and down to earth out there in space so I would assume there isn't much time for luxuries. Then again being an advanced civilization there should be plenty of time for luxuries.

If Factions are an integral part to some of your Roles but not others how does that effect all players being able to access Contraband?

Basically a lot of the questions you posed in the original post can't really be answered on anything other then personal preference. Maybe that is what you were looking for but personal preference varies so much that it isn't really worth asking about unless they will be your design's target audience. And at that point my personal preference would depend on the game as a whole not just this or that aspect.

A few more thoughts to consider:
What motivates each player to do what you want their role to do in the game?

If no one takes Contraband who does the Bounty Hunter go after? If there is no one for the Xenotarian to rescue what can they do?

You don't have to answer these but analyzing your design should allow you to answer a lot of the questions you have. Playtesting also irons out many things which should or shouldn't be part of the design. So far it is sounding a little involved and detailed for a family-space-trading game. But it does sound interesting, keep up the good work.

Desprez
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Joined: 12/01/2008
Oh, it's probably a lot more

Oh, it's probably a lot more thought out than you initially suspected, I'm basically looking to bounce some mechanics around - particularly about contraband. I just have a feeling there might be a better way to go about it.

Quote:
Playtesting also irons out many things which should or shouldn't be part of the design. So far it is sounding a little involved and detailed for a family-space-trading game. But it does sound interesting, keep up the good work.

One of the things I find frustrating about family games, is that they tend to have difficulty appealing to the whole family, and tend to very light on strategy. What appeals to a 10-year-old often does not work for a 40-year-old. If you take a walk though Wal*mart, 90% of the games are word games, trivia-based, or Monopoply. Ugh. This can't be the extent of the main-stream market for games. I suspect there are plenty of people who would enjoy more. If the game's only redeeming quality is that it gives people an excuse to interact at family get-togethers, there is something fundamentally wrong with the game.

My goal here is to create something that can be light, and also can be something to sink your teeth into. I'm trying something that has a cartoony sci-fi feel (Spaceman Spiff, anyone?) or maybe retro-pulp, but that has some meat that an older player can appreciate.

So, I'm trying asymetric roles in this regard, and trying to make some incentive for cooperation as well as competition. I don't want run-away conditions, and I don't want blind luck. For what it's worth, the possible roles at the moment are: Pirate, Bounty Hunter, Military, Trader, Explorer, and Xenotarian (Missionary? Peace Corps?) Half are combat oriented, half aren't. Half want money, half don't. Each role has a unique talent they can use, and gain victory points differently. Now, any role can perform out-of-role actions, and may have some incentive to do so now and then. But they don't get victory points for out-of-role action.

So while an Explorer may do some trading to make money to buy scanners and a fast ship, he needs only as much as it allows him to explore and gain VP. Whereas the Trader's goal is to make money and lots of it for VP, but he may do some exploring to find better places to trade.

But maybe I'm missing the mark a bit. That's not to say it won't be a fun idea, just maybe the audience will be a tad narrower than I anticipated. Well, we'll see how it comes along.

Anyway, back on topic. Any other ideas for a contraband mechanic?

apeloverage
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Joined: 08/01/2008
contraband & prices.

Desprez wrote:
Buy Contraband low at the frontier worlds and sell high at Yellow and higher on Blue. Faction has no bearing.

That makes most sense. Although, depending on what the contraband is, you might find that you can sell highest of all on frontier worlds, but sell less of it.

Desprez wrote:
Oh yeah, price flux. So, I'm thinking that periodically a custom die can be rolled that changes the overall price of a commodity. A single item is temporarily raised, or lowered, across the board on all planets. The new prices are listed on a color coded die face. You'll still want to buy red stuff at red planets, but a savy trader could find ways to work the market.

It might add more strategy if the players' actions effected price. For example if selling a particular item raised the possibility of lowering its price on that planet.

Desprez
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Joined: 12/01/2008
Interesting

Quote:
It might add more strategy if the players' actions effected price. For example if selling a particular item raised the possibility of lowering its price on that planet.

Hmmmm, that's interesting if I can find a way to make it easy to implement. It could be used in place of the price flux die - using both would be a bit too much, after trading is only one element of the game.

The periodic mechanism I was going to use for flux changes could reset the market.
I'm not sure the best way to differentiate between the player who sells many small loads and the player who sells one big load, without getting into too much bookkeeping.

1) Perhaps, the token commodities are placed on the planet when sold (for counting), and when a certain number is reached, they are replaced by a special '-' token, representing a price change. This price change is reset periodically.

2) I could say a load of over x, causes the market to shift (use the '-' token again), but people may try to game the system... but hmmm, maybe that's not so bad. A bunch of players are selling small loads - sort of cooperating to keep the price up, but any one of them could betray the group and dump a big supply on the market.

Hmmm. I'm starting to like option 2 a lot. It seems simpler to implement, AND causes drama.

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