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Interrogation/Interviewing mechanic? (long post)

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jpcab
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Joined: 01/29/2012

Hi there,

We've been working on a story-driven hardboiled detective board game for a long while now that pits a single Private Detective up against 3-4 suspects of a crime. The detective travels the board to different locations to uncover clues, evidence, find witnesses/informants, etc.

When the P.I. collects certain evidence or has encounters with certain people he "unlocks" an interview/interrogation with specific suspects. Which is something we've been struggling with for a long time. It's a huge part of the role of the detective and is essential to gaining deeper insights in to the case which could potentially help him solve it. I also thought it would be really fun and different if the players had some sort of verbal interaction with eachother, but somehow make it a gameplay element considering the game is so character-, story-, and theme-heavy.

At first I was thinking of something like the board game equivalent to dialogue trees in an action RPG or something. But couldn't think of a practical way to implement that without getting way too complicated.

Then I thought of trying to make it as simple as possible. Our friend suggested checking out L.A. Noire's interviews again (a tall order, considering that game bored the hell out of me). But it did have a relatively simple interrogation process - Detect the truths & lies, or express doubt. I think there's something there, but just couldn't come up with anything.

One thing we started working on, and sort of liked, but wasn't practical (for reasons we'll explain later) was the use of interrogation cards. The detective player will have a card with a series of questions (not a lot, maybe 5 or so) And the particular suspect will have a card with all the possible answers to each question. The P.I will ask the player a question and the suspect can choose one of the several answers. One may be the truth (as much of it without incriminating himself), one answer may be a dodge, one may be a weak lie, one may be a strong lie, etc. Each answer has a cost, and the suspect spends tokens on the answer. The "better" the answer for the suspect, the higher the cost. (i.e. a strong lie may cost, say 5 tokens, while a dodge may just cost 2. If he is out of tokens, he has to tell the truth)

Players have the fun bit of verbal interaction and getting in to character, and the story continues from there. The detective player decides what to do with the information gotten from the interview. This is a true detective game. The detective must solve the whos, whats, and whys of the case. It's not just, "Okay I collected evidence X, Y, and Z, therefore I win" Instead the detective player interviews witnesses, interrogates suspects (who may or may not be lying) and collects evidence and puts it all together.

The reason why this approach wasn't practical is because each case can play out differently. Depending on pre-game choices, a different party may be guilty. Having different interview cards for each case variant is just not realistic. Though gameplay is pretty straight forward and intuitive, the interview/interrogation element is going to be the most complex part, we just don't want it to be SO complex that it halts the rest of the game.

Any suggestions or ideas?

Thanks!
J & P

Orangebeard
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Joined: 10/13/2011
Thoughts

Hi jpcab,

I tried to boil this down to the simplest elements of questioning as a starting point;

- the person is lying OR they are truthful
- the person is guilty OR they are innocent*

from this, you can create a simple grid
guilty+truth
guilty+lie
innocent+truth
innocent+lie

In addition, the PI needs to answer 3 questions (the who, why, what). I tend to think of these as Who committed the crime, Why did they commit the crime (motive), and What steps did they take to commit the crime?

Given your description, it sounds like the PI is trying to build a case as opposed to simply figuring out who did it.

I have some ideas, but I need clarfication on some points...

What kind of parameters are in place to control the truth/lies?

How does the PI establish the "truth"?

How is the guilty party determined at the start of the game?

Sounds like a fun game!

KrisW
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Probing questions

You might try splitting each answer into multiple parts, requiring a little more spending or resources for each level. First level could be simple one or two word responses, i.e. ‘Yes”, “No”, That’s complicated”, the next level more complex, and the last almost complete. Each answer would, of course, cost more, increasing at an accelerating rate that makes the final answer difficult to buy until players reach the end game. Some low level answers may be all the player needs, if he already has information from other sources.

As your game is story driven you might want to look at using color text to describe exactly how the money spent on clues is being spent.

- KrisW

jpcab
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Joined: 01/29/2012
Orangebeard wrote:In

Orangebeard wrote:

In addition, the PI needs to answer 3 questions (the who, why, what). I tend to think of these as Who committed the crime, Why did they commit the crime (motive), and What steps did they take to commit the crime?

That's exactly right.

Orangebeard wrote:
What kind of parameters are in place to control the truth/lies?

Not sure what you mean, exactly. Maybe I answered below. But we definitely don't want it to ALWAYS be binary, simply right/wrong, lies/truth. That's boring. We want to be more ambitious. Like every good hard-boiled detective magazine or noir film there's a lot of grey. Instead the detective player makes a choice based on information recieved. It may be between Choice A and Choice B, but not necessarily right or wrong. One path may be more challenging than the other, but it's not necessarily a wrong or bad choice. Which we think is interesting, and allows the player to make his/her own meaningful decisions. Especially if it's between 2 hard choices. (We took a cue from the Walking Dead game here, which is excellent. We come from a Video Game background)

Sort of like the Detective going with his gut.

Orangebeard wrote:
How does the PI establish the "truth"?

By comparing the information he recieves with the evidence he's collected. If a suspect or witness says one thing, but the evidence says otherwise, he knows they're lying or not being completely truthful, depending.

For instance let say you're on a case where a fight promoter is murdered and boxer John Smith says, "No way, I wasn't at Frank's that night." But you found a cufflink or a pocket watch or whatever with the initlas J.S. while investigating Frank's place a few game rounds back.

Orangebeard wrote:

How is the guilty party determined at the start of the game?

We have a "casebook" that has all the included cases/scenarios. So before you set up it'll have a series of questions and answers.

Q1. Who killed the mayor?
A1. Suspect 1 A2. Suspect 2 A3. Suspect 3

Q2. Why? Motive?
A1. Because x A2. Because y A3. Because z

etc.

Something like that. We kind of like the idea, and thought is was the easiest way to do it. What do you think?

Once those are answered, you can start setting up the game by placing locations on the board and building the location decks, etc. The set up is done by the Femme Fatale player, who plays completely differently than the detective and the suspects for a nice bit of asymmetrical gameplay.

Orangebeard wrote:
Sounds like a fun game!

Thanks! We really love our concept and think we have some interesting and different ideas (but doesn't everybody? :) ) We sort of rekindled our love of board games over the past couple years. When I found my old copy of HeroQuest and Mutant Chronicles in my parents garage! This whole thing started when we had the idea of "what if you turn the Overloard mechanic from HeroQuest or Descent on its head?" So instead of 1vs. 5 heroes, you have 5vs.1 hero.

Thanks for the help. Looking forward to hearing your ideas!

- J & P

jpcab
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KrisW wrote:You might try

KrisW wrote:
You might try splitting each answer into multiple parts, requiring a little more spending or resources for each level. First level could be simple one or two word responses, i.e. ‘Yes”, “No”, "That’s complicated”, the next level more complex, and the last almost complete. Each answer would, of course, cost more, increasing at an accelerating rate that makes the final answer difficult to buy until players reach the end game. Some low level answers may be all the player needs, if he already has information from other sources.

That's more or less what we were going for. Some good ideas to consider. Thanks!

-J & P

Orangebeard
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Possible ideas

Everyone is guilty!

I think of this as "main crime" and "sub crimes"; the PI can only win by correctly determining who committed the main crime, but can get a better score by matching the sub crimes to the other players. From a mechanic standpoint, your case book / scenario book tells you which evidence cards and which player cards (alibi cards?) to select; cards are shuffled and dealt to the players; this allows for the same scenario to be played many times, but the guilty people will always change. In some cases, the person responsible for the main crime may have committed some of the sub crimes.

I don't think it will be easy to take something as open ended as an interrogation and crush it down to a game mechanic, but you might have some luck using a system of "keywords" that would allow the PI to ask questions with a chance that the players will respond with something of value to the PI.

Evidence cards each have a series of keywords on them; evidence cards are only known to the PI. For example, the PI might have an evidence card "Gun" with the keywords Violent, Owner, Weapon. The PI asks a player an open ended question and if the player responds with anything that matches (exactly or closely) to the keywords, then the PI gets to expose one of that player's cards.

PI questioning should probably be limited one line of questions (meaning each player response must be used in the PI's next question; maybe limit questions to 3 per interview?)

I'm stilll working through this idea...not sure if it will work yet; I think it will depend on how player responses are encouraged or controlled

jpcab
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Orangebeard wrote:Everyone is

Orangebeard wrote:
Everyone is guilty!

Exactly. That's something we decided very early on. "Nobody is innocent and everybody has something to hide," is what we said. 1) it's thematically "accurate" 2) it makes the game more interesting and the cases challenging for the detective if everybody "looks" guilty and has a motive.

Orangebeard wrote:
I think of this as "main crime" and "sub crimes"

Right again. Our idea is that the detective has to weed through the red-herrings to find the real culprit. Everyone is guilty of something, this is a noir afterall! :) The dock worker may have LOOKED like he killed the police chief, but really his crime was smuggling diamonds in fish crates.

Orangebeard wrote:
the PI can only win by correctly determining who committed the main crime, but can get a better score by matching the sub crimes to the other players. From a mechanic standpoint, your case book / scenario book tells you which evidence cards and which player cards (alibi cards?) to select; cards are shuffled and dealt to the players; this allows for the same scenario to be played many times, but the guilty people will always change. In some cases, the person responsible for the main crime may have committed some of the sub crimes.

Some interesting ideas. That does change the game a bit, at least in terms of the way we see the suspect/PI interaction happening. Our idea is that each suspect gets a small hand of character-specific "Action" cards (an idea we lifted from Descent) and can spend tokens to play them on the PI as he conducts his investigation. We thought that this really fit our story/character-driven game well as it adds a lot of twists and intrigue to the case. As the gumshoe travels the board from location to location (each has a custom deck built from the casebook) having encounters, digging up clues, greasing snitches, and other fun stuff he peels away the location cards and more of the story is revealed and the more the plot thickens. All the while the suspects are attempting to thwart his every move with deception, hired goons, corrupt copperss etc.

Orangebeard wrote:
I don't think it will be easy to take something as open ended as an interrogation and crush it down to a game mechanic

No. No it is not! But we're trying! :)

Orangebeard wrote:
but you might have some luck using a system of "keywords" that would allow the PI to ask questions with a chance that the players will respond with something of value to the PI.

Evidence cards each have a series of keywords on them; evidence cards are only known to the PI. For example, the PI might have an evidence card "Gun" with the keywords Violent, Owner, Weapon. The PI asks a player an open ended question and if the player responds with anything that matches (exactly or closely) to the keywords, then the PI gets to expose one of that player's cards.

Very interesting idea. We had an idea that was SORT OF similar to that. Certain evidence would have information only for the PI. For instance a detective finds a pocket watch. So you pick up the card, read the flavor text, etc. Then at the bottom there may be an icon next to some text which basically means "PI only, don't read aloud" and it'll say something like,"there is an inscription on the inside cover; J.S." So when you go and ask the boxer John Smith and he says he doesn't know what your talking about, you can spring that piece of evidence out, the force him to answer your next question honestly. But again, this depends on what the interogation/interview mechanic is, once we crack it.

Orangebeard wrote:
PI questioning should probably be limited one line of questions (meaning each player response must be used in the PI's next question; maybe limit questions to 3 per interview?)

Right. We want the interviews/interrogations to be quick and snappy, but also revealing and insightful. It's just tough, we've been stuck on this for a while. I think once we finally nail this, the few other things we have yet to solve will easier fall in to place.

- J & P

sedjtroll
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2 Truths and a Lie

There's that 2 Truths and a Lie thing - where someone will give you 3 statements, 2 of which are true and 1 is false and you try to guess which one is the lie. Perhaps you could use that type of thing as a basis for a game mechanism...

When interrogating a suspect, deal out cards to each player, 1 of which says "Truth" and all the rest say "Lie". Then the interrogator asks his question, and each opponent has to answer according to their card. If you got a "Lie" card, then you'll want to sound truthful so as to make it tough for the player to determine which statement is really true.

Maybe something could be done with that?

Orangebeard
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jpcab wrote:Certain evidence

jpcab wrote:
Certain evidence would have information only for the PI.

I think this will be key to the PI uncovering the truth, otherwise, I am not sure how the PI will ever prove anything.

This might be more of a deviation from your original plan than you want to consider, but what if the "interview" were actually a series of card plays between the PI and the player? I am picturing something where the PI plays a card that represents a question about the case; the player plays a card from their hand that represents the response. The PI then plays another card and so on... The PI chooses from any of the cards that they have picked up while traveling around the board; the players choose from the cards they were dealt at the beginning.

The card playing would need to be goverened by rules (possibly using keywords). If for some reason the PI leads with a card that the player cannot play on, then the PI learns what the player doesn't know; alternatively, if the PI can play cards that force the player to reveal their hand, then the PI learns what the player does know. The players would need some flexibility in how they respond, but skillful plays by the PI will force the players to reveal what they know.

Maybe one result of this process is that the players can attempt to "lie" by playing cards from their hand that will throw off the PI, but this may open them up to further troubles when the PI starts playing question cards about the lie they just told.

Just a thought...I am still working on ideas

I like the 2 truths and a lie idea also; maybe there is a way to marry the ideas?

jpcab
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Orangebeard wrote: I think

Orangebeard wrote:

I think this will be key to the PI uncovering the truth, otherwise, I am not sure how the PI will ever prove anything.

Once the pre-game choice I mentioned earlier are made, each suspect gets a card. On these cards are the crime the suspect is guilty of, his motive, his modus operandi, and all the pieces of evidence needed to collect to prove his guilt. Once the round limit is reached, if he makes it to the end, the detective player must lay out his case. Basically recreating those fun moments at the end of a gritty, hardboiled pulp magazine/film when the detective is in the room with all the suspects and is like,"I know the the score is, jack!" and proceeds to spell out the whole mystery as the police chief conveniently shows up and hauls the guilty off to jail.

Of course there are as many opportunities for the PI to botch the case as there are for him to crack it wide open.

Orangebeard wrote:
This might be more of a deviation from your original plan than you want to consider, but what if the "interview" were actually a series of card plays between the PI and the player? I am picturing something where the PI plays a card that represents a question about the case; the player plays a card from their hand that represents the response. The PI then plays another card and so on... The PI chooses from any of the cards that they have picked up while traveling around the board; the players choose from the cards they were dealt at the beginning.

Cool idea. We would like to keep some verbal interaction between the suspects and players, but I like the strategy aspect that comes with this idea. Sort of like each player is trying to outwit and out-talk each other.

Orangebeard wrote:
The card playing would need to be goverened by rules (possibly using keywords). If for some reason the PI leads with a card that the player cannot play on, then the PI learns what the player doesn't know; alternatively, if the PI can play cards that force the player to reveal their hand, then the PI learns what the player does know. The players would need some flexibility in how they respond, but skillful plays by the PI will force the players to reveal what they know.

Hmmm ... Like where you're going there...

OrandBeard wrote:
Maybe one result of this process is that the players can attempt to "lie" by playing cards from their hand that will throw off the PI, but this may open them up to further troubles when the PI starts playing question cards about the lie they just told.

Just a thought...I am still working on ideas

Appreciate all the help. It's tough, as I've said, we've been stuck on this for a while. I think we were at a point here where we spent a long time to develop a previous idea that didn't work out and we're too close to take a step back and look at alternative options from a different angle.

OrangeBeard wrote:
I like the 2 truths and a lie idea also; maybe there is a way to marry the ideas?

Agree, there could be something really cool there.

-J & P

Orangebeard
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more random thoughts...

I am a little concerned that the verbal interaction might give an unfair advantage to players that are very experienced players or are naturally good at questioning. Not sure how to resolve this, or if it even needs to be addressed, but I did have a thought about this below...

In addition to the crime the suspect is guilty of, his motive, his modus operandi, and all the pieces of evidence needed to collect to prove his guilt, could the suspects also have a particular psychological profile card(s) that define the types of questioning that will or will not work on the suspect? The PI would need some kind of card they play to indicate the type of questioning approach they are using; threatening, intimidating, reasoning, sympathizing, etc. I picture these to be limited use cards with a negative consequence for the PI if they are wrong. Come to think of it, the PI might not need cards at all, they just need to act the part and the suspects respond as their profile indicates. This would at least help to control the challenges of unrestricted responses...I suppose if you go the card route, you could also spell out the penalty for the PI using the wrong method. For example, the PI threatens a suspect that isn't susceptible to threats; questioing ends immediately and the PI can't interview them again without further evidence.

Or if you stick with the verbal interaction approach, the Suspects are all given a guideline for the methods of questioning...For example, Suspect A will always lie if reasoned with, will go silent if threatend, and will spill the truth if presented with "facts" no matter how ludicrous they may be...

PI: "Look, this really isn't that serious and I just need your help clarifying why you were there. Then you are free to leave"
Suspect A: "I already told you, I wasn't there that night..."

PI "You don't need to answer me if you don't want to...I'll just get a court order to seize all of your personal assets, search your home, car, office and dog house, and the next time you set foot outside your house Officers Good Cop and Bad Cop will be waiting; or maybe I'll just send two Bad Cops instead."
Suspect A: "..."

PI "You're screwed, buddy. We got your DNA off a toilet you forgot to flush 3 weeks ago. You're looking at 25 years minimum..."
Suspect A: "OK fine! I took the diamonds, but I was just borrowing them until he needed them back..."

The PI still doesn't know if the Suspect is lying or telling the truth, but the evidence collected should give the PI the chance to make a good guess.

To circle back to your original idea of cards the suspect can play to hamper the PI, perhaps the suspects have a one shot card that can be played if the PI uses a particular questioning method.

PI: "Nevermind, let's just go down to the station and we can talk while you relax in a holding cell"
Suspect A "Is that a threat? How about you refresh yourself on the Bill of Rights while I call my lawyer"

Questioning ends; Suspect A can no longer be questioned unless arrested...etc.

jpcab
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Orangebeard wrote:I am a

Orangebeard wrote:
I am a little concerned that the verbal interaction might give an unfair advantage to players that are very experienced players or are naturally good at questioning.

That's our big concern, which is why we want to have a solid structure for the interview process.

Orangebeard wrote:
In addition to the crime the suspect is guilty of, his motive, his modus operandi, and all the pieces of evidence needed to collect to prove his guilt, could the suspects also have a particular psychological profile card(s) that define the types of questioning that will or will not work on the suspect?

Definitely possible. We plan on the suspects having little player screens to hide their tokens and the information on their guilty/crime info cards and other things. On the back is a little character bio and other information. We could add some character traits on there and skills and things. Like "Not susceptible to threats" or "reacts X when threatened" or something like that. Great idea.

Orangebeard wrote:
The PI would need some kind of card they play to indicate the type of questioning approach they are using; threatening, intimidating, reasoning, sympathizing, etc. I picture these to be limited use cards with a negative consequence for the PI if they are wrong.

Hmmm... I like it. Perhaps the PI's question cards will have certain values, colors, icons (or keywords as you suggested previously) and he must successfully play a sequence of normal interrogation cards in order to use a special limited use one? With the assistance of evidence? Maybe he needs specific evidence cards to play them? Some cool things to think about...

Orangebeard wrote:
Come to think of it, the PI might not need cards at all, they just need to act the part and the suspects respond as their profile indicates. This would at least help to control the challenges of unrestricted responses...I suppose if you go the card route, you could also spell out the penalty for the PI using the wrong method. For example, the PI threatens a suspect that isn't susceptible to threats; questioing ends immediately and the PI can't interview them again without further evidence.

Again, some really great ideas!

Orangebeard wrote:
Or if you stick with the verbal interaction approach, the Suspects are all given a guideline for the methods of questioning...For example, Suspect A will always lie if reasoned with, will go silent if threatend, and will spill the truth if presented with "facts" no matter how ludicrous they may be...

Like the idea of the structure and strategy of a card-based mini-game, but also the realism, fun, and surprises of verbal interaction. Maybe there's an interesting and cool way to marry the two?

Orangebeard wrote:
PI "You're screwed, buddy. We got your DNA off a toilet you forgot to flush 3 weeks ago. You're looking at 25 years minimum..."
Suspect A: "OK fine! I took the diamonds, but I was just borrowing them until he needed them back..."

Didn't have DNA back in 1938. This is a period piece! :)

Orangebeard wrote:
The PI still doesn't know if the Suspect is lying or telling the truth, but the evidence collected should give the PI the chance to make a good guess.

To circle back to your original idea of cards the suspect can play to hamper the PI, perhaps the suspects have a one shot card that can be played if the PI uses a particular questioning method.

PI: "Nevermind, let's just go down to the station and we can talk while you relax in a holding cell"
Suspect A "Is that a threat? How about you refresh yourself on the Bill of Rights while I call my lawyer"

Questioning ends; Suspect A can no longer be questioned unless arrested...etc.

We started talking about the suspects purchasing limited/one-time-use cards. On their turn, instead of spending tokens to activate a card on the PI, they could draw from a deck of these special cards. We sisn't really expand on that because we don't want the suspects to be over-powered against the detective. It is 3-4 on 1 afterall. But it's definitely an option.

I think we're honing in on something really unique and interesting here!

-J & P

Orangebeard
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update

how goes the playtesting?

jpcab
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Not quite there yet, due to

Not quite there yet, due to the number of variables, so we're still ironing ideas out.

Basically we mostly know how it's gonna work, but our process is usually longer than most people's. We tend to over-write and try to think of things to add until we run out of ideas, and then slowly chip away the excess and refine, refine, refine, and refine.

But thanks to your help, we've got something that's going to be interesting and really work! And a couple of puzzle pieces and slipped in to place.

Now, we're looking in to a new combat mechanic for when the P.I gets into a scrap with some gunsels or heavies. We threw out our old one because it was too dice-heavy. We're trying to steer away from excessive dice rolls and attribute tests. Plus, it was too similar to a game we just got called "Mansions of Madness" a couple of our friends recommended we check out. (Actually, almost exactly, which bummed us right the hell out) We're starting from scratch with the combat, practically. That's where we're at now.

- J & P

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