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Help with mechanics of cooperative deductive game

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cignox1
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Hello, I'm new to this site so please forgive me if I'm asking for help in the wrong forum or in the wrong way :-)

I'm designing my first game (I'm not an expert, but this idea came to my mind and I wanted to give it a try) and after a few weaks I tought I had something close to conclusions. But there is a bug I don't really know how to fix.

That's the game: 2 to 5 (6) players are on a train. The board shows the track of the train and a separate chain of 5 wagons where the players pieces move.
Players need to discover the who,where,how and why of the crime, in a way similar to what you find in clue. I recognize that the setting resembles games like Orient Express and others, but I swear that I discovere there games only when doing research (so after I had the idea for the game).

That does not matter though, because I'm doing it only for fun.

So players collect clues. At each 'round' the train moves forward by 1 square. On most sqaures you pick an 'event' card which usually (but not always) says "there is a clue in x". Players try to reach that spot and get the clue. Players can't share their info but in a few occasions. When the event cards are over, the game ends and the player must provide the solution of the crime if they want to win.

There are a few other elements (action cards players can use, 'witness' cards that help them identify the crime elements and so on) but the root is this.
I've tested different other ideas, tested the game with 2 and 4 players and even purchased the pieces :-)

Then I realized that there was a bad flaw in the game: there is no strategy involved! Either the game gives you enough clues and you win or it does not give you enough clues and you loose. Simply as that. I've brainstormed a lot of changes which I had to discard because too difficult to balance on 2-5 players, or because they would make game absolutely ugly or because they would have changed it's nature. I've looked for similar games, read and watched video about games mechanics with no luck.

So I'me here looking for help: I want to keep the game cooperative, but I want to add elements that would force players to apply a strategy.

For example, I suppose that I should add 'unespected events' or a mean to 'fight' the players in their attempt to win. Another option is to add different ways to get clues, for example by spending 'resources' they need to gain and manage through the game
Another option is to assign every player special skills so that the players must carefully distribuite tasks taking the individual skills into consideration.

But I was not able to come up with something convincing. Have you any suggestion, ideas or resources to share?

Sorry for the long post and thank you!

Alessandro

Midnight_Carnival
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false clues, false friends

I think your game would lend itself nicely to an underhanded backstabbing kind of dynamic where players can frame one another or mislead each-other. Perhaps make one of the players the criminal and nobody knows who the criminal is, including the criminal! If you figure out that it is you, you want to mislead them as much as possible.
You could also make it that there are false clues which throw you off the train - um, er the trail I meant.

No, I'm not the criminal, I promise! [whispers] it's actually Gilamonster.

cignox1
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Thank you

Thank you Midnight_Carnival!

I've thought to turn the game into a competitive or semi-cooperative game, but the cooperative model is the main feature I'd like to keep.

Interesting that tip about false clues though: I could try to think about how to add false clues to the game, if that's possible at all.

Thanks again!

Midnight_Carnival
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no reason it shouldn't be cooperative

Serial killers sometimes find a way to become involved in the investigation so that they can see how things are going and if need be maybe bail themselves out.

So cooperative structure would be this: Everybody is trying to find the criminal, one person is first trying to find the criminal like everyone else, but when he discovers that HE is the criminal, he is trying to find the WRONG criminal.

It was just a suggestion

cignox1
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Interesting indeed... It

Interesting indeed... It would require major changes to the game though. But I will almost certainly keep that on my options list :-)

Mmm, this would perhaps solve some of my current problems. Still looking for ideas that allow me to keep the game fully cooperative, but I will spend some time evaluating (and maybe even testing) this approach.

Thank you!

lonebluewolf
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My first thought was

My first thought was Pandemic, which has its own problems, but that I think would be a good place to start for the kind of game you're building. You're on the right track with special skills or other means of distributing tasks if you want to keep things purely cooperative. Secret information may foster competitiveness, unless you intend for it to be a game about communication (clearly conveying what they know/discover) or coordination (moving to specific locations to share hands/info). How do your players come together with what they've investigated once the event deck runs out?

Not having enough clues to solve the mystery is definitely problematic -- getting RNG-screwed because the event deck didn't give you enough opportunities to chase down the cards you need is just going to be frustrating for players. Consider maybe setting aside ALL of the possible clues as another a separate deck, and having something else trigger when/where they appear on the train. You could maybe even use this separate clue deck as some sort of timer like you do with the event deck; i.e., if the event deck runs out, the train arrives at its destination, but if the clue deck runs out, the killer has managed to escape.

To further push the cooperative aspect, maybe have too many clues out at once. Players would have to split up in order to reach them, or else they get snatched up by the murderer, disappear, or otherwise expire. If you make available everything the players need to succeed, and put the onus on them to work together to make sure they get all of it, I think that would help to foster the need to work together and reinforce the challenge to coordinate to the best of their abilities.

cignox1
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Hi lonebluewolf, nice hints

Hi lonebluewolf, nice hints indeed!

>>Secret information may foster competitiveness, unless you intend for it to be a game about communication (clearly conveying what they know/discover) or coordination (moving to specific locations to share hands/info).

Yes, players cannot share clues but in specific circustances: they all must meet in the dining car, and only on either the breakfast, the lunch or the dinner squares.

In the meantime I've come up with an idea I would like to test: each player has one or more secret goals. If they succeed, they get a prize (special actions, increased skills, bonuses etc) that may affect positively the whole team. This means that an 'alpha player' has no interest in influencing the other players too much, because he may loose these advantages.

That said, I've spent the last days watching videos, reviews and even reading the manuals of a few cooperative games: I almost completely changed the game and have new ideas that could fix the issues I'm currently facing. That game itself turned from a plain deduction game to an adventure game where the deduction part is only one of the element.

Now the players must find 4 items, hidden in 4 locked cabins. So they both have to find a way to open the cabins, and discover where the item are hidden (this secod task replaces the who/where/how/why). In the meantime, they must fight a threat (i.e. contamination) that adds pressure on the team.

I'm also considering to remove from the board the space for the decks (which have to be kept outside from the board) and use that space to create more locations 'outside the train' to make a few different quests.

That thing about the clues deck running out is interesting. If I add another, more complex way to get the clues, this could mean that players can choose to get clues the easy but 'risky' way or in a more safe but 'slower/inefficent' way.

cignox1
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Hello guys, almost 1 year

Hello guys,

almost 1 year later I'm still evaluating different ideas and options. I've considered and discarded that "contamination" thing and went back closer to the original idea.
Ineed, I've added a few different things that I think are interesting. One of the main changes is the movement mechanics: the players no longer use dice to move from one location to another, but the train is now divided into different "hotspots" (2 per wagon, 10 overall). There are 3 cabins (1, 2 and 3 class), dining room, lounge, "jail", kitchen, etc. Each one has its own special action(s).
The player can pick cards from the "locations" deck and use those cards to move around the train. On cabin hotspots there are small (4 o 5 cards) decks that represent passengers and special events. The player picks the top card and if that is a passenger she can do some actions. If it is the "empty cabin" card then the player can look for clues without loosing "trust points" etc.

I'm currently trying to imagine how the player should choose where to go and why at each turn. Sure, she has limited options (the location cards she owns) but there seems to be no reason for just not jumping into the same cabins and simply get all the goods they offer.
I've introduced the "trust point": players cannot for example stand in the same hotspot tool long or they would raise suspicion and loose trust points. Then I thought it would be interesting if players had to manage/trade trust points in order to make use of the "services" of the hotspost.

But still I can hardly imagine how to drive the players decisions: how do they choose one hotspot instead of another at each turn? I fear this could break my whole desig, so I'me gere for advices on this specific point, if you have any to share.

Thank you!

let-off studios
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Drama vs. Choices

EDIT: Somehow I hadn't seen any responses other than Midnight_Carnival's. Obviously some of the suggestions I have may no longer apply or be as useful. My apologies.

///

Some things to think about.

DRAMA VS. CHOICES
Drama and obstacles are not the same as interesting choices. You can have obstacles without decisions being made, which is why it's easy to think that "adding more stuff" will make a game interesting. But it's interesting to note that if no decisions are being made, the game can become rather boring, or seem like it has "no strategy!" as you put it, no matter how much drama, obstacles, explosions, etc. you include. Even in a game that gradually builds up to a single reveal, there can be several interesting decisions to make along the way.

TIME LIMIT = KEEP IT
It sounds like there's a limited resource at this point: time. Keep this. It's a thematic link and it leads to the end of the game, so it does not go on forever. It's doubtful, however, that you need to have the track and train car mechanic you mention. An exception is if you have a kind of roll-and-move mechanic for players as they move throughout the train cars.

GAINING CLUES
Is there a player action that reveals more event cards, or are they done automatically? Can you incorporate a way for players to do certain actions that reveal clues to them more frequently? This will likely increase decision points for players.

Can you incorporate ways for players to "steal" clues from other players - such as Midnight_Carnival's suggestion of some kind of "backstab" mechanic, or your suggestion for a "fight" between players? This way, it increases the circulation of clues overall - keeping more players in the running to find the solution - and hastens the reveal.

Additionally, if there are players whose characters are implicated in the crime, they may want to do specific actions to slow down an opponent who seems to be "hot on the trail," and/or hasten the end of the game - and their getaway. Again, increasing player decision points, instead of just drama, can help you do this.

DEDUCTION
The classic game Clue has players starting with larger pools of possible choices, and through player actions (gaining clue cards) that pool of choices is continually narrowed. Do you have something like this in your game, or is it a matter of finding the "one solution" quicker than other players?

If there's only "one solution" or a single revelation to find, then it's likely your game has more in common with a race-to-the-end game than with a deduction game.

cignox1
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Thank you very much for your

Thank you very much for your reply. My game (which is still fully cooperative at this time) started as a deduction game. I've never been satisfied by the way I was shaping it, and all the new ideas were not related with the deduction part.
Currently it is an adventure where players cooperate to find 3 pieces of information by discarding those pieces that can't be what they are looking for (because already contained twice in the clues deck).

But this is a "dummy objective": I can imagine to remove it, and players just have to get to the end of the trip without their "trust bar" to reach 0. With the addition of the mistery, I can end the game whenever I accomplish that goal.

>>Drama and obstacles are not the same as interesting choices.

You are right and I better keep that in mind. Thank you for that hint!

>>It's doubtful, however, that you need to have the track and train car mechanic you mention

What do you mean? That the event cards are enaught? Yes, they could (by changing things a bit) but the railroad provides information about where are the stations, where the breakfast/lunch/dinner etc and provides some scenography to set the game into.

>>Is there a player action that reveals more event cards, or are they done automatically?

At the moment I have 3 types of events:

"route" events which are mainly a way to tell the player to move the train pawn to the next cell but can also contains events like "blackout, if you are here and there you loose a clue".

Wagon events which add a bit randomness by giving small submissions to the player that triggers them ("you find a key that opens this and that"). These events must be kept secret and serve the pourpose to mitigate the alpha player problem: if a wannabe alpha does not know what you are trying to achieve, then he cannot tell you what to do.

"Adventure" events. On the top of the described mechanics I could add an "adventure", that is a sequence of story driven events that are triggered when the train reaches specific spots on the track (mainly stations). I'm not going to dicuss the adventure part here because it's kind of a plugin that can be added or ignore without the mechanics to be really influenced. Once the mechanics work, I could try and add a story on the top of it.

>>Can you incorporate a way for players to do certain actions that reveal clues to them more frequently

Clues are distribuited on marked spots before the game starts. When a player enters an hotspot (let's say the 1 class cabin) the first thing he does is picking the topost card from the passengers deck and do what it says. Once the player has done that, he can choose among a few actions, one of which is to look for clues: if the card he got is "empty cabin" he can resolve one clue (turn the coin to see if it is an object or a clue) without rolling the dice. If there was a passenger, the player can try to look for clues by rolling a dice (and using his and the passenger stats to decide the result). If he fails, he looses a trust point.
On the stations each player gets all his trust poionts back, but the "global" trust bar looses a corresponding amount of points (the group as a whole has lost trust). Should this bar reach 0 the game is lost.

I'm trying to imagine how a game would go with these rules: how would players evaluate options and give then a priority value? Which tactical/strategical decisions would the perceive as successfull? And are they correct in this assumption? Would they end up just wandering around collecting things randomly or would they find a personal view of what has to be done?

I think that leading players in these kind of games is important, and I'm not sure that what I have works in that respect. I could add a second resource type (the first being trust points) so that managing it will keep the player busy and give him hints about what to do.
Or I can give players a lot of optional/required submission so that they are have no time to wander around. And the will collect clues in the process. Correctly balancing the pressure of the trust points would also help in the same way.

Any advice?

let-off studios
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Responses

cignox1 wrote:
...Currently it is an adventure where players cooperate to find 3 pieces of information by discarding those pieces that can't be what they are looking for (because already contained twice in the clues deck).

But this is a "dummy objective": I can imagine to remove it, and players just have to get to the end of the trip without their "trust bar" to reach 0.

I recommend you keep both as objectives, otherwise the players can play it safe and do nothing (or at least nothing that reduces the trust level) and then "win" the game.

I suggest you keep things sorted so that a player must do both of these to win:
1. maintain some level of trust with the train occupants, and
2. solve the mystery before reaching the last stop.

Quote:
What do you mean? That the event cards are enough? Yes, they could (by changing things a bit) but the railroad provides information about where are the stations, where the breakfast/lunch/dinner etc and provides some scenography to set the game into.
Your event cards can be your timer. Shuffle "Destination" cards into the stack (or insert them at certain intervals, the bottom half of the deck, etc.), and line them up when they're drawn. When three have been drawn, the train has made it to the next station. After your pre-determined set of stops, the game ends and if the mystery isn't solved by then, the murderer escapes.

Quote:
At the moment I have 3 types of events: ...
I think you've come up with an excellent variety of cards so far! Your solution for mitigating "alpha gamers" sounds particularly useful. The way you describe Clue cards and their combination with rolling dice seems interesting, as well.

The Destination card mechanic I mention above could stand in for physically moving the train cars. I initially suggested this to cut down on components and "clunkiness" of physical components. You can also incorporate all the mechanics related to the "trust" meter when the third (or whichever) Destination card is revealed.

Quote:
I'm trying to imagine how a game would go with these rules...Would they end up just wandering around collecting things randomly or would they find a personal view of what has to be done?
Certain types of information can be disclosed only in certain decks of cards. Passengers may only know about the possible identity of the murderer. Weapon information may only be discovered at the luggage locations, etc. I'm not completely clear on the different categories of knowledge available, but you may be able to clearly organize this.

You can also have individual objectives built into the game, so players can pursue their own victory conditions under the umbrella of the murder mystery. Maybe this would be a lot more work, but there's potential for it to add a lot to the game as a whole, perhaps structuring your "Adventure" deck in such a way.

Adam Leamey
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Ok this is by no means my

Ok this is by no means my expert field but I have played a variety of games some of which you could draw inspirations from.

This war of mine:
In this game there is a rather thick book included each page of the book has paragraphs with reference numbers you could do something similar of if you question witness a it has a paragraph reference that can be read aloud as the witnesses statement.

Beyond baker street.
This one is interesting as its more set collection but it kept things simple on how you find the 3 elements needed to solve the case.

Elder Sign.
This is a bit of an odd recommendation but i mention it because it has a dice system which other players can help with to solve tasks you could use a similar system of players working together on a task using dice and that task will help you solve the mystery.

Tradgedy Looper
This is one of those games were its a group of players vs 1 i think theses kind of games would fit perfectly as one player tries to play the serial killer and avoid capture. In tragedy looper it gives some simple rules on creating simple scenarios and those weave together to create a whole story and you could do similar.

Hope these game suggestions may help i wish you luck.

cignox1
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--Certain types of

--Certain types of information can be disclosed only in certain decks of cards. Passengers may only know about the possible identity of the murderer. Weapon information may only be discovered at the luggage locations, etc.

That sounds interesting: I will consider this option and how it influences the gameplay and interacts with the other mechanics. Thank you!

@Adam: thank you for the list: I'm currently trying to watch/read as many reviews as possibile about cooperative games or games that have something in common with the one I'm trying to design. The examples you gave are new for me and I will give them a look.

Fri
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Could you reverse the

Could you reverse the mechanism of losing trust? That is have it potentially cost trust if you go searching for clues alone or with fewer people. With this scheme players would have to balance finding more clues versus losing trust. A problem with this would be to prevent the group from camping in one spot and getting all the clues there.

Could you have some something that makes it harder/impossible to get clues in certain areas at certain times? Maybe something like house keeping or forgien detective. You could possiblly tie it's movement to the wagon and adventure decks. You could also possibly do this with the wagon and adventure decks.

After you get the game working, could you introduce characters with different movement, trust loss, starting clues and other abilities?

This is a more dramatic tangent. What if instead of trust you had panic level. If the panic level could not get above a certain level for trip or you lose. You could have passengers in each car that move around the train and also embark and disembark at the stations. Looking for clues would increase the panic level based on how many passengers are in that cabin. If there are more passengers the panic level would increase more than if there were fewer. Looking for clues would also draw more passengers into that cabin from the surrounding cabins.

Hope that you find this post a little bit helpful.

cignox1
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@Fri Really impressive, you

@Fri
Really impressive, you guessed quite a few details :-)

--With this scheme players would have to balance finding more clues versus losing trust

Yes, this is how it is going to work. Unless the cabin is empty, looking for clues may cost trust points. There are other circumstances where players have to decide whether to risk to loose point in order to gain clues or not.

--A problem with this would be to prevent the group from camping in one spot and getting all the clues there.

I've implemented 3 ways to mitigate this problem (which I fear is not fully solved yet).
1) Players can only move to places matching the "movement cards" they currently own. So they cannot spend two consecutive turns in the same place unless they have multiple cards for that place.
2) If a player wants to stay in the same place instead than moving, he looses a trust point (passengers get suspicious for the player behaviour).
3) There is only a limited number of clues in each cabin.

--Maybe something like house keeping or forgien detective

Among the passengers cards there are special cards like the conductor. When you draw the conductor you might loose trust points (or even end up in the jail cabin). After you draw a passenger card it is moved into another cabin so that you could try and keep track of where the conductor is at any time, but this could be difficult to do (is a strategic option given to the players). When a main station is reached, all passengers cards are mixed and distributed.

--could you introduce characters with different movement, trust loss, starting clues and other abilities

Every character is already going to have its own set of attributes (at least dexterity) and special abilities (one starts with more trust points, another can carry more objects and so on).

--What if instead of trust you had panic level

Interesting, but from what I understand would not change the game dynamics. The ideas about using the number of passengers to drive chances or to move passengers more than what they do now sound interesting, but would not solve my main problem: finding a way to shape the game state so that at each turn every player can make sensible decisions (and not just randomly visit the places he has access to and get what he can).

One starting point would be to add a resource: I already have trust points which can be "traded" to gain more clues and movement options, but I think I need another resource type: handling it would give players an immediate goal and an heuristic to decide which possible move is the best one at a given time.

I though at first to use clues (collected but not yet analyzed) but collecting clues is the goal and I don't think they suit the role of resources. Money would not work either (there is not big need of money on a train, nothing to buy or sell).

I try to imagine myself starting a game and asking myself "what I do next?". At the moment it seems to me that anything would do, and deciding among different equally valid alternatives is not an Interesting Choice.

cignox1
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I've thought quite a bit

I've thought quite a bit about the issues and watched a few reviews/playthroughs of games that could have something in common with mine (in particular, Dead of Winter seems reaaaaalllyyy interesting to play).

I've come up with these ideas:

1) clues and objects are separated: while clues are on the board since the game starts, objects are a new deck of cards for each cabin. This offers way more possibilities.

2) in the previous system, when a player wanted to resolve a clue, he had to collect it somehow and pick a card from the corresponding deck.
Now he first has to spot it (dice + card "magnifier", the more cards he uses, the more dice he can use). If he spots the clue, he turns the disc face up and checks the type. Some types cannot be collected without the right tool (i.e powder for fingerprints). And only then he can get the clue and wait for the next stop to resolve it.
This added complexity serves the pourpose to increase movement: if you don't have the tool you need to get it elsewhere.

3) when you enter a cabin you have an encounter. If you want to look for clues you do a skill check against the passenger. I change it as follows: if the player fails it, the passenger get suspicious and stays there, face up. Nobody can look for clues there until he calms down. If another player enters the cabin, a new passenger card is drawn. Now you have 2 passengers to deal with. At each round,every cabin with a suspicious passenger is drawn another passengers which gets also sospicious (with special action if one of them isthe conductor/police and so on). This change serves the pourpose to limit camping, limit clues collection, add pressure (pandemic-like).

4)Players need to feed their characters: 1 class can only feed in restaurant car (for free), 2 class can too, but requires a whole turn (they must wait) and perhaps they have to pay. But they can also eat found food, though for half the food value (so they need to find 2x food). 3 class can eat whatever they want whenever they want and can save some for later, but have to find their own food.

This rule would increase mobility and add special activities. Not really sure about that (it should be a deduction game, non a survival one) but I need something to challenge the players.

I believe that these new rules, and a few other minor things I'm evaluating, could give a first green light. I have now to think which special action(s) to give to each cabin.

Fri
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Three not correlated thoughts

There are a lot of people that like dead of winter. IMO the down time makes it not worth playing. Though if you limit players to one character it probably won't be an issue. Still it is a potential issue to look out for.

I know you said you looked at a bunch of co-ops. Have you looked at flash point? The way it handles movement and actions works very well. Your game may benefit from implementing a similar system.

Random idea about passenger cards. Maybe you could roll a d6 for them when they appear and they will disembark in that many stations. Then you could just use the die as a counter decrementing at each station. Though a d6 maybe a little too harsh. Maybe roll a d6 and flip it if it is 4 5 or 6.

cignox1
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I've heard of flash point,

I've heard of flash point, but I don't know it. I will definitely look for more info, thank you!

Regarding the passengers leaving the train, that could be an interesting idea, but this detail will most probably governed by the "adventure" and I should really consider the implications of reducing the number of passengers.

That said, I could consider for some of them this behaviour!

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