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Intriguing set-backs vs. fun-killers (Inspiration credits to Gabe)

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Mosker
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[Obligatory disclaimer about which forum this belongs in--I just look at the right column.]

Short form: Is it really all about abstraction, degrees of separation from our reality?

Anyway, Gabe has often mentioned in his podcasts that there are no injuries in his football game as they are downers and funkillers--in his specific game (As opposed to games like fantasy football where 2nd or 3rd tier players can exploit chances, or in a conspiracy flavored football game, where you could be Tom Brady's agent,trying to put a bounty on Drew Bledsoe without getting caught.)

But then, don't guns jam? Monsters draw their best attack from the deck? Your engineer fails to fix the key widget as the star goes supernova? Your crops rot? Your team doctor develops a taste for brains--losing her own knowledge in the process? The market crash suddenly? These are bad, unlucky things that happen to a player, but what makes them less apt to drive you from the table? I'm specifically referring to mid-game setbacks, not like final battles in many co-ops where you're expected to lose more often than not.

What is the line between a setback that's a challenge and one that makes you want to house rule it out or find another game?

What of silver linings (as in the backup player ready to break out scenario)?

How much is this related to the affect on the odds of success and victory, or a comeback?

Examples of what works, what's too much of a downer?
Thanks.

questccg
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We're the fun-killers...

Poor guys: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1894094619/last-blood

Watch the video - and like me, you'll probably say: "We're the fun-killers"...

And you don't have to watch it in it's entirety... But I have seek-ed past the beginning hoping to find "silver linings". Nope!

It's what it is ...

questccg
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Which reminds me...

When demo-ing my game at Comic Con, one patron said and I quote: "He doesn't play games with dice..."

It's one of those unique "set-backs" in the game that adds the "upper hand" in combat. You may be bigger and stronger, but my small starship might be able to out-manoeuvre you and get the better of the "initiative" during this battle...

"He doesn't play games with dice..." Whatever!

let-off studios
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Mosker wrote:What is the line

Mosker wrote:
What is the line between a setback that's a challenge and one that makes you want to house rule it out or find another game?
What you're asking about is highly-contextual and varies from game to game, situation to situation. For example, I think there could - hypothetically - be games where player injury is an acceptable, believable, non-fun-killing part of the game. But if there's no way for a player to recover from an opponent's "master stroke" or some goal-post-shifting turn of events, then it definitely kills the fun.

Off the top of my head, I have two situations that cause me to completely quit:
- A consequence that makes me believe I have absolutely no chance of coming back. If it's not the end of the game when that happens, then I will very likely disengage.
- A plan I'd come up with never comes to fruition due to some out-of-the-blue, completely unexpected, drastic turn of events. For example: two-thirds of the way through a game, you draw a card, and everyone at the table is forced to discard their hand and draw a new one. This is regardless of how long it took you to assemble the cards in your hand/optimize your hand. I was about ready to flip the table and walk outta there. And I'll NEVER play that particular game ever again.

As long as I have a strategy to attempt that I've not tried yet, that "just might, maybe could" succeed, then I'll give it a go. If I'm stuck doing the same tactics that put me in the losing situation in the first place, and have no other avenues to attempt a comeback, then forget about it.

Mosker
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Yep...

let-off studios wrote:
Mosker wrote:
What is the line between a setback that's a challenge and one that makes you want to house rule it out or find another game?
What you're asking about is highly-contextual and varies from game to game, situation to situation.

Absolutely--
One of the reasons I went asked the group about this was I realized my personal pool of examples--both successful and not--was far too shallow (otherwise I might have supplied them.)

Any come to mind? What of your own designs?

Pax.

let-off studios
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Some Examples

Mosker wrote:
Any come to mind? What of your own designs?
Cutthroat Caverns comes to mind, as far as a contemporary game design is concerned. My previous "never play again" example is related to that game. RISK Legacy also edged into this area as well, due to its tendency to reward the leader over and over again. I had a group of friends who joined me in the entire campaign (15 games, I think?). It essentially turned-off two of the players from ever jumping into any game like that ever again.

It doesn't have to be a game highly-dependent on luck, but I suppose it often is. But when player skill levels are mismatched, games as elementary as Checkers or the card game War, or classics like Chess, Scrabble, and Stratego can be in this category as well.

JohnBrieger
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Setback vs FunKiller

One rule of thumb I try to follow is to not negate a choice – or make it seem like a player's previous choice was useless in the face of this setback. Sometimes, you can use setbacks to present new, interesting choices (like "which card do I discard" or "would I rather lose all my gold or all my fish")

In a set collection game I designed, I do this by making all the "take that" cards swaps rather than steals. So I take an entertainer and give you back one, maybe a weaker one, or one of a type that doesn't help you. But it's still some lateral progress instead of a straight negative.

Similarly, in the event cards for a recent design, events that discard any cards from the players' tableau can only happen toward the end of the game, where losing 1 card isn't as psychologically damaging (they also choose which card they discard).

chris_mancini
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Oh man, that's not good. The

Oh man, that's not good. The green screen is a cool touch, but not enough to give the "sales" video any sizzle. This should have been the secondary gameplay video at best. I lost interest almost immediately, and judging by their funding level vs. goal, so did most viewers.

If it hasn't already been done here on bgdf, I think a cool archive would be great vs. bad KS campaigns...something we can rummage through for inspiration, tales of caution or just a good old fashioned SMH.

Corsaire
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Setbacks that directly erase

Setbacks that directly erase one turn or recently performed action are a firm negative. It is less unfun if I knew it was a plausible outcome, or could strategize for it in future plays. However, I'd always rather encounter a barrier than a setback. Sometimes it is mechanically equivalent, but it is a question of presentation. Choices to lose say victory points to avoid a consequence are also good.

Gabe
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I'm glad my show could spark

I'm glad my show could spark a little lively conversation!

The original context is that in the original version of my football game, players could play injury cards on other players to put certain positions out for a game.

And during the first playtest, my wife played a card that put my quarterback out of the championship game which gave her a rather large advantage, and there was nothing I could do to mitigate the situation.

It was extremely un-fun to have a scenario that I couldn't really plan for or do anything about when it happened.

And I think that's the difference.

It's fine if guns jam, quarterbacks get hurt, tools break, etc. But the player needs to have options and choices when those things happen.

It shouldn't be "oops, now you lose; thanks for playing; better luck next time."

I also think the game's length is a big factor.

My football game is 60 minutes, so I don't want to have a bunch of extra things to think/worry about. And since the game is fairly short, an injury to a key player at a certain time could cost you the entire game

But if it was a 120 minute game, I would put injuries and whatnot in because the player would have more time to recover from negative things happening.

questccg
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Oww that must have "hurt"!

Gabe wrote:
...And during the first playtest, my wife played a card that put my quarterback out of the championship game which gave her a rather large advantage, and there was nothing I could do to mitigate the situation...

Man your wife is pretty "sneaky"!!! LOL Like: "Here you go husband, your game is now broken! Moohahaha!!" Hehehe... Like a Cruella DeVille.

Does she do it to simply prove that she is smarter than you? LOL ;)

Must be nice to have someone to share with your hobby. First not all wives and girlfriends are interested, second some may like playing as a hobby but not the designing - or support that kind of activity.

Happy New Years to you and your wife!

dnddmdb
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Agreement and then some...

I think some of the responses here have captured my feelings about this. I think it boils down to the set-back needing to have one or more features:
1. It doesn't "undo". If a card I play advances my points/character/whatever and then another card just undoes it, that's no fun. Why did I bother playing my card? Alternatively, set-backs that punish my choice by affecting some other aspect of the game, or preventing that strategy in the future are more interesting.
2. Barriers vs. Setbacks. I would agree with other posters and say that on average, barriers are more interesting and fun than set-backs. A setback undoes something I've done, whereas a barrier makes my journey ahead more difficult.
3. It can be anticipated/avoided. As mentioned in Gabe's example, there was nothing he could have done to prevent his quarterback from getting hurt. He may have known that his wife might have had that particular card, but that knowledge doesn't provide him with any way of mitigating it's effects. If a set-back occurs because of known risks or it can at least can be prepared for, it is much less draining when it happens.
4. It can be mitigated. The effect should not be game-ending. If a set-back makes me lose all hope of getting ahead, with no options on how to play differently, it's no good. Truly the definition of a fun-killer. As mentioned, this can he avoided if there is enough time left in the game to come from behind. If not, then this is a huge fun-killer. Alternatively, if this set back can only happen at the very end of the game, then it at least signals who the winner is going to be, and may as well be the end of the game.

Sorry if that seemed like regurgitation with no extra thought. Just figured I'd agree and reiterate what I thought were the really good points.

Best,
Dan

X3M
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Not much to add, but this topic is a good one

dnddmdb wrote:
Sorry if that seemed like regurgitation with no extra thought. Just figured I'd agree and reiterate what I thought were the really good points.

Best,
Dan


You have nicely summed up points.

I judged my game on basis of these 4 points.
And it got me a bit worried.

Whilst point 1, 2 and 3 do remind me of some game aspects of my war game. I am happy that the events are relatively rare and weak. With a bit of luck, they could be very devastating.

I am happy that I don't have to worry about point 4.

JamJam52
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This is something I struggle

This is something I struggle with. One thing I've found in having setbacks that targeting one player can often feel bad but things that effect everyone doesn't as much, even if the effect is the same the 'optics' of it is better.

One thought that springs to mind is another of Gabe's recent podcasts with Matt Leacock, Matt mentioned his philosophy of creating impact-full experiences. I mention this coz with a version of a game I'm working on I tried really hard to remove any feel bad moments for the player, but with the play test it felt kinda dull... the version with the occasional bad moment was more exciting due to trying to avoid it, I'm trying to balance it now but you can definitely go too far (that ep really help me figure that out!!)

FrankM
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Who caused it?

There are two distinct sources of barriers/setbacks, and they may feel similar to players but seems to me that mitigating them is very different.

Source 1: The board AI or pure chance throws a wrench into your plans. This can be a definite funkiller unless, as mentioned above, there are ways to mitigate it. The "barrier" vs. "setback" optics are also important here.

Source 2: Another player throws a wrench into your plans. This has a couple different flavors that basically boil down to "big skill level differences" and "unbalanced actions" (i.e., un-mitigatable take-thats).

It's relatively straightforward to design around Source 1 funkillers given careful review of one's design. And then what you missed will come out in playtesting.

Source 2 is thornier. The everyone-discard-your-hand and injure-your-quarterback cards fall in this category, as does a CCG where "rare" cards are overpowered but relatively easy for experienced players to acquire.

It might be possible to mitigate skill differences with some kind of handicapping system. Not necessarily giving the newbie a direct advantage, but rather roping off the weird stuff as optional rules that new players can get used to over the course of several games.

I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with a player issuing a take-that which undoes an action if the whole point of the game is that you were supposed to plan for contingencies. In MtG, virtually the only reason to play Blue is to mess with your opponent.

Corsaire
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That's great angle on it,

That's great angle on it, Frank. MtG has some good examples. If my opponent has untapped islands, then caveat emptor. My potential setback is balanced by blue self-handicapping in preserving mana on their turn. However, pure denial can be unfun to play against and in casual play violates Wheaton's rule.

Some people have more fun playing "take that" style and as long as they can get their revenge, fun is preserved in that microcosm. I've been watching a lot of "Heavy Cardboard" playthroughs recently and have noticed that in heavier competition subtler moves that are part and parcel of casual play become game changing setbacks.

X3M
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@JamJam52

The reason why it felt dull can have several reasons. But with the scope on this topic. One of those reasons can be that the player that moves forward, causes a feeling for all other players lacking behind. A continuous feeling of minor set backs. For everyone.

Not only that, but how are players supposed to get an advantage without being able to cause a blow to the leader? I think that the only way is, to have a "take that" kind of moving forward.

lewpuls
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Constraints

The answer depends on the player, and on the type of game. Games can be quite consequence-based, where players try to earn something, or they can be all about avoiding negative consequences, where players are rewarded for participation (most notably, in F2P video games). The more the game is of the latter type, the fewer setbacks you can incorporate.

Similarly, some players embrace constraints (which can lead to setbacks), others really dislike constraints. (This applies to a lot more than games, of course.) The more players dislike constraints, the more they dislike the setbacks that grow out of constraints.

The trend is toward fewer constraints and toward reward-based "games". Question is, what does your target market think?

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