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Culdcept - What we can learn from computer 'board' games

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sedjtroll
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I've been playing a lot of Culdcept, a Playstation game which combines Monopoly with Magic: the Gathering. Though it really is basically a board game, playing it without a computer would get to be a bookkeeping nightmare. Here is the gist of the game for those who haven't heard of it:

Like monopoly, you roll a die, move around a board, and take control of various spaces. When someone lands on your property you collect 'rent', and there is a benefit for controlling multiple properties of the same color. Unlike Monopoly, you also have a deck of cards which you use to cast spells and summon creatures- which is how you take control of the properties. Furthermore, instead of paying the rent, you can summon a creature and fight for control of the property.

The bookeeping involved in keeping track of the stats of the creatures in play would probably get out of hand for a tabletop game, and on the PS2 it's easy to have multiple maps and strange die sizes. The interesting points about this game which might carry over into the design of a 'normal' tabletop board game are as follows:

Variation of 'Roll and Move'. Many of the boards in the game are not unidirectional. Each board has one or more Towers which you must touch before 'passing go', but the path you take is not necessarily pre-determined. Whenever you get to an intersection you choose which way to go. In some maps you can make loops all day long and never return to the castle (a strategy which can be used with certain cards to some effect). This is the element that can make a Roll and Move game a lot more interesting than the circular track board of Monopoly. Depending on the board there can be varying degrees of control over where you land, even with the random die roll. Also, there are spells which affect the die roll- setting it to a particular number, or rolling 2 dice instead of one for example.

Incorporation of ccg aspects in a board game. The game has a large number of total cards, but you use exactly 50 for your deck. Thus the deckbuilding and metagame aspects of Magic work right in, but there is a single, finite set of cards so it's not the case that you have to keep buying cards in order to keep up. I suppose it could be, but as a computer game the card set is static. On the Playstation you don't start with all the cards, rather a select few, and new cards are obtained as you play games (even if you lose). I could see this aspect used in a board game in different ways... players could build decks out of the cards (using whatever deckbuilding criteria they agree on), or players could be dealt random cards to use as a deck (maybe that's the same as there being a single common deck that all players draw from).

Play 1 card per turn. Before the die roll you are allowed to play 1 spell card. After the die roll and move, you are allowed to play 1 creature card, either to attack another players property or claim an open property for your own. Alternatively, you can upgrade any of your properties you passed that turn. This would be instead of playing a creature. During combat you can play 1 item card to improve your cretures stats or have some other effect. So during a turn you can play up to three cards total, depending on where you land and what you want to do. You draw 1 card at the beginning of the turn. This system makes it difficult to orchistrate complex combinations of cards which will win you the game. Similarly, enchantment type cards override each other (only 1 effect is in play at a time), so it's relatively easy to disrupt someone else's combo without using cards specifically geared against it. In many CCGs there are multi-card combos which can win a game outright, but in Culdcept the limited card play is more interesting.

Finally, the resources. You pay for all of your cards and rent out of a single pool of 'money' called your Magic Power. There's another important value which is your total assets. When you pass go with the minimum total assets (set at the beginning of the game) then you win. Your magic power is part of your total assets, so playing cards eats into your chance of winning. Obviously some of those cards will earn you more than their cost in value, like upgrading a property (which is akin to building houses in Monopoly). The idea of using VPs as a resource is not new at all, I just wanted to note that Culdcept uses it, and that I like it.

If there were two things I had to complain about in Culdcept, they'd be the imbalance in the cards (something we as designers have a lot of control over), and the lack of color specific resources. In Magic, blue spells cost blue mana, red spells cost red mana, etc. In Culdcept all creatures cost the same mana, though some require you to have a creature on the correct colored land in order to play them. My problem with this is in deckbuilding. There's no real penalty to throwing 1 or 2 Green creatures in your otherwise Red/Yellow deck because not only will you always be able to cast them, but in fact there will always be Green properties to put them on (putting a creature on it's colored property increases it's toughtness in combat). This is a minor complaint really, and many types of cards exist that can promote using single colored decks, or decks without certain colors, etc.

So what can we learn from this? Hopefully it offers some insight as to what can work in a card/board game system, as well as what might be too complex for the tabletop. If nothing else, maybe it'll get you to try out Culdcept which is a pretty cool game on it's own. I wouldn't mind seeing it adapted to a real board game.

- Seth

rkalajian
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Culdcept - What we can learn from computer 'board' games

There are plenty of computer games I would love to see turned into tabletop games but suffer the same crutch as the game you just described, book keeping.

I don't know if anyone has ever played Age of Wonders, but this game would have made an excellent board game if there wasn't so much going on all the time!

I had an idea once about creating a board game that relied on both the computer and traditional components, but it wouldn't be too practical because people would need to sit near a computer or have a laptop on their playing space.

Oh well, we'll see what the future brings.

jwarrend
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Culdcept - What we can learn from computer 'board' games

I haven't played Culdcept (or any other computer game recently), but I agree that computers can add bookeeping capabilities that can open up the door to so many different board game directions. If there were a way to marry board games and the bookkeeping abilities of computers, I think whole different kinds of games could be created. That might not be a great thing in all cases; trying to find ways to handle bookkeeping can sometimes lead to very clever solutions, whereas on the computer, everything is "easy" and so being clever isn't always necessary. The other issue is that a boardgame is a machine whose gears are all exposed, and you can see (for the most part) how this will affect that.

The one point I wanted to take up is that of "gaining cards as you play the game more". This kind of effect, "improvement across many games" is very common to computer games and RPGs, but there aren't many board games that use this kind of a feature. For better or for worse, it seems that most popular board games are a self-contained entity that can be opened, played, and put away with no crosstalk between this game and the next.

I wonder if there aren't situations where a "meta game" of developing over many games might be appropriate. Obviously, the many folks who are designing RPG-style board games will incorporate such elements. Another system that might work well is perhaps a "big mystery" game, where perhaps each game you play has a self-contained mystery that you need to solve, but in doing so you are also gaining clues towards solving the "big, overarching mystery" that spans many games.

In that sense, what I'm perhaps proposing is not so much a "character upgrade over time", which I think is valid and natural, but rather a "each game fits into a bigger narrative framework" kind of effect. I'm not sure how *that* would work, gamewise, except perhaps if the game had a website, and after your game you go to the website and said "I just got Clue 405", and the website tells you what that clue is. I wonder if there's any possibility for interesting games to come out of an implied correspondence between a board game and a website, ie, that the website would be *part* of the game in some way.

Not sure if this is making sense, and since I don't want to go too far from Seth's topic, I'll stop here.

-Jeff

sedjtroll
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Culdcept - What we can learn from computer 'board' games

The idea of incorporating multiple plays of a board game into a larger game is very interesting. Talk about replay value! Indeed, one reason to keep playing Culdcept on the PS2 is to unlock more cards and boards. Of course in a board game version the cards would all be there in the first place.

I think the idea of the website has actually been done. I'm not sure exactly, but didn't I read somewhere about some mega-game which involved searching the internet, using real websites as well as 'fake' ones planted just for the game? This is reminiscent to an old 80's movie I have fond memories of... Midnight madness. 4 teams raced around the city following clues. My sister did a couple of those in college which spanned Saint Louis. That's sort of like taking the board off the table...

The website might be a good way to tie together multiple plays. What kind of game do you think could use it?

And finally, to stay on topic, I wonder if there isn't a good way to actually play Culdcept (or something just like it) on a tabletop... by printing creature stats on the cards, and using damage counters and things like that it might not be too bad after all. Maybe deviding all the numbers by 5 or 10 would help, so things have 6HPs instead of 30.

Fos
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Culdcept - What we can learn from computer 'board' games

rkalajian wrote:
I had an idea once about creating a board game that relied on both the computer and traditional components, but it wouldn't be too practical because people would need to sit near a computer or have a laptop on their playing space.

There has been a recent surge of DVD-enhanced board games (Trivial Pursuit Pop Culture, Scene It, and Atmosfear). So we know the market for a board game+ is open and consumers won't find it that odd. And if you're shooting for a college crowd, chances are someone in a game group will have a laptop. I personally know of a few D&D groups around my area that keep a laptop handy for book keeping.

So I really wouldn't let that stop you. You won't have the mass family appeal of MB games, but if you're looking to tap the demographic that calls themselves "gamers," I don't think you'll limit yourself past feasibility.

However, I would worry that it might be viewed as a gimmick if not designed carefully.

EDIT: Sedjtroll, there have been two games (both go for a horror/detective feel) I know of that use websites and other mediums, but they're primarily computer games that try to branch out into mediums that feel more "real." The first was Majestic, which failed spectacularly. It was an interesting enough idea, but I think the concept of "pay $10/mo. to have a game call my phone and wake me up at 3am" kinda turned people off.

Missing: Since January is the more recent game, which requires no monthly fee, and is played entirely within the game and on fake and real websites. Unfortunately, when you're searching for clues on google you tend to pull up a lot of solutions in FAQs instead of the intended websites. Really pulls you out of the game. But it's an interesting concept nonetheless.

Zzzzz
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Culdcept - What we can learn from computer 'board' games

sedjtroll wrote:
Indeed, one reason to keep playing Culdcept on the PS2 is to unlock more cards and boards. Of course in a board game version the cards would all be there in the first place.

Is there any reason you could not build in a concept/mechanic to "unlock" new cards and boards?

One (bad) thought would be having X decks of cards, the game starts with say "deck 1" of X. At some point there is an objective or goal, and when that goal occurs, mix in "deck 2" of X and so on.

Maybe you just build in X draw piles, when a player or players accomplish some goal-Y, they now get to draw from an additional draw pile(s), but not until they accomplish goal Y.

Just a thought, but I think you could build this "unlock" concept in to a game.

Think about a modified MTG. Lets say we add in an "unlock" concept to deckbuilding which puts a limit on the power of creatures added to the deck.

Lets say the initial deckbuilding is limited to power 2 and below creatures cards.

We could then add in an "unlock" concept. Which would allow players to shuffle in additional cards when they accomplish some goal. The "unlock" might be based on the number of mana the player had in play. So maybe we need 5 mana available in play for the first "unlock". Once the player accomplishes this goal, they may now shuffle in additional creatures of power 4 or less into their draw deck. So on..... not a great example but one that could put a twist even on MTG.

Maybe you even force players to initially build their decks with no spells/enchanments etc. And make some event in the game allow a player to shuffle in spells and enchantments.

Anyways.... I like the idea of "unlocking" additional bonus/modifiers, and there might be creative ways to build them in to board/tabletop games.

sedjtroll
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Culdcept - What we can learn from computer 'board' games

Zzzzz wrote:

Think about a modified MTG. Lets say we add in an "unlock" concept to deckbuilding...

Now THAT could be interesting... say players start with a 36 card deck or something, then with each damage dealt they must shuffle a card into the deck. There could be further restrictions on what gets shuffled in or whatever. And in that case, since you lose if you run out of cards, it becomes important to deal some damage.

Hmm... off topic, but very interesting.

jwarrend
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Culdcept - What we can learn from computer 'board' games

Ooh, I have an interesting idea for an "unlocking with several plays" style of game. I was contemplating trying to come up with a game for Stephen Donaldson's "Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever" books. In those stories, Thomas Covenant is a man from our world who is periodically "summoned", as it were, to "The Land". The wardens of "The Land" are the "high Lords", who shepherd the land using magic powers learned from the Lore of an ancient High Lord, Kevin. But Kevin feared his Lore would be too powerful if given all at once, so instead, he stores it in 7 Wards, with mastery of each Ward giving one the tools to find the subsequent Ward. The High Lords, in the first book, have only been able to figure out some of the First Ward.

This would work well in a game setting, I think, as you could play (at least) 7 games, with each game's goal being two-pronged; thwart the threat that the Land faces, and learn enough Lore to solve the current Ward.

I suspect that the series is obscure enough that you couldn't make a mass-market game out of it, but for making a fun game with a goal that extends across several individual playings of the game, this might be one thematic setting that would work.

*******************SPOILER ALERT************************

The problem would be that one would need to use some imagination, since the powers of the Wards aren't really spelled out in the books. In fact, in the Books, they skip from 2 right to 6, for some reason I can't remember. As a result, there's a great scene where they're trying to figure out how to use the 6th Ward, but they're so completely not ready for it, they're very confused.

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