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"Game Theory 1.1" Article from the Games Journal

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DarkDream
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Joined: 12/31/1969

I have only recently been involved in board games (I'm in my late twenties), and have been extremely pleased with the great quality board games that are now out there (especially the German ones).

I have been somewhat inspired of late and am thinking of creating my own board game. The type of game I am creating is a racing game.

I read the "Story Arc" article http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/GameTheory1.shtml, and totally agreed that a real addition of depth in a game is having the capacity of the game to qualitatively change as the game progresses. This lets the gamer feel that there are multiple games wrapped into one, smoothly transitioning into the next with new challenges and ways of solving them.

Now with a theme like racing, how can you incorporate a story arc? This seems to be very challenging to do. The only thing I could come up with is that each player has a team of racers (maybe two vehicles per player). When the game first begins, each player is simply trying to get ahead of the others regardless of team. As the game progresses, and one car on the team has the best chance to win, the other vehicles on the same team can either try to "protect" their leading team mate by blocking other players or trying to eliminate them (ramming and so on). If there are resources, then the player's team mates can try to save it for their leading team mate, or take it anyway to prevent other competitors getting it. Here you transition to every car trying to win on a team, to trying to increase the odds of one or multiple cars trying to win by blocking other players.

This is a very interesting question. Do any of you have any ideas yourself? Any input would be greatly appreciated.

Even if you did not agree with the article, I would like to hear your thoughts as well.

Thanks for having a great forum! :D

DarkDream

Deviant
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"Game Theory 1.1" Article from the Games Journal

Welcome to the forum!

As you can tell from my post count, I'm new here myself.

While I agree that a story arc can add drama and interest to a strategy game (particularly a game about building things - the best single example I could name would be Sid Meier's Civilization for the PC), you've picked a tricky genre to add one to. Keep in mind that a game doesn't HAVE to have a story arc - chess doesn't, or at least not much of one. With that said you have a few angles. The game could be a campaign of races where your winnings from each race can be invested in new cars, better equipment and "stuff". This was done quite successfully in Cheapass Games' "Ben Hvrt."

IngredientX
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Re: "Game Theory 1.1" Article from the Games Journ

OK, this seems as good a time as any to spout off some of my latest theories...

I like the Game Theory line of articles, but I don't see things quite the same way. I look at significant events in the game as "breaks."

Think of tennis. One player is serving to another. The serving player is considered to have the advantage. Since players alternate serves every game in a match, if we look at it from a strictly probablistic view, the game will never end because the serving player will always win.

Obviously, this is never the case. At some point, the other player "breaks serve." This is always a big point in the match, because it often dictates who will win the set, and possibly the match.

This idea of "breaks" translates into any other gaming activity. It's a clearly defined moment when a player's actions will win the game - not the actual moment of victory, mind you, but a single event that, seen in retrospect, is a crucial turning point in the flow of the game. In Puerto Rico, it's often the purchase of a significant building, or a captain phase where one player gains much more VP than his opponents. In Settlers of Catan, it's a big trade that gets a player the resources he needs to build a city, or acquire longest road, and so on. In Chess, it's often the capturing of the other player's queen. In Monopoly, it's when a player lands on the one property that makes him bankrupt.

I have to disagree with Jonathan Degann, at least through my own subjective opinion. When I finish a game of PR, I don't feel as though I've "lived through an entire family saga of immigrating to a rough land and building an empire on it." I see it much more mechanically, as a game, a series of choices and consequences. I'm sure there are those people who are drawn far enough to feel a connection to the theme; but this is probably more the case in games like "Titan" or "Advanced Squad Leader," games which have such an epic scope and such detailed chrome that players are much more easily swept in.

Nevertheless, I see things differently. What Degann sees as a "story arc," I see as a series of breaks. In any game, players will encounter several breaks. The key is, in a well-designed game, they don't know which breaks are the most important until the winner is revealed.

There are a few ways of ways of doing this. First is to have one of our favorite acronyms here... MPTV, or Multiple Paths to Victory. If a game is a simple points race where everyone sees everyone else's status, then a runaway leader problem can emerge. But if the race takes place on several different axes, each of which ends in an instant victory, then a player losing on one axis can shift his efforts to the next. So a PR player shut out of shipping switches to a building strategy, or a SoC player, seeing the last development card taken, knows he won't get Largest Army and attempts to build cities instead.

Another is to hide a player's status (i.e. victory points) during the game. In PR, this often leads to shocking decisions ("How the hell did I win?" is a familiar refrain, second only to "How the hell did you win?!?"). In SoC, this is done by placing some VP in development cards that are hidden from other players. As long as players have a general (but not exact) idea of everyone's status in the game, this is an effective device.

Finally, most well-designed games feature their most important break at the end of the game. In PR, these are the 10-doubloon buildings that can give the builders an advantage over the shippers. In Princes of Florence, these are Prestige cards, coupled with the rising minimum values of works throughout a game. In Ra, these are the monuments that only score after the third epoch. And in SoC... well, there are many people who claim that Settlers of Catan can have a problem with a runaway leader, and this is why. There is no special mechanic to give a large break at the game's climax, so its endgame is not terribly dynamic. (This is why I said "most well-designed games," not "all well-designed games.") :)

It's interesting you bring up racing. I've tried designing several racing games, and they all wound up with a runaway leader problem. According to my above criteria, there are two problems. First, there aren't multiple paths to victory. Fastest wins. Secondly, everyone knows how everyone else is doing. A player's position in the race is not hidden information.

A couple of neat solutions to this: Wolfgang Kramer's Top Race (and Daytona 500, et al) features cards that move all cars. So when you play a card, you're moving everyone's pawn, not just yours! Since you don't know the other players' cards, you don't know which player can play a highest-valued movement card for your car or cars at the wrong time, wasting movement on redundant spaces and possibly costing you the race. That's a potentially huge break that can happen during anyone's turn.

Also, these games have players bid on their cars, and pay off money to each player at the end of the race relative to how that player finished. You can bid lots of money for a car of which you have lots of cards for, but if you don't place well in the race, you probably won't win the game; whereas a player who gets his cars for dirt cheap and places them high in the finish will often win. This can be roughly equated with hidden status during the game. Despite the fact that the racing order is public knowledge, no one's sure of who won the actual game until the money is counted.

Another racing game to look at is Formula De, which makes proper cornering of vital importance. If you go into a corner too fast, you lose valuable points from aspects of your car. Your car can handle a little bit of abuse at the beginning of the race; the question is whether to play it safe, go slow, and avoid damage, or to lean on the accelerator and hope you make it out of the race with your head still attached.

This means that the race leader can build up a seemingly insurmountable lead, but if he put too much stress on his car to get there, he could have to pull back (or even put himself out of the game by wrecking), and allow someone else back into the race.

So in terms of racing, I don't know if you can put a literary-type Story Arc into the game. However, you can have an arc that resembles an actual race, and the best way of doing that is probably by paying attention to the breaks players earn during gameplay.

I hope this helps!

DarkDream
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Are "Breaks" and "Bombs" the same?

I appreciate your response and great suggestions!

You definitely made some good points on what you refer to significant game "breaks" using a tennis analogy.

I believe the second game theory article, "Game Theory 2.1" http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/GameTheory2.shtml talks about the same thing. To quote from the concluding remarks of the article:

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What is important is that the players can work up to goals which are make-or-break deals.

As you put,

Quote:
This idea of "breaks" translates into any other gaming activity. It's a clearly defined moment when a player's actions will win the game - not the actual moment of victory, mind you, but a single event that, seen in retrospect, is a crucial turning point in the flow of the game

which seems extremely similar to Degann's definition of a "bomb":

Quote:
What defines the bomb is that a small change in player actions has a disproportionately large effect on rewards.

From what I understood from the idea of the "Story Arc" article is that in well designed games there are different transitioning points where the game takes a different direction and where previous goals and frustations have been superceded by a set of different ones.

Maybe I am understanding you incorrectly, but you seem to be saying that it is the "breaks" or the encounter of a "bomb" that can precipitate a transition period in the game.

Forgive me, I am not trying to be argumentative; I am simply trying to learn through dialog.

I agree with you that racing games present themselves with some difficult challenges. The idea of multiple victory conditions is a great idea as (like you point out) it avoids the runaway leader as there are multiple goals to compete for, and odds are you have the chance of "multiple" leaders in a way; there are multiple goals divied out so there are multiple alternative chances of winning. Players are so focused in following their own way to win they don't put so much emphasis on a single player.

The bidding idea of a race is a great idea. From what I gleaned, is that you can go ahead and not finish that well relative to other players in the race but still be able to win by virtue of being able to bid better than others.

In summary, from what you say, one of the most difficult design element in racing games is the runaway leader. I do believe it is vitally important that even though a player may be in the lead there should be some possibility (however minute) that other players can catch up.

Apart from playing the curves and other great ideas you mentioned (great suggestions!), how about the idea of introducing "chance cards" whereby a bad card can really land the leader in trouble -- no matter how much ahead. Maybe even these chance cards can be weighted against the leader (bad things more likely to happen to him). Is this a bad design decision?

Maybe instead of chance cards, other players can have the opportunity to acquire evil cards that can be player against other players (posioning or sabatoge of a vehical) that would most likely be aimed at a leader making the game closer.

What are some good game design ideas of mitigating the problem of a run away leader?

Does anyone have anymore ideas besides these and Ingredient X's?

By the way Ingredient X, thanks for your response again. You put a lot of thought into it which has really been thought provoking for me.

DarkDream

IngredientX
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Re: Are "Breaks" and "Bombs" the same?

Hey Dark... there are some good points you're bringing up here.

DarkDream wrote:
As you put,

Quote:
This idea of "breaks" translates into any other gaming activity. It's a clearly defined moment when a player's actions will win the game - not the actual moment of victory, mind you, but a single event that, seen in retrospect, is a crucial turning point in the flow of the game

which seems extremely similar to Degann's definition of a "bomb":

Quote:
What defines the bomb is that a small change in player actions has a disproportionately large effect on rewards.

Yeah, at this point, I think Degann and I are using different words to describe the same thing. Perhaps he means "bomb" to be a single, epiphanic moment, whereas I'm thinking of breaks as being several points in the game; but that's quibbling. The central gist is the same.

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Forgive me, I am not trying to be argumentative; I am simply trying to learn through dialog.

Hey, I'm learning too. So keep the good ideas coming. :)

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I agree with you that racing games present themselves with some difficult challenges. The idea of multiple victory conditions is a great idea as (like you point out) it avoids the runaway leader as there are multiple goals to compete for, and odds are you have the chance of "multiple" leaders in a way; there are multiple goals divied out so there are multiple alternative chances of winning. Players are so focused in following their own way to win they don't put so much emphasis on a single player.

This is where theme comes in. If you have a fixed idea, like if you're only interested in simulating F1 open-wheel racing, then you've created a very specific environment in which to work. On the other hand, Zaiga has been workshopping a game in the GDW that has shifted from auto racing to dragon racing to velocoraptor racing. :)

If you're starting with a clean slate like Zaiga is, you can lay out your game design goals and work your themes around them. But if you're set on putting your game in a specific setting, it gets tricky. I don't think it's possible to design an F1 simulation game with distinct multiple paths to victory. There may be different techniques players may try (aggressive racing, lots of quick pit stops, etc.). But since F1 racing is a skill-based sport where strategic thought doesn't have a huge impact on the race (it has some, yes, but it usually doesn't outweigh a driver's performance; an inferior driver who makes good decisions will lose to Michael Schumacher making average decisions), your MPTV options are diminished from the get-go. Ultimately, everyone's strategy is the same: go fast.

So a fantasy racing game could have two dragons dashing around different kinds of terrain, the strategic selection of which can prove to be victorious; and you can design an alternate path to victory that involves charring knights and capturing maidens. But you can't do that in an F1 sim; you're bound to your theme.

Wolfgang Kramer skirted this with his bidding mechanic for Top Race/Daytona 500/etc.; but as you can probably tell, the mechanic came before the theme. There are no real-life racing leagues where teams bid for cars just before the race. It plays well as a board game, but is not intended to be a simulation (Aside: I was teaching Daytona 500 to an 11-year-old NASCAR fan, and he scrunched his nose in disappointment when I told him that you couldn't run another car into the wall).

So: is your game going to be realistic, or are you more interested in a novel mechanic? There's nothing wrong with either direction, but deciding now will make design decisions easier.

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In summary, from what you say, one of the most difficult design element in racing games is the runaway leader. I do believe it is vitally important that even though a player may be in the lead there should be some possibility (however minute) that other players can catch up.

Yes, this is very important in most games. An important note: the longer the game, the more this matters. But if the game is short (i.e. under 15 minutes), don't worry about blowouts. To introduce a couple of non-racing examples, Mag-Blast and Nuclear War are two games where a player can be eliminated from the game before he even takes his first turn. If these games took an hour to play, it would be an unforgivable design flaw. But since each game runs about 10-15 minutes, and feature "take that!" mechanics, extremely direct interaction, and lots of lucky card draws, it's not a big deal. They're a pretty specific slice of game.

Now if you're looking to make your race game take a good part of a night, then it's in your best interest to make sure everyone feels like they're involved in the race until the very end. You may want to avoid elimiation scenarios, or even worse, kingmaker situations (when a losing player's effectively decides through his actions which player is going to win).

Quote:
Apart from playing the curves and other great ideas you mentioned (great suggestions!), how about the idea of introducing "chance cards" whereby a bad card can really land the leader in trouble -- no matter how much ahead. Maybe even these chance cards can be weighted against the leader (bad things more likely to happen to him). Is this a bad design decision?

The polar opposite of "runaway leader syndrome" is "bash-the-leader syndrome." You may not want to tilt your game too far in this direction. This will feel like the opposite of a race, as every player rushes to put their pawns in last. :)

You'd also be pulling your design away from a strategic game, and make it more of a tactical game, where each player's movements are based on the cards they have when they take their turn. It's not a terrible mechanic, but without a strong strategic feel, you may not want the race to last very long. It's difficult to have 90 minutes of "play the hand you're dealt" remain interesting for everyone.

Quote:
Maybe instead of chance cards, other players can have the opportunity to acquire evil cards that can be player against other players (posioning or sabatoge of a vehical) that would most likely be aimed at a leader making the game closer.

Again, this would be very tactical, but if you're designing a long-format game, you may want to avoid a game where the winner is the player who was dealt the nastiest cards. Also, what's to prevent the first-place player from playing his evil cards on someone in distant second?

Here's one way to make the game strategic... some of the cards players collect can be converted into different types of upgrades that can make the player's pawn grow faster, or breathe fire out of the dragon's mouth, or let a player move twice in one turn, and so on. Each upgrade would require different sets of cards to be traded in, so you'd have to be specifically saving up for that upgrade in order to get it. Different parts of the track would be easier approached with some upgrades, whereas others would help in a more general way.

Of course, there might be another path to victory, where a player could forego the upgrades and attempt to move his pawn "naked" through the course. If the other players get too sidetracked aquiring their upgrades, this could be a valid alternate path to victory.

It's not the best idea, but I suppose it's a ballpark example. :)

Quote:
What are some good game design ideas of mitigating the problem of a run away leader?

The horse racing game Turfmeister avoids runaway leaders by limiting the amount of spaces the top three horses can move. When I first heard about this rule, I was a little hesitant; it sounded like the leader of the race would be unjustly punished, and the whole game would feel unnatural.

But I played it, and was pleasantly surprised. The game feels like horse racing. In order to get into first place, you need to make a charge. But since you are limited in the number of spaces you can move once you get to the front of the pack, you're more likely to hang back and wait until the home stretch to make your charge - just like in real horse racing! It's a fantastic example of a rule both enhancing play and fortifying the theme.

I'll tell you a little about the state of my racing game now. It's called Star Racers, because it involves spaceships racing around a star. When I put together the first prototype, I was dead-set against arming the ships; I wanted this to be "NASCAR" in space, and wanted to avoid any direct conflict between the participants. The idea would be, it was racing only, and people who wanted to shoot stuff up could play Star Warriors.

I'm on my third or fourth design of the game, and I've given in to the idea of arming the ships. Why? Because it's a great device to keep players from jumping into the lead. The ships are armed with forward-mounted lasers that can only fire in a line, coming straight out of the nose of the ship. So players aren't firing willy-nilly, but have to manuever their crafts onto the leader's six. There are times you'll want to fly behind another ship, to get a clean shot off; whereas without the weapons, no one would be afraid of charging ahead.

Even with the weapons introduced, I had another problem. Suppose there were three ships at the end of the race. The craft in third had no chance of winning; it was between the other two ships. But the third-place player has a clear shot at one of the two leading ships. This would be a problem; the third-place ship has to play kingmaker. The ship he doesn't shoot is the one that wins the race.

I solved this by deciding that laser fire could hit more than one target, as long as they were lined up correctly. So if the two leading ships are tail-to-nose, the third-place player can blast both of them, slow them down enough to pass them, and win the race. I don't think it breaks theme too much either, if I can sell players the idea that these laser cannons are powerful enough to punch through the crafts' hulls and out the other side. :twisted:

The game is far from finished, and who knows, I might scrap this design too. But it feels much more promising than the previous designs.

Quote:
By the way Ingredient X, thanks for your response again. You put a lot of thought into it which has really been thought provoking for me.

DarkDream

You too. Good luck with your game! :)

DarkDream
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Chariot Racing is my Game

Ingredient X, thanks for another great response!

To let the cat out of the bag, I'm thinking of trying to create a chariot racing game. When I first thought of the idea, I thought it was pretty originial. Then I looked and found four games out there: Circus Maximus, Circus Minimus, Ave Caesar and Ben Hvrt from cheapass games.

Before I looked at the rules of the other games and purchased on-line Ben Hvrt, I came up with some of my own ideas then began looking at the other chariot racing games out there.

There were definitely some weaknesses (at least what I consider weaknesses with the games). I made this assessment primarily based on the qualities I considered the most popluar board games have these days (German games). What struck me about the top German games was a degree of elegance about them.

To me it seems that a game should be is fun, simple and short. This is somwhat a navie and trite statement needing some important qualifications (it is ok to have somewhat complex rules but as long as they are intuitive and build upon other rules, I would consider this simple) but I believe it is definitely something that should always be kept in mind when designing. If anyone has different ideas please let me know. I am in no way an expert!

Not to put down Circus Maximus or anything, it just seemed to me to be quite complex with a lot of rules. Perhaps there are war gamers who like lots of rules and special cases. I am not necessarily saying that there is something absolutely wrong with it. It is just not my preference, and I am not a fan of wading through a 100 page rule book to look up the situation of where the sun is setting and I am directly facing the sun at a 45 degree angle. It just does not seem fun to me!

I also think there was definitely a problem of length for both Circus Maximus and Circus Minimus. From reading reviews and players comments, it appeared that both games took around 90 minutes to play one race and sometimes Circus Minimus longer (which is interesting as the designer states that it is a more greatly streamlined game than Circus Maximus -- I guess he didn't streamline the time).

The fact that in both games, chariots can be eliminated and thus the players themselves, it seemed to me that there may be one or two players hanging around for an extended period of time for the game to finish. From what I have read and gleaned, this seems to me to be a cardinal sin! I think Circus Maximus tried to minimize this by having multiple chariots per player and for Circus Minimus, allowing a player from a crashed chariot to hi-jack another chariot. Granted, I have not played these games nor really looked at the rules in intimate detail, but these are my impressions; I may be totally wrong. If there is someone out there in the forum who has played these games, please correct me.

Getting back to your response, I think you made an excellent point:

Quote:
An important note: the longer the game, the more [runaway leader] matters. But if the game is short (i.e. under 15 minutes), don't worry about blowouts. To introduce a couple of non-racing examples, Mag-Blast and Nuclear War are two games where a player can be eliminated from the game before he even takes his first turn. If these games took an hour to play, it would be an unforgivable design flaw. But since each game runs about 10-15 minutes, and feature "take that!" mechanics, extremely direct interaction, and lots of lucky card draws, it's not a big deal.

In a chariot racing game where a player can crash their chariot on the first turn and thus sit the game out, it appears to me that a race must be short in duration. What do you think?

I think another advantage (which Ben Hvrt seems to have hit on) is that while one race may take, lets say twenty minutes to play, you can have multiple races in a game. This I believe can allow for the opportunity of adding strategy (which is difficult to do with short games) and can allow for a different means of winning. I will explain this in a moment.

As you put,

Quote:
You'd also be pulling your design away from a strategic game [by introducing chance cards], and make it more of a tactical game, where each player's movements are based on the cards they have when they take their turn. It's not a terrible mechanic, but without a strong strategic feel, you may not want the race to last very long. It's difficult to have 90 minutes of "play the hand you're dealt" remain interesting for everyone.

It appears that with a shorter game, I have more freedom of exploring the use of more tactical design descisions (which can be helpful in dealing with the runaway leader -- which is not so bad anymore anyway because blow outs on short games are ok); there is really no worry about strategy. Now leaving out strategy is in general, I believe, a bad thing for a game. A game that does not present a player the opportunity to develop a strategy I think lacks depth.

Back to my chariot racing, I think I can introduce strategy back in by non-racing activities. With the introduction of money, the winner is the person after a series of races with the most money. Each race, a player can purchase better horses, a charioteer, maybe special cards and so on. Payout would be based on the position the horse placed. Players could also place secret bets prior to the race on horses. Now a person who bets well could make some decent cash, while not actually finishing all that well. With each purcahsed upgrade, you are decreasing your pot thus decreasing you present chance in winning the game by investing in possible furture payouts. Or players may deem to hold on to their cash, and invest it average chariots. It seems to me this adds the opportunity of strategy.

Besides adding some strategy to the game, these types of activites can create a form of multiple victory conditions. Now a player doesn't have to be the best charioter, he or she can be the best better or investor and still do fairly well at the races and win.

What do you think?

zaiga
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Re: Chariot Racing is my Game

DarkDream wrote:

Besides adding some strategy to the game, these types of activites can create a form of multiple victory conditions. Now a player doesn't have to be the best charioter, he or she can be the best better or investor and still do fairly well at the races and win.

What do you think?

You seem to have some great ideas, DarkDream, and I share your philosophy that games should be short, simple and fun. Welcome to the forum!

To answer your question. I like the idea of some in between racing action, to add another layer of strategy, but I'm concerned that the fact that the winner gets the most money and that money also is a resource in the game. This could potential lead to a runaway leader syndrome. The player who wins the first race will have the most cash, which allows him to buy better upgrades, which allows him to win the next race even more easily, etc.

I think a better mechanic is if you somehow make the resources and the victory points different things. A way to accomplish this in a chariot racing game (just an idea) is to introduce the concept of damage (the resource). To win a race you probably have to take a lot of risks, which means you take a lot of damage. You need money (victory points) to repair this damage, or take the decision not to repair the damage and keeping your money, but then you run the risk of crashing during the next race. This way you introduce the element of balancing resources versus victory points and you bring in an element of risk management.

Now, there's a bit of a problem of a chariot crashing. A crashed chariot will probably not get any money, but it will need the most money to repair his chariot! This is kind of a reversed runaway leader problem. You could solve this by giving that player a brand new chariot for free or you could just let it be, in which case taking huge risks during the race becomes a very tricky matter, but maybe those all-or-nothing situations make for very tense and exciting moments and a lot of fun. Just make sure that the game is short enough in that case, so that players who are out of the race don't have to wait too long.

You could still keep the upgrade thing and the betting, these add just another layer of strategy and decision making to the game. You might want to check out Royal Turf, a game about horse racing, which also features betting.

- Rene Wiersma

zaiga
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"Game Theory 1.1" Article from the Games Journal

Then again, I might use these elements in my own game "Speed Racer", which is currently being workshopped. Oh well, it's always fun to brainstorm a bit :wink:

- Rene Wiersma

Anonymous
Racing Game Inspiration Idea...

I believe somewhere in the begining of the thread the challenge was adding story and theme to a racing game. While I've never tried to develope a racing board game, if I was I'd look no further than ROCK N' ROLL Racing for Super NES and I think they are reviving the title to bring back on the Game Boy Advance. These are video games of course but they are far and away the most thematic racing games I've ever played. Play the game and you'll instantly get ideas on how to incorporate story and mood into a racing setting. Everything from the cars, to the racetrack, the music, the cheesy announcer, the fantasy racers like Grinder and Snake Roberts, had you feeling like a futurist racing champion. There were weapons and car upgrades, and money. I can't plug this old classic enough. (Leaves to pull the SNES from the closet) (If you can't find the game, at least try the ROM)

One mechanic that you could pull (if nothing else) to combat the "runaway" leader problem was putting obstacles on the track. That way no matter how far ahead, if they rolled over an obstacle (mine, lava, cliff, etc) the other racers would have a chance to catch up. Or secondly in Rock'N'Roll racing there were little bags of money, healthkits, and powerups to grab that were scattered on the track itself. so even if you came in third place, if you grabbed all the money you got more winnings than if you finished first.

Finally, here's a fact about implementing story and racing, if it's a campaign setting, it's much easier to pull off. Player's get attached to their racers and cars, more so if it's an all or nothing race. Player A won't deliberately smash into player B on the last lap because he wants his car to win in the next race mentality. And the track has to be somewhat dynamic to hold interest to any more than the basic hardcore "racefan" audience. I dislike most horse racing and chariot games for solely this reason, "Gee an Oval Track! Ohhh! Ahhh!" (Yuck!) Be radical, how about a game where the players build the track as they race around it! Now that could be crazy! (Better watch out I'm starting to get too many ideas and might make this conversion myself...lol) And try a spin on a new type of racing. Star Wars Episode 1 had pod racers, not Speedbikes from the third movie! Why was it cool? It was new, POD Racers were fresh, not rehashed. Go crazy, Orc's Riding Reindeer, or White Water Rafting!

DarkDream
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Joined: 12/31/1969
"Game Theory 1.1" Article from the Games Journal

Zaiga,

You came up with some good points:

Quote:
I like the idea of some in between racing action, to add another layer of strategy, but I'm concerned that the fact that the winner gets the most money and that money also is a resource in the game. This could potential lead to a runaway leader syndrome. The player who wins the first race will have the most cash, which allows him to buy better upgrades, which allows him to win the next race even more easily, etc.

Yes, I thought of that after posting my response. However, if the first, second and third place winners are reasonably close in the amount they win, then it may help against this.

You go on to say:

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I think a better mechanic is if you somehow make the resources and the victory points different things. A way to accomplish this in a chariot racing game (just an idea) is to introduce the concept of damage (the resource). To win a race you probably have to take a lot of risks, which means you take a lot of damage. You need money (victory points) to repair this damage, or take the decision not to repair the damage and keeping your money, but then you run the risk of crashing during the next race. This way you introduce the element of balancing resources versus victory points and you bring in an element of risk management.

That is a good thought that for a player to win a race, they have to be spending a lot of resources to do so. Instead of perhaps having to fix up their chariot, if a player happens to get a better chariot or player or special cards, each of these added bonuses have maintenance costs associated with it. So even if a player does well with the upgrades, he has to pay the penalty of having to pay money to use them again at all. This would seem to be an evening factor against the runaway leader. Ben Hvrt uses a similar technique to this.

You go on,

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Now, there's a bit of a problem of a chariot crashing. A crashed chariot will probably not get any money, but it will need the most money to repair his chariot! This is kind of a reversed runaway leader problem. You could solve this by giving that player a brand new chariot for free or you could just let it be, in which case taking huge risks during the race becomes a very tricky matter, but maybe those all-or-nothing situations make for very tense and exciting moments and a lot of fun. Just make sure that the game is short enough in that case, so that players who are out of the race don't have to wait too long.

I think you are right on about the free or cheap starting chariot. This should cost nothing or next to nothing. This is to keep players in the game.

Zaiga, I just got Royal Turf today. I am going to take a look at it. Thanks for all your input.

Mind4u2c, thanks for your response.

I get your point about being rather unconventional in coming up with a race game. You could let your creativity roam and come up with some neat stuff. However, chariot racing is something I am really interested in and what I am really concentrating on.

You came up with a good idea,

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One mechanic that you could pull (if nothing else) to combat the "runaway" leader problem was putting obstacles on the track. That way no matter how far ahead, if they rolled over an obstacle (mine, lava, cliff, etc) the other racers would have a chance to catch up. Or secondly in Rock'N'Roll racing there were little bags of money, healthkits, and powerups to grab that were scattered on the track itself. so even if you came in third place, if you grabbed all the money you got more winnings than if you finished first.

To keep within the spirit of chariot racing, I don't think they had too many obstacles (besides crashed chariots on the course). I've watched the chariot racing scene in Ben Hur now at least 10 times: pausing, going back and forward in slow play mode and so on.

I did notice that one of the chariots was racing (no contact with the wall or anything) and his wheel came off and he crashed.

I think it is important to add surprise elements in the game. As I mentioned, in a previous post, I kind of like the idea of the event cards that could really make things tense -- especially if there are cards like that. This would be a means for me to do an obstacle like you describe.

If anyone else has any comments or input, please respond. I think there is a lot of good ideas and stuff here.

Great forum and thanks for all the input,

DarkDream

zaiga
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
Re: "Game Theory 1.1" Article from the Games Journ

IngredientX wrote:
I have to disagree with Jonathan Degann, at least through my own subjective opinion. When I finish a game of PR, I don't feel as though I've "lived through an entire family saga of immigrating to a rough land and building an empire on it." I see it much more mechanically, as a game, a series of choices and consequences.

I found the article fascinating, but I agree that the thematic tie-in doesn't work for me either. I see the whole idea of a "story arc" on a more abstract level as in: early game -> mid game -> end game where in each phase different things are important.

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Nevertheless, I see things differently. What Degann sees as a "story arc," I see as a series of breaks. In any game, players will encounter several breaks. The key is, in a well-designed game, they don't know which breaks are the most important until the winner is revealed.

I agree with this, although I think that every decision point in the game should be a "break". Some are obviously more important than others, but I do think that every decision should have an effect on the outcome of the game. Otherwise, what was the use of the decision?

I don't think "breaks" and "story arc" are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, I think you need to incorporate both elements to get an exciting game.

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Finally, most well-designed games feature their most important break at the end of the game. In PR, these are the 10-doubloon buildings that can give the builders an advantage over the shippers. In Princes of Florence, these are Prestige cards, coupled with the rising minimum values of works throughout a game. In Ra, these are the monuments that only score after the third epoch.

This sounds a bit like the "bomb" effect in Jonathan's second article. I agree that as the game progresses the stakes should become higher, although not so high that they automatically render any previous decisions useless.

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And in SoC... well, there are many people who claim that Settlers of Catan can have a problem with a runaway leader, and this is why. There is no special mechanic to give a large break at the game's climax, so its endgame is not terribly dynamic. (This is why I said "most well-designed games," not "all well-designed games.") :)

Perhaps "SoC" is not such a well-designed game after all? :wink: Really, I have formulated a whole theory about the difference between VP/time based games and binary ending games and their respective pro's and cons. One of the cons of binary ending games (when someone reaches a certain condition he wins the game and thereby also terminates it) was that the endgame of such games are usually not very dynamic, as you put it. When I find some time, I'll write an article about it.

- Rene Wiersma

jwarrend
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Joined: 08/03/2008
"Game Theory 1.1" Article from the Games Journal

I agree with Zaiga that "story arc" need not be seen necessarily as narrative arc; I don't think it's a statement about thematic correspondence so much as shifting priorities for players. Interestingly, it does seem like"early game/midgame/endgame" fits with the idea of story arc, and if that's the case, I think almost any game could be said to have a "story arc". If it's not the case, then surely there must be an example other than "Industrial Waste" of a game that lacks story arc yet is good. The best examples I can think of are games that are both mechaically simple and repetitive; Pizarro & Co., eg, which is just a long string of auctions. Yet even there I could make the case that there is something like a story arc. So, I'm not exactly sure how to implement the idea of "story arc" in a game without seeing more clear counter examples of games that lack this principle. But I do agree that it's worth trying to create a game that has an early/mid/end game structure.

I also agree with Zaiga that "race" style games, where the game ends when one player wins, are more difficult to design properly than fixed-ending games. I think these race games, for example, lend themselves much more to "hit the leader", leading to long, drawn out endgames in which no one can win. Much better, I think, for the game to lurch inevitably to a conclusion, even when it's somewhat variable like in Puerto Rico or Acquire. That's not to say that race games don't have their place, but just that some games (like Settlers) can in some sense be seen as "weaker" by virtue of the endgame (though I still dispute that Mystery of the Abbey necessarily fits this category!)

-J

DarkDream
Offline
Joined: 12/31/1969
"Game Theory 1.1" Article from the Games Journal

Very interesting responses. From what I gather from the article, a story arc exists if there are different stages in the game where one stage has a different set of concerns, challenges and obstacles to face. A transition from one stage to another, I believe, happends when a player begins thinking in a different fashion than he/she previously did. For me, a story arc is really less than the thematic aspect, but rather the change in overall behavior of the players, within the context of the game, as different stages or parts of the story are reached.

While the terms "early game", "midgame," "endgame" are useful terms to get the idea across, there needs to be some caution in using these terms as a game might legitimately have more stages than just three.

While I somewhat agree that most games do have a form of a story arc; I think it is really an issue of degree. In my opinion, different stages exist only if it is readily discernable and apparent that the players are playing in a different fashion almost to the point that they are playing a different type of game while using the same basic rules as before.

Yesterday afternoon, after our Thanksgiving meal, some family friends (mostly the younger ones) began playing a game of "Pit." I think this is an excellent example of a game that has no story arc. Regardless of whether I was watching the start of the game or near the end, the players were doing exactly the same thing (trading cards, and shouting, "two!" "one!" "three" and so on). They "played" exactly the same way every time regardless of what round it was.

I think why Degann considers a game that has more of a story arc a better game, than one that does not really have one, has to do with a qualitatively different feeling about the game after having played it. The player almost feels as if they have particpated in a small drama. This is what he was trying to get at with his quote of having "lived through an entire family saga of immigrating to a rough land and building an empire on it."

While people may disagree with this sentiment, I think his point is that such games that have a definite story arc to it usually produce a much richer gaming experience, and I think this is what he is pointing out as one of the things that really makes a game "great" rather than just "good."

Interestingly enough, I went ahead and sent an e-mail to Degann asking him on ways of adding a story arc to my racing game (chariot racing to be exact). His response (greatly appreciated), quoted below, is really interesting:

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Off the tip of my head, I think that some of the story arc in a race comes naturally - just by virtue of the fact that you have a visual representation of exactly where you are in the race. It "feels" different when you start than when you are doing that final jockeying at the end.

That's a very incomplete answer, but it does reflect some of the unique qualities of a race game. Some better possibilities can be:

1) In creating terrain issues which vary during the race (sharper turns, straightaways, narrower passing) which require players to treat their tactics differently.

2) Through the use of resources like fuel or tire wear, which force different consideration as you manage them. . . .

Combining 1 & 2 can be a key. If you can make a race game where you are forced to make different decisions concerning resources when going through some sorts of terrain that appears in the beginning of the game, and be confronted with different resource issues later on, then I think you've successfully added some needed texture.

I'll admit I didn't give this much thought - but perhaaps you've helped me realize why race games aren't among my favorite genres.

Mind you, I do enjoy race games (but not Formula De) - and that there is always a place for games that don't have story arcs, especially when they are short games. I'm trying to identify the elements which make games "great" - but there is lots of room for games wich are just "very good", or wich don't have every single element I can think of.

I'll just briefly comment and say that Degann came up with some nice suggestions to add "texture" or design descisions to increase the degree of a story arc in a racing game.

Zaiga -- I looked at your Speed Racer rules and think it is pretty good. After looking at the rules of other racing games, yours does seem pretty neat. The only thing I did not really like is the tons of dice.

Do you, or anyone have any suggestions or ideas regarding my thoughts in the other posts for this topic on the chariot racing game I am thinking of doing?

DarkDream

Anonymous
More Ideas?

Since obstacles are a little tough to include, why not try changing weather conditions? Or some sort of random element like horse temperment? Or a mini horse breeding aspect to the game or custom designed chariots? My favorite regular racing game is Tortoise and Hare, which is more of a math game than a racing game yet it has theme, character, and unique mechanics where other racing games are more bland and don't provide enough staying power for me.

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