# A mechanic/component for "omniscience" sans a GM

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jwarrend
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Joined: 08/03/2008

A problem I've struggled with is trying to introduce "omniscience" into a game without having a player as a GM. Here's a simple example that illustrates the dilemma: imagine that I'm developing a game in which there are 6 treasure chests, and one of those contains a treasure. I also want to have clue cards that will help players discover which chest contains the treasure. The difficulty here is, how do you get the card mechanic and the treasure chest mechanic to talk to each other? How does the card deck "know" which chest contains the treasure?

I think that I have a solution to this kind of challenge, and I'm interested in whether the clever folks here can find any obvious flaws, or, for that matter, any obvious improvements.

Let's say that I'm working on a game that involves a treasure map mechanic, whereby there is a component (a card, a board, whatever) that shows a treasure map, and another component (a deck of cards, a paragraph book) that gives instructions to follow to get to a spot on the map that contains the treasure. Here's the essence of the concept: there are certain locations on the map component that are translucent such that, upon illumination, these locations will allow light to pass through.

It's easy to do an experiment to see how this works. Take 3 index cards, and using a hole punch, put a hole in one card. Then place this card in between the other two. When on the table, the location of the hole is undetectable, but when held up to the light, you can see where it is. In the game, illumination would be performed by a small pen light-sized source.
To attempt to "dig up the treasure", you'd illuminate the specific spot on the map component that you want to dig at. If the treasure is there, you'll be able to see the light through the map card. Otherwise, you'll see nothing.

(This possibility of a null result is crucial to the necessity of this mechanic: if the goal was simply to follow the instructions, then the game could simply be about assembling a set of instruction cards. The idea of allowing for a null result is that part of the challenge for the player is to assemble the correct instructions. Picture "Raiders of the Lost Ark" - the Germans used the wrong-length staff in the "Well of Souls", and hence, "they're digging in the wrong place!")

Now, one obvious limitation is replayability: if the instructions lead to the same location every time, then the game will get old quickly. A solution to this is to have more instruction cards than the number of instructions required for a valid solution. For example, maybe there are 5 "instruction" cards, but only 2 instructions are required to find the treasure location; some other aspect of the game tells you which two you need. The map component would then be pre-drilled to yield a "hit" on all possible combinations of two-card instructions. However, this still has a problem: you could acquire ANY 2 of the clue cards and get a hit. The whole tension of digging and hoping that you'll find something is gone - you will inevitably find something with any combo you try.

So here's the actual solution: there would be multiple map cards, AND the map cards themselves contain the instructions, on the backs. At the start of the game, one of the cards is selected as the "true" map, and the others are used as instructions. Additionally, the cards are ranked from 1-5, and the "solution" to each card requires combining the instructions on all of the lower-numbered cards. So, a "hit" on map 3 would require assimilating the instructions of cards 1 and 2 (BUT, if you also incorporated the instructions from cards 4 and 5, you'd end up in the wrong location!)

I have a few more tricks to play to get the replayability up even higher, but just with what I've described here, I claim that this mechanic allows the game to be played with a unique result as many times as there are "instruction/map" cards, and that allows a set of cards to influence where a treasure is located.

A couple of observations. First, what I've described actually appears to sound more or less like a deduction mechanic -- one card is pulled out, and by finding out what the others are, you identify which card was pulled. It's sort of like that, although the "only cards with a lower number 'point' to the chosen card" changes things a bit. Also, the additions that I haven't described yet extend the concept further to move beyond a deduction mechanic into a full fledged "treasure hunt" mechanic. I'll probably post those later, to show how the full-fledged mechanic will work.

I welcome any comments or thoughts on this concept! Feel free to post any solutions you've come up with or seen to achieve something similar.

Thanks,

Jeff

Anonymous
A mechanic/component for "omniscience" sans a GM

I am not good in english so I didn't understand the text very well. So maybe you already wrote done this idea, anyway.

The idea is that you got let's say six treasure places, at one of that places is the treasure. Or even better there are more treasures smaller and bigger ones. By following up clues you can examinate one of the place and look wheter there is a treasure or not. Then you also got clue cards wich can be played by the players, or must be played, and wich are buyed by other players the buyer may have the card if the clue make sense the player who played the card gets an reward. Also you could say that players may talk to each other and help each other by giving clues or to lie to each other. So the idea is basicly nobody knows where the treasures are but by helping each other you can find them.

larienna
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Joined: 07/28/2008
A mechanic/component for "omniscience" sans a GM

In the game "Clue" the basic concept mechanics is that if the card are not in the hands of players, they are in the middle of the board. But I don't think this mechanic could work for your game.

By thinking about it, you might not need to place information on the map. If all players have all the cards in their hand indicating the treasures location, if a player dig where another player has the cards, that other player will show the card and prove that there is a treasure there(unfortunately for him). You could also set aside some cards which will be the spots that won't have any treasures.

Kreitler
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Re: A mechanic/component for "omniscience" sans a

Doh! I accidentally deleted this post by editing over it. I'll try to reconstruct it, otherwise my later post will make no sense.

(Sorry for the time-travel-esque future reference. I'm sure I got my verb tenses wrong. I should have read past page 12 of Dr. Streetmentioner's book on Tense Situations...).

First off, Jeff, the mechanics you've described are very slick. The light pen idea is great -- had you entered it in the "best gadget" GDS, you would've swept the competition.

I'm a little unclear on the exact functionality of the cards, though.

Let me try to summarize your explanation to see if I've understood.

1) At the start of the game, someone blindly selects one of the map cards and sets it aside, a la Clue.
2) The remaining map cards are somehow distributed for later discovery and use by the players.
3) As play proceeds, people collect map cards, which simultaneously help them determine the identity of the missing card and provide clues as to the treasure's whereabouts on the final card.
4) Once a player has deduced the identity of the hidden card, he can assemble the appropriate clues from the remaining map cards and "dig".

If that understanding is correct, it leads to some questions:
1) You mentioned that only hints from lower-valued map cards apply. So what happens if the hidden card is card #1?
2) Does the gameplay change radically if the hidden card is #1 vs #5? It seems like there would be a lot more hints to choose from in the latter case.
3) If you can't safely dig until you know which card is hidden and have enough clues from the other cards, how does this mechanic's end result significantly differ from a pure deduction mechanic like that of Clue?

Another way to solve this is to use a physics-based coupling mechanism to link the treasures to the hints. For example, if you had 8 chests that looked and felt identical, but 1 was magentic, you could let the player's use a compass on their turn to try to identify the real chest. You could cluster the treasures near the center of the game board and force the players to start out near the edge. On their turns, players could move or use the compass. By moving around the island and getting varying readings, they could triangulate the position of the real chest. If the compass wasn't particularly accurate, they would have to make the angles between readings pretty large, thus forcing traversal of a lot of the board.

I like this solution because the mechanism not only provides for replayability, it also fits the theme (tromping around on a desert island, navigating by compass, hunting for treasure).

I'm sure that the magnetism idea is fraught with many problems of its own, though.

K.

Xaqery
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Joined: 07/26/2008
A mechanic/component for "omniscience" sans a GM

Maybe I don’t understand something correctly. If a map has multiple positives but only one is the correct positive at any given moment then how do they know they have the correct positive? Maybe they just followed the correct set of instructions poorly and found the wrong "Hit"?

I don’t see how you can have multiple physical "Hit"s on the same map.

As I reread the "actual solution" I think maybe you don’t mean you have more than one positive per map. Then I wonder if you have the trivia game problem. When I pull out map number 5 will I remember what the solution was? You may need as many maps as a trivia game has cards.

I really like the mechanic though.

There are tricks where you shine a light through something you can see a image that you can’t see without the light. Maybe this allows you to have multiple positives per map and or lets you daisy-chain maps for larger quest. The # shows you which map to use next.

- Dwight

Kreitler
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Re: A mechanic/component for "omniscience" sans a

kreitler wrote:
Using a force like magnetism permits coupling between the hints and solution in a natural way -- and in this case, serves the theme.

I'm sure it's fraught with a ton of its own problems, though...

K.

Yeah. On second thought, the magnetism idea is pretty bad. Finding a magnet strong enough to affect the compass from across the board but not so strong as to destroy the compass when packed in the same box might be a trick. That's just one of many problems that I've thought of in the last 2 hours.

So here's another idea: use electricity instead of magnetism. Personally, I'm not a fan of electric board games, but this idea is simple enough that even I could wire it...

Picture a "desert island" board with 10 "treasure holes". There are 10 small chests that fit snugly into the holes. The chests are identical in appearance.

The treasure holes are actually "junction boxes" that connect wiring to a power supply. All but one of the chests are dummies, but 1 actually completes the circuit at its junction when slid into place.

Each treasure hole is identified by a unique combination of 3 out of 5 colors. Colors are red, green, blue, orange, purple. If I've done my math right, 5 colors taken 3 at a time yield 10 unique combinations (1 per treasure hole), and each color appears in 6 of the combinations.

The holes are wired to "observation points" around the island. Each observation point is just a hole in the board beneath which is a metal contact point that's wired back to several treasure holes. The observation points are identified by one of the five colors, and each observation point is wired (in parallel) to all of the treasure holes that bear its color.

Example: there are several "red observation points" around the island. Each one is wired to every treasure hole in which red appears in its 3-color combination.

If a player manuevers his pawn to an observation point, he sticks the "spyglass" into the hole in the board at that point. The spyglass is just a metal probe connected to a light that's shielded from the other players. The player looking directly into the spyglass can see if the light turns on. If it does, he knows that one of the chests with the observation color is the real one.

In this game, players move from observation point to observation point, taking readings with the spyglass, to figure out which chest is the real one. In the best case scenario, a player could get it in two readings, but that's pretty unlikely. My gut tells me it would take more like 4, but I haven't done the math yet. Assuming the players are pirates or somesuch, part of the gameplay would probably involve laying traps for one another and attacking fellow players with rusty cutlasses and (to borrow from another thread) rabid parrots -- so the low number of readings shouldn't present a problem. If it does, introduce more chests with more colors.

This mechanic feels pretty solid, but I admit that the "power source required" is a big drawback for me. Maybe the player's could generate the power somehow, like they do with those nifty flashlights that you shake (never needs batteries!).

K.

jwarrend
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Joined: 08/03/2008
A mechanic/component for "omniscience" sans a GM

Larienna wrote:
location, if a player dig where another player has the cards, that other player will show the card and prove that there is a treasure there(unfortunately for him).

That's how it works in Mystery of the Abbey, and it's an improvement over Clue in that you're not eliminated for making an erroneous accusation, however, it is too close in function to a GM -- you're simply distributing the GM's role over all the players. It's not a bad solution at all, but not what I'm looking for.

kreitler wrote:
1) At the start of the game, someone blindly selects one of the map cards and sets it aside, a la Clue.
2) The remaining map cards are somehow distributed for later discovery and use by the players.
3) As play proceeds, people collect map cards, which simultaneously help them determine the identity of the missing card and provide clues as to the treasure's whereabouts on the final card.
4) Once a player has deduced the identity of the hidden card, he can assemble the appropriate clues from the remaining map cards and "dig".

Yes, this is exactly right.

Quote:
1) You mentioned that only hints from lower-valued map cards apply. So what happens if the hidden card is card #1?

Not sure yet; perhaps card 1 is not selectable as a "solution" card; perhaps there's a "0" card.

Quote:

2) Does the gameplay change radically if the hidden card is #1 vs #5? It seems like there would be a lot more hints to choose from in the latter case.

It probably should change a bit; my guess is that the number of the hidden card might correspond to the VP value of the treasure (I expect there will be multiple treasures in each game). But since you don't know which number is the solution, you'll still want to amass a few of the clues even when the solution is a low-number card, if only to be sure what the solution is.

Quote:

3) If you can't safely dig until you know which card is hidden and have enough clues from the other cards, how does this mechanic's end result significantly differ from a pure deduction mechanic like that of Clue?

I suppose it doesn't, really. The operative word in your sentence, however, is "safely". I'm hoping that because the game will be a race, players will attempt to dig with imperfect information. Because again, you don't need to see all of the cards to know where the treasure is -- you only need to see the ones of lower value than the solution card. So if you're holding 1-2-3, do you attempt to dig, or keep looking until you're sure whether the solution card is 4 or 5? My hope is that the game will encourage/allow you to dig before you've amassed all the clues, risking the possibility that you're in the wrong place. But people may not play it this way, so it's something to think about -- it may just end up being a deduction game in the way that people will play it.

Quote:
Another way to solve this is to use a physics-based coupling mechanism to link the treasures to the hints.

Agreed; I love both your magnetic and electric solutions. Very nice! I'm constantly amazed by how clever the folks here are. The game I'm developing this mechanic for is more of a relic hunt than a treasure hunt, so following clues is an important part of the process, and I don't think you could do that with the physics-based systems. But to the general problem of omniscience without a GM, they're both definitely very nice solutions.

xaqery wrote:
As I reread the "actual solution" I think maybe you don’t mean you have more than one positive per map. Then I wonder if you have the trivia game problem. When I pull out map number 5 will I remember what the solution was? You may need as many maps as a trivia game has cards.

I have another trick to play that I mentioned but didn't elaborate on for lack of time. There will also be a set of "artifact" tokens, of various geometric shapes, that players will recover during the game. The instructions on the back of the map card tell how to arrange these tokens so as to identify the position on the "correct" map card. (they might say, for example, "Place Artifact A on the red dot on the map card", and "Align the tips of Artifacts A and B; the tail of B points to the treasure location". AND, in addition to the map/instruction cards, there's a set of cards that tell which 2 artifacts are associated with which map.

So when you try to "dig up" the treasure, you need to hold up BOTH the map card AND the card that tells the 2 artifacts you used. So the map card will be pre-drilled to yield a "hit" on all of the 2-artifact combinations on the artifact cards, but you must have the correct location appropriate to the 2 artifact combination on the artifact card. (This isn't strictly necessary, it's just an additional fail-safe to ensure that you can't get a hit with just any two artifacts you happen to be holding)

So, picture Indiana Jones in the map room, with a staff and the medallion, using those to identify the position of the "well of souls" on the map. That's what this mechanic is ultimately trying to simulate. But you have to have the right artifacts, and make sure you've followed the correct set of instructions!

Since there will be several 2 artifact combinations (5, say), and 5 treasure map cards, I think that this squares the number of possible solutions, increasing the replayability factor.

It's still true that a jerk could just go through with the light pen, and locate and memorize the locations of all the "hits" for each card, but someone who would do that shouldn't be playing games in the first place.

I'll try to post more information about the artifact mechanic, possibly with a graphic, to make it more clear how it works. It's a simple concept, but not easy to explain.

-Jeff

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...

Quote:

I'll try to post more information about the artifact mechanic, possibly with a graphic, to make it more clear how it works. It's a simple concept, but not easy to explain.

Yes, please do. I'd love to see how this would work.

-Darke

Anonymous
A mechanic/component for "omniscience" sans a GM

So the solution to each is embedded within the map cards? if I understand you correctly, it is an opaque center card with one area traslucent with the image of some treasure. Artifacts (or the "key" cards which indicate which artifacts are used) are similarly set up, with an opaque core and a translucent spot on some spot on the core. Once the key is aligned to the correct position, the tranlucent area lines up with the translucent area of the map card and a treasure is revealed. Otherwise nothing comes through.

Is that somewhat correct? Sounds like it will be fun creating a prototype for this game (though I have a way that you can use to do it if you like).

Very clever idea for simulating the "Indianan Jones" concept of the potential for digging in the wrong place.

The obvious solution to someone memorizing the location on every card is to either incorporate a larger variety of map cards with the possibility of expansions later to add even more cards.

Another possibility would be to have only a hole on the map card, and a letter or number in the translucent area of the artifact. The letter or number is a key to a guidebook, the player then reads in the guidebook a further clue or which artifact to find next or what to do with an artifact already in play. This would give more combinations, though I guess it would still be prone to someone with memorization skills...

I will say that an electronic solution presented itself to me as well, whereby the board has several small slots which are wired to a central computer. To dig in a specific spot, a player inserts a conducting shovel piece into a slot and then hears an audible clue (a la Dark Tower) or reads what happens to him on a readout (either public or private). This would be interesting, but I'm not a big fan of electronic board games. Your version is far more clever, and easier to produce as a prototype!

Anonymous
A mechanic/component for "omniscience" sans a GM

Something else to think about, if you decide to have a hefty price tag along with your game... use a polarizing central core, so that in addition to have the map and key aligned properly, they must also be rotated to the correct position or nothing will show up.

jwarrend
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Joined: 08/03/2008
A mechanic/component for "omniscience" sans a GM

Here’s how it would work.

First, here’s a schematic of the map cards (using the lovely clip art from AppleWorks). The top layer shows a map, the middle layer has holes drilled in several places.

Here are two artifact tokens. Obviously, the real thing would have nice illustrations. Notice the markings on the tokens; these will be important in what follows.

Finally, here is an example of an “artifact” card; it calls out 2 artifacts that are to be associated with the map. As can be seen, the hole in the card corresponds to the location of one of the holes in the map card.

So let’s say that this map card is “#3” (this would be revealed on the back, which players will never actually see; they must deduce this from the other instruction cards).. That means we need to follow the directions on the back of map cards 1 and 2.

Let’s say the first instruction says “align the red lines on Artifact A and the map”. So here’s what we would do.

The next instruction says “Now align the green lines on Artifact A and Artifact B. The blue line points to the treasure”.

Here’s what I’d do to follow that instruction:

So now, I know where to “dig” -- I’d take the map card, place it on top of the artifact card, and illuminate the “bank” building. If indeed the map card is map card #3, light will shine through. If I’m wrong, no light will come through.

Hope this explains the concept a little more clearly. I think it's possible that it's adding a lot of bells and whistles to what is ultimately a glorified deduction mechanic, but I think the potential for added atmosphere and fun from this concept ultimately makes it worth the hassle. I hope so!