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NPC and Automatic Movement

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I've been designing a game with an NPC faction, who the players take turns controlling with a set of rules. It's working out okay, but it seems like a terribly awkward way of doing things.

Does anybody know of games that use any sort of automatic non-player character mechanic? Have you ever attempted it in your games? I curious if it's even a viable mechanic, or if there's better ways to do such things?

In Twilight Creations' ZOMBIES!, for instance, they just let the players take turns moving the NPCs. This is simple, but results in terribly illogical actions on the part of the zombies, such as moving away from the controller's character rather than towards the other players'.

In Avalon Hill's Civilization (Advanced, I think), you can have a barbarian horde, who must always simply move towards the nearest player. I believe they have the weakest player resolve any ties. This is close to my implementation, but while it works fine as a small event in AC, in my game it's every turn, and in a far more complex tactical environment, opening it up to lots more interpretation.

Any other thoughts? Lots of games have a small token or something that moves according to rules, but I'm thinking more along the lines of a force equivalent to an entirely seperate player.

bluesea's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
NPC and Automatic Movement

I'm designing a game right now with this exact sort of thing. I am finding it difficult to, in effect, make a analog AI. My first thoughts are to have a set of scenarios that can (must) play out in a certain order. Maybe in book form. Since there will be many battles involved, I'm hoping that the rate of casualties will vary enough, and that the scales will tilt each way enough to make each scenario play out differently each time it is played.

For instance, the enemy attacks without retreat at a certain loacation until a victory or until a certain casualty total is achieved, then the algorithm points to another action (be it continue attacking, retreat , or concentrate forces elseware) Whatever the future action, it is not yet know to the players.

I'd also be interested in hear thoughts on this subject.


Ska_baron's picture
Joined: 08/02/2008
NPC and Automatic Movement

I instantly thought of of a game when I read your query, but I couldn't remember the name... so after much digging and searching I found out that it was Wizard's Quest that I was thinking of, but after going back and rereading the basic mechanics, it still might not be what you're looking for, although I think this fits the game nicely:

Each turn, orcs currently on the board are reinforced by a random die roll (Each player rolls 1d6 to determine Region, all Territories in that region get 1 Orc each). Spaces which contain four orcs then frenzy and attack any and all players in adjacent spaces. The Dragon then goes marauding as he flies from space to space determined by a random die roll (First 1d6 to determine Region, Second 1d6 to determine Territory, 3rd to determine no. of armies or Orcs are 'gobbled'. He stops his flying for a turn as soon as he lands and devours at least one of the players' men (He will eat orcs in a pinch, but they're not very filling).
The Wizard also makes a visit to a randomly determined space, (same procedure as Dragon), bringing with him reinforcements and protection from attack. (Wherever he lands, he will 'prosper', i.e. add 3 men or 3 orcs to, the space. No attacks or allowed against territories of the Region the Wizard is currently in. Only attacks from the region to a space outside it and an attack against the Wizard himself are allowed (To kick him out of the region, allowing combat again, and 'prosper' another space).
---taken from

Hope that helps, though like I said, this may not be too random and not what you're interested in - but it's something to ponder!


Joined: 12/01/2008
NPC and Automatic Movement

You might consider using a specialy crafted deck of cards.
Or even have a different deck for different strategy/scenarios.

I envision something like this:
When it is the NPCs turn, you draw a card and it lists some kind of action or maybe troop movement.
If this action is scuessful, then the card could be placed down and can then act as a modifier to future draws, or act as a decision tree.

In the example of troop movement, you might have a series of cards that represent a march along a particular course. Printed on the card is the path of movement, and for each successive card already played, troops would move to the next area. Now, if the NPCs troops are attacked and they lose positions, then some or all of those troop movemment cards are picked back up, and so modifies the next course of action.

This also has a buil-in limiting feature. The NPC will only attempt movement down that route for the number of cards in the deck. So if heavy resistance is met, and little ground is gained as those cards are used up, you'll see less and less attempts to go that way before finaly exaughsting that option.

Also, you could even have tactics that exclude others. Something like, "while this card is in play, ignore all cards labled [xxx] and draw again." And then have some analysis cards that re-evaluate the situation based on some board or card criteria.

So if the NPC is currently on an attrition strategy, the evaluation card could compare numbers of troops or something. If the player has more, then the strategy isn't working and you discard the attrition strategy.

Joined: 12/31/1969
NPC and Automatic Movement

I'll chime in with how NPCs work in my pirate game. Pirate ships get two 'actions' per turn - move twice, attack twice, move and grapple, or move and attack. For simplicity, I won't cover special actions here, as most NPC ships don't use them.

When an NPC is spawned on the game board because of a mission, they spawn with one of the following 'order' depending on the mission:

1) Move. The simplist, really. From where the ship was spawned, the player who went before you moves the ship how they see fit towards the desired location (usually a port on the other side of the game board), using two move actions per turn. These ships do not attack unless 'grappled' in which case they defend themselves.

2) Defend. Also simple. The ship stays where it was spawned, and uses attack actions to fire cannons at the player's ship when it gets within range - two attack actions per turn. It does not attempt to grapple, but if a player grapples it, it will fight with its crew.

3) Guard. This is given to ships who guard other ships (probably one with a Run order). These ships spend their actions moving towards their charge (the ship they are defending), unless the player's ship is within range of their cannons. In this case, it attacks the player's ship and then moves towards its charge (attack and then move). If grappled, it will fight with its crew.

I considered adding a 'move, then attack' clause if it made sense, but decided against it (reasons below - *).

4) Attack. This ship moves towards it's target ship (usually the player who spawned it, though sometimes another spawned ship the player is trying to defend), and attack with its cannons. It will also try to grapple the target ship. (Essentially, move and grapple if possible, otherwise move and attack, else move twice).

Some notes, if you are scratching your head:

Ships take up one hex.

Moving means moving your ship a number of hexes equal to (or up to) it's speed. By moving twice, you move up to double your speed. Speed ranges from 4 (a slow ship) up to 8 (a fast ship), with the average being around 6.

Attacking with cannons means firing as many shots as you have cannons at a single ship within range. Cannon range is usually 4 or 5 hexes (yeah, I know - the scale is a bit off).

Grappling means using grappling hooks, etc. to grab the other ship and prepare to board. You can only grapple if you are adjacent to the other ship. Once you have grappled a ship, you crew fights the other crew hand to hand, and you cannot use your cannons.

In all cases, NPC ships are controlled by the player to the left of the player who spawned them. They are only allowed to attack and/or grapple the player that spawned the ship, not any other players. I'm still working out what happens if another player bothers your NPC ships - though it will probably be something like this:

Move: Keep Moving.
Defend: Open fire at the last person who attacked me.
Guard: Continue guarding, but add those who attack me or my charge to the list of people to attack.
Attack: Switch targets to last person who attacked me.

In all cases, they will defend themselves if grappled.

When controlling NPC ships, you are required to use actions as described by their orders. For example, if you are controlling a ship with a 'guard' action, you may either attack and then move (if an enemy is within range at the start of your turn), or move twice. You must move towards your charge.

If no ship is within range at the start of your turn, and you move it once only to find that now the other player is within range, you are obligated to take another move action, even though common sense says to attack him.

For all movement, you must take a path that moves the NPC ship closest to your destination or target. If there are multiple paths, you choose. If there are multiple hexes equidistant from the destination, you pick which one you end up in.

Hope that helps.

Joined: 12/31/1969
NPC and Automatic Movement

Arkham Horror has a mechanism for moving monsters around instead of just treating them like stationary hazards, although they aren't quite npcs. There are several different symbols on the monsters in the game, and when that symbol appears on the event card for the turn, all monsters with that symbol move either clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on which color background for that symbol on that event card.

Even better is the flying monsters in Arkham Horror... when their symbol comes up, they either move normally and fight anybody in that space, or move to a box that represents the sky. They stay there, hovering over the town, until the next time their movement symbol comes up, in which case they attack a random player (if any) that is outdoors.

The original Arkham Horror has a simpler movement system, basically a numeric rating of spaces they travel each turn, and either a L, R or F. "L" monsters take a left whenever they reach a fork in the path, while "R" monsters prefer the right. "F" monsters were the flyers in the original game, and they move their movement rating towards the nearest players outside.

Another boardgame, Intruder (Based on the original Alien movie, and published by Task Force Games, 1980), had a nice movement system for the aliens. Every unlocked room on the map, as well as several ventilation/utility access shafts, had numbers assigned to each exit of the room and the room itself. Every facedown counter moved every turn, following a d6 roll to determine whether it stayed in the room or left via one of the exits.

NPC and Automatic Movement

Very interesting ideas, I had no idea there were so many games with a mechanic such as this. I'd really expect that most people would find rules-based moving of pieces a boring and laborious process.

I like the ideas of having a set of possible actions, determined by random input. That's one possible solution to a dilemma in my game where performing the NPC actions every turn makes them too overwhelming, but every round makes them too weak. I'll probably end up either incorporating a random selection of what action they take, or make certain actions happen per-turn, and others only happen per-round.

Maybe even a combination of the two, such as a standard slow schedule, with extra actions indicated on event cards.

For those of you who have played or are designing games with such mechanics, do you tend to find it a fun addition? My main worry is that the fun added by the mechanic will be outweighed by the un-fun added by the hassle of performing it.

A possible option I'm considering is to make the NPC force dynamic and interesting enough that they might even be player-controlled. They'd have an entirely different objective and rule set, of course. The only problem with this is that they're set up to be large and slow, while the players are small and fast. If I let one player control them, he could easily pick on a single one of the "regular" players, and overwhelm him by ignoring everyone else. This would really spoil the game for everyone. So too little control, and it's boring for this player; too much control and it's abusable with king making.

My other idea is to make control of this faction passed around to the least powerful player at any given time. He could use it to his advantage to harm the other players until he's no longer the weakest, then it would pass on to them to get their revenge. Could be an interesting sort of "take that" mechanic, but also complicated to keep track of.

Joined: 12/31/1969
NPC and Automatic Movement

Maybe they have random orders like, "guard this door", "patrol this corridor", "move to location X", and they just have to follow the shortest route, attacking any players they happen to see on the way.

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