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Using paragraph-hopping as a game mechanic

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adagio_burner
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I followed the thread "Combining the CCG and the choose-your-own-adventure book" (by RecultantGeneral) with great interest because I considered using paragraph-hopping adventure-creation as a game mechanic myself for some time. That discussion however quickly went into the direction that was pretty much orthogonal to my goals:

TheReluctantGeneral wrote:
The game persists over many game sessions and is heavily story driven ...

This game is not really designed to be replayed

and then it ended on a sad note

TheReluctantGeneral wrote:
Unfortunately such a project is almost certainly beyond me given the resources of time and expertise I have myself, at least at the moment.

I think that paragraph-hopping story-creating is a great game mechanic because it provides such strong theme and pulls the players into the stories as the game unfolds. But, unlike ReluctantGeneral, I was trying to create a highly-replayable, euro-style game that could be finished in 1-2 hours. I never thought of adding a CCG aspect either.

The key to achieving this is, in my view, to have each player "own" one character, and an adventure book that contains adventures for only that character. But I allow ALL players to influence the adventures of ALL characters, both their own and everyone else's. This way, as you are driving your character towards the victory, other players supply the twists and turns to your character's adventures, keeping th gameplay interesting even when playing with a well-known adventure book.

The interaction between different character's stories is be done by characters aquiring certain "powers" at certian moments in their adventures, so that these powers can be used to affect other characters (at the player's discretion).

Anyway, here are my current design notes for this game ((c) 2006 Andrei Burago, of course :)) -- please read if you are interested, it's longish:

Game pieces

- A deck of "power" cards.
○ Each card represents a certain power (skill, connection…). There are about 10 powers altogether. A candidate set: "royal favor", "wealth", "love", "anger", "poison", "prowess", "weather", "underworld" (pirates/robbers), "divine intervention", and the plain old "luck".

- An "adventure book" for each player.
○ The book consists of 30-50 pages and represents the possible adventures of one character. One page is labeled as a victory page.
○ Each page is structured as follows:
§ Some flavor text and illustration describing a chapter of this character's adventures
§ Possible "events", in form of: what can happen (text and page number to hop to) tagged with a triggering condition, expressed in terms of certain power (s) to be used. There should be 3-5 possible events per page on average. Higher level of certain power is represented by multiple cards to be used; that is, you would require only one weather card to create a thunderstorm event, but many more to trigger a powerful hurricane event.
§ In addition, a page or event may specify extra rules and/or actions that should be followed while the character is on this page or when the event is triggered.
§ Examples of what can be specified include: powers the character intrinsically possesses while on this page (e.g. if this page describes your adventures as a captain of a pirate ship, your character possesses the "pirate" power.), powers your character may not use while on this page, or conditions on their use (e.g. if you are imprisoned, you can only use your powers on yourself), or powers your character gains after an event (that represents acquiring wealth, skills or connections), etc. There are a lot of possibilities here to add variety to characters and game play.
○ Example of a page in the character book:
§ You are a merchant sailing back home with a cargo of valuable spices. What can happen next:
□ a) [1×luck] The weather and winds are in your favor and you arrive home safely [receive 3×wealth power cards from the deck and add them to your hand; reshuffle the deck. Go to page 20],
□ b) [3×weather] a mighty hurricane hits your ship, and you are shipwrecked [go to page: 40], or
□ c) [1×pirates] you are attacked by pirates [go to page 60].
(On page 60, you are fighting with those pirates.)
○ Each page should roughly indicate how close you are to the victory, either in "level number" (1-10) or some color coding or such. Events should act intuitively: an unfavorable event should generally decrease the level, and a favorable one should increase it.
○ Some notes on character book construction:
§ The adventures in the book are to be structured in such way that even a series of most unfortunate events gradually leads to victory, but in a much lengthier path. That is, there should be virtually no "loops" that lead to the same page, and if such loops exist, they should be in general favorable and bring your character additional powers.
§ The shortest path to victory should be, probably, around 10 pages long, while the longest should take as many as 30 or more, with an average of 20 pages (for keeping the game length in check).
§ Different characters should, of course, be "balanced" in the way of how easy it is to achieve victory when playing them; but their adventures; powers they need to succeed and powers they gain, should vary for interesting game play.

Game rules

1. Each player opens their character book on page 1.
2. The deck of power cards is shuffled and put in the middle of the table. Each player draws a hand of <5> random power cards. Choose who goes first; the play proceeds clockwise around the table.
3. On each turn, a player can do one of two things:
a. Draw <2> power cards; this immediately ends this player's turn.
b. Play one or more power cards from your hand in front of yourself and/or some other player(s). When you play a power card or a combination of power cards that triggers an event for your or some other player's character, follow the instructions in that character's adventure book, and then open the book on the newly specified page. Discard the power cards after use.
c. When playing the powers, you should not be violating conditions on the current page of your character's book (if any).
d. You cannot trigger more than one event per player, per turn.
e. If the current page in your character book says your character possesses a certain power intrinsically, you do not need to have that card in your hand to play it; it is assumed to be at your disposal at this moment.
4. The first player to display the victory page in their character's adventure book wins the game.

TheReluctantGeneral
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Re: Using paragraph-hopping as a game mechanic

adagio_burner wrote:

and then it ended on a sad note

TheReluctantGeneral wrote:
Unfortunately such a project is almost certainly beyond me given the resources of time and expertise I have myself, at least at the moment.

Not too sad, hopefully :-) Just might take a while...

Anyway, I'll review your idea with interest, since it contains some new riffs on the original concept I had in mind.

However from what I have already seen of your post your proposal seems to suffer from a criticism that was leveled at mine: namely that a game in which each player spends most of the session with his or her head in a book that is not shared withother players is not likely to be a very popular multi-player game.

I addressed this by stating that there was only one book, and reading aloud from it would only consume a small percentage of play time, which was mostly taken up with direct player-player interaction via card play not mediated by the book. I'd be interested to hear your reaction to this criticism.

adagio_burner
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Re: Using paragraph-hopping as a game mechanic

TheReluctantGeneral wrote:
However from what I have already seen of your post your proposal seems to suffer from a criticism that was leveled at mine: namely that a game in which each player spends most of the session with his or her head in a book that is not shared withother players is not likely to be a very popular multi-player game.

Oh, other people's books are as important as your own since you do want to influence the adventures of other characters. You do not want only good stuff to happen to them, you want to add some less fortunate events to the mix as well.

I do not think reading ahead while playing should be allowed. On the other hand, the main idea is that the game remains interesting even if you know all books by heart, because the actual path for your hero is determined by your opponents' actions as well as by yourself. It is a question of which powers everyone's got, and how and on whom they are going to use them. This should lead to lots of interaction, and makes the game unpreductable even if you know what's written on every page.

seo
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Using paragraph-hopping as a game mechanic

I found the idea quite interesting. What I fear might become a big problem (though not unsolvable) is the advantadge one player might gain by having played the game before, which might turn boring a game against a less experienced player.

What I mean is that after palying the game several times, you might have some general knowledge of the possible paths each character would have available, while a newbie would be in the blind. That might give a hard to balance advantadge to the experienced player.

But as far as I can see, this only means the game will be hard to fine tune, not impossible.

Seo

TheReluctantGeneral
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Using paragraph-hopping as a game mechanic

seo wrote:
I found the idea quite interesting. What I fear might become a big problem (though not unsolvable) is the advantadge one player might gain by having played the game before, which might turn boring a game against a less experienced player.

I think seo has a good point. I have thought about this myself alot. If you want to go for a game so replayable it is no different in that respect than any other eurogame, then I'd suggest you devise the game such that reading ahead in the book confers no advantage (almost) equivalently, players might be expected to read ahead to get ahead.

Perhaps it would be useful to have a simple means for all players to visualise how close to victory each of their opponents are, which would go some way to offsetting the repeat player's advantage.

This could perhaps be done using some kind of card placement scheme, a scoring track (on which players can move forwards and backwards, snakes and ladders style) or an actual board. I'm guessing you want to avoid having a board though, since the combo of books and cards is inherently portable and cheap to produce.

larienna
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Using paragraph-hopping as a game mechanic

I like the idea, but since I can't read the book of other players and players do not read their paragraph loud, how can I know which card I can play to hinder my opponent.

I the other players can at least read their paragraph loud, I can attempt to guess what I can play. But of course, after a lot of playing, some people will know which card can be used at which paragraph.

Another thing is that since the card are dictating the choices you make, you might feel like not having any control over the flow of the game. In other words, no strategy.

Still the mechanic is interesting and it could be used in many ways.

snak_attack
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some math

I've also been banging my head against this kind of problem for a few months now. It just seems to have so much promise! Anyway, I had a realization that might be useful to you. Assume you have 5 variables, each with 3 possible values. If all possible combinations are valid, that's 3*3*3*3*3 = 243 possible combinations, meaning you'd need that many paragraphs. Offloading some of those states outside the paragraph-book (like you are doing with cards) can help to bring that number down quickly, but then you run the risk of a player reading a paragraph that doesn't make sense given his current situation. (For example - assume you have the 'pirate captain' card, that player should never see a paragraph where he is rewarded by the king).

Anyway, I found this to be a useful way to periodically check my design for how feasible it is.

TheReluctantGeneral
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Re: some math

snak_attack wrote:
Offloading some of those states outside the paragraph-book (like you are doing with cards) can help to bring that number down quickly, but then you run the risk of a player reading a paragraph that doesn't make sense given his current situation.

I'm very encouraged to see I am not alone but in fact am in good company in having considered these problems!

Snak_attack - I don't see how transferring book paragraphs onto cards helps the big picture. It may reduce the size of the book but only by introducing new cards, which are presumable more expenive to produce and can hold less useful text, and like you say it raises the possibility of cards inconsistent with the main text. Essentially it is the number of states required by a branching narrative that is the key problem, however those states are encoded.

To address this issue, I have been thinking that some kind of 'state compression' may be feasible, in which states which have the same effects but which have different inputs and outputs in terms of story arc can be compressed such that you have one state (i.e. one paragraph), but different output story state transitions based upon the paragraph that led you to the state in the first place, so the two states are still effectively distinct. Hope that makes some kind of sense.

larienna
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Using paragraph-hopping as a game mechanic

I am not sure if I am repeating what you are saying. Instead of using a redirection to another paragraph when reading. Use some kind of matrix with the states and variables.

You could have something like if variable A=true, B=true, C=false, time=3, and you are making action B : then go to paragraphs 128. In this way, anything can influence the variables, so the paragraph threads does not need necessairly to match or follow themselves logically. It is also easier to make random event cards that will influence these variables.

For example, if Variable A indicate that you have officer Xyz at your command and it is possible that you lose him in the story. First, there are various ways to lose your general : You read a paragraph that says you lose your general, another player read a paragraph that assasinate him or a ramdom event card make him sick. Now in the matrix of event, if you loose you general soon in the game, all the paragraphs below let say "time 6" will hinder your actions. But if you lose him after the 7th turn, it won't matter much anymore. This is just an example

Of course, this has the problem of having a explosion of possibileties and maybe many paragraph that could look the same ( but this is not really a problem since you can always redirect many states to the same paragraph). In a classic adventure book, normally the variable are inside the paragraph ex: "If you have object X you can also go to paragraph 237".

Using the matrix logic seem a bit easier to manage paragraph and story of the game.

TheReluctantGeneral
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Using paragraph-hopping as a game mechanic

Larienna wrote:

Using the matrix logic seem a bit easier to manage paragraph and story of the game.

I am starting to think that this is the best approach for this type of replayable narrative driven game. See the Narrative Mechanics thread

http://www.bgdf.com/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=1309&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=15

for more details. I suggested the following mechanism to implement this kind of matrix lookup:

TheReluctantGeneral wrote:
Ok, lets say your set on having replayability. One technical mechanic for taking a series of game state variables and looking up a paragraph number is as follows. Lets take the 4 variable above as an example.

Take one ring bound book, and cut the pages horizontally from end to end. You get this:

-+------+
-| char |
-+------+
-| loc |
-+------+
-| day |
-+------+
-| hist |
-+------+

Now flip the pages on each section until what you have in front of represents the answers to each of the questions above. Now, on the right hand side of each of the 4 sections is a number. That is your reference for the para lookup. Of course, this does not help in deciding what should be written in that para - this is merely a neat lookup mechanism.

This kind of mechanism seems more suited to replayability than a paragraph book since 'reading ahead' is really impossible. However a moderate level of programming skill is probably needed to generate the matrix lookup engine (the above example is only one way - another way would be to use a series of concentric paper dials).

If your story is truely fixed in the way that I think adagio_burner implied, then the programming ability required is probably fairly basic.

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