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Complexity of decisions over variety and flavor

3 replies [Last post]
Joined: 04/25/2012

Hey all,

Recently joined and my first questions is a mechanics dilemma I am sitting on.

I'm working on a zombie game (I know, I know, novel and new setting the market's just been waiting for!) and I'm trying to keep it accessible and moving quickly. One of the major things I worked on the first few iterations was streamlining player choice. My first prototype featured about 10 unique actions that a player could take each during a particular turn phase. The complexity of the decision making and the evaluation of each action resulted in a 5 person game taking close to 2 1/2 hours. My next version had 3 unique actions, and each action had a safe or risky component that modified the result. This helped speed things up, playtime down to 1/2 an hour, but it lost of lot of the cooler flavor and strategy.

Couple iterations later, some action creep going, and I'm back to wielding the hatchet. One point of feedback that I got from playtesters was that my zombie game had a decided lack of items. This was a negative experience for my testers who more or less expect at least something they could use to bash zombie heads in with. I had items in earlier version, but cut them mainly due to complexity in scavenging items, tracking ammo, and other maintenance tasks that took away from actual player interactions.

Right now, you have 1 main unit, your leader, that has a full set of actions you can tap to activate. One of those actions is "Recruit". A Crew that you recruit typically has 1 action from your list it can do as an activated action, and management of your people resources is the major strategic element of the game. Exhaust too many, and people are likely to die during the night. Don't get enough done during the day, and you'll fall behind.

My question is on which flavor seems preferable to you:

Option 1 - There is only 1 pile, and that pile is "Crew". When you recruit Crew, they sometimes have items on them, and using that crew is using that item. Flavor being anything worth scavenging has been picked up by people at this point.

  • pros - Straight forward decision (1 pile to draw from). Preserves mechanic of "people are your resources". Limits complexity of having item combinations and decisions on whether or not to search for items versus people.
  • cons - Limits how you use items. Takes away the decision of going for an item verses a person. Not as flavorful. Fewer items would be designed.

    Option 2 - There is a pile for Items and Crew, and Scavenge allows you to pick from 1. Flavor being you are looking for something specific and you are likely to find 1 or the other.

  • pros - Allows a better variety of strategies to employ with mixed items/crew. More "authentic" zombie game flavor. More options for new mechanics. Allows players to focus on items or crew as their advantage.
  • cons - Adds another decision to the mix. Adds complexity to game.

    What things would you look for in the playtests to evaluate whether 1 was more successful than the other? Can you see any other pros and cons?

  • avalaunch
    avalaunch's picture
    Joined: 04/13/2012
    Do you have rules written

    Do you have rules written yet? I could get a better idea of the mechanics if you share the full set of rules with us.

    I usually prefer simple vs complex. Greater levels of complexity does not necessarily mean greater amounts of strategy. Go is a great example of an incredibly simple, but highly strategic game.

    How long is a game using Option 1 vs Option 2? If option 1 is 30 minutes, and option 2 is more than double that, I'd go with option 1. But I usually prefer shorter games, so bear that in mind.

    Other things to keep in mind: above all else, the fun factor. I'd pay attention to how long it's taking each person to act, and what the other players are doing during that time. Are they strategizing (good) or looking stuff up on their phones (bad)?

    If you're going to add separate items, keep them simple and abstract. Blasting zombies with my newly acquired shotgun sounds like fun. Tracking ammo does not. I have no problem with a game that makes a shotgun either last indefinitely (infinite bullets = fun), or only have 1 round in the chamber (more strategy on when to use = fun).

    Joined: 04/25/2012
    Thanks for the input. I am

    Thanks for the input.

    I am leaning toward the item play mode, and since I have play metrics on previous versions I should be able to whip out the ol' timer and see how much I've hosed my players. Was on the fence about accounting for ammo, but I do agree that tracking resources is not as much fun as shooting zombies in the face with a shotgun, so I'll probably just prototype out that version.

    I have an old version of the rules, but this next iteration changes a couple things pretty drastically, so I'll wait to post until I finish up this pass (should be next weekend). Its been 2 steps forward, 1 to 2 steps back a lot of the time, but I'm circling in on the feel and flow that I really want the game to have.

    Joined: 03/15/2012
    Decide on what mechanics are

    Decide on what mechanics are really worth keeping, and which can be dropped. You seem to have been using an Ammo mechanic - how extensive was that? Did players have to scavenge every bullet/clip, and then record each shot?
    You could easily do Ammo with a card-turn mechanic. Give each weapon between 1 and 4 ammo points and mark the cards Top:4, Left:3, Bottom:2, Right:1, Back:0 . Every time you fire the weapon, you expend 1 point of ammo and turn the card one turn clockwise. When you run out of ammo, turn the card over to signify that it can't be used. Then split up ammo based on size. Look up real info - what gun uses what sized ammo? If you find a matching ammo card, you return your card to the 'Full' position. Some weapons might even have very limited ammo, perhaps starting with a 2 at the top to only grant half as many shots.

    Look for ways to streamline the game at every possible point. If you can color-code items to save reading, you can shave 1-2 seconds off of every card draw. I have a Red gun, I just found Red ammo, yay - I can reload! Not "I have a gun that uses 9mm ammo, and I found a 9mm ammo card". If a mechanic is nitpicky, ditch it. Yeah, shotguns are cool, but if you want to talk about the rarity of ammo, make the shotgun a rare card (yeah, it's easy to find a shotgun, it's hard to find one that's *loaded* etc). If there's a lot of record keeping, consider streamlining your damage system so that heroes have 5HP, and use counters to signify wounds.

    Doing these little things will save your more time at less "flavor cost" than dropping a flavor-element altogether.

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