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Help! Refining a traitor idea

17 replies [Last post]
Joined: 05/19/2013

My game is semi-cooperative. The game can end in either Peace or Civil War. The players are working together to try to achieve the Peace ending, however there is a twist.

Throughout the game players can get cards with Corruption on them. Only you know what your Corruption level is. You don't know how corrupt the other players are, or if they are even corrupt at all.

Players can secretly devote their efforts to Peace or Civil War. At the end of the game, everyone reveals their corruption levels.

If the game ended in Peace, everyone wins except for the most corrupt player - he loses! On the other hand, if the game ended in Civil War, the most corrupt player wins and everyone else loses!

I have been working on this design for a while, and parts of it are very good. However there are is a big problem.

Problem #1 If all the players work towards Peace, or it looks like Peace is inevitable, everyone will race to get rid of their Corruption, and whoever unluckily has just a bit more Corruption than everyone else will be the only loser, even though he was trying to help Peace.

There is a similar problem on the other side:

Problem #2 If all the players work towards Civil War or decide that Civil War is inevitable, everyone will race to be the most Corrupted.

The game works best when there is suspense until the last few turns about whether there will be Peace or War. So that players position themselves to take advantage of either scenario, and don't race to be super-corrupt or super-pure.

So can you think of a way to balance this and prevent the "runaway train" scenarios?

Thanks in advance!

RGaffney's picture
Joined: 09/26/2011
you are the gamemaster here,

you are the gamemaster here, far be it from me to second guess what you see as a problem, but I think those problems work thematically.

Imagine a burgeoning utopia where everything is going great and everyone is happy, but one person is a bit cynical, selfish, unemployed, whatever... LOSER! He is ruining everything!

Contrariwise, imagine a total wild west dystopia, everyone is out for themselves, and is some kind of scoundrel or another. In walks a guy who is no saint, but ain't never killed a man. How long is he going to last in the war that's coming? He better get hardened and fast!

You still have suspense, it's just not suspense about what it's usually about. I rather like that

But if you are dead set on preventing it I suppose there are some powerful options that could be incorporated. we are going towards peace everyone is trying to purify, so I decide to bomb the consulate! Everything is going towards war, but I balance the sides just enough to create a Mexican standoff and nobody fires. Peace after all, is not a feeling.

Joined: 01/30/2012
Weighting turns

Sounds like an interesting game idea.

It sounds like the problem is that the last few turns can play too large of a role, meaning that the first part of the game loses importance - why commit to being corrupt early on if you can always wait until the last few turns when the civil war option is more certain?

Try coming up with a way to add more weight to a player's early game moves; that is, make his first decision to become corrupt worth more "corruption points" than the second time he chooses it. If he sees that the game is leaning towards peace, he may try to un-corrupt himself, but the late-game corruption/non-corruption decisions don't carry much weight and so require many turns to undo the corruption caused early on.

One way to do this is by having guys stack up their corruption cards, or keep them in an immutable line. At the end of the game, you can have each corruption card worth x points, where x is its position within the line. The first played of ten corruption cards is worth 10 points, the last played is only worth 1. That means that you could amass 27 points, say, by choosing corruption for the first 3 turns (10+9+8). If you then decide to un-corrupt yourself, it would require you to choose the 'pure/non-corrupt' option for the next 6 turns (7+6+5+4+3+2). Obviously, you could play around with the weights of turns (i.e. first three turns are all worth 5, next three are worth 4, next 3 are worth 3, etc), or on how many turns are involved.

What is a player's motivation to have their agenda be hidden? How much control does an individual player have over the final peace/civil war decision? The reason I ask is because I foresee a dominant strategy simply being committing to a totally corrupt (or totally peaceful) decision right at the start. If someone else does this strategy, then you should simply do the opposite and go totally peaceful. Everyone else who hesitates or delays will lose. It just seems like there is really no reason to "wait and see" if peace is going to happen.

Is it possible to have another spectrum at work? Instead of simply being a decision between peace and war, maybe there could also be a balance between anarchy and fascism, or capitalism and socialism, or magic and machinery. Having a 2nd spectrum opens up the game space to allow 4 different possible end-states, meaning that all-in-from-the-get-go strategies would have a smaller chance of being successful, forcing player to be more strategic and veiled in their secret machinations to sway the final outcome.

How do players secretly influence the outcome? Is the current peace/war status known each turn, or is that something that only gets revealed at the end of the game?

Sounds like it has potential!

JackBurton's picture
Joined: 04/16/2013
I think Werhner has proposed

I think Werhner has proposed a good variation in incrementing possible final endings.

To give more interest on first phases and avoid your problems you could force players to reveal their Corruption Level at regular intervals; a side effect is that players could be incited to follow the Civil War way, specially if one of the player are trying to achieve it.
You can discourage this by letting remove Corruption playing, for example, some special cards against another player: this way it is more likely to convince them to cooperate then to lonely follow the "bad" way.

Joined: 03/07/2013
Another idea might be to

Another idea might be to limit the number of peace/corruption points needed to win, that way you don't have any losers in a peace game. Or maybe make it a seesaw type deal where war points are balanced by peace points.

It's a tough wall you're up against. I ran a similar problem. I really hope you find a solution!

Joined: 05/19/2013
I tried a version where all

I tried a version where all pro-Peace players win in the Peace ending, and all pro-War players win in the War ending, but that made the game too symmetrical, with no difference between the two sides. What I really want is the asymmetry of traitor games, where everyone "looks" like they are working towards Peace, but a player can secretly be working to undermine the group.

"How do players secretly influence the outcome?"

Every player has a different role. I'll give two examples:

1. There is a player whose role is, he draws 2 Event cards and looks at them. Then he chooses one to play and the other is discarded without anybody else being able to see it. The cards always have bad effects that move the game closer to War unless the players spend resources. So this player can always play the "least harmful" card, to try to preserve peace. Or he can play the MOST harmful card while lying: "Sorry, but the other card was even worse."

2. There is a Mission every turn, and one player's role is to nominate a team to deal with it. If the mission succeeds the game moves towards Peace, otherwise towards War. As in "The Resistance" and "Battlestar Galactica" every player on the team contributes one facedown card, these are all shuffled together and then revealed. The players on the team can either contribute "good" cards that help to beat the mission, or they can contribute "sabotage" cards that cause the mission to fail.

So these are some examples of how a player can secretly influence the game towards either War or Peace without the other players being certain that they are a traitor or pure.

"What is a player's motivation to have their agenda be hidden?"

Every player wants the other players to THINK they are working for Peace. If you OPENLY work towards War, you are signaling that you are the most Corrupted player. The other players would have an incentive to all work together for Peace so that they will win and you will lose. For example, if you have the Event role, and you are too obvious about always picking the worst Event, the other players will vote to remove you from that role and give it to someone else. (Each of the roles has to pass a "vote of confidence" each turn otherwise you are ousted from the role).

"I foresee a dominant strategy simply being committing to a totally corrupt (or totally peaceful) decision right at the start."

Don't you think this would be risky? If you are much more corrupt or much less corrupt than the other players, then you're very inflexible and can't react to position yourself on the "right" side in the late game.

Joined: 05/19/2013
By the way I really like your

By the way I really like your idea about simply choosing a "Corrupt" or "Loyal" card every turn and having it add up at the end of the game with early-turn decisions weighted more heavily. It's very elegant and simple :)

kpres's picture
Joined: 04/20/2013
Add risk, remove uncorrupting.

How does a person become less corrput? In life, you can't retroactively change the decisions you made in the past. If you made a corrupt decision, then it dogs you for the rest of your life. If you get rid of the mechanic that lets people become less corrupt, then that takes away one of your problems: people getting rid of corruption towards the end of the game.

In terms of having people race to gain corruption in the late game, that seems like a problem that could be solved by adding some kind of drawback to racing. Make it more risky in the late game. For example, you could add a "detective" card, a risky peace-driven card that lets you determine whether or not a particular opponent is trying to become more corrupt. If that player is, and you use the card, then that player suffers. If that player isn't, and you use the card, then you suffer. Being exposed as a corrupt person could severely limit a player's capabilities.

Joined: 05/19/2013
That sounds like a good idea

That sounds like a good idea as well... thanks for the suggestion!

Joined: 08/14/2008
One idea that occurs to me is

One idea that occurs to me is that you could have an unpredictable end-game condition, like a card that comes up somewhere in the second shuffle of a draw deck, where you know "about" when the game is going to end but not exactly when, making it difficult to "race toward corruption" or "race toward peace".

Also, I really like your game idea.

Edit: I'm not sure if I explained myself clearly above. I mean to say that there could be some mechanic that ends the game at an unpredictable time such that the players don't know exactly when the game will end. The players might have some idea of approximately when the game will end, but they'll be unsure if they have, say, one more turn or three more turns. This can be accomplished in a a number of different ways. One such way is to have a "Game Over" card that gets shuffled into some deck at a certain point. Another way is to have some sort of dice roll with increasing odds as the game goes on. I'm sure there are others that you could incorporate into the mechanics of your game if you wanted.

Matt201's picture
Joined: 12/29/2010
Loving this idea so

Loving this idea so far!!

With the two examples you gave, it was how the "game" became more corrupt, but how does each individual player gain corruption points?

You also mentioned missions. What do they do? Are they merely ways to change corruption levels, or do players receive something for completing/not completing them.

To stop the runaway train effect, like somebody mentioned have a secondary objective, but perhaps in a different way. Say each player is trying to build a city. An option may overall lead to a more corrupt environment, but helps your city grow. Obviously that's just basic, but the idea that to go corrupt to do good things, as opposed to going corrupt to be corrupt will *possibly* keep things closer, so that if peace-time is achieved, the "most-corrupt" player won't be so obvious...

GenWash's picture
Joined: 07/31/2012
An idea I haven't seen

An idea I haven't seen mentioned yet: Forgiveness.
Especially if every player is (supposedly) choosing the lesser (or greater) of two evils frequently during the game. If you suspect someone is trying to be corrupt, there could be a way for you to officially forgive, thus nullifying some of his corruption, which could either be good or bad for him.

MoldtDK's picture
Joined: 06/19/2013
The biggest problem I have in

The biggest problem I have in games where there is a traitor is that it is never YOUR choice. I know that to keeo the game exciting most games just hand out cards randomly and while that works well, I am a huge fan of giving players a choice. Let the corruption show by having different events motivate a player in a certain direction.

An example of what I don't like:

I sit down to play a game and knowing what it is about (either from reading the rules or having played it before) I start thinking about what I would like to do in the game and what role I would like. But then the game TELL me how I should play. It is no longer my choice. I am forced to do bad things because I have too many devil counters or evil cards. That ruins the game for me. Because I love CHOICE. If I want to stab all of my friends in the back and grab the victory for myself then I'll want to do it because I saw a chance to do it and not because the game told me to do it.

So how to give a player this choice?

Well the trouble is that you'll probably have a game where you either win a shared victory of Peace or a single victory of war. But how do you make the choice difficult?

My suggestion would be to make it extremely hard to achieve peace. If the players won't work together then they all lose. But then wouldn't all be pro-war you ask? Not if war can both be good and bad.

Imagine that Peace is a hard to earn goal that the group can get, but ONLY through hard work.

The other side is war and in war there always is two sides. So if you decide to go for the war, the you probably also want YOUR side to win. What if the other side in the conflict is a lot stronger too? That would also make the goal for peace stronger as it would be the home of the player characters at stake. But those who are pro war will seek to give their army a fighting chance.

I am not sure it will be a regular traitor in this sense, however it will create choice and if both peace and war is hard to do and win then players will be forced to work together regardless of motivations and end-game goals. And only in the final rounds will players begin to openly fight for their shared victory or the single war breakout

Matt201's picture
Joined: 12/29/2010
What decides whether it is

What decides whether it is peace or war?

oneMeVz's picture
Joined: 06/08/2013
I'm not sure how this game

I'm not sure how this game would play, but I immediately thought that the end victory (Peace/Civil War) would be kept unknown throughout the game.

Joined: 11/12/2012
In that case it would be a

In that case it would be a coinflip as to or not your strategy is viable. An hour of play that ca be negated due to being unlucky, yeah that sounds like a bad idea.

A couple of possibilities that i came up with to deal with the problem

Players choose two cards from one "pack" then discard one of the two face-down, then pass the remainder of the pack down to the next player, . After all the cards are drafted players can now play their chosen cards.
The big advantage here is that players have the chance to hide their corruption level better, They can pick a card with a high corruption level and discard one with a low level in order to keep the opponents guessing. A second advantage would be that it becomes easier to react to what othe players are doing. and pre-emptively strike by taking away those cards.

Cursed treasure:
During the course of the game players can collect gold and diamonds. These are two sided pieces on the back side of each piece it shows a positive or a negative number, this is your total corruption level during the course of the game (diamonds have more positive numbers on them than gold pieces). In the course of the game you can spend some of your treasure. Treasure is spend face down and all diamonds are worth the same regardless of what number is on the backside.

Themewise this would make sense, you can't see where a diamond comes from but players know wheter if they bought it from the black market or if it is a family herloom.

The advantage of this idea is that players can now control their own corruption level or repent their sins, as well as give everyone a general idea of the what corruption the rest is on.

Matt201's picture
Joined: 12/29/2010
oneMeVz wrote:I'm not sure

oneMeVz wrote:
I'm not sure how this game would play, but I immediately thought that the end victory (Peace/Civil War) would be kept unknown throughout the game.

The only way I can see it working is you have a predefined number of turns, and at the end of the game everybody reveals their corruption level. You add them all together, and if total corruption is greater than a set value it is war, and if it is under it is peace.

This way, nobody knows whether it will be peace or war until after the game ends. The challenge in making the game is allowing players to corrupt themselves (and I assume eachother) without letting the other players know that you're doing it. You want to avoid a "counting cards" scenario where players are simply keeping track of how corrupt the others are.

Not giving it any great length of thought, I imagine the easiest way to do this is to have a 'secret card' round, where players play cards without showing what the card says. This involves honesty on the players' part, and you would also have to implement other things that cards do, to keep everyone else guessing...

Joined: 07/03/2013
Some thoughts

While I like the overall concept, it is difficult to pull off the balance. I feel your pain, bud.

Now, some thoughts on the game:
-If all cards played aren't secret, perhaps include a penalty for playing corrupt cards/having them in hand. Make the corrupt player have to go to jail, work to cover up the conspiracy, etc. causing them to lose actions and resources. Now corruption has a cost, and perhaps the players vying for peace should get a benefit from public actions (extra cards drawn, reduced suspicion), but rewards in terms of influencing the actions of other players would not be balanced, or thematically appropriate. I suppose that my thought process could be summed up thusly: the good guys get more resources from the game, while the corrupt players get them from other players, though if they're suspected, someone could "launch an investigation", etc. hurting their mobility.
-There should be a mechanic where the peaceful players give up something to work for peace, leaving them weaker than others who might be self-interested. Make peaceful public actions cost a lot (because they do; charity is expensive!).
-Create a mechanic where players work together publicly as well. Perhaps a good guy needs help to accomplish an objective, so he asks a player to help. If they're corrupt, but fear the consequences of being found out, they might contribute, and it could give them a way to look good while secretly conspiring.

Anyways, those are all thoughts that you can toy around with in your mind. To me, the most important thing is to have ideas so that I can be more fluid with my own thinking and develop my own solution. But I need others to provide ideas to start with, you know?

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