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Missions and Encounters

8 replies [Last post]
Joined: 12/01/2008

So my space opera game is coming along quite nicely. From a mechanics and gameplay standpoint, if feels like it is getting really close.

But... the parts I'm not entirely happy with, are the missions players can complete for VPs, and the planetary encounters they have to confront.

I think I need a fresh perspective to help generate new ideas.

Here is the feel I'm looking for.:
Players will have varied missions or tasks to do across the galaxy that will earn them VPs. Natural character abilities, your ship, and installed equipment will help or hinder different types of missions. Types of missions could be along the lines of exploration, scientific analysis, tech repair, cargo hauling, asteroid mining, piracy and criminal stuff, bounty hunting, rescue work, environmental work, etc, etc.

In addition, there is an over all story arc that involves defending the galaxy from an alien invasion. Right now this means dealing with the alien ships, and finding and installing lost ancient artifacts at special 'galactic defense planets' that were meant to protect the galaxy from that happening in the first place, but have failed. So there are tasks associated with this as well.

The other problem element is the exploration of planets.
The idea was that as a player got better scanning/exploration equipment, more and more planets could be explored. This would generate some kind of encounter or problem that would have to be resolved before any ancient artifacts could be recovered and the planet could be 'unlocked', possibly becoming a future spaceport.
The various encounters are stuff like, some kind of environmental problem, or imminent doom like a giant asteroid on a collision course, or an indigenous alien species that the player must either befriend or defeat, depending on their talents and equipment. These aliens might be low-tech and planet bound, or possibly have a space ship at that location. Or maybe they will be friendly only if you perform some kind of task (suspiciously similar to the missions mechanic)

So there is opportunity for a wide variety of possible things to be done to resolve an encounter, depending on what it is. Some encounters might require specialized equipment, or diplomacy skills, or character ground combat, or a space ship bristling with weapons, or maybe prior experience at a task, who knows?

Now, I have a system in place, and it works. But it seems somehow not very satisfying and uninspired. It may even have some complexity issues, or maybe is just unfocused, what with some similarity to the mission mechanic.

If need be, I can go into more detail about how it is currently set up, or I can detail the parts that are working really good (space ship and equipment mechanics, story arc, navigation), but I think it would be a big help for people to just throw ideas out there. Even just typing this out has renewed the creative juices a bit.

What would your ideas be concerning missions and encounter mechanics?

Relexx's picture
Joined: 05/31/2010
Complexity ... I hate it

If I am playing a card game or board game I want simple resolutions. The longer the break between my turns, the less likely I am to play the game. But this is my driver for a game, that and replay ability.

Joined: 05/21/2010

It sound as if your game is very open-ended, with a "how shall I conquer the galaxy today"-feeling.
Are there too many options for the player to get involved in?

(While I'm not very fond of games that limit my options too much, having played WOW for a few years I've yet to bring a character past level 25. -There's just too much roaming around to be done, which I think is a more fun way to play that game.)

Would a "victory condition" card (think Risk) help?
-Get all the VP you like, you can't win unless your VC is fulfilled.

Joined: 12/01/2008
The turns move pretty fast,

The turns move pretty fast, actually.

I'm mostly trying to change how I've implemented the availability, acceptance, and completion of missions, and also the resolution of planet encounters. It just feels... off. I feel like I need to look at things from a fresh perspective to make it better.

Specifically, non-alien encounters feel a lot like missions and overlap like that could indicate a design problem. The choice between befriending and (ground) combating an alien species seems hollow, and the current mechanic for befriending is entirely uninteresting.

Does it make sense what I'm asking? I was also trying to remain vague as to how it is currently implemented, so as not to steer anyone's brainstorms. However, perhaps I should go ahead an list it all out for context?

Relexx's picture
Joined: 05/31/2010
Quote:The choice between

The choice between befriending and (ground) combating an alien species seems hollow, and the current mechanic for befriending is entirely uninteresting.

Social mechanics are always hard ... Are you using different mechanics for all your scenarios, or the same mechanic with different stats?

Taavet's picture
Joined: 08/15/2008

I would say get some gaming groups to play it and provide feedback in regards to the issues you have. It could just be that they are unintersting to you although everyone else might love them? At any rate based on the information you have provided I would need more detail or examples of how/why it seems that way to you. Of course playing it would give me the best feel of the game where I could provide more focused feedback which is why I recommend playtesting.

Joined: 12/01/2008
Unfortunately, play-testing

Unfortunately, play-testing opportunities are quite limited where I live. For the time I am basically limited to an occasional, "Hey friend, I know you don't really play this kind of game, but play a few turns to help me test something."

Anyway, here's a few more details of the game mechanics so far, and what I'm considering changing. I was trying to avoid making such a long post, but here goes...

Overall: Fly around the galaxy exploring and doing missions, upgrade your ship and items. Pretty open-ended. Collect VPs to win, or do tasks associated with saving the galaxy from the evil invading aliens for an alternate victory.

Turn structure:
1) Each player draws a random event card. Various game effects for this turn.
2) Players at a planet get to accept a mission, gain a new upgrade item from what happens to be available at the moment, or acquire a new ship.
3) Move around the board, complete missions, fight, land at a planet.

Exploration: Requires a scanner value greater or equal to the planet you are trying to explore. Various equipment contributes to scanner score. Certain sub-class of planets are considered 'extreme environments' and require an additional special item. Successful exploration will trigger an encounter of some sort.

Combat: Without going into to much detail, you basically alternate turns rolling a single die for every weapon you have, trying to beat your opponent's defense score, and the weapon gives you a bonus. Hits on your ship put various ship items out of commission. Generally, 1 weapon does 1 hit, and the target gets to pick where the damage goes, but EXTRA damage (critical hit) is picked by the shooter, and this is a hefty bonus effect. There are some special weapon properties such as, extra damage, spend energy for an added effect, etc.
The way you have constructed your ship, the special offensive and defensive effects, energy management, and the allocation of damage add some depth to what would otherwise be a straight-forward 'add your bonus and roll to beat my score' mechanic. Combat resolution is pretty quick, especially so in the early game.
Character-to-character combat (ground combat) is similar, but much simplified and much faster. Also used to defeat an aliens species during a planetary encounter.

Items: Deck of small cards, of which a random selection is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Only available to a player when at an established colony. Random event cards will periodically reset what is currently available.

Missions: Currently handled just like items, and this duplicate mechanic doesn't work as well here. Also starts to become too many options for the player. I've tried tweaking this several ways, and it just seems broken.
Part of the issue, is that for items, generally a player knows what they are looking for, or the implications of a new particular items are pretty clear. New items come up, and it only take a couple seconds to process the info.
Whereas with the missions, it's a lot more fuzzy. The player has to find where on the map the mission is at, whether they meet the requirements to complete it, which they should do first, etc. It involves a lot more mental processing, and slows the game down. Especially so when the available ones get reset.
Missions are attached to specific planets. Players go there to accept it. Also, payers choose a planet they are at to become their current 'home base'. This will maybe confer some kind of special strategic ability or mission (Probably only allow 1 player at a time to claim a particular planet, and possibly have some way to oust a player.)
Randomness will come from which colonies have become unlocked via exploring, and possibly limiting some missions based on what other planets are unlocked. (Perhaps a cargo mission requires both ends to be unlocked, for example)
I want some kind of strategic interaction between what has been unlocked, what your special ability is, what missions are available, etc.

Encounters: Range from an alien species that needs to be conquered or befriended, to some kind of environmental disaster or hazard that needs to be fixed. Or the aliens may offer a mission that needs to be completed to pacify them. The choice of friends or foe was basically choosing a safe slow resolution vs. a risky quick resolution, also depending on equipment. Successful resolution will grant an artifact tech as a reward, as well as unlocking that planet.

Conquering: Character ground combat, as above. Possibly makes you criminal.
Befriending: Aliens have a social score. You must beat this number, adding in any beneficial social items you have.
This seems a bit lame, and is just another 'beat the score' mechanic but without all the other stuff that made the ship-to-ship combat interesting.
This area I'm more unsure of what to do here. Maybe some kind of 'required items/skill' to befriend? Like this alien requires skill A, another might require skill A, and B. Or maybe you have to gift them some commodity.
I think a conceptual change is in order too. Perhaps conquering should be the slower process? Like it has some risk, and you have to spend a few turns hunting all the hostile aliens, but you can be sure you will eventually prevail. Maybe negotiations require all sorts of specialized skills or items, but it is quicker and less riskier. Maybe it requires a task to be completed. Maybe the choice of friend or foe has some ramifications on the state of the planet after unlocking, as in what abilities/missions are available.
So when confronted with a difficult mission, a player might have to make a choice of whether to get bogged down in conquering, or try to gear up for the mission, or abandon the idea of unlocking this particular planet.

As far as randomness and re-playability, I could have the location of colony planets be random but with specific encounters, or the locations static and the encounters be random. I probably don't need both, and that may add too much complexity. Basically, I'm just looking for the 'field of play' to have different strategic implications from game to game.
Right now, I'm looking at fixed planets with random encounters.

Taavet's picture
Joined: 08/15/2008

For missions how about just color coding them or adding visual aids to help players identify what/where they need for the mission. Then they could look down their roster and see what they already have as well as where in the system it is with greater efficiency, especially after multiple plays of the game.

The encounters remind me a lot of playing Spore (video game). There was a lot of hype but after both my friend and I played it we just felt it was lacking. The social interactions were basically as you stated have Item A or Gift B or Perform C in order to befriend this species. Some were more likely to be friendly then others, and it was always easier for me to just attack and kill them off. After going through all the similar stages and basically playing the same game in different eras it got really bland. Once I got to space and created my town hall structure I stopped playing it.

I would recommend adding in a human element. Have the player to the left of the player with an encounter play on behalf of the Alien Species. Then use a RPS type interaction to have the players try to successfully socialize. Let's say player A has an 'easy' encounter. He has to befriend these aliens by gifting them either Item X or Item Y. The player to his left secretly selects Item Y as the appropriate gift. If player A presents Item X it is spent and the encounter is unsuccessfull but next time he will know it is Item Y. A harder encounter could involve 3 Items and so on. The same concept could be applied to meeting Skill requirements for success. A medium encounter could be presenting Gift A/B and meeting Skill S/T. Meeting skill requirements would have the benefit of not costing anything (although you could add a cost to performing a skill) while a gift would be accepted and lost whether it met the requirements or not (although you could make the gift refused).

Hope any of that helps.

Joined: 12/01/2008
Spore was a letdown for me as

Spore was a letdown for me as well.

It's good to bounce around ideas like this. While I was out getting a flat tire, I came up with some more social ideas.
What do think of having some kind of progression track where the player must accomplish 3 stages. First they have to pass intent, then common ground, and finally agreement. These could be listed on a social card.
They would roll, and if successful they could roll again on the next stage. If they fail a stage, then they have to wait until next turn to continue, but only have 2 turns to complete the track. If they can't even pass the first stage then the aliens have been offended and take you prisoner or something.
Improvement items could then do things like, grant you an extra turn, bonus to the roll, or start with a stage already completed. If you start with stage 1 complete then imprisonment is off the table, but maybe this would also require some kind of tribute. Similarly maybe an item has stage 2 complete but you still would have to pass stage 1 to get to it. Perhaps an ability gives you 1 reroll chance. I could even have some aliens be more or less difficult based on other things, like if the player is criminal, or has more or less VPs, or is associated with the main govt.
Possibly even make the progression track more varied, where a success or fail at any particular stage branches off, ultimately leading to different level rewards. Players may then weight speed vs. the ultimate goal. Do they want the better reward? Or are they just trying to unlock the planet?
If a player trys to conquer a species, then maybe they remain hostile for everyone. And then make a special ability to be able to bring them back to the negotiation table, so to speak.

Something like this could and more richness and variation, but I'll have to watch complexity.
Keep the brainstorms coming!

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