Skip to Content

What does a fish know of water? Avoiding design patterns?

14 replies [Last post]
ringkichard
ringkichard's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2013

Does anyone else ever feel kinda railroaded by their own knowledge of popular systems in existing games? There are some very popular mechanics that are always kind of assumed to be How Things Work. It's hard for me to think clearly about the new problems when there are already very popular one-size-fits-most solutions. I can give a couple of examples.

- Hit Points and Damage. This is the super common method of modeling injury, and it's... fine, I guess? But it's hard to think of alternatives to it. It's really popular in videogames, D&D, wargames, M:tG, etc, but it carries a really specific game feel and is maybe over applied? To use a video game example, Mario used an extra lives and checkpoint system, and the mushroom & flower powerups. And it's become more HP driven over time. What if it went in the other direction?

- Sequential Resolution. The big source of this is Magic: the Gathering, obviously, but I see it in a lot of other games. My worker scores a VP "before" being removed, e.g. There are other systems to resolve simultaneous play, like trump suits, initiative (which maybe also is boxing out out alternitives), actual physical speed, etc. To return to the example, are there other ways to say that my worker has an effect "despite" being removed?

- Triggers. "When this happens, do the other thing." There are a lot of games that build interaction out of listeners and events and it can feel like I'm in an object oriented coding environment. Often the way to play the game well is to carefully examine how these triggers will interact with one another and find chains that will accomplish large tasks from small parts. And that's often fun, but it always feels kinda like I've played this game before, now I'm just making new content for it. There's got to be other ways of creating interaction, but this one springs onto the blank page so easily.

I wanna be clear that I'm not saying that these things are not fun, or that the games that use them are bad. More like these sorts of systems became the defaults and now it's harder to even notice that there could be alternatives.

In some ways, it's helpful to have these defaults, because it offloads complexity from the rules onto a player's pre-existing experience, but the defaults aren't always right for every game and it's hard to think around them. If I'm trying to make a game less demanding of prior player knowledge, to make it "accessable", I want to maybe try some other way of handling a common mechanical theme. But knowing that theme inside and out makes it harder to think of alternatives. What does a fish know of water?

I also sort of wonder if these design patterns are why some people really dislike "accessable" games that use alternatives. To a new player, the accessible one is just simpler. But to someone steeped in the mechanical canon, it feels like reinventing the wheel. Why not just use HP instead of doing this other thing that only this one game does?

X3M
X3M's picture
Offline
Joined: 10/28/2013
I think that the main reason

I think that the main reason for designers to use health is that it gives so many more possibilities in the design of a game.
It has also many balancing advantages over 'not' using health tracking.

The main disadvantage of health tracking, is the health tracking itself.
That's it, I don't know of any other disadvantage.

I do know of a replacement though in the form of using dice only. But I bet that this is the second most used mechanic after health tracking.

If you really want to refrain from health. Perhaps design a game, then remove health and see what can replace it. Maybe the game works without health?

questccg
questccg's picture
Online
Joined: 04/16/2011
I've heard of something else

I'm not sure what game does this, but I remember see or reading something about a "Card Game" using the "Deck of Cards" as your life-points. I think it was a game about "parachuting to your death" (maybe?!)

Anyway I think the game ended when one of the players goes "splattt!!!".

Not sure anymore... I remember seeing that it was cool concept about using cards but at the same time losing "life" as you did so.

Was something unique. Maybe you could explore something along those lines.

ringkichard
ringkichard's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2013
questccg wrote:I'm not sure

questccg wrote:
I'm not sure what game does this, but I remember see or reading something about a "Card Game" using the "Deck of Cards" as your life-points. I think it was a game about "parachuting to your death" (maybe?!)

Maybe you're thinking of James Ernest's Falling? It is, indeed a real time card game about falling to your death. It's a small genre! The only other game I can think of right now in that same thematic niche is the video game AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! — A Reckless Disregard for Gravity.

Falling https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/169328/falling-revised-edition

AaAaAA!!!
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AaAaAA!!!_–_A_Reckless_Disregard_for_Gravity

TokH
TokH's picture
Offline
Joined: 05/04/2016
What exactly falls under the

What exactly falls under the hit points and damage category? Netrunner, for example, arguably uses hit points and damage, but it's tightly coupled with your player hand/hand size. When you take damage, you discard a card. If you don't have a card to discard, you have no health left and die. Does this break the mold, or fall under the HP/damage category?
I think there was a game I remember from somewhere where when you took "damage" you flipped your character card over to the "wounded" side and had some temporary penalty.

I have no idea where to go to get away from sequential resolution and triggers. I feel like triggers are a necessary component of a system where the players have to push the cogs to make the engine run. We have to declare the phases of the game and trigger the events of each one. Engine building games definitely take this to the extreme, though.

I think, like you said, building on pre-existing experiences offloads complexity and lets you play with other systems in your game without it being overwhelmingly complex and unfamiliar. When you diverge from these systems, your game has to be distilled in a way because the base mechanics are adding their own elements of complexity and new pieces to learn. This could be why experienced players don't like them as much, because once they get a grasp on that system, there might not be a lot of complexity and interest left.

questccg
questccg's picture
Online
Joined: 04/16/2011
Hmm... Not sure about that

ringkichard wrote:
Maybe you're thinking of James Ernest's Falling?

Not quite sure... The game I was thinking about (or had previously seen) was that a Deck was being used and you needed to worry "about your deck running out of cards"...

Seems like it would be something different than "Falling".

But for the life of me, I can't remember any details concerning the name of the game.

What I can CLEARLY remember is that either there was one deck or each player had their own deck and cards were uses as life points. When you run out of cards, you run out of life points and are "dead". "Falling" doesn't seem to have that kind of mechanic... I also don't remember the need for a player to have to draw cards, I think players did this by themselves...

I highly think it's ANOTHER "Card Game"...

Update: From what I can remember is that the game was NOT "real-time", it was turn-based ... It might have been a NEW design too... Because it just doesn't seem like "Falling". That seems to be the only game out there where you are "falling from the sky" ... but the reality, it could have been another design...

It had to be "turn-based" because otherwise it would be very difficult to avoid cheating or "not losing" in a "real-time" game...

ringkichard
ringkichard's picture
Offline
Joined: 01/16/2013
TokH wrote:What exactly falls

TokH wrote:
What exactly falls under the hit points and damage category? Netrunner, for example, arguably uses hit points and damage, but it's tightly coupled with your player hand/hand size. When you take damage, you discard a card. If you don't have a card to discard, you have no health left and die. Does this break the mold, or fall under the HP/damage category?
I think there was a game I remember from somewhere where when you took "damage" you flipped your character card over to the "wounded" side and had some temporary penalty.

There's also HeroClix, where there's sorta hit points, but they're tied to character powers.

Quote:
I have no idea where to go to get away from sequential resolution and triggers. I feel like triggers are a necessary component of a system where the players have to push the cogs to make the engine run. We have to declare the phases of the game and trigger the events of each one. Engine building games definitely take this to the extreme, though.

One thing I was thinking of--that actually comes from M:tG also, but is rarely used there--is substitution rather than triggers. Triggers tend to be written with the idea that If A Then B. Substitution and addition have similar results, but are implemented as, when you A, instead (or also) B.

To give an example of why this matters: suppose we want to make a card that increases small VP gains. We could write it as, "If you gain 1 VP, gain 1 VP." The problem is kinda obvious: it will trigger itself. If we use substitution, we instead have, "When you would gain 1 VP, instead you gain 2 VP."

This is sort of a contrived example, because no one would actually write the first trigger that way. The method though, is to layer substitutions onto a single event so that each applies once but they don't cause uncontrollable loops. For example, an engine builder about exploring a house.

0 - You plan a move action. You have 3 bonuses:
1- Lamplighter. Your actions which move also switch a light.
2- First Impression. Your actions which switch a light also search.
3- Ransack. Your actions which search also move.

This doesn't form a loop. Your action already has move. It's not a trigger, it's a modification. All the modifications to the action are done now.

This is sort of the minimum possible departure from IF THEN triggers, but I'm sure that much larger changes are possible.

Quote:
I think, like you said, building on pre-existing experiences offloads complexity and lets you play with other systems in your game without it being overwhelmingly complex and unfamiliar. When you diverge from these systems, your game has to be distilled in a way because the base mechanics are adding their own elements of complexity and new pieces to learn. This could be why experienced players don't like them as much, because once they get a grasp on that system, there might not be a lot of complexity and interest left.

I kinda think that's... upsetting? The people who maybe should be the best audience for a new and complex game experience are pushed away from the most available sources of novel complexity and into games that aren't actually much more complex for them because most of the systems are immediately recognizable.

polyobsessive
polyobsessive's picture
Offline
Joined: 12/11/2015
ARC

questccg wrote:
What I can CLEARLY remember is that either there was one deck or each player had their own deck and cards were uses as life points. When you run out of cards, you run out of life points and are "dead".

Quite a few games have used decks as health. One group of examples is WotC's "Arc System" games from the late 90's (including the Xena and Hercules CCGs), which played in a broadly similar way to Magic: The Gathering, but instead of having separate life points, you discarded cards from your deck when you took damage. I rather liked these games for their speed and simplicity.

questccg
questccg's picture
Online
Joined: 04/16/2011
Good Stuff!

polyobsessive wrote:
Quite a few games have used decks as health... I rather liked these games for their speed and simplicity.

@Rob: thanks for point those out... I knew I've seen something somewhere. It's good to know that there are several sources for this kind of "Health" meter (so-to-speak).

Cheers!

Jarec
Offline
Joined: 12/27/2013
I had a somewhat similar card

I had a somewhat similar card based health tracking system. It was a dungeon crawling romp with a health track that you'd put your damage cards on to.
When your turn came, you'd read the whole tracker from left to right to see the effects of damage you had, and when you got to the first empty spot on it, it would tell how enemies reacted to your condition and you'd move them accordingly.
It was one of the few aspects of the project that actually worked right out of the gate.

I think these weirder systems and just plain HP both have their places of course. I feel that binary HP has much more heroic feel to it as your character can act as normal to the bitter end. While the other has some debilitating effects to it, more suited for grim and depressing survival style games.

gxnpt
Offline
Joined: 12/22/2015
hit points

Let us not forget the fatigue/damage split hit points method.

I used "capability units" on ships in my singularity games and the Sky Pirates thing uses cargo for both hit points and expendable attacks.

Triggering methods - movement intercept interrupting movement and leading to combat at that location is about all I have used in my own designs.

Experimental Designs
Experimental Designs's picture
Offline
Joined: 04/20/2013
I had a method that used dice

I had a method that used dice instead of cards on your character sheet for an experimental RPG some years ago. It's been shelved since I felt it was too clunky even for an RPG.

Your character's ability to do combat and cast magic was based how much dice is put into their sheet. The more dice, the less they can do. The object is you want less dice on the sheet and more in your hand to roll.

Your D6s are your least capability, D8s are basic capability and D10s are your best capability with the few D20s as your critical capability that can do permanent or lingering effects.

Fatigue starts to draw from your D20s and you work your way down barring some feats and abilities that can offset by letting you keep at least one die of a certain side. Where this gets interesting is injuries. If you're injured you're less likely to defend and attack versus being uninjured.

The difference is, you get your dice back when your character takes a reprieve and rests a little where as injuries the dice does not come back until you're healed. I even made it where if you can lose a limb if a nat 20 is rolled on your character which can more or less take your character out of the story or limit their full potential.

You put the appropriate number of dice as well as the certain sides onto the sheet to modifier things such as movement speed, attack, defense and other strenuous actions. Some of your stats dictated how much dice you get back and so on.

It worked well in theory but in execution, it needed a lot of work.

That's how I handled my own variation of hit points and damage.

X3M
X3M's picture
Offline
Joined: 10/28/2013
Is there not more?

I was hoping to see more on this subject.

Here is the one and only replacement that I can think of. And has already come to mind by everyone, no doubt about it:

In some war games, you have to destroy an army by going through the number of pieces. It is as if the army itself has health points.
The only down side to this is that super big armies need another way of tracking in the form of chits or something.

WillRoss1
Offline
Joined: 08/04/2018
It's tempting to try and

It's tempting to try and avoid design patterns and make something completely unique, but unless I have a really good reason to or think of a really good alternative I just don't. Usually, if I go away from the accepted standard it's because it naturally developed that way and it just makes sense in the context of the game. Modifying things just to avoid these mechanics often leads to awkward, confusing, contrived gameplay.

Just remember, these patterns are there for a reason. They work. People like them. They are general enough that they do not really decrease the uniqueness of your game (nobody can really say you made a knock off of magic because you used health points). They are familiar and players instantly understand how they fit into the framework of the game.

Just my two cents

Mensian
Mensian's picture
Offline
Joined: 08/14/2018
cards instead of HP

I read the rules of a game where there were more (8 I think), numbered character cards, arranged like a deck, with only the topmost (highest number) card visible/active. Each card represented different health conditions of a player. There were different stats printed on each of those cards, along with handicaps (e.g. cannot use magic if severely injured). When a character suffers damage, discard the top card (or more cards), and when healed, put it back.
This way, you can track "leveling up" too: on level 1 use cards numbered 1-5, but on level 5 use 5-9, and so on.

On the cards you could print hearths if a character can take more hits in actual health condition.

"Common" hit causes 1 hearth to take off,
"Serious" hit takes 2 hearths, and
"Devastating" hit takes 3.

Syndicate content


forum | by Dr. Radut