Thursday, January 10, 2008

Conjunction Junction (what's your function?)

Last month I posted about the possibility of using word building as a mechanic in a game that's not necessarily a word game. I've given it some thought and discussed it with a few members of BGDF, and now I've got an outline of a game which I think might not be bad at all. It's a connection game, with a light railroad theme, using word building as a way to lay track. The object of the game is to collect city tiles, which have letters on them in order to spell certain predefined (potentially thematic) words. The working title (thanks to Darkehorse from BGDF) is Conjunction Junction, which is not technically accurate, as we're not using conjunctions to make sentences, but it's got a nice ring to it, and really evokes both words and trains :)

The bullet list of important points in this game is...

  • People who are good at word building should be able to excel at this game.
  • People who are NOT good at word building but who are good at connection (or perhaps economic) games should also be able to excel at this game.
  • There needs to be a point to building words, rather than word building for the sake of word building.

The basic structure of the game is relatively simple. Imagine a hex grid, with certain hexes indicated as cities. This is not unlike Railroad Tycoon or Age of Steam. In fact, let's just go ahead and imagine the Railroad Tycoon board. Now imagine the pile of hex tiles from RRT, only with letters on them. Also imagine the New City tiles from RRT, only more of them, and they have letters on them too. We'll call the lettered track tiles "letter tiles" and the New City tiles "City tiles". The City tiles are stacked on the cities, All the S's on one city, all the F's on another, etc.

Over the course of the game, players lay track to connect cities, collecting the City Tiles from those cities. In the end these City tiles are used to spell words on a card, and the winner is the player that spells the most, or the biggest, word on the card. Something like that.

Along the edge of the board there are a number of bins. The bottom one is empty, and the rest have pairs of randomly drawn letter tiles in them. On your turn you may choose to either get tiles or use tiles. If you get tiles then you pay money - you put $1 in the empty bin and take whatever is in the next bin for free... Or you put $1 on that bin as well (with the 2 letters), and take the contents of the third bin. When you take a bin, you get everything in it - the 2 letters and any money that happens to be with them, then the contents of each bin above that one slide down. You can actually take the first bin and just get money (nothing slides down in that case, there are never letters in that first bin).

If you choose to use tiles then you either place letter tiles on the board to spell a word and get paid $1 per letter you place, or lay generic track (from an off-board supply, like in Railroad Tycoon) at the cost of $1 per tile you place. In either case, you must place tiles from one city to another, and then you take a City tile off of either of the 2 connected cities.

That's the basic structure of the game. I've been having a steady stream of thoughts about the specifics...

It would be interesting if there were incentives to build off your network as opposed to willy-nilly all over the board. One idea is that you could have multiple networks, but building gets more expensive if you do. The advantage to building onto your existing network in that case is cost. Perhaps the standard cost to use tiles is ($1/network - $1), so no extra cost if you just have 1 network, $1 extra if you have two networks, etc.

I think there might also be a warehousing cost, like $1 to save tiles after building... and/or whenever you get tiles you pay $1 if you already have any.

I just need to be sure that taking cash and paying for track isn't strictly better than building words, and I also don't want it to be strictly worse. One of my design goals for the game is that a word builder and a non word builder should both be able to play and be competitive.

I was also thinking that you could maybe 'sell' tiles for $1 apiece, because what if you take 2 tiles, only need 1, and are stuck with the other... Do you have to warehouse it every turn until you can use it? Do you have to discard it? Are you allowed to sell it for $1? Maybe selling for $1 is fair.

Tough to use letters could have a coin pictured on them, meaning you get an extra $ for using that letter.

I think there needs to be a connection bonus or else $2/tile for building a word, or you're basically losing money. You'll get tiles for an average of probably about $1 per tile, so if you place them for $1/tile then you're not making progress... but maybe that's ok.

Discussing this game in the chat, Nando had the following to say:
10/01/2008 15:29:08 ‹Nando› freaking. complicated.
10/01/2008 15:29:17 ‹Nando› for a word game anyway

It's not really a word game. Word games are about making words for the sake of making words. This is a connection game with word building as the main mechanic :)

Of course, since I started writing this post, Doho123 has come up with a very interesting alternate format for the game, which has a lot of good things in it (though I don't know if I'm entirely sold yet). Curse you Scott! :)

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