Friday, February 26, 2010

Red Colony... revisited

I've been revisiting my old idea for a game about colonizing Mars in a realistic way, according to the Mars Direct project or The Case For Mars. I would like to work on this game and see if I can't get a ruleset and maybe a prototype of it going.

Today in BGDF Chat I was talking about this idea, and Scott Slomiany had some suggestions on the topic. Some of his suggestions would really take the game in a different direction that I wanted to go, but one of them seemed very interesting. His main point was that the game should focus on the time involved getting things to and from Mars. Now, my vision for the game does not revolve around that, however it does include that aspect because in my game one of the major concerns is what resources you will be receiving from your rocket each turn, which automatically makes trips between Earth and Mars... these trips do take time, and a major aspect of the game is supposed to be configuring your ship so it brings you the right stuff, such that you have to change that configuration (and you will have to change more than once) as few times as possible. This is related to the time and effort it takes to get back and forth between the 2 planets, but it's fairly peripheral.

Scott suggested also that the game be about the political machinations involved in getting such a project going. Maybe you need a country's government to support your project, and over time that country's interest in it will wane, which would be bad - so you have to keep them interested over time. Now a variation of this idea I could see fitting nicely into my game as it comes together. Here's how I think it could work...

I mentioned resources that your rocket will cart up to Mars for you on a regular basis. I expect there will be several resources (7 or 8 maybe), and at any given time you'll only be able to bring up 3 or 4 different types (and some limited number of each). Perhaps those resources cost money, and you have investors who are funding your project. So your investors' interest in your project is directly related to your resource income. Over time, as the investors start to lose interest in the project, their investment lessens - either they give you less money with which to bu resources each round, or you simply get to take fewer units of resources (abstracting the money out) each round. In order to re-invigorate your investors' interest in the project, you have to hit certain milestones... Oh look! You've finished the Terraformer and have successfully started to warm the planet! Oh, now you've begun to grow crops on a Martian farm! Hey, you've successfully mined some Deuterium — an extremely expensive but essential fuel for the nuclear power industry! Whatever. When you achieve these milestones, whatever they are, then your investors reset to full value, allowing you to collect more resources each round to use.

To complicate matters for the player, to some extent I expect there to be something of a race to upgrade your operation and start hauling people up to the colony. However with the way the investors work, you may not really want to hit several milestones all in a row. Doing so may 'waste' the investors' interest, and later in the game you might take so long to hit another milestone that you will be resource starved for a while. So in order to maintain an efficient resource income, you might need to pace milestones - but at the same time, you might be racing your opponents.

Hmm, I just thought of something else to add to this - perhaps the Milestones are a first-come, first-served sort of thing, so you are literally racing your opponents to the Milestones, while also trying to pace them out to maintain your income.

One last piece of this puzzle that I think would fit well is this...
"Mars may be a profitable place... it may contain concentrated supplies of metals of equal or greater value to silver which have not been subjected to millennia of human scavenging and may be sold on Earth for profit"
That quote from the wikipedia article I linked earlier implies that perhaps a player could invest in mining these metals, which wouldn't otherwise help his position, but the profits from those metals would insulate that player from the ill effects of losing investors.

Ok, this just popped into my head, and might be worthwhile or might be garbage:
Suppose each player begins the game with maybe 4 investor tiles. Each investor allows a player to collect 1 type of resource, and their individual interest level indicates how much of that resource you can collect. I suspect the types would not be directly connected to the investors, just that each player can collect 1 type of resource per investor.

Let's say there are 7 or 8 different investors, and each player has 4 at random, so some will overlap. Each investor could have an Interest Meter track or dial, and over time it will slowly go down turn by turn. Each investor could have it's own preferred Milestones that will reset the track for that investor - therefore some but not all players will be interested in any given Milestone! Also, this ought to get players' incomes to be nicely differentiated. It also showcases the desires of 'interested parties' (Scott didn't want "investors" in his view of the game) as well as the main milestones it would take to actually build a martian colony.

I really like this idea, and will wrap it into my thoughts on this game - which I hope will materialize in physical form before too long!


Jeff said...

I don't really know anything about the game so this may or may not fit.

Maybe instead of each player having a rocket, there is only a single rocket that arrives at the planet each turn. Maybe it's loaded with some random collection of resources, or maybe players can influence it to some extent, and then it takes 2 or 3 turns to reach Mars -- so, you know what shipments are coming and can plan around what will be arriving and when. But, you must also compete with the other players for what resources you get to unload from the shipment, or maybe what order you get to choose in.

The most obvious system for this would of course be an auction, but here's an idea for an auction type that I don't think I've seen before: an auction where the currency is time. There could be a track, and to "bid" you place your marker on the track, indicating when you promise to hit the next milestone. The person with the earliest bid gets the shipment (or first choice?), but you get severely whacked if you miss your deadline.

Maybe, to differentiate the players somewhat, there are different "modules" you're competing to build, each has a value, and it is some function of the value of the module AND the earliness of the bid that determines the bid's attractiveness to the investors. So, promising to build a "radio tower" in 3 turns may be less powerful of a bid than promising to build a "spaceport" in 5 turns, etc.

Or maybe it's simply that you're jockeying with the other players on Earth to influence what is loaded, and then you're working to influence the shipping company to give you first selection of whatever has been loaded onto the ship.

As I said, knowing nothing about the game, these are just random ideas...

Seth Jaffee said...

I never replied to this... those are very neat ideas, Jeff! Directly competing for resources isn't something I'd considered, but it would certainly add some interaction to the game.

I haven't really thought about this game like I'd wanted to, maybe when I do get around to it I will consider this kind of competition as well. Thanks for the ideas!