Sunday, June 06, 2010

Alter Ego

As I mentioned (briefly), I came home from KublaCon 2010 with a prototype of a Superhero card game called Heroic Deeds. It had been entered in the game design contest, and the judges seemed to think that the story of the game was good, but the game play lacked in that it forced players to role play. Having now played the game I can say that it plays about like I expected it to - a "Take That!" card game which is really random and not very deep. The designers seemed to acknowledge this by adding rules to the game requiring players to "tell a story" about how they used their powers to fight each individual crimes - crimes which amount to a simple opposed die roll, with a potential +1 modifier here or there. The game can be played without that rule, and my friends and I agree with the contest judges that it's a silly rule... but either way the actual game play is simplistic and shallow, the fun is in the card art, theme, and "storytelling."

If you've read my blog at all, you know that this is not my type of game at all. I much prefer a game with more game to it. Like Munchkin, you apparently are supposed to play Heroic Deeds for the amusement of the cards, which wears off quickly. The game itself isn't as interesting as Munchkin. But I have to say that the theme and the idea behind Heroic Deeds is truly inspired! The concept is that as you spend time fighting crime, your friends and family start to wonder where you keep running off to, so every so often you have to take a break from crime fighting and manage your alter ego's personal life. It's such a great idea, I've been thinking of how I'd go about making a game where players are Batman-like super heroes who must worry about their alter ego's home life while fighting crime. Here's what I've come up with so far:

First of all, while comedy is great, I would probably go with a darker, more serious graphic novel style of theme rather than a parody, "comic" book theme. The game would concentrate on managing your Alter Ego, but of course to win a player will have to fight some crime and in the end defeat their Nemesis.

Let's say that each player has a player mat depicting 4 slots: a Hero slot and 3 Alter Ego slots (Family, Friends, and Job). To start the game, players have 3 tokens in each Alter Ego slot and maybe 1 token in their Hero slot. The tokens represent the strength of that player's bonds with each part of their life. At the outset, the player has strong ties (3 tokens) to his Friends, Family, and Job, but a weak tie to their inner Hero. Over the course of the game, players will need to strengthen their Hero bond by moving tokens from their Alter Ego slots to their Hero slot.

Alter Ego
Alter Ego slots could confer bonuses - ideally a specific type of bonus for each type of slot. As bonds to Alter Ego slots become weaker, the bonus conferred by that slot gets weaker as well. If a player neglects their Job, they no longer have full access to whatever benefits it confers, and if they neglect it too much (no tokens left) then they will be fired (or quit) and have no access to that benefit whatsoever. Thereby player differentiation and strategic paths can be built by which tokens a player chooses to move to his hero slot. Will you be the hero who neglects his friends and family, spending all your time buried in work or fighting crime? Or will you instead be fired for shirking work to hang out with your girlfriend when you're not keeping the city safe?

I am not sure what abilities or benefits the Alter Ego slots could confer. One idea for the "Friend" slot is that if you get down to 1 token left, the effect is that your best friend figures out your secret, and becomes your sidekick - giving you some bonus in fighting crime (re-rolls, modifier, whatever) but becoming a pretty big liability in that you must protect him. It be a viable strategy to purposely 'neglect' your Friends in order to 'recruit' this Sidekick (but in that case the liability should be significant).

Players will constantly be faced with crime cards depicting havoc being wrought on the city by Henchmen. In the beginning these Henchmen are weak, but as the game progresses they get stronger and stronger, requiring that players get tougher and tougher (more devoted) as Heroes. I haven't thought too much about the mechanism for this, but one idea is that you'd roll 1 die for each token in your hero slot, and the Henchman card would indicate some target number of successes required (and possibly define "success" for that encounter). This would make it easy to scale up and maybe balance the power level of the Henchmen as well as keep the outcome of an encounter somewhat uncertain. I think that uncertainty will be an important factor that will encourage players to strengthen their Hero bond to try and ensure victory (if you roll enough dice, then failure is a mathematical improbability). I could even use the combat system from Terra Prime, where the more dice you roll, the more likely any given die will produce a Success.

Successes could be recorded by placing tokens on the Henchmen card, such that it could take more than 1 turn to defeat them... for example, if a Henchmen requires 4 successes, and whatever the mechanism you achieve only 2 successes in a turn, you would have to achieve 2 more successes in a later turn to defeat the Henchmen. It's possible the Henchmen could shed a token between turns as well, to give the feel that they are really tough to beat. Failure to defeat a Henchman (either at all, or each turn) could result in some misfortune such as the removal of a hero bond token, or perhaps a specific bond token as noted on the Henchman card (the Green Goblin goes after Aunt May).

Arch-Villain / Nemesis
I'm currently thinking that there would be a Big Boss at the end of the game. I envision a deck of Arch Villain cards, which would probably be bigger, tougher versions of Henchmen. Defeating an Arch-villain (or a certain number of Arch-villains) could be the goal of the game - or perhaps a certain number of Arch-villains leads to a Nemesis, which is the final Boss and ultimate goal of the game. It could be that the Arch-Villains simply come out after some number of Henchmen, or after players have "strong" enough hero bonds, but I have an idea I think is pretty neat to govern this...

Let's say that each Henchman card is a particular color, and that the Arch-Villain cards have a variety of "costs" on them, represented by some combination of maybe 5 colors. When defeating a Henchman, you collect the Henchman card, and as soon as you have the 'cost' of an Arch-villain represented in your collected Henchmen cards then you take that Arch-villain card and that becomes your Nemesis. If each Arch-villain is unique and has interesting/different weaknesses, then you could target one by choosing which Henchmen to go after (assuming there's some method by which to go after particular Henchmen). Perhaps one of your Alter Ego benefits would relate to that - "your Job as a reporter keeps you apprised to what's going on in the city - when fighting crime draw 1 Henchman per Job bond token and choose 1 to encounter."

That's all I've got so far.


Jeff said...

Just a suggestion... if you are thinking about this as a Tasty Minstrel game, you should consider giving the designers first crack at modifying the game, or see if they're interested in jointly developing the game with you. It's a pretty clever and unique theme they've come up with.

Seth Jaffee said...

I wouldn't say that I'm developing this game for TMG at this point. I'm just brainstorming how I would approach the theme. I agree, they have come up with an interesting idea for the theme.

I do not think the designers are interested in the type of game I'm brainstorming based on what they have so far. My suggestion to them is actually going to be along the lines of removing some of the more mechanical elements and turning the game into more of a storytelling game such as Yesterday's Tomorrow!" Based on playing Heroic Deeds, I get the impression that a collaborative storytelling game is more what they were after than a strategy board game.

Thomas D said...

My first thought, as a person that likes superheroes and comic books, is that people that like superheroes and comic books really don't want games that are as deep as what you here.

My second thought is I'd like to play that game.


I really like the idea of defeating a main villain by wading through lesser villains that are associated with him. Story-wise, it makes sense that if you're spending a lot of time battling HYDRA agents, you're going to wind up battling Madame Hydra, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, or Richard Nixon.

Seth Jaffee said...

Yeah, I think so far I've just brainstormed a lot, and what I'd like to do is pick the most interesting thing and try to implement it simply.

I should make another blog post, but I think what I might try first is a simple version of the 'set collection' Arch-Villain thing for a game goal, some game benefit for each of 3 Alter Ego aspects (Community, Family, Job) which gets weaker as you neglect them. Some of the more detaily details might have to wait.