Thursday, June 04, 2015

Deities and Demigods - a new deck learning game?

Playing all this Deus and Elysium got me thinking a bit about the Mythology theme. In short, I like it. I liked it way back when I played Cyclades in 2009, when I played Olympus in 2010, and when I played Olympos in 2011. I've got my own design that centers on Greek mythology (Odysseus: Winds of Fate), and I've always wanted to work on a game about Hercules and his 12 labors.

I may have also mentioned that I'd like to find more uses for the deck-learning mechanism from Eminent Domain. I think there's more to that mechanism than just the one game. The other day when I was discussing design stuff with Dan Keltner, and he had some ideas which reminded me of some of the roots of the ideas that became EmDo - there was a thread on some years ago about Queen Games looking for games using their Cube Tower. I had a couple of thoughts about that - one of which ended up in EmDo, but another of which involved a central cube tower as well as individual cube towers for each player. The individual cube towers would have an effect on a player's individual game, but the central tower would be accessible by all players, and its contents would change based on the collective actions of all players. In terms of deck learning, this would translate to a central deck that would affect all players, and would be affected by all players.

One idea I had to which I could apply a Greek Mythology theme is to have such a central deck with a couple of standard actions in it, as well as a Pantheon (stacks of cards like in EmDo) of cards corresponding to Greek deities. The central deck would be shuffled, and cards revealed one at a time - giving each player a chance to do that card's action. In lieu of the effect of that card, a player may choose to instead pray to one of the gods in the Pantheon, thereby getting some effect related to that god, and putting a copy of that god's card into the central deck's discard pile. The next time through the deck, that card will come up, and if you wanted it in the deck, then ideally it'll benefit you more than others. In this way the game would be a deck-learning game with a single, shared deck.

The idea of a single shared deck is interesting, but I'm not sure it fits the deck-learning format very well. The variation in your deck creates player differentiation. Therefore maybe another approach would be more appropriate.

I do like the idea of a Pantheon of different deity cards, each supporting some game action. In order to have meaningful actions, I think there would have to be a game board to support land units (Ares), sea units (Poseidon), buildings (Hephaestus), agriculture (Demeter), and etc. I think a modular board would be popular, so I might try something like in Tempus (which I guess is also similar to Deus). I'll have to figure out what it means to have groups of units on land or on sea, but it would make sense if Poseidon let you add units to a sea space, or move units in the sea and stuff like that.

If your deck is made up of cards from a Pantheon (which I think is a great, thematic name for the central card stacks), then what would you as a player represent? My current thought is that players would be heroes or demigods from Greek mythology, like Perseus, Achilles, and Herakles, honoring the Olympian gods to aid in their conquests (or their empire building, or whatever).

I said in my earlier post about deck-learning that I don't think Role Selection is required to make the mechanism work, so long as there's some other form of interaction in the game. Though Role Selection does fit perfectly with having a hand of cards... Maybe this favors the above "common deck" idea, as the common actions could act like roles even if the game isn't exactly a role selection game. Or maybe it's fine not to worry about role selection, even if that sort of wastes some of the hand management aspect of deck-learning.

I don't know, this is a new idea and I'm just feeling it out at the moment, kinda brainstorming. Please leave comments with any thoughts you have on this!


Tim M said...

Just spit-balling but instead of pantheon cards automatically going into the central deck have the player decide between adding the card to the central deck or to their hand. When a pantheon card comes up from the central deck matching cards from player hands can be discarded (either back to the pantheon piles or out of the game) for boosting or multiplying of the effect.
This way players are competing to build the central deck to either have the effect they want more often but with less power or less often but potentially more powerful.

Seth Jaffee said...

Tim, that's exactly the kind of thing that Deck Learning is good at! Great idea :)

AlexC said...

Ooh, Tim's idea is indeed fascinating.

I like the idea of a central deck plus players having their own decks. That's pretty interesting. I'm not so convinced by the specific idea that when a central deck card is turned up you can choose to "dissent" by adding a different card to the central deck.

How about if a turn has two phases; in phase A you turn up a card from the central deck and everyone gets that effect (and players can use cards from your hand drawn from your own deck to boost it), then in phase B you choose one of the Pantheon and add a copy both to the central deck and to your own deck.

Seth Jaffee said...

@Alex: I was thinking along those lines - turn part A and part B.

However, I wonder if getting the card both in your deck AND the central deck removes an interesting decision whether to make your favorite action occur more often vs making you better at it.

On the other hand, there's something nice about getting both as well, so maybe that other choice should happen as the result of some game action (i.e. instead of something else, you could choose to add a card from the Pantheon to either your deck OR the central deck).

AlexC said...

Oh, I see. Yes, I agree, "OR" is probably more interesting than "AND".

Seth Jaffee said...

By way of update:

I'm currently thinking that this turn structure will work well:

Flip a card from the God deck. Then players take turns. On your turn...

1a. Show devotion to the current god. Pay gold coins to increase your devotion track. Then, if your devotion is not at the minimum, you may pay more gold coins to increase your minimum devotion as well.


1b. Resolve the effect of the current god. The strength of the effect will depend on your current devotion. Then reduce your devotion to the current god to the minimum.


2. You may place 1 (any number?) gold coin ($) onto the current god's stack in the Pantheon.

As soon as a stack has enough gold coins on it (printed on the board, probably 2/3/4/5 for the 1st/2nd/3rd/4th), remove those coins and add the top card of the stack to the discard pile, thereby adding it to the deck.

So you can choose to EITHER increase your devotion, or spend your accumulated devotion on the effect, and you have the opportunity to upgrade your minimum devotion for long term benefit. And then you get a chance to contribute to getting additional cards into the deck for the actions you want to come up more often.

AlexC said...

Sounds sensible, intriguing, and worth pursuing!
Sounds like the effect that gains gold coins will be very potent. That one would get increasing returns throughout the game - it'll be a challenge to balance increasing your devotion to that one versus other effects. (Or maybe 2 or 3 of the gods' effects can result in you gaining money?)

So until a new card gets added to the deck, it's like a game with 6 phases per round, but the order those phases come up will be unpredictable. (Like Knizia/Bleasdale's Prosperity in that respect - the five tracks are each scored once per era, but you don't know what order each era will score the tracks in.)

Once things are being added to the deck, the probabilities shift significantly. If 2 of the 4 players are adding Poseidon cards, there will be a lot more Poseidon effects than other things. If I'm not wanting to do Poseidon things, what are my options?

One problem that occurs: at the moment, you're flipping one card from the God deck for an entire round of each player taking turns and having some choices to make. The "deck learning" is happening here much, much more slowly than in a game like EmDo. If there are five gods and you start off with one of each in the deck; and during the first run through 3 more cards get added to the deck; then that's thirteen rounds before your second reshuffle. That sounds like it's building up to be a long game.

Seth Jaffee said...

Re: Hermes (the god that gives you money): Focusing on Hermes devotion should come at the cost of doing other things... getting more devotion should be a big deal, but you actually win via board play, which is only facilitated by the other gods.

Hopefully it'll balance out. But yeah, it's possible there could be other ways to get a little bit of gold here and there without focusing on Hermes devotion.

Re: Phases... yes, something like that. I don't know how long the turns might take, I assume most of them wouldn't take very long, but maybe the Ares and Poseidon (board play) will take longer as the board develops.

Dissenting: You bring up a good point - if you are not using Poseidon, and other players are, what do you do during hose turns? Well, you could slowly act with your fleets, or you could build up devotion, but maybe you need an alternative (like gain 1 gold) if you are disinterested in that god's action.

Is there a good thematic reason for that?

Game length: You may have a point, I'll have to wait and see.