Thursday, January 12, 2017

Again with the mechanics first -- I more and more think "theme-first" is the way to go! (Also, YANGI)

Some time ago (over 3 years!) I posted some thoughts on Mechanics-First vs Theme-First design, as well as an idea I'd had that was a mechanical game, completely devoid of theme.

Since then, a theme has emerged -- a theme that even seems pretty good -- and yet I have never gotten back to the game.

I'm starting to believe that Theme-First is the way to go, as it seems much easier and much more likely to maintain interest in the game, and to make progress with it.

That said, here is Yet Another New Game Idea (TM) which is, again, completely mechanical and devoid of theme. As a side note, I see a pattern: when I don't have an idea for a theme, I appear to gravitate toward color mixing as a place holder... basic resources of red, blue, and yellow combine into higher level resources of purple, orange, and green. As I said in my previous post, this just makes for easy grokking of the conversions in the game. It's tedious to memorize some chart of X+Y=A and X+Z=B, but everyone knows that Yellow and Blue make Green.

Worker Replacement game idea

I was listening to the Game Designers of North Carolina podcast last month, and they had an episode about turning a mechanism into a game. On the show they brainstormed a few mechanisms, and how they might build a game around them. The whole exercise kind of ties right in to what I was talking about above, and as I recall, after bringing up a mechanism, they immediately jumped to a theme to use with it. One of those mechanisms sounded like it had some potential, so I filed it away in the back of my mind to think about later.

Last week I started thinking about how that mechanism could work, and then this week on a plane trip, as I often do in that situation, I jotted down some notes and sketched out a game using that mechanism. As I said however, this is just mechanical rules, no theme to integrate, and as such it's pretty generic. Here's what I've got so far, let me know in the comments if you think it's any good, or what theme might fit...

As a player, you will be gathering resources, combining them into products, and trading in resources and products for money, points, or upgrades.

Each player will start with a neutral pawn in hand, and a board of 6 spaces will be seeded with 6 colored pawns. Each space on the board will be associated with an action. On your turn you will take the pawn in your hand, swap it with the pawn in one of the action spaces, then resolve that action -- and most of the time there will be a bonus available based on the color of the pawn in that space. So you will be making choices based on which action effect you want, as well as which color pawn you want for next turn.

As a placeholder for these actions I have put the following:
* Gather Raw Materials: Gain 1 red, yellow, or blue cube. Gain an additional cube of that color if the pawn matches that color.

* Refine Raw Materials: Combine 2 different raw material cubes into a product disc. Combine a second set of raw materials if the action pawn matches that color (same combination? any combination? Not sure)
** Red + Yellow = Orange
** Red + Blue = Purple
** Yellow + Blue = Green

* Buy Raw Materials and Products at Market: Buy any number of raw material cubes or product discs at the market prices (market is kinda like Glen More). If the action pawn matches color, then get a better deal or something.

* Sell Resources: Sell raw materials or products at market prices. Resources sell for money, products sell for money plus VP. If the action pawn matches color, get a better deal or something.

* Collect Money: Collect some money according to the color of the pawn placed (red, yellow, and blue pawns yield a little money, orange, green, and purple pawns yield more money. Neutral pawns yield a middling amount of money)

* Upgrade: Pay products/raw materials for cards with permanent abilities and VPs on them. Maybe there are 3 slots (color coded red, yellow, and blue), and if you use a red pawn, then you can take the card from the red slot, and if you use a purple pawn, you can take either the card in the red slot or the one in the blue slot.

That's all I've got so far. Maybe I'll make some more progress on the flight back home tomorrow. Let me know what you think!


Josh 'Dagar' Zscheile said...

Hey Seth,

me again. Sounds like a neat idea you should keep on following.
What I immediately had in my mind was same-ish, but different:

You have some pawns you can send to work. At the beginning, they are all untrained (white). As such they are worse at all actions and cannot do some of them at all. So you want to train them to do better stuff. E.g. you send one to the Foresters hut and he gathers one wood for you for three rounds. After that, he turns to a green worker (a Forester, as he has now learned this profession). Your forester can gather wood much faster. You can also train this Forester further in places where you need trained (wood?) workers, like a construction office. Here you could also put your Stone Miner (gray, made from a white worker who worked in the Quarry for three turns). They will not be that efficient at first, but after three rounds, they will turn to Construction Workers (maybe blue) who can then build buildings faster/cheaper/safer. Alternatively, you could send your guys to school to learn a profession faster (one round), but you would have to pay for it, and the more the less proficient the worker is to begin with and the more advanced the job is he is supposed to do.

This would let you build up your own pool of workers the way you want them to be.

That would omit the cool colour mixing palette, but there surely is a way to bring both together.


Josh 'Dagar'

Seth Jaffee said...

Thanks for the coment, josh.

The color-mixing thing is really just a placeholder. I don't know what actions there should be (and I probably won't until a theme emerges).

I like your idea of a worker placement game where your workers learn their trade as they go to different spaces. It reminds me of the "deck learning" in Eminent Domain.

Have yo played Railroad Revolution? It has white pawns (which are kind of lame), and 4 different colors of pawns that are specialists in certain things, and you can turn 1 pawn into a different one with certain actions. Those actions aren't tied to doing anything in particular though.

Josh 'Dagar' Zscheile said...

Hey Seth,

nope, not played this one yet. Well, we all know that it's hard to come up with new mechanisms.

As for theme, I'd maybe take something science fiction-esque.
What about this: It is the year 2140. Earth had stayed the sole haven in our solar system for mankind, but no more. We happy few survivors do not know who pushed his red button first, but in response to this act, all of the over 3000 antimatter bombs were fired; a fully automatized retaliation system that had been designed to prevent any side from ever using their arsenal. Well, look how well that went.
The remaining earthlings (scientists, asteroid miners, cargo pilots, zero-g factory overseers and some tourists) did not need much time to assemble around Venus. An old, long deserted research station floated through the clouds of the upper atmosphere, but it was by far the largest structure, and the only one that could potentially be a habitat for all the remaining pure humans, Geners and Cyborgs. Maybe, just maybe we can come up with a plan how to survive, but the few of us that are used to leading already are arguing who should take the scepter and where he or she could lead us.

So, the theme is a common space station with different rooms used for different tasks, like collecting resources, transforming them, etc. The different coloured workers are beings with different abilities and specializations. Each player takes the role of a supervisor who can order a citizen to go to work at some place and thus replace the worker that was there before. Workers leave their marks at their work places, so a refinery run by a cyborg for a while e.g. produces more, and a kitchen run by a gene modified being with hyper sensitive taste buds might generate food that boosts morale more.

Don't know if that is something you might be able to go by, but it might fit into the EmDo universe ;)



Seth Jaffee said...

Nice theme idea, Josh!

A friend (thanks Andrew) was chatting with me about this the other day, and a potentially really good idea started to emerge, I think. Still all mechanical at the moment though.

The idea is "worker learning" (like EmDo has "deck learning")... and it combines some thoughts from this thread with some ideas I'd had to use something from Solforge (online CCG).

In Solforge you have a 5 card hand, and you play exactly 2 cards per turn. When you play a card it "levels up" and gets better. After your turn you must discard your hand and draw a new one. So as you go through your deck, you are faced with decisions... not just "which card effect do I want," but also "which cards do I want upgraded for later?" After cycling through your deck once, you will face choices like "do I play this level 2 card I've drawn to make it a level 3, or do I play another level 1 card to make it a level 2? Do I want fewer, more powerful cards in my deck, or would I rather have more upgraded cards that aren't quite as good?"

I thought that core component of Solforge was super interesting, and I've been wanting to explore it for some time now. Perhaps "worker learning" is a good way to do that. One way it could work is that you'd have some worker, probably about 8, each labeled (maybe A-G). Each worker would have a track on your player board which indicates whether they are level 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. Then you play a worker placement game, where each space does it's thing better the higher level your worker is, and like Tzolkin, Manhattan Project, or Concordia, if you want your workers back then you must spend a turn recalling them. Perhaps there's some cost involved, maybe based on the number of workers that remain unplaced.

This way you have the option to play out all your workers before recalling (upgrading them all evenly), or recalling early and re-playing upgraded workers -- upgrading them further.

I think I'll expound on this in a new post!