Monday, February 06, 2017

Worker Learning - applying deck learning concepts to a worker placement game (YANGI)

I've mentioned before that I'd like to do something more with the deck learning mechanism, and that has led to a few ideas... some of which I've pursued more than others.

recent post in which I had a mechanical idea for "worker replacement" led to some discussion which grew into something that could incorporate some of the ideas of deck learning in a worker placement game... Yet ANOTHER New Game Idea, which I suppose I could refer to as "Worker Learning".

This new Worker Learning idea combines some aspects of deck learning with ideas I've had to use something from the online CCG Solforge, by the guys that made Ascension. Oh, and Richard Garfield.

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?" This is a quintessential deck building / deck learning type of question. Furthermore, 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 to evenly upgrade my deck, or would I prefer fewer, more powerful cards?"

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 workers (maybe 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 your workers upgrade as you play them, and each worker space has a stronger effect the higher level your worker is. Like Tzolkin, Manhattan Project, or Concordia, if you want your workers back you must spend a turn recalling them. Perhaps there's some cost involved in recalling as well, 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 recall early and then re-play upgraded workers -- upgrading them further. If the dynamics of the game are balanced properly, and the number of recalls work out to range from maybe 2 to 3 on the low end to 5 or 6 on the high end, then I think there could be some real diversity of strategy to be had.

So here we are again, another mechanics-first idea in need of a theme!


Josh 'Dagar' Zscheile said...

Hey Seth,

nice idea! Your blog actually made me think about giving designing a deck learning game myself a try.
Concerning your worker learning idea, I think it will be rather easy to find a theme for that, as getting better while doing stuff is pretty natural in any setting.
I just wanted to comment that you should think about streamlining your mechanisms. I feel it will be rather ungainly (sorry if this word is weird here, I am no native speaker) to have a worker on the playing field and something connected to it (another worker or a token) showing its level. I encourage you to try coloured meeples as workers. Depending on how many meeples each player has and how many levels a meeple can go through, this might be impossible (or expensive) to do, but what if the level was shown by the brightness of the meeple's colour? E.g. as a meeple gains experience, you swap it with darker versions of the same hue, starting with really bright ones (or the other way round, as this might be psychologically more rewarding). If players have too many meeples to differentiate them without possible irritation, you could change the shape depending on the player, or have some stickers to the meeples. Another way would be to replace meeples by cardboard tokens with a players symbol on it.
This way you would preserve all information without the need for extra level tracks for each worker.

Let me know what you think!


Josh 'Dagar'

Thomas D said...

Hey Seth, I've been looking at the posts that you've got labeled decklearning and I'm still not clear on the subject. Can you point me to a place or write a bit about that term?

Seth Jaffee said...

@Josh - I was thinking potentially the worker level could be represented physically by stacking pieces (or like with legos)... that would make it easy to tell what level a piece is.

But at least for prototyping I think referencing your player board is probably easy enough.

@ Thomas - "Deck Learning" is the term I coined for Eminent Domain to set it apart from "Deck Building". In a deck BUILDING game, you add cards to your deck because you want them in your deck, and that's cool and interesting because they'll come up later. In a deck LEARNING, your deck gains cards as a side effect of the actions you take. This is similar in some ways -- your deck changes over time and the new cads will come up later like in a deck building game -- but also different in a few important ways. By way of example, in EmDo you might call a Survey role simply because you want a Survey card in your deck... but MOST of the time you do it because you want the effect of the Survey role (and in fact, one could argue that after a point, adding another Survey card to your deck is a detriment).

So the more often you call Survey, the more Survey cards you get in your deck, and therefore the better you are at surveying (you can boost Survey more and more often), so it's like your deck "learns" how to Survey.

Maybe I'll paste this into a new post in case others have the same question about that term.