Sunday, May 14, 2017

Dice Worker Placement: The Saga Continues

I've been thinking about that dice worker placement mechanism some more lately. The biggest problem I have when I start with a mechanism is finding a theme that makes sense, and as I've discussed before, even when starting with a mechanism, all design is really theme-first design.

So I put out a (relatively generic) question on social media... what theme could fit well in a worker placement game where the workers get better over time. In part because I didn't give any background to what I was looking for, and in part because of Twitter's strict character limit, I'm afraid I didn't accurately communicate my real question - and I got back a lot of ideas for general themes in which things get better: school, apprenticeships, software... even the most generic answer of all: "Literally any worker who gets training.

After a few threads and discussions on the topic, I was starting to settle onto a theme. I thought maybe a spy theme, where your workers are secret agents who get better as they do missions, and worker spaces could have to do with going on missions or making preparations to go on missions. Another idea though was to model the game after a standard worker placement game like Lords of Waterdeep. In LoW your workers are agents who recruit adventurers (fighters, rogues, clerics, and mages) to go on quests. The adventurers are the resources in the game, and quests require certain recipes or combinations of resources to fulfill.
At that point I read a post by my friend Mohan, who hadn't played Lords of Waterdeep in some time, and conflated the agents and adventurers, and mentioned the adventurers leveling up. I thought tat was interesting, but a wholly different premise than my basic idea where your workers (not the resources they collect) are the thing that levels up.

That said, I thought maybe it could be good if your workers were different types of adventurers, which could be easily tracked by color coding the dice... orange dice for fighters, for example; white for clerics, etc. They could still work the way I had originally proposed - you start with 8 dice (2 of each type), each at level 1. Most worker spaces could accept any die, but some could offer better returns if you use the correct type of worker (example: anybody can go to the Temple and gain 1 Faith, but a cleric who goes to the Temple gains 1 Faith per level). Some worker spaces could be exclusive to specific worker types (example: only Thieves can enter the Thieve's Guild). And of course, while some spaces may accept any TYPE of die, there may be a level requirement (example: only adventurers of level 3 and above can enter the Throne Room for an audience with the king).

Side note:
The Manhattan Project is a worker placement game where you either place workers on your turn or recall them. The turns you recall your workers feel relatively boring, as you don't really make an progress. Manhattan Project: Energy Empire takes that one step further: on turns where you recall your workers, you (a) may get to claim an achievement, and (b) get to generate power for future turns. This feeling of progress even on turns where you're mostly just freeing up your work force is good -- it means fewer boring turns for players.

That said:
As before, players would place 1 worker per turn, or spend their turn recalling workers (with a free recall once all 8 are placed -- as a sort of efficiency balance thing). When recalling workers, they level up, so you increment the dice to their next value as you collect them. While it would probably feel good to increase the power of your workers, it might not feel like progress... but suppose your recall turns are the ones where you actually go on an adventure!

So when you place your workers they are collecting resources and preparing for adventures, and when you recall them they actually go on the adventure, which means you get a chance to cash in some resources to complete adventure cards for points and stuff, and as a result, those adventurers level up. Perfect.

This sounds good to me, and makes good thematic sense as well. And it maintains the basic idea of the mechanism... do you want to recall workers early so that you can do an adventure now (I imagine those adventure cards would be in a public pool), and so that you can get a few higher level adventurers, even if it means several of your dice are left un-upgraded? Or do you wait until you have placed all of your workers, upgrading them all evenly (and getting an essentially free turn with that automatic recall thing I mentioned parenthetically above)? In addition, using different classes for dice means that if you do choose to recall early, which flavor of adventurer do you leave un-upgraded? I think these are interesting mechanical concerns which could lead to a fun, puzzly, euro-style game.

A little behind the scenes math:
Of course, at this point I can't be sure what the best number of workers per player will be, but let's take a quick look at some numbers based on 8 dice per player:

Case 1: Place all 8 dice, get a free recall, place all 8 dice again (another free recall)... After 16 turns you now have 8 level 3 dice, and have been able to do 2 adventures, and you probably could have afforded expensive ones since you collected a lot of resources first.
Case 2: Place 2 dice then recall, repeat... after 16 tuns you have 2 level 6 dice (and 6 level 1), and have done as many as 5 adventures, but of those 5 chances you probably either couldn't afford any of the available adventure cards, or were only able to afford small ones, since you're not gaining many resources before recalling.

Case 3: Place 3 dice then recall, repeat... after 16 turns you have 3 level 5 dice (and 5 level 1), and have had 4 chances to do adventures.

Case #4: Place 4 dice then recall, repeat... after 16 turns you have 4 level 4 dice (4 level 1), and have had 3 chances to do adventures.

These cases all sound interesting to me. I suspect that optimal play will unlikely mean either of the extremes (recalling every other turn, or always playing all of your workers), but might be somewhere in between, and that sounds ideal.

As for what the worker spaces do...
If going with a fantasy/adventure party/D&D style theme like this, then I imagine the board being split into a few areas...
For example, there could be a city area with places such as an Arena, where Fighters can fight to gain Glory, a Temple, where Clerics can pray to collect Faith, an Academy, where mages can accumulate Magic, and a Thieve's Guild (or a Marketplace?), where Thieves can procure Money. Again, maybe anybody can go to those spaces, but the correct class will be more efficient. There could also be generic locations such as a Blacksmith where you can get Equipment, or Throne Room where you can have an audience with the King, or a Tavern where you can learn local rumors or get information (whatever that means, maybe get side quests).

There could also be some adventuring spaces outside the town, such as a Dungeon where you can pick up side quests or minor encounters, like mini-adventures.

There would be a few face up Adventures, representing missions that are known -- maybe things the king has offered a reward for. When recalling workers, you'd have the opportunity to complete 1 of those adventure cards, as well as any number of side quests you may have picked up.

As for resources, it might make sense if each class is "good at" one of the resources (like thieves are good at getting money, and clerics are good at getting faith), but it might also be good to have some crossover, like maybe clerics are better at collecting magic than fighter and thieves, but not as good as mages, and fighters are decent at getting money, but not as good as thieves. This could offer some flexibility, though I'm not sure if it's needed.

I also think it might be good if there were basically something each resource could do besides being required for adventures, like Money could buy Equipment, or Glory might get you in good with the King. Magic might help you get cards that do special things (like the Intrigue cards in Waterdeep), while Faith might help you draw more or better adventures or side quests.

Those are my current thoughts. I might prefer a different theme, and I suppose I could re-skin all the above with some kind of spy theme where you have different types of agents, but in the meantime this sounds like it could work. I just need to get some specific locations ironed out and put together some adventures and side quests, and maybe it'll be ready to test!


Jamey Stegmaier said...

Seth: I think this is a really cool idea, and I'm sure you'll do something awesome with it. But I wanted to mention something from my experience.

For the first 3-4 months of Euphoria's design, the workers (dice) gained and lost knowledge (pips on the dice) based on different actions. This was in line withe dystopian theme--you don't want your workers to learn too much or they'll rebel against the dystopia.

But over time I discovered two things:

1. Because of how often the workers' knowledge levels were changing, it was pretty arduous to constantly adjust it. This is a problem I think you've anticipated--it can be avoided.

2. This is the biggie. 4 months into the design, I was observing a playtest when it hit me: The most fun thing about dice is that you get to roll them. If they simply become a counter, you've taken away the most fun thing. So I added it back in and shifted the knowledge mechanism to a track, and instantly the game was 5x more fun. It was one of those ah-ha moments I'm sure you've experienced with your designs.

Take from that what you will. I'm not saying that dice never work as a counter--in Quantum they serve that role quite effectively. But it's something to keep in mind as you test this idea.

Josh 'Dagar' Zscheile said...

Hey Seth,

I have much to say about this one, so grab a coffee and some snacks, maybe, before reading.
First of all I bow before Jamey's experience, as Euphoria is one of the best worker placement games I know. It strikes me as odd that you did not reference it here; if you have not played it yet, you definitely should.
Second I do not like LoW for the simple fact that it is one of the most unthematic games (as in: make little of their theme) I know, and seeing one of my most favourite game designers (you) go into that 'thematic' direction hurts me. So for the rest I write here I am going to stay with the spy theme which, to my mind, though much used, still offers more thematic references than a fantasy setting where you collect glory, faith and what not and cash that in for points.

Okay, so let's go with brainstorming for the spy worker placement game.
Each player is the boss of an espionage organization that fulfils contracts in the spectrum of legal to illegal for the police (arrest person X, give info concerning the whereabouts of person X, find evidence for crime Y, ...), for private persons (like a detective agency; find persons, find evidence for, get stolen stuff back without causing a stir, ...) or illegal organizations (kill X, get info out of person X, smuggle Y, forge evidence, ...). These quests are public in general, but depending on influence with a faction, you also might get private missions. Public missions are ones that you race for to fulfil and possibly backstab each other over, private missions are, well, private, but maybe you could come up with some recon mechanism that discloses the missions to others who want to know what you are up to.
Your staff consists of specialists in certain fields: detectives that can find evidence, spies that get information (by talking to informants or observing themselves), thieves that can get into property and steal stuff, assassins to kill, arrest or overpower targets, dealers that can get you the equipment needed; you get the idea. If you want four specialists, you can certainly work them out to fulfil all roles and complement each other well.
The players then get to put their specialists out on the board. Some places are exclusive to some roles etc, you already wrote about the possibilities.
By sending your workers out, you prepare for missions. Missions can have mutiple ways to fulfil, so just by looking at how another player distributes their dice does not necessarily give you the information about what mission they are after. Additionally, with a certain resource (let's call it Organization) you can switch out one worker with another (I made you think I sent my detective there, but it really was my assassin) other put a worker to another place (I made you think my thief was observing a location, but really he was buying equipment needed now). Missions also could have additional goals that you can work for (do not only observe her cheating on him, also bring the money back she gifted to her boyfriend). This way a player has to consider if he wants to do a job early and not get the full reward or wait and try to get the bonus. Additionally, other players that prepared for the same mission could get something out of it by essentially 'following' (in the sense of EmDo) the player fulfilling the mission (You got the evidence that she cheated, but I got the client the money back), and thus maybe not going out there with empty hands.


Josh 'Dagar' Zscheile said...

You level up your workers by doing missions or by sending them into training; levels could be requirement for missions (or the missions could have a chance to fail with too unexperienced agents) and bonuses for locations (an experienced spy can get more information or can detect forged info). You get new agents by recruiting them or through missions.
The goal could be to just get the most money, or you could have a faction system and players compete to influence the faction system into a certain state, e.g. that the smugglers are the most influential and the assassins guild struggles). That would also mean that missions shift that balance around, and give players an incentive to use their agents to infiltrate and other players and make them fail on missions.
I could go on, but I think for now this suffices as a broad outline of what a spy theme could do. Just one final word: Jamey is right in that rolling dice is what they are for. Maybe consider putting that in somehow.


Josh 'Dagar' Zscheile


Kevin Flickner said...

I don't agree about dice. Personally, I do not like the luck element (even if there are ways to mitigate it) that rolling dice creates.
However, I do agree about the spy theme--it has not been done quite as much as fantasy and would feel more original.

Seth Jaffee said...

Here's a side mechanism I might want to use in this dice placement game. Also, I could use a working title for that game.

Assuming this Lords of Waterdeep type of theme, where you are sending out adventurers to prepare for, and then go on, adventures, and then they level up and get better:

Imagine a "shop" or "market" location, where you can get items of, I don't know, let's say 8 different types. The items are represented by cubes in a draw bag, and there are, let's say, 3 seeded in the shop space so you can see them.

When you go to the shop with a worker of level X, you can spend up to X coins to buy that number of items... but before you buy them, you draw that number out of the bag and add them to the shop, THEN you take that number for yourself from the shop.

So for example, say you go to the shop with a level 4 worker, but you only have 3 coins to spend. You can spend all three, draw 3 cubes out of the bag to add to the 3 at the shop, then take 3 of the 6 cubes at the shop for yourself.

And of you have 7 coins but are only level 2, then you are limited to spending up to 2 coins to buy up to 2 things.