Little Blog Adventure

A gaming "sketchblog"

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Beyond the game

Ah, the final blog exercise for the semester! Looking back, I can say I've quite enjoyed the blog exercises for this module, as well as the module as a whole. :-)

The first question for this last exercise is whether meaningful play can emerge from an Alternative Reality Game such as the The Beast.

Well, I followed the progress of that game quite avidly while it was running and I will say that for me and the good folk who comprised the group called Cloudmakers, it was highly meaningful indeed. As a matter of fact, I've never seen another game bring out the kind of large-scale community interaction and near-obsessive dedication on the part of players that the Beast did. While the game was running, it truly felt like the Cloudmakers group was a kind of cyber-sleuth, drawing on the power of many, many minds in order to solve a deeply puzzling mystery. While I do consider the members of the group who thought that 9/11 could be "solved" to be somewhat deluded, I can understand how they could have come to think that way after having been deeply involved in The Beast. The game is far from traditional and by some definitions of the term may not even be a game, but it was extremely exciting for those who "played" it.

What made the game feel meaningful to the players? Well, if we define meaningful play as occurring when the relationships between actions and outcomes in a game are both discernable and integrated into the larger context of the game, then indeed the Cloudmakers did experience meaningful play- ironic considering how The Beast was never revealed to be a game. Every action players took within the game- gathering clues, solving puzzles online, meeting up in real-life to take part in a game-related event- took the community one step closer towards solving the mystery of the game. As of today, the "mystery" genre seems to be the predominant form of ARG- it will be interesting to see if and how designers can make ARGs that work differently.

As for the second question- yes, I do think that ARGs challenge existing notions of what a game is. An ARG is very interesting in terms of design- designers are no longer dealing with one player or multiple players who are competing with each other- instead, they have a community of players who are all collaborating to achieve the same objective. This is perhaps similar to Massively-Multiplayer Online games, but even those do not involve the same level of collaborative play as ARGs. ARGs also break down the magic boundary between the game space and the "real world." A world where games like that posited in the Michael Douglas movie "The Game" are played by people indeed might not be inconceivable in the near future- except instead of rich individuals, entire communities might be taken along for the ride! At which point, I wonder if we could still call such activities games, or would they be something else entirely?

Game systems

1. Creating mods (modifications) to existing games is a common practice, not just for computer games, but for any form of games. Does this imply that any game can be considered a game system? Why/why not?

Any game consists of elements which can possibly be re-contextualized into a new game. This is obvious with digital games, but perhaps slightly less obvious for non-digital ones. To illustrate with an example, let us look at football. Considering the game's components to be it's rules, pieces (the football, goal posts) and the playing field, we can see that these elements can be combined in different ways to produce new games. Popular variations like indoor football and beach football are recognisably similar to the original, but it's not impossible to consider a new game using the components of football that's quite different from the original.

However, the real question is: how open a game system does a game make? A game like Snakes and Ladders is possibly too specific to be a system capable of supporting a wide variety of games. Chess, on the other hand, is open enough of a game system to support a wide variety of variants.

So yes, all games can be considered game systems, but not all are open game systems.

2. Consider a game which you feel could be successfully modified. How could this game be generalized into a game system? How much of the unique character/flavour of the game can be retained? How generic can you make the game system? How easy will it be to create new, unique games from the game system?

Half-Life 2 is a good example of a highly modifiable game. The game ships with a full set of editing tools that streamlines and simplifies the process of modifying the game. Because of this, a large community of modders has sprung up around the game.

The tools allow a modder to modify aspects of the game- from levels to characters to weapons and even right down to the core game mechanics. What it provides is Half-Life 2's game engine- consisting of it's graphics, sound, physics engines, scripting capabilities and networking code. Using these as a base, modders are free to create as simple or as complex a game as they wish.

Many mods retain the unique character of Half-Life 2 by re-using the games graphics and sound as well as it's weapons. This makes the mod aesthetically identifiable as a creation built around Half-Life 2. On the other hand, an ambitious modder can drop every single part of Half-Life 2's gameplay and create entirely new art and sound effects to make a game as different from Half-Life 2 as possible. For example, one modding team is developing a Wing Commander-style space combat simulation called Eternal Silence using the Half-Life 2 engine.

Describe one new game designed on top of the game system you proposed in question 2.

A puzzle game in the style of The Incredible Machine, where players put together sets of parts to create an intricate machine to fulfill various objectives. This would leverage Half-Life 2's robust physics engine to showcase a form of gameplay that was only partially explored in the original game.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

My D&D Online beta impressions- or, how not to design an RPG combat system

Sometimes, non-digital games are poorly translated into digital games. I played the beta version of the Dungeons & Dragons Online Massively-Multiplayer RPG and found that though the designers tried their best to simulate the gameplay of the non-digital version of Dungeons & Dragons, I felt that it was a doomed mission. In order to make the game fun, they had to leverage the factors that made conventional MMORPGs (and conventional RPGs, for that matter) fun. That's OK because the game could only work in a digital setting if they took into account what made digital games unique and fun.

However, they made one huge mistake in translating the game from it's board game roots to the digital version- the made the combat real-time, but kept the element of attacks/defence being determined by dice rolls (which was made obvious to the player by the ubiquitous appearance of a dice on the right-hand side of the screen after every attack). Why was this a bad decision? Well, simply put, it completely undermines the illusion of control that the player has over the game. When I attack an enemy and the game shows my sword cutting the enemy in "real-time," I can't and will not accept a dice roll appearing at the right-hand side of the screen and telling me that my attack "missed."

This creates a disconnect between the player's perception of the game and the actual game systems. Similarly, the game lets the player dodge attacks by rolling back, but the success of a dodge move is calculated by the dice. So several times, I would roll backwards before an enemy attacked only to have the attack, executed at empty air a few paces in front of me, hit me! I felt cheated- as if my actions really didn't matter at all in the game. The illusion of control had been broken completely.

Strangely enough, World of Warcraft- which also has a similar stats-based damage system, manages to maintain the illusion of control during combat for me. The combat, while ostensibly "real-time," is slower-paced than D&D Online and players are not given the same freedom of movement as in that game (where you can run and jump in a similar manner to Tomb Raider!). Because of this, the entire experience feels much more fun than in D&D Online.

That being said, it must be understood that the reason that non-digital RPGs implement combat in the way that they do because they are approximating something- combat- using the best tools available in the situation. Early PC RPGs did the same thing because that was the best early computers could do. Today, the situation is quite different- graphics in modern RPGs seem so realistic that their combat systems increasingly seem arbitrary and redundant.

No wonder, then, that D&D Online tried for a real-time combat system. Their failure probably lies in the fact that they did not try hard enough- dice-rolls probably need to be relegated to the past. RPG game designers need to look at why systems exist in games, and if they cease to fulfill the need they were created for, they should scrap them altogether. Some game designers have indeed realised this problem.

The Elder Scrolls series of PC RPGs have long had real-time combat systems, implemented with varying degrees of success. Judging by the reviews of latest game in the series- Oblivion- it looks like developer Bethesda have finally found the right balance between giving players control over combat and making the statistics in the game meaningful. For example, a well-timed attack that isn't blocked by the enemy will result in a hit, but the damage incurred by the enemy will depend on your "strength" rating. Haven't played it yet myself, but it sounds like a good compromise.

Digital Games: Nethack

Ah, Nethack- godfather of the dungeon hack subgenre of the PC RPG. Ok, that's not entirely true as it was based on the earlier game Hack, itself based on the earlier game Rogue, but seeing as how Nethack has been in development til today and has versions playable on most modern operating systems, I'd rather talk about it than it's predecessors.

So, Nethack then. It's a basic dungeon hack- when you start a new game, you create a character from one of several character classes, and then you're dumped onto the first floor of a dungeon. Your objective is to descend this dungeon, killing progressively tougher enemies while gaining better equipment, nifty spells and gold in the process. Oh, and when you die, it's permanent. There's a save-feature, but it's only meant for cases where you have to turn off the game to go do something else. This is what they call hardcore.

What makes this game, originally released in 1987 and very obviously based on the non-digital game Dungeons & Dragons, a digital game? Well, the first thing would be it's use of procedural content. Every time you start a new game, the entire dungeon you play in is randomly generated anew. You'll (very likely) never encounter the same enemy in the same spot twice. Or the same treasures, for that matter. This makes every playthrough unique and, coupled with the constant danger that permanent death brings, adds to the appeal of the game.

The idea of the computer as a moderator is important here too. Nethack is a single-player game: you, as the adventurer, are battling against the game system which throws various kinds of enemies at you to deter your progress through the game. In a non-digital version of Nethack, a moderator (dungeon-master, in this case) would have to co-ordinate all the enemies while setting the positions of all the treasures. Heck, he or she'd have to make a totally new map every time the player died too. Truly an ordeal that would reduce even the bravest of dungeon-masters to tears.

Another important thing that the computer does is hide the game's systems from the player. Even if the player is aware that combat in the game is decided by a series of calculations, he/she does not have to bother remembering those calculations. All the player has to do is choose to "attack the enemy." By doing this, the player cues the computer to compute all necessary calculations and near-instantaneously inform the player of the result of the attack- did it hit or miss? If it hit, how much damage did it cause? This information is delivered so fast to the player that there might as well be no delay between the physical action of pressing the attack key and receiving the feedback for the action. This clearly cannot be done in a non-digital game.

The last thing the computer does for the player that is, I think, quite important is to limit the player's information about the game. The dungeon map which the player explores is completely hidden from the player except for the areas which he/she has visited already and a few spaces in front of the player (if the player is exploring a new area). This adds an element of suspense to the game- a player can never be sure if a new room will contain a treasure chest, or a terrible enemy. Taking calculated risks becomes the name of the game.

It's interesting to see how Nethack (and it's predecessors and antecendents- such as Diablo) has taken apart a multiplayer, non-digital game- Dungeons & Dragons, and used it's gameplay elements as the framework to build a single-player, digital game. A cursory playthrough of both will reveal that the play experience for both games are markedly different from each other. Both provide meaningful play, but not by the same means.

Dungeons & Dragons is very much a social game, dependant on the interactions between players and the Dungeon Master, who controls the game. At times, the game can become something that's less goal-oriented and more of an interactive story, mediated by the players and the Dungeon Master. A digital RPG, on the other hand, can do no such things. What they can do, and do very well, is internalize all the complex rules of RPGs and present players with (relatively) fast-paced gameplay that is more often that not short on storyline but compelling nontheless.

Nethack is compelling because you never know what kind of adventure you'll go on each time you play the game and also because of the balance between risk and reward that the prospect of permanent death brings to the game- something that few modern games have been willing to emulate. No matter, though- there are more than enough variant of Nethack and other "Rogue-alikes" to satisfy the needs of dungeon hackers around the world. I'm off to slay a slime mold.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Assignment 3: Faith City

After discarding several versions of this game for being too complicated, here's a version that just might work:

Faith City is a massively-multiplayer online game where 2 religious orders are competing for the faith of the citizens of a city (no prizes for guessing it's name :P). Players will join the priesthood of 1 of these religious orders and attempt to convert as many people as possible; advancing through the ranks of the order and gaining power and responsibility as they do so.

The citizens of this city are AI entities, similar to those found in the Sims in that they have needs and desires that they want to fulfill. Society in this city is divided into 3 strata- the high-income, middle-income and low-income classes. Citizens belonging to each of these 3 classes will have different needs and desires and players must exploit these in order to successfully convert them.

Player characters have certain statistics (wisdom, charisma, reputation, leadership etc) that affect their ability to successfully convert citizens. The number of citizens converted by the player and the number of citizens accidentally driven away by the player are also tracked.

The priesthoods of each religious order are divided into ranks- each new rank a player reaches will afford them new actions, greater responsibility and also greater access to the order's funds and resources. Players ascend to a higher rank by fulfilling certain minimum requirements, both in terms of their characters statistics and the number of people converted by them. In order to reach the highest ranks of each order, though, players will have to be elected to the office.

Each order starts with one temple in that order's home area and a limited amount of funds. Further temples and other structures can be purchased- but only if the order has a player of sufficient rank to do so.

Upon creating a new character, players will have these actions available to them:

1. Preach in temple (Success depends on player's charisma- if successful, will increase faith of citizens who attend temple and also increase player's reputation).
2. Preach on the streets (Similar to 1 but usually requires more charisma to be successful).
3. Community service ((Success depends on player's leadership- if successful, will increase faith of citizens who attend temple and also increase player's reputation).
4. Teaching (Success depends on player's wisdom- if successful, will increase faith of citizens who attend school and also increase player's reputation).
5. Study (Increases wisdom).
6. Speech training (Increases charisma).
7. Leadership exercises (what'cha think? :P)

Further actions would become available as players progress in the game, such as:

1. Starting a marketing campaign.
2. Organising a charity event.
3. Organising a funding drive.
4. Building a temple.
5. Building a school.
6. Building a hospital.

The final 3 actions would only be open to the highest-ranking players and would require a substantial amount of funds. In addition, after gaining a certain level of faith, miracles would become available to each order (perhaps voting could be used to decide which miracle players want to be performed). These miracles would have fairly dramatic effects on the cities citizens as compared to normal actions.

The game is turn-based- each turn takes place over a period of 1 in-game day, which is one real-time hour. Each player's interface to issue commands to their character is in the form of a daily planner- Players may issue commands up to 2 in-game weeks in advance (or 14 real-time hours).

This game would require a high degree of co-ordination between players within religious orders in order for them to successfully spread their religion within the city. Thus a a chat client along with a "newsboard" would be provided within the game in order to facilitate communication between players.

A final note- the design of the game's interface is very important as players should be able to access information about their own character and the levels of faith in the city easily.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Assignment 3 Further Concept Notes

Just a few brief notes on the other concepts I'll be blogging about. The first is one that Lai Lin suggested- a humourous political game where the first concept's military units are replaced by politicians and the mooted (?) researchers are replaced by "spin doctors." One suggested gameplay mechanic would involve politicians facing off to attempt to convert each other to their own parties- this seems a bit weird for a political game, so an alternate suggestion of an election was made. We discussed the idea as a group but there are certain problems with the idea of an election-based game- Cheryl raised the question of why would players want to vote for each other? Well, we could make it a full-fledged game of governence where the winning party has to run a virtual country and everyone else acts as citizens, but that's way beyond the scope of this assignment!

The idea of an election has led me to another idea- that of a political Alternate Reality Game where the mobile phone and the game's chat network acts as a primary communication tool. Each game would be a one-time event- it would be interesting if players could blur the magic circle by actively pursuing non-players to join in the game and vote for them. The game, then, would be superficially near-identical to a real political campaign. Perhaps a way of examining how campaign politics works in this age of connectivity? Blogs, mobile phones, other portable computing devices along with more traditional means of communication (posters, etc) could constitute the toolset by which players are allowed to campaign. Virtual money, too, could be provided, to facilitate transactions, both legal and illegal (bribery, anyone?).

Ok that sounds like it might be too open- perhaps more constraints are necessary? Actually, this might function well as a totally online-based game with a simulated virtual society made up of AI-controlled entities. This is close to another idea that I'm quite keen on- a massively-multiplayer God Game (which may or may not inherit the "virtual world overlaid on the real world" idea of the 1st concept). I'll blog about that in more detail later.

Assignment 3 Concept 1

I've been thinking about autonomous AI entities (yarr, that's my blog- a little side-project of mine) a lot lately. What I want are game characters that can go about their business with minimum input from players. I want to use these as the basis for a mobile game- my idea is to make a game for busy people, where they can issue commands to their character(s) at a certain time of day and have said commands be carried out during the rest of the day. From this little idea, me and my group have come up with a few massively multi-player mobile game concepts- oh and just for reference, I'm imagining these games would be implemented for 3G networks and fairly high-tech phones with nice big colour screens and all. Here's the first of em.

Idea 1: Veni, Vidi, Vici

This is a multi-player game based on the idea of conquering territory (like the name says :P). Players can choose to be one of two types of characters- A military unit with combat capabilities or a research unit- belonging to a faction (players can select a desired faction but may be allocated another one if there are too many players on the desired faction) ; of which there are 7 (the number has no significance- I've chosen it arbitrarily to illustrate this example). At the beginning of play, each faction has a home territory and all military units are at level 1. This home territory is mapped onto the real world- using Singapore as an example, Tanjong Pagar could be the home of one faction, Woodlands could be another. To conquer other territories- of which there will be 50 contested ones in addition to the 7 home territories of each faction(again, a random number)- players must physically be in a territory and then "drop off" a military character into that territory with instructions to "tag" it with their faction's symbol. However, a player can return his character to his/her home territory at any time without having to be in the physical space corresponding to the home territory.

The objective of the game would be to conquer all the territory in the game- a faction whose home territory is taken over would be "subjucated" into the faction who took over their territory. Meaning that all players of the losing faction would be added to the strength of the winning one- perhaps with the caveat that all military characters would be lowered to level 1.

Gameplay is exceedingly simple- players simply choose to "drop off" their character into an area and the character will act according to the status of the area it was dropped into. A military character in a home territory will defend the territory. A military character in a contested territory will seek to "tag" it- if there are no characters from enemy factions this is done automatically (a successful tag will take one uninterrupted day) but if there are enemies there, the character will engage in combat with said enemies. Players can select one of two behaviours for a military unit- favour tagging or favour combat. A character who favours tagging will try to tag the contested area while other characters will distract the enemy characters in combat. For example, if there are 4 characters of faction A and 5 characters of faction B in an area, the first character in faction B who favours tagging and is not engaged in combat (which is one-to-one) will start the tagging process.

Levels are important for military characters- just like in RPGs, characters with higher levels are more powerful. How do characters gain levels? Well, the original idea was to have the researcher characters be sort of "treasure hunters" who could be dropped into special neutral regions to "hunt" for treasure which could be used to upgrade the military characters. An alternative (which would negate the need for the researcher characters altogether) is to have military characters gain experience in battle- say, a gain of 50% experience for each battle won and 25% percent for a battle lost.

What'll make the game (hopefully) interesting are the social dynamics that should emerge between players- a large degree of organisation will be required for players to defend their home bases and attack other territories. Players will be given the option of dropping off their character in EITHER the territory that maps to the physical location they are at OR at a territory corresponding to a physical location another player of the same faction is at. This is done by "sending" the first players character to the second player. To facilitate all this social interaction, the game will have a built-in chat client (like MSN Messenger but for phones).

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Thinking about mobile games

Mobile games are interesting precisely because nobody, to the best of my knowledge, has ever created one that takes full advantage of mobile phone technology. Mobile phones allow for peer-to-peer communication, they're portable, most modern ones are outfitted with a decent camera and they can be location-tracked using GPRS systems. So... what kind of game could take advantage of all these things?

I've been mulling over these, trying to think of a suitable game that I could present for the 3rd assignment. I don't think anybody really wants to play a simultaneous multiplayer game over a phone (as evidenced by the Multiplayer on the Run section in this Gamasutra article), but I think not implementing any multiplayer functionality is simply ignoring the key features of mobile phone technology, so perhaps a game that is primarily played single-player, but has a multiplayer component, would work better (I'm thinking something similar to online browser RPG Kingdom of Loathing, or Spore's offline-online gameplay).

I'm also thinking that a lot of people don't really enjoy playing twitch-based games on a phone- after all, a phone's keypad isn't built to play Snake (which was near-impossible to play on certain Nokia models). A gameplay mechanism reminiscent of the Japanese RPG Dragon Quest- which strips down the RPG interface to a beautifully elegant level- is one possible solution. Give players a menu and let them input commands using the different number keys on a phone.

What sort of game emerges from these ideas? An RPG, perhaps, that has players fight through dungeons to get treasure, which they could then sell or trade with other players in a multiplayer marketplace? Extrapolating further, why not combine this with location-specific areas, like dungeons that can only be accessed in specific parts of a city (say, Singapore)? As for cameras, I wonder if it would be possible for a server to overlay data onto a real-life scene as viewed through a phone camera viewfinder? Perhaps a certain building, if seen through a phone camera (or photographed by one), could be displayed as a wizard's tower?

These are just some ideas I'm throwing out and a fantasy RPG setting is by no means a requirement, or even what I'd like to go for. Other technologies I'd be interested in exploring include a game where your phone will alert you to the presence of nearby players and a game involving a heavier use of phone photography- perhaps a database of player faces could be created and taking a photo of another players face would bring up data associated with that player that could then be manipulated? Or a game which allows you to "tag" real-life locations with textual information, which can then be viewed by other players. Of course, such games may be impossible today given the limitations of current phone technology, but since we're not implementing said games, why not ignore those limits?

Soviet-Unterzögersdorf: A Very Serious Game (?)

Here's a description of the impossible-to-pronounce Soviet-Unterzögersdorf, straight off the game's website:
Soviet Unterzögersdorf (pronounced «oon-taa-tsee-gars-doorf») is the last existing appanage republic of the USSR. The enclave maintains no diplomatic relationship with the surrounding so-called «Republic of Austria» or with the Fortress «European Union». The downfall of her motherland -- the Soviet Union -- in the early 1990s had a particularly bad effect on the country’s economic situation.

It is a great challenge to secure survival for the small but proud confederation. External reactionary forces put the country in danger. It’s a lack of respect due to a morally corrupted and perhaps even non-existing unity of the peoples. The goal of a glorious future is almost unreachable.

But there are a handful of people who don’t give up on a vision for a better tomorrow. Let us tell you the stories of the brave citizens in the beautiful little country of Soviet Unterzögersdorf.

It’s a story that will go into history.
Stirring, no? Except for the fact that the country of Soviet-Unterzögersdorf is completely non-existent. The game, which I'm going to abbreviate as SU because typing the full name is an exercise in (cut-and-paste) frustration, is part of an art project by the international self-described art-technology-philosophy group monochrom. It's a very postmodern production, being a simulation of a history that never existed, designed to comment on and parody Eastern-European Communist countries of yore (and implicitly criticize the current dominant Capitalist system as well). Interestingly enough, they chose the medium of the traditional Lucasarts-style adventure game because they felt that this "almost extinct form of computer game would provide the perfect media platform to communicate the idea of «Soviet-Unterzögersdorf»."

So what's the game about? You play as Vladislav Gomulka, party secretary of the tiny, 2.5 square kilometer large country of SU, the last bastion of Communist ideals (in real-life, situated smack in the middle of Austrian wine country). The game starts as Vladislav wakes up at 7:00am in the morning, to be rudely greeted by the horrendous sight of garbage all over the country's Red Yard, not to mention graffiti! Vladislav's first mission is to clean up all this garbage (and wipe off the graffiti) and then find out whodunnit! No prizes for guessing that it was young punks from the neighbouring village of... bah I can't spell it. Just imagine a jumble of consonants with a few precious vowels thrown in, and possibly an umlaut.

So does the game work? While it's worth as a postmodern examination of the cultural history and the political struggles of Cold War-era Europe will depend on the player's knowledge of the history of that era (though I would assume that this is pretty much general knowledge), it's very compelling as a game. Mostly because it's so darned funny. It's very aware of the something rather-tired tropes of the adventure game genre and it uses them to great comedic effect in furthering the game's story and themes. I particularly enjoyed having Vladislav comment on various in-game objects (he delivers such classics as "Doing this won't destroy capitalism" and "Doing this won't lead to a glorious future!" in droll, dead-pan Russian). The conflict between Communist and Capitalist worldviews is also brought out with some sparkling humour in the game.

So there we have it, a game that aspires to more serious goals than your average videogame and does so in a mostly-successful manner. I can honestly say it's the first pure adventure game I've enjoyed in a long time and I quite appreciated the game's subtext as well. The only problem is, the game ends in a cliffhanger (it's a part 1 of 3, you see). This interview at is quite revealing- going into the philosophical reasons behind the game's creation and the developers' future plans for the next 2 installments.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Social Games Assignment

I'm gonna take a look at the game Mafia for this assignment.

1. Describe the social interactions which you observed during play. In what way did these interactions emerge from within the formal elements of the game?

Since the main core mechanic of Mafia is voting to eliminate a player who's suspected of being a Mafia, the game effectively revolved around social persuasion. Basically, at the start of each daylight turn, different players would put forward theories as to who they thought was the Mafia and then attempt to convince all the other players to vote that person out. The accused player would in turn attempt to try and convince everyone of his/her innocence. Social cues became very important. A player who laughed too much might be accused of being a Mafia. In addition, prior experience was brought into the game- one player was voted out because he "looked like a Mafia!" :p

2. Using Sutton-Smith's categorization of social play roles, discuss how the players' roles changed during the course of the game.

I could identify five main social play roles in Mafia- attack, defend, search, mislead, harass and seduce. The players who were Mafia attacked other players during the nighttime turn and all players could, in a democratic fashion, attack each other during the daytime turn. Players have no way to defend against a nighttime attack but they can convince other players of their innocence during the daylight turn to avoid attack. The players who were villagers were attempting to search for the mafia during the daylight turn, while the Mafia would try to mislead them by acting innocent and/or accusing other players of being Mafia, which is a form of seduction since they're tempting the villagers to eliminate one of their own, thus taking them one step closer to defeat.

The accusations certainly contained an element of harassment ("You're the Mafia!" "No way! you're the first person to accuse someone! YOU must be the Mafia!" and so on). In addition, some dead players had a nasty tendancy of voicing out opinions from beyond the grave- though they're actually disallowed from influencing the flow of the game by the rules. Heh.

3. Suggest a modification to the game which will alter the social dynamics that emerge during play.

We actually tried out one such modification during the tutorial class- an addition of an incognito detective who had a chance to find out whether one player was a Mafia or not every turn. Theoritically, this turns the balance in favour of the villagers since one member of their group has some extra knowledge- but in practise it's quite hard for the detective to actually convince players to either spare someone he/she knows ISN'T a Mafia or to execute someone he/she knows IS one, given that the detective can't reveal his/her identity for fear of being elliminated by the Mafia during the next turn.

It's a bit hard to think of another modification for Mafia that wouldn't break the game balance, actually... But I'll take a stab at it anyway. What if there was a player who, instead of being a detective, was a medium? The medium could then ask a "dead" player to point at a player who ISN'T a Mafia. Of course, this means that after a few turns the medium could tell who the Mafia were, but he/she still has the problem of trying to convince all the other players that he/she's telling the truth.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Settler's Cafe Visit

Here's some notes about the games we played at Settler's Cafe over break. I'd written a skeleton after the trip and meant to expand it into a full post, but events (well, World of Warcrack, to be honest) pushed it into the background til now. Well, here goes.

Game: Taboo
Game with 2 teams, who try to score points. During each round, a team member has to take a card from a pack and describe that word to their team, without using gestures or any of the other words written on the card (members of the opposing team will check to see that there's no cheating). If the team can guess the word in 30 seconds (or was it a minute?), they score a point. The process repeats for the other team. Rounds continue until every member on each team has played. Not sure when the game ends because we just stopped playing- I think the rules said something like first team to reach 10 points wins. Or maybe 20.
- Social
- Depends on linguistic skill n quick-thinking
- Some words are too culturally-specific to the USA
- Game wasn't too successful. Some players weren't enjoying themselves. Words too hard, perhaps? Or the game is only successful with certain types of players (i.e. those who have the right skills) or in a real party-atmosphere.

Game: Some game about relationships (can't remember the name)
Everyone gets dealt a hand of cards at the start, and gameplay involves discarding cards in a certain order. Sticks (either blue or red) are added to your pile o'sticks with each card you discard (except for certain special cards) and the winner is the player who has the least difference in blue and red sticks. So if you have 10 red and 10 blue, there's no difference and you win. Unless 2 players have no difference, in which case I guess it's a draw. But that scenario didn't happen.
- The game's SUPPOSED to be about relationships, but the gameplay isn't
- It's actually somewhat of a strategy game
- Not very social; didn't bring out enough interaction between players
- Example of how a game and it's theme don't match!

Game: Guillotine
Each player is an executioner during the French revolution. The objective of the game is to get the highest score. At the start of play, each player is dealt a hand of action cards which have different effects. 12 Noble cards, each of which has a different value, are arranged on the table. Each player takes turns to execute the Noble currently on the "chopping block"- that is, the leftmost Noble on the lower row of cards. Nobles are executed in a counter-clockwise fashion. However, during his/her turn, each player can choose to use an action card- some of which shift the positions of Nobles. Each round ends when all 12 Nobles have been beheaded or when Robespierre is beheaded (in which case all Nobles after him are just put in the discard pile). The game ends after 5 rounds.
- Fast-paced
- Strategic
- Sabotaging other players is part of gameplay; players try to "send" low or negative-valued Nobles to the front of the pile so that another player will get it, or use an action card to deflect such a Noble to another card.
- The action cards facilitate much of this "sabotaging" gameplay, some cards can shift the balance of power quite drastically
- Very fun! No one player dominates for very long because whenever other players see him/her starting to rack up a high score, they'll try to sabotage him/her.

Game: Munchkin
Parody of RPG games, played using cards and one 6-sided die. Each player is an adventurer and starts as a level-one human. The objective of the game is to reach level-10 before everyone else does. Each turn begins with a player "looking for trouble" by taking a dungeon card from the dungeon card deck. If the card is a monster, the player has to fight it (or try to run away). If the player's level plus any bonuses the player has (from treasure cards) is higher than the monster's level (plus any bonuses it has), the player wins the fight, goes up a level and collects loot in the form of treasure cards. Treasure cards can be items (which have one-off effects), weapons (that boost stats), armor (ditto), class or race cards (both class and race cards give a variety of effects, some beneficial, some not so much).
- Higher learning curve than the rest
- Great deal of gameplay possibilities
- Impressive simulation/reinvention/parody of a D&D-type game using only cards n 1 die
- Also really fun! The same element of sabotage-type gameplay applies to this game as well. Except there's an additional layer of intrigue in this because players can choose to help each other during battles if they think it'll work towards their own advantage. Alternatively, they can also choose to sabotage players during battles (by using cards that boost a monsters stats).

Game: Easy Come Easy Go
The first player to obtain 3 special tiles (out of 9 on the table) wins. To get one of these tiles, a player must roll 4 dice and obtain a certain value (either 4 of a kind, 2 pairs, 3 of a kind and all dice odd, 3 of a kind and all dice even, a sum of exactly 7, a sum of exactly 13, 17 or more or 4 consecutive numbers. Players can choose to re-roll 4 times, but each time they must "freeze" a die (meaning on the first try they roll all 4 dice, on the second they roll 3, 2 on the third and finally 1). If they get the combination of one of the tiles, they can take it no matter where it is on the board (i.e. even if its in the possession of another player)
- Fast-paced
- Relies heavily on chance
- The name describes the game perfectly- gameplay revolves around
- Fun for short sessions but gets slightly repetitive after a while.

Game: Jungle Speed
It's pretty much like Snap, except instead with a custom deck of cards (which are harder to match than normal cards)
- Really fast-paced
- Relies on spatial/pattern recognition (the cards are geometric shapes).
- Suitable for a younger audience

Overall, I'd say Guillotine, Munchkin and to an extent Easy Come Easy Go went down the best with the group I played with- their mechanics facilitate social play (and social interaction along with it) rather well. I was particularly impressed with Munchkin (and not just because I'm a Steve Jackson fan!) both because of the hilarious way it lampooned RPG conventions and how emergent the gameplay was. Ditto with Guillotine. Easy Come Easy Go wasn't particularly emergent and it relied heavily on chance, but some interesting interactions did come out of it- like when players would try and grab a tile from a player who'd just obtained two. Nobody really tried to convince a player to make a bad decision with the dice rolls (such a friendly bunch we were ;-) ) but it's a distinct possibility with the game!