Monday, March 18, 2019

Mechanic Monday: Free Agency in Fantasy GM Squared

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand We’re Back (A Dinosaur Story) with another installment of nobody’s favourite Feature on the #0 Game Design Blog on Tipper Gore’s World Wide Web, Mechaniiiiiic Mondaaaaaay!
This week, we’re going to take a look at - you guessed it - Fantasy GM Squared! It’s almost like I’m trying to focus on one design to the exclusion of others, in order to actually get it to the point where it can be worked on and playtested to a more meaningful degree than my previous designs! Wowzers.  What a concept.  But it’s a good challenge for me to stay locked in and innovate even when I’m not inspired to, as opposed to haring off to tinker on the latest new brainbug to infect my mind.  So I’ll keep on plunging my hands into the guts of this thing.
So, what’ll it be today? More of people’s favourite bit of Fantasy: Player Acquisition.  But this time, it’s the other half of the equation - Free Agency!

Free Agency
Outside of the Draft, there are two ways to acquire Heroes.  The first is by picking up undrafted Heroes, by using Waiver priority, and the second is by scouting and signing Heroes from the Underworld.  Undrafted Heroes join the Tavern, where they age every season as normal.  Any player may place a Waiver Claim on an undrafted Hero - when they do so, they place their Waiver Marker on the Hero; any other player with a lower-numbered Waiver Marker may place their own Waiver Marker on the Hero.  Once all eligible players have placed their Waiver Marker, the lowest-numbered Marker’s player takes the Hero, returning 1VP to the supply, and then takes the highest-numbered Waiver Marker.  Each other player then takes the next lowest Waiver Marker of the one they had.  Players may also recruit from the Underworld deck.  Certain Heroes have a Front Office ability that will let them draw from the Underworld deck, revealing Underworld Heroes that cannot be signed by other players.  Players may spend a Draft Coin to sign an Underworld Hero.

Soooo kind of a two in one, eh? And they’re a lot more disparate of elements than they might first appear.  The Waiver Wire is a beloved/beloathed part of the regular Fantasy season, but the Underworld Free Agency is more akin to a non-fantasy real life GM’s scouting job; trying to find undrafted talent to sign, the way the Sharks have continued to stock their cupboards with European FA’s thereby becoming less reliant on the draft.  With that example shining in my mind, perhaps the Underworld Heroes should have a VP cost.  Set? Roll of the 4-sided die? What should there cost be? I mean hell, should the cost be, you need to have someone in the FO who can draw them? Right now I’m worried that too many of my FO abilities are too conditional.  They only trigger in certain situations, which you can try to put yourself in, but still - the more complex chance is always the less attractive one.  As for the Waiver, it’ll be a fun technical writing challenge to fix the language of that rule / maybe I should just go with Blind-Bid Waiver Auctions instead? Those do exist in Auction Drafts (with, I believe, their own budget, the FAB?) but still, those are for more advanced fantasy leagues, so maybe I’ll stick with the good old-fashioned Markers.
Honestly, for a base game, I’d most likely stick with Markers, and if I WERE to include the Underworld deck, it would have to be straightforward in order to not alienate the core fantasy demographic too much.
That’s all for today! Tune in next week for more aimless ramblings.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Mechanic Monday (Belated): Fantasy GM Squared's Front Office!

Is it a Mechanic Monday if it’s on a Thursday? You bet your ass it is!
It’s been a crazy busy week for me, what with work and the theatre company and [my dog] and my poor time management skills and my need to fill every hour with productivity and the smiling oppressive all-crinkling eye of Capitalism and
ANYWAY.  Gonna keep work, work, working away at Fantasy GM Squared (maybe I’ll just go with square cards to double-down on that title?) because it’s got the most legs, legs, legs, marketability.  I even made a Google Form to try and harvest data on just what it is that non-gamers most like about fantasy sports, and will try and spring that on people in the coming weeks.  But today, let’s talk about a mechanic, shall we? Here it is: The Front Office!

Front Office
When a Hero is at the Dedicate level, and the season ends, instead of rotating them again, flip the Hero card over and place it in your Guild’s Front Office.  For the remainder of the game, that Hero, now retired from adventuring, but still adding the wisdom of their experience to the leadership of the Guild, will offer a special ability that you can take advantage of.  The card’s special ability will indicate when in the season it can be used, and how many times, or if it is an ongoing persistent or end-of-game effect.

So this adds some long-term planning to the game.  And it incentivizes you to pick up or trade for players past their prime instead of endlessly returning to the youth well.  Ways I could tinker with this: Put a cap on number of FOH, and/or break the ability into multiple variations based on different slots (aka steal from Pixel Tactics and change the ability based on if the card is slotted into the Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, Defensive Coordinator, etc).  I also anticipate a truly wild selection of powers, including scouting (being able to draft cards-as-yet-revealed), magic (delay or accelerate player aging), rule manipulation, stealing VP or draft picks, otherwise sabotaging other characters, equipping characters, re-rolling dice, better free agent stuff, straight victory points, etc.  So we’ll see.
Anyway today’s MM is short and it’s late but it’s HERE.  Thanks for reading, see you next week!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Mechanic Monday: Aging Hero Cards!

Hey hey hey, it’s the start of the work week, time to prop your eyelids up with toothpicks, winch open your mouth for the caffeine spout, and numb the pain with another episode of MECHANIC MONDAY!
Ha ha, light stuff, light stuff, we sure have fun here.  My wife and I cleaned recently (not exactly a KonMari but definitely some purging) and I organized or binned a bunch of old PnP stuff and old drafts of some of my previous designs.  Now, with our guest room / office finally in striking distance of being done, I am of course considering busting out more office supplies and setting up some sort of filing system for the analog manifestations of my prototypes and WIP designs.  A folder for each game, each with its own notebook, the various drafts of rules, feedback from various playtests, etc.  It might be helpful for me to keep projects from getting lost in the shuffle, or it may cause me to feel an unearned sense of completeness as designs crystallize and ossify.  Not sure… but my game collection and game design definitely need to be reorganized to increase games being played and designed.  We’ll see what it ends up being.
Anyway, speaking of prototypes, I’ve been working mainly on two: BURN and FFGMGM.  As I mentioned previously, I’m going to focus my MechMon’s on FFGMGM for a few weeks, as those are the ideas I really want to communicate to potential co-designers, and to flesh out the possibilities of.  So without further ado, here’s another piece of the FFGMGM puzzle: Heroes!

Aging Hero Cards
Heroes are drafted one at a time to each player’s Pool/Guild.  From there, they may be added to a team in the course of a season.  All Heroes enter the draft with their portrait side facing North, which means they give benefits based on the Apprentice edge of the card.  At the end of each season, all Heroes rotate 90*.  Cards that were at the Apprentice Level are now at the Basic level, and cards that were at the Basic Level are now at the Champion level, and cards that were at the Champion level are now at the Dedicate level.  Cards that were at the Dedicate level may age out, leaving your Pool to be returned to the drafting deck, or may have certain abilities that allow you to score extra points or gain a GM ability.

So many of my design ideas are inspired at least in part by Daniel Solis’ work.  I can’t quite remember when he was tinkering with this one, but the gist of his proof of concept was, cards that had seven power levels, but each card was only as strong as its (fixed) position in your hand of cards.  I don’t think Daniel ever did anything with that idea, but this is how the concept has morphed in time in my own head.
So the current idea is square cards with one Age per edge of card, with rotation between each age - stats are fixed, and clearly visible to all at the time of draft.  Possible wrinkles: Instead of purely fixed stats, i.e. 4 Sword, perhaps they’re fixed + die rolls, i.e. 3 Sword + 1d4Sword, or totally luck-based, i.e. 4d4 Sword.  And if we want to obscure a Hero’s long-term potential, we can combine this with another favourite mechanic of mine and make them regular poker cards with A and B (180* rotation) on one face, and C and D (180* rotation) on the back of the card.  So you know you’re drafting a promising Paladin, but does she end up developing into her Reliable iteration, her Hall of Fame iteration, or her Bust iteration? You won’t know until you get to year 3 of having her.
Lots of ways to futz with this too.  Instead of rotating at all, could just be adding cards splayed underneath each hero, from Age (splayed above the card) and Training (splayed below the card).  Getting into some Alone at the Crossroads stuff there, but could be worth a shot if we want it to get fiddlier.
Variables to track: Fiddly vs ease-of-play; perfect knowledge vs partial info; fixed values vs dice-rolling/card-drawing.  Lots of fun knobs to twist as we search for the perfect balance.
Anyway, until next week!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Mechanic Monday: Scoring Cats!

Ding ding ding, time for a fresh new helping of MECH AN IC MO N DAY! All aboard “fin heads”, if there’s any ROOM left ABOARD this very full BANDWAGON!
Got a chance to playtest R2I Games’ latest project a couple weeks back, and it was a particularly good design.
The term “elegance” continues to be a fuzzy, mercurial one that defies meaningful definition, but this game checked off all its points for me in spades.  There’s nothing wasted in that game - it is a series of interconnected, limited systems, with resources, battle cards, and contracts flowing naturally through a player’s engine and back and forth between opponents.  Everything is intuitive and the theme meshes beautifully with the mechanics.  There’s a sense of scarcity that haunts at the edge of everything and spurs the players ever onward in a smart, tactical, tight race to the finish.  Jeff and Andrew are good guys and at this point, great designers, adept at iterating, trimming away the less-optimal parts of a gameplay experience, and making a holistic design.  Kudos to them.  Being me of course, I didn’t let them get on with the playtest without giving me a rundown of the design inspiration and development process.  I was particularly tickled when Jeff explained that the contract cards (one of which you sign for three years, two of which you have for two years, and three of which are only on one-year deals) were inspired by his being in a long-time fantasy football keeper league.  This perked up my ears, of course, as I think that along with M:TG, Fantasy Sports have the most potential to mine for game designs that create popular crossover appeal.  Hence why I’ve been working on Fantasy Fantasy GM GM.  And today I want to talk about one of the mechanics in it: Categories!

Scoring Categories
In FFGMGM, after drafting their heroes, they must set that season’s party: Simultaneously, the players pick a hero from their pool to add to their party; then, one of the categories is revealed, along with its point value for that season.  Players then add another hero, and reveal another category.  This continues until four categories have been revealed - each player now has a party of four, and four of the five categories now award points.

So that’s the rough gist of it, but there are lots of ways this can still be tweaked; my goal here is to capture the way fantasy players game their lineups in a non-points league to try and put insufficient eggs strategically into fewer baskets in order to win specific categories.  And there’s lots of ways this can still go; maybe one of the categories is revealed BEFORE hero selection, so that players can try and chase gradually revealed information.  Maybe the fifth category, currently worth nothing, is what determines drafting order? Maybe the players have the option to vote for which categories will be valuable, prior to hero selection.  And I’d like there to be some Hero abilities that let you sneak a peek at the face-down categories so that you can use Magic to gain a prediction advantage.  Lots of fun theme-meets-mechanics experience synergy here.  Just got to figure out which are the most attractive options.
Anyway, there are still a lot of fun mechanics in FFGMGM that I’ll probably dive into in the coming weeks - just as soon as I get this pesky BURN prototype built to get it out of my head… Anyway, til next week!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Mechanic Monday: Pass-Through Action Tiles

Happy Monday fam! Sorry about missing a post last week, it’s been busy at the theatre company, and those issues came first.  Streak broken, but time to start a new one!
Not gonna do the long rambling “my earliest memories of my grandmother were of flour-dusted fingerprints showing stark against the dark wrought iron of her teapot” intro today, just gonna dive right into this floating mechanic.

Jumping Across Action Tiles
In GREEM, a grid of Action tiles is laid out in the center of the play space.  Each player starts in a different corner, their pawn covering up that corner’s tile.  On a player’s turn, they move across as many tiles as they choose, provided they pay the energy cost on each tile.  That can either be a fixed starting amount, or it can be accumulated, or it could come from an Action Wheel.  But to move over a tile, you pay its cost and take its action.  The tile you land on does not require energy, nor does it grant its action.  Only tiles completely moved through are activated.

So basically, I envision this grid of action tiles, and each turn, a player carves out their own path through them, perhaps gaining new temporary energy for future turns, building up their base energy, drawing scoring cards, rearranging tiles, repelling other players’ pawns or dropping mines, removing tiles entirely, scoring points, whatever.  Now, there are a lot of ways to mess around with this - as I mentioned, you could have energy, or you could use Action Beads on an Action Wheel to pay.  You could also just use coins or VP or any other currency.  You can restrict each turn to tiles that are in a straight line, or you can allow paths to turn.  It could be square tiles, or hexes.Tiles could have edges that act as walls, stopping further movement in that direction; you could have every tile that a pawn starts from disappear for a gradually crumbling board, or you could layer tiles on top of tiles for an ever-changing stacked/overlapping board.  Pawn interaction is wide open, and you could make some tiles straight up enemies that require some other currency to pass/defeat.  Instead of merely interacting with tiles, perhaps players can buy them and add them to a player-powers or scoring tableau.
Anyway, with all the possibilities, what this really boils down to is a movement mechanic.  But it feels fun and different.  Ooh, I just thought of another possible twist - instead of activating the tiles you pass through, at the end of your turn you activate every tile that your pawn’s tile touches.  Anyway, something fun to consider, a nice combine-and-subvert of a roll-and-move and a worker-placement.  Take it to your lab and tinker away!
Alright, til next week! When I’ll probably start digging more into Fantasy Fantasy GM GM.  Cheers all.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Mechanic Monday: Smart Toxic Resource

Traditional Salutation! Self-deprecating re-affirmation of the obvious: Title of Segment [Mechanic Monday]!
I really like board game apps.  I like that they clean up the bookkeeping, I like the speed with which you can play, which is coupled with the option for guided tutorials over rulebooks.  I really like being able to play without any other humans (Fin Fun Fact! One of Fin’s Fun Catchphrases is: “I’ve always longed for a massively singleplayer online role playing game.”  Fun!) And I like that I can do it all on a mobile device, without a surface, starting and stopping within or between games.  Some implementations I recommend the most? Jaipur, Splendor, Maquis, Medici, Star Realms, Hive, Onirim - to name just a handful.  They’re great, with many positives!
They’re also, simultaneously, kind of not great for me.  For all the same reasons.  The faster I learn and get a bunch of plays in, the quicker the novelty wears off.  The staler the play experience, the more “solved” it feels, even if this is just my perception.  The ease of play, against increasingly more predictable AI opponents, leads me to fixate on and then burn out on a game.  Sometimes, I walk away from this cycle with more appreciation for the physical game; other times, I feel that the weaknesses have been exposed enough that I don’t really feel much motivation to play it physically.
This is a real roundabout and likely controversial way to bring up Lords of Waterdeep.  I played it pretty hard on the iPhone.  And it got pretty stale.  And I deleted the app because it was a memory hog.  And these days, the idea of buying a big shelf-and-table hog where the theme feels S-O-O-O pasted on is - not appealing.  I’m not knocking the design - there’s a lot to recommend it! There’s just also a lot to disqualify it for me - but let’s focus on something I did find interesting: Corruption.
Corruption is terrific! Daniel Solis called this mechanic a good implementation of the Tragedy of the Commons.  I’m also reminded of the titular mechanic in Heat.  In both cases, you have a toxic resource that confers significant short-term benefits, but which must be paid off or returned by the game’s end, or There Will Be Consequences, Consequences of a scale depending on how much of that resource is still un-paid-off between all players.
So: Toxic Resource, Available and Attractive to All, is negative to any Players holding it at game’s end based on how much is still in play.  Delightful.  It’s passive though; how about we turn it into a more actively malevolent force?

Smart Toxic Resource
In UNIT-E-CORP, the titular corporation is just starting out, as is the town that the players are building.  As players build up their businesses, the best way to get ahead is with the assistance of the town’s biggest economic driver - Unit-E-Corp! Unit-E-Corp can help you sway civic planning decisions, and you can synergize to tie your business’s successed to Unit-E-Corp.  You can also tailor your restaurants, entertainment, and housing to target UniteCorp employees!
But as each player relies on Unit-E-Corp to get ahead of their opponents, Unit-E-Corp grows stronger and stronger.  After it gains critical momentum, Unit-E-Corp decides it no longer needs your contributions, and begins to turn your city into a Company Town, replacing civic decision-making with corporate decrees, and devaluing all currencies in favour of company scrip.  The player with the most Success at the end wins, but if the Company grows too big, only Unit-E-Corp wins.

So here’s what I like about this.  It’s a multi-level push-your-luck, by which I mean that there are short-term and long-term ways to gamble against going too far.  And there’s something thematically nice about an AI instead of a passive resource, in that you can use programmed actions to add a slight risk element to the tragedy of commons.  This idea came to me based on this tweet by Shannon McDowell, but I really do think there are lots of fun ways to explore this Corruption/Heat-inspired iteration of a dummy player / Automata corporation.  Cards that offer players choices but which, as the company grows, rules out the top, player-friendly choices; a Deck of mixed Corp actions that as you enable, you thin of the good actions; various currencies (including like “labour” and “endorsement”, not just literal fiscal currecnies) that get crashed out by the corp; and so much more.  If anyone read this, I’d encourage them to chime in with other sub-mechanics for such an AI.  Sound off in the comments y’all!
Sentence abruptly making an excuse to depart.  Odd joke, acknowledgment of unprofessionalism, empty invitation to read next iteration!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Brainstorming FOOTGOOSE for Felonious Fauna

There's this design contest going right now, for games based on Grant Howitt's Honey Heist and Crash Pandas.  The goal? Design a game, digital, tabletop, or text, where animals commit crimes.  I think that's absolutely terrific, and in the next two weeks I'm going to explore three game ideas and see if any of them are worth submitting.
Here's my initial framing for each idea:
Bootloggers - Beavers diverting goods and floating contraband down the river to distribute for cheap.
Footgoose - Dancing is illegal! But these Canadian waterfowl DON’T CARE.
Squeak Easy - Prohibition is tough, but these enterprising mice provide a safe spot to enjoy some moonshine and rough company.
Today, I'm going to focus on Grant's favourite of these ideas: FOOTGOOSE.  Here's his recommendation:
So let's run with exactly that.
I'll try and fill out the following: An intro and summary, a character(s) creation section, and a play mechanic.

Dancing is illegal! But these Canadian waterfowl don't care.  In FOOTGOOSE, you're the new kid in a repressed, religious small town (Columbus, Indiana).  You don't fit in - not only because you're from the big city (Letterkenny, Ontario) but because you're also a gaggle of squawking geese.  The other kids may have bent to The Man, but not you - you're here to organize forbidden dances, remind your friends what fun is, and teach everyone a valuable lesson along the way.

Campaign Setup:

The Town - Here are the starting features of the Town.  Fill out the rest to make each version of it unique!
1) The Town is small.  Population: _________.  Number of burger joints: __________. 
2) The Town is the birthplace of: 1) Mike Pence 2) ___________ 3) ____________.
3) The name of the high school football team is: ____________.
4) The tragic incident that got dancing banned is: ____________.
5) The most respected adult and Leader of the community is: ___________.

The Kids - These are the poor teens living under the authoritarian non-dancing regime.
1) Your Best Friend! Name: _____________.  Significant Parent: _______________.  Unique Skill: _______________.  Secret Wish: _____________.  Likes You: 1   2   3   4   5   6
2) Your Love Interest! Name: _____________.  Significant Parent: _______________.  Unique Skill: _______________.  Secret Wish: _____________.  Likes You: 1   2   3   4   5   6
3) Your Rival! Name: _____________.  Significant Parent: _______________.  Unique Skill: _______________.  Secret Wish: _____________.  Likes You: 1   2   3   4   5   6

You - Each player is one of the Gooses in the gaggle.  Collectively, the Geese are one entity named Kevin, but each Goose needs the following:
Name: ______________.  Favourite type of bread: ______________.  FLAP: Strong   Weak   SQUAWK: Strong   Weak


A session is comprised of three Dances, each centered on one of the Kids (Best Friend, then Love Interest, then Rival), and culminating in a confrontation with the Leader of the community.  During a Dance, players rotate between who is the active Goose, and who plays the Kids.  In interactions with a Kid, the active Goose will roll dice from the pool of dice corresponding with their Strong trait.  Each other Goose who shares that Strong trait also rolls a die.  To try and improve your relationship with a Kid, you must get results based on the amount they like you:  # of results up to the Likes You Level, x the Likes You Level.  So the only way to improve someone who likes you at a 1 is to roll a 1, but for someone who like you at a 2, you must roll two dice that are a 1 or a 2.  After an Interaction, the active player's dice go to the Used Pool.  Each Dance, you interact with the Dance-specific Kid and one other Kid.  After a Dance, you replenish ONE pool - Squawk or Flap.

Alright, that's a rough... couple of ideas.  The dice pool mechanic needs a lot more work - what I want to achieve is the sense that the better you coordinate your various geese, the better you get - and I like that you can exert more Flap dice or more Squawk dice to power your dancing, and that you only refresh one pool at a time... I just need to figure out this stronger/weaker thing.  Break up the stats some.  Mess around with advantage/disadvantage? Exploding dice as a consequence? Weak requires exact, Strong has margin of error / Weak uses more dice than Strong ? What am I looking for here?

I'll type this up proper and keep thinking about a clearer dice mechanic.  Til next time!