Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Simultaneity

Well now.  Here we are again.  In case I have any readership, I'd like to say firstly, thanks for your time, and secondly, regarding my last post, I moved on to the next round of the sketch-writing competition, and finished my submission for Week 2 on Saturday.  So the writing's done, and the nerves of Friday are yet a ways off.  So let's talk some Game Design Theory.

Simultaneity: What are its advantages? What are its disadvantages?

Let's start with what BBG forum user Eric Jome "cosine" said in response to my inquiry:

"This is a really pivotal concept.

Games that use drafting, phasing, and simultaneous action selection to distribute the waiting have raised the bar considerably on what makes a good game. No one likes waiting forever for your turn. The more you can make your game avoid long downtime, the better off you'll be in the marketplace... I'd call it a design imperative, frankly.

One overlooked trick is to make people decide what to do on their turn when it is not their turn.

Another trick is to make players serve in some capacity while it is not their turn - banker, monster action selector, and so on."

The emphasis is my own.  I myself dislike waiting for my turn; Dominion was a revelation to me for the simple mechanic of drawing your hand at the END of your turn, so that you could spend your opponents' turns plotting and planning, and thereby removing the gap between drawing and playing.  With Dominion, Donald X Vaccarino has moved the "Thinking..." Phase to your opponent's turn instead of yours.  It's worth looking at; what other fundamental little shifts can you make from the current paradigm, in order to speed up play? Fast play is what lead me to examine simultaneity; simultaneous play is the fastest play at all; when it's your opponents' turn, it's also yours.  Instead of just the "Thinking..." Phase, you move your entire turn onto your opponent's.

Where does Simultaneity work? 7 Wonders was the example most consistently used on the BGG thread.  Diplomacy, Neuroshima Hex, and Galaxy Trucker were also named.  In Daniel Solis' games, simultaneous reveal is common, most recently in Koi Pond.  I feel like even when one player is done with their turn long before the other player(s), there is a slightly smaller tax on their patience due to the psychological effect of it still being "their turn".  They're not waiting to take their turn, they're waiting for their turn to take effect.  Plus, there can be the other, also unquantifiable sensation that the person who's waiting for the other player to complete this simultaneous action is waiting because she is the "faster" player.  "Winning the race", even when there is no race, nor any advantage for thinking you've won, tends to mollify impatient personalities, I suspect.

Now what are some disadvantages? Well, let's look at that last example.  Simultaneity does actually turn into a race at times.  Bernard Wingrave "bwingrave" responded to the thread with:

"If you have true simultaneous play, like in Galaxy Trucker, you'll run into players who refuse to play the game because they don't like the time pressure or feel they aren't fast enough to succeed."

One man's treasure, etc.  Look at Chess.  People play Chess lots of different ways, for lots of different reasons.  Some play speed chess, some play by mail; they're looking to exercise different skills, and are, in a way, playing very different games.  Some play only chess, some play lots of games; and therefore some will want to only play classic chess, while others want to experiment with variants.  The takeaway here, is that the things you love most about a game can be the cardinal sin that turns others off of the game.

But that's such a vague truth.  Here's something more brass-tacks difficult about Simultaneity; Resolution of Timing Priority.  I'm talking about the tie-breakers.  How do you handle deadlocks, tied totals, two players' blind bids matching up, etc.  Cancel-out mechanics? No winner = re-do? Secondary priority values that only come into play in these specific Exception situations? Or do you perhaps dip into the half-measures that we lump under simultaneity, i.e. games like Citadels, where you are ostensibly choosing roles simultaneously, but which is nonetheless a draft with a clear beginning and ending, with commensurate advantages and disadvantages? Citadels Role-drafting is often referred to as being simultaneous (and lauded for it) but perhaps because I've only ever played it with gamers who are... vocal about their particular opinions... the disconnect between truly democratic simultaneity and reality has been heavily criticized.

I don't have all the answers, or even most of them; I'm quite new to the field, and don't have the resources to try as many games as I'd like to.  So I'm working it out myself.  My biggest challenge with simultaneity right now is determining how to handle it in Skrattejagergeist.  The game is played simultaneously, but there are instances where ties take place, and resources are consumed inequally; I need to figure out tie-breakers that are fair, but more importantly, elegant.  I'll keep you posted.

Peace.

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