Greg's Design Blog

A collection of posts by game designer Gregory Carslaw, including mirrors of all of his blogs maintained for particular projects. A complete index of posts can be found here: https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/58777/index
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Meet the games: Murder TV

Greg
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Original post (with over 100% more pictures) http://3dtotalgames.com/meet-the-games-murder-tv/

I'm getting started on this project by developing three games together. The idea is to playtest them a bit internally and externally and to use the feedback from these playtests to select a game for more intensive playtesting and ultimately publication. Over the next few days I'll introduce the games, talk about the state they're in and the challenges that they're currently facing.

First up: Murder TV. This game draws on inspirations such as Battle Royale, The Hunger Games and Kaiji to explore situations where people are pulled from their normal lives and made to fight for survival on the whims of others. The game places a strong emphasis on audience reactions, allowing a character to survive by virtue of being loved by the studio audience as much as by cunning tactics and skill in combat. Why don't you sit in on an internal playtest with me to get a feel for the game?

Setup

So there's a lot going on here. In the middle we've got a board with our three main players and a pile of nameless NPCs wondering around. Poor nameless NPCs. The pieces are looted from a combination of Zombicide and Ninja which is serviceable at this early stage, but developing my own board configuration is a priority.

Around the edges of the board we have character sheets for the players, tracking how much the audience loves them (for approaching people and being a nice guy), how much the director loves them (for starting fires, blowing things up and generally looking good on TV), how much health they have left (generally opposed to the two above) and how much experience they've earned (by killing other survivors or forming temporary alliances)

Early Developments

Things have gone poorly for our heroes. Malkov (The samurai model on the left) immediately revealed his submachine gun and entangled himself in a running battle with the NPC armed with a sniper rifle, staying inside his minimum range to avoid return fire. Personality cards were drawn for the NPCs nearby. While the longbow armed character drew a calculating personality and wouldn't get involved in other peoples disputes, the slingshot wielder had a deteriorating mentality and joined the battle.

Lyssa (Zombicide waitress top right) revealed that her initial weapon was "spare ammo" eliciting some sympathy from the audience. She chose a friendly demeanor and approached the nearby characters hoping that they could work together, but unfortunately they pulled the 'Paranoid' and 'Bully' personalities and now are chasing her down the street.

Mei (Zombicide bottom right) didn't fare much better. Initially she kept her weapon concealed and adopting a cautious demeanor while searching the building for more equipment. Her search turned up a blank and the audience got bored enough to force the director to act, driving the NPCs to swarm nearby characters. This lead to her revealing her sole "weapon" as a shield and desperately fending off several assailants - a task she succeeded at owing to the defensive bonus her character obtains while being cautious and the bonus from the shield.

Meanwhile the director keeps the audience fairly entertained and gets a big fat bonus which he spends on hiring a bodyguard, in case the contestants decide to stop fighting each other and go for him. He briefly considers activating explosives hidden around the arena but the audience isn't bored enough to justify it so the card is discarded. (Note that while I ascribe motive to the director, his actions are determined by a combination of a director deck and the current game state rather than by there being a "director player")

Midgame

Malkovs persistence pays off and he finally guns someone down, entertaining the crowd and becoming the directors favourite. A few moments later the director notices the audience boredom has built due to Lyssa and Mei running away all of the time. So he decides to add some extra weapons to the mix, Malkov is allowed to choose which NPC gets one and selects a combatant tangling with Mei

Mei is promptly killed, but as the players are all the bookies favourites and it's bad for the show if they die too early (and boring for the player), the director steps in to save her. This hurts her popularity with the audience and the director but appearing on a start point gives her the opportunity to loot the corpse of Malkov's kill, acquiring (drumroll) a padded vest. Two defensive items and still no weapons.

Lyssa notices an opportunity as the newly armed NPC has a fantastically dangerous multiple grenade launcher. She provokes him into an attack that proves fatal for him, but not for her, giving her access to a big stack of his old loot. Furthermore the NPC panic level has increased, influencing some of their behaviour, the nearby character who is resigned to his fate will simply surrender when faced with a credible threat. After a bad start her position is looking tenable.

Endgame

Malkov kills again, obtaining a level and granding him the "sharp weapons" skill, giving him a bonus with blades. Lyssa intimidates the resigned character out of a knife, with which she cannot use her firearms knack starting skill. She and Malkov agree to trade, both move towards the middle and change to the "friendly" approach, which hurts her audience rating since they don't like people changing their mind too quickly (Malkovs is fine as his starting ability is "magnificent bastard" and he effortlessly changes between friendly and hostile). At this point either character can betray the other taking an attack with big bonuses, but the trade helps them both a lot so they manage to keep it civil.

Meanwhile, Mai finally finds a weapon she can use in the shape of a chainsaw. This kicks off her own rampage, allowing her to slay a series of other characters upgrading her weapons each time - until they have run far enough away that she can't quickly reach them. Meanwhile Lyssa is hunting for a target and Malkov successfully talks the sniper who he initially attacked into joining forces. All of this means that no violence occurs for a few turns and the audience boredom tracker hits maximum, the director decides enough is enough, it's time to blow everything up.

From now on an area will explode every turn, becoming impassible and killing everyone there. Players who die will no longer be saved by the director or audience. The director himself flies in to shake hands with the winner of the finale. At this point the players have a choice, they could try to take him down and end the show that's forced them into this, or they could decide that they're more likely to live if they kill the others and become the winner of this weeks Murder TV...

Conclusions

I'm going to end this play there, this post is running long and that's more than enough to give an idea of how a game is supposed to flow and some of the mechanics involved. This game still has a great many problems, some of which are probably apparent and others of which are more subtle. I'll copy a few of my notes here, some of these warrant an entire post in their own right, discussing options and possible solutions:

It feels like there are a lot of conflicting systems, the game needs ways to reduce complexity without sacrificing depth.
There isn't a lot for players to do off-turn (though the turns may be short enough that it doesn't matter)
There may be a particular advantage or disadvantage to always going immediately after the director. Perhaps I'll need to consider changing the starting player each turn.
It's very hard to hit anyone with anything, the combat rules need some rebalancing.
NPC AI needs some work, NPCs with weapons that have a minimum range should not run towards people shooting at them from inside that range.
They also shouldn't chase someone down the street while unarmed.
They also need a better system for choosing which weapon to use. When someone puts away a rocket launcher for a mop something's gone wrong.
The "building demolished" endgame looks like it'll take too long, one space a turn is going to be far too slow (The "everyone poisoned" looks like it'll work better)
The friendly/friendly trading situation is asymmetric, someone has to go first and they can be betrayed before the other person risks themselves. Maybe that's a good thing though.
Is the experience / skills system necessary at all? It's nice that it motivated a trade which is interesting above-table play, but it is extra effort.
Being on low HP when the endgame starts and suddenly players can't respawn feels like a huge and arbitrary disadvantage.

Well...I have a lot to be getting on with!
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