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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Incomparables

Greg
United Kingdom
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Original post (with over 100% more pictures) http://3dtotalgames.com/incomparables/

I'm English and like all Englishmen I have a strong innate desire to loot everything whenever I can. Being an abstract thinker I'm keen to apply this to concepts too - if for no other reason than that I'm less likely to lose them afterwards. So when I first came into contact with extra credits and fell in love with their clear, insightful and above all optimistic presentation of concepts related to computer game design the first thing I said to myself was: "Which of these ideas can I loot for board games design?"

This episode stood out as one that has something interesting to talk about. You'd be doing yourself a favour by watching it, but to summarise quickly, the episode talks about abilities that cannot be (easily) mathematically compared. For instance, if I have a level up mechanic that offers a character a choice between +1 to hit and +1 damage, these can be compared as you can work out what your average damage is with both abilities and what the probabilities of getting those different amounts of damage are. One is almost certainly a straight up better choice than the other, unless some other design decision makes the difference between always hitting for 1 damage significantly different to hitting half of the time for 2 damage particularly significant. On the other hand if I offer +1 to hit or the ability to move through walls the answer is more likely to become "it depends", which leads to players making more interesting decisions.

There is a danger to incomparables in that, while they cannot be simply compared, it may be that in the context of the game, some options are simply better. I like that Descent and its attendant expansions offer a huge array of equipment to choose from when starting a new game, but in every game the same limited sets of equipment get chosen. In theory, the reach ability of the walking stick makes it incomparable to an axe but in practice, even a dungeon full of enemies one space too far away would be better approached by grabbing a higher damage weapon and using fatigue to move the extra space.

I like adding cool new abilities to games - bonuses to existing mechanics can be fun - but the "wow" moments for a lot of games come when a player manages to cobble together the perfect move that nobody saw coming out of a series of unusual abilities that let them bend the normal rules of the game. I had one of these moments testing assassins with my sister recently..

We'd tested the basic game and decided to throw in the unique characters I've made but never internally tested. In theory, these start your deck with four unique cards representing the sort of assassin you are, they all work differently and the abilities are not strictly comparable. She chose the shapeshifter and happened to draw an opening hand entirely of her characters unique abilities. She turned into a bird, flew over a wall, transformed into a monster and scared some guards away before finally shifting into a mouse and sneaking through the newly made gap. Visualising it was fun, the move would normally be impossible and lead to an interesting situation and I'm told it felt awesome to use those moves in that way. I'd really like to include the unique characters if I can make them work, but balancing for this sort of thing is a nightmare. There is only one solution:

Testing, testing, testing, until the feedback matches the image. I'd best stop blogging and get back to making that happen
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