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:
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Emergent Properties

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Playing Malifaux with a friend the other day lead to an odd strategy; I managed to freeze his entire warband in place, by using an ability that caused everyone in contact with a particular terrain piece not to be able to move. As he only had one ranged combatant to my several, victory seemed assured. He used his shooter to kill one of his own units, which self resurrected outside of the terrain piece charged the freezing model and put her out of action freeing up the rest of his band.

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These sorts of moments really make gaming interesting, but designing a game capable of producing them is a challenge. There's a reason that good design often consists of finding ways to take things away, you don't want to waste a player's tolerance for complexity on an element that only has an impact one game in a hundred, but it's good when events occur that can only happen one game in a hundred.

I had an experience of this in the last week of playtesting. One disaster card, "Portal", states that whenever a player moves, they arrive in a random room instead of their intended destination. A second, "Lure of Power", forces all entities to move one space towards the mana crystal. Since each disaster card has only about a one in four chance to be in each game they'd only be in the same game one time in sixteen, the odds of them occurring in consecutive turns is probably to the same order of magnitude as one in a hundred. The lure of power causing problems with portals was a great moment.

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The common thread between these occurrences is that they were emergent properties of effects that worked on their own. In wizard academy both the portals card and the lure of power cards stand up on their own. The first makes it risky to move around, but a canny group of players are able to use this to achieve goals they otherwise couldn't, the second moves monsters towards the mana crystal where they can do the most damage. Similarly, the ability to freeze enemies and the ability to come back to life when killed both stand up on their own, but the combination turned out to give us an excellent moment.

I've always liked the idea of emergent properties, I studied them for years in an academic setting and for even longer as a magic player (I'm definitely a Johnny). There's something exciting about the notion that when things fit together just so an unlikely effect you've never seen before might happen. I think that this is something to strive for, later this week I'll discuss how I'm trying to implement this in wizard academy and the challenges this presents.

What's the most interesting unexpected combination of effects you've experienced in a game?
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