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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Stealth (1/2)

Greg
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Odd, I posted this yesterday but it appears to have disappeared? The original post is still up just fine. I'm not sure what went wrong there, ah well, it's a two parter so the parts will arrive closer togehter for the BGG blog

It's a poorly hidden secret that I enjoy games with treachery and lies, but I think that this is part of a broader theme. I reckon that in general a trickster theme appeals to me, I'm fascinated by human nature and all of the different things that we go around believing. I can't help but being endlessly curious about why it is that we see the world in such different ways, from simple disagreements about what constitutes a 'fair' washing up rota to our beliefs about what the world is, how it came to be and what it means to be alive. I find the quote "If you want to understand something then try to change it" compelling, though in some cases I'd substitute "create" for "change". I love the notion of playing with belief, I also thing that messing around with altering other people's beliefs in play is probably good practice for getting elbow deep into other types of change. Either that or I'm trying to prove to myself the truth of one of my own beliefs: "Given access to all of that lore, sorcery and illusions...I'm certain that I could've beaten Thor"



Now that all of my Scandinavian friends and any students of mythology are well and truly offended I can get to the point of this post: Stealth games play to this same sort of instinct. Fundamentally, stealth is about confounding someone's belief about your location. In the real world stealth can be achieved by leading a person to believe that they are alone, but in a game a player knows that they have an opponent and that they are hiding so it can only be achieved by tricking them.

One of the first games I played as a child was Scotland Yard, which was born a year before me. In this game detectives are trying to chase down a criminal, each turn starts with the criminal moving and announcing his mode of movement (taxi, bus or tube) and then the detectives make a move each trying to catch him. They win if any of them enter his space and he wins if he can avoid that for a set number of turns. The job of the criminal was complicated as on fixed turns he'd commit a crime and have to announce his current position to the detectives, but he also had the ability to move without revealing his method of transport a few times each game. The standard pattern was for him to get some distance between himself and the detectives immediately before a reveal and for them to move to spaces that made them highly mobile, following the reveal they'd try to corner him and he'd try to escape. The most fun plays were always those in which the criminal was close to being caught, his position was more or less known and had had the option of a few different escapes, the players' capacity to predict each others' decisions came to the fore and drove the game. The moment of tension between a detective making their move and the criminal revealing whether they'd been caught or given the detectives the slip really made that game.



I didn't play many stealth board games for some time. The PC gaming scene was just taking off and the likes of Thief were coming out, it seemed to me that a board game could never capture stealth mechanics as effectively as computer game equivalents. The reveals that made Scotland Yard work felt clunky and unnatural in a lot of settings and the need for a player to write down their location each turn was a minor but constant irritation. For a while I put the notion of stealth in board games out of my head (I played DBM and some other war games that used ambush mechanics, but war games are an entirely different bag of mongeese).

Then I started playing the Aliens vs Predator CCG. It used a stealth mechanic in which you placed tokens onto the board to indicate your possible locations, when one was fired upon you flipped it to reveal whether it was your real location or one of your decoys. Next time you moved used decoys could be redeployed and moved in different directions. I should probably quickly acknowledge the similarity between this and the blip system in Space Hulk, but since almost every blip represented some number of enemies and one enemy was enough to kill everyone if you hadn't left someone to watch the approach it never really felt like a stealth system. The AvP counter system on the other hand, felt very natural. All of the tokens occupied locations that you could reasonably have moved to and it put the emphasis of the game on doing everything you can to mislead your opponent(s). There were a lot of flaws with this game, but I really enjoyed this mechanic and as the game was a CCG there was plenty of room to specialise towards it. It always felt awesome to use it well and pull a move that your opponent hadn't suspected might work.



Sadly the mechanic still had its fair share of problems. The game didn't have a good way to handle activities you did outside of line of sight of your opponent. In general if you wanted to get some equipment you had to be in the correct room. If this restriction were applied to stealthy characters then your opponent would know that the marker near to them was a decoy even though they should have no way to know what you just picked up on the other side of the map. On the other hand if it didn't apply then you could close the distance to your opponent while simultaneously collecting equipment that wasn't available anywhere near them. I actually can't remember which solution the game used, but I remember being unsatisfied by it and thinking that there really wasn't a good answer to it.

I've only covered half of the games that I intended to talk about and this post is already over a thousand words long, so it looks like I'm going to have to chop it in two (remember when I said I was going to do that at 500 words and try to be less verbose? Fat chance!) Hopefully you'll come and see me again tomorrow, but I'll see you first
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