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When is a good time to die?

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Original Post

I've nailed down most of the rules for 404:Law Not Found, but there are still one or two small things that I'm in two minds about. They are only small things, but I like paying attention to the little details and making the best decisions I can with them. The one that I'm wrestling with today is the timing of human death.

In 404 humans tend to die in one of two ways. Either their counter is obliterated entirely, for example by being incinerated in the trash burner, or they end up in a room with no oxygen and their counter gets flipped to the dead side. Timing is easy on the former case, the human is dead once the counter is gone, but in the latter case there's a little more room. Once there is an open door to space, a human could die (1) Immediately (2) At the end of the phase or (3) At the end of the turn.

An immediate death has the advantage of being simple. Most players intuit that opening a door to space should kill an unspacesuited human in the room and it's always a big boon for games for the rules to be as intuitive as possible.

An end of the phase death isn't too much less understandable and gives a little leeway to robots with directives like "have a human survive due to a space suit". Occasionally a robot will open a door to space in the same phase that another robot was putting a space suit onto a human, it would be cool and dramatic if this saved them. It's much easier to kill someone who was saved at the last minute than it is to bring someone back who was killed at the last minute, so the change would likely lead to a reduction in unecessary frustration.

The end of the turn option is to make inventory management of people and space suits easier. At the moment if a person is in space with a toolkit and a spacesuit, getting them is a headache, a pickup action will get the toolkit and the space suit causing the human to die. If it were possible to do a couple of pickup actions and rearrange the human into the spacesuit that would make this procedure less fiddly. If I'm honest with myself, that's not really why I'm considering it. It's really that in a particular game one of my playtesters wanted to be able to fire a human into space using the torpedo tube and then fire the space suit after him and have him put it on in time to live. I thought that was awesome enough that I just want it to be possible.

The cases where this rule matters are pretty marginal. In 95% of games it would make no material difference which "death timing" gets used, but in the 5% where it does a slower timing would generally be preferable. On the other hand, it's good for rules to be simple and intuitive, so introducing some complexity for the sake of a minority of games could be a mistake. Then again, the rule might not be that complex, humans already follow a list of actions on their turn, so appending "die if you don't have oxygen" to the start of that list wraps it into an existing mechanic.

The obvious step is to test the change and see how well it works out. Time is running out, I've not got too many more blind tests scheduled before the kickstarter launch and I do need them for firming up the wording in the rules more than I need them for testing out little changes. But it's a very small change and for a small number of players it could lead to the sort of excellent moments that really make the game for some types of player.

I think I'll try it out. You only die once.
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Subscribe sub options Thu Jul 11, 2013 4:29 pm
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