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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ElementMerge.exe

Greg
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Context: Infinite Legacy



Returning for the new year, I've cracked open my notes from last years Infinite Legacy playtesting and got to work.

The progress here belies a fundamental challenge in game design: Reducing complexity without reducing depth. If you remember what the board looked like (or clicked on the link) then you'll see how the board is covered in counters - which makes it very visually complex to determine what's going on and creates a lot of downtime in sorting and placing all of those counters. One of the goals of this iteration was to see how much could be removed without impacting game. Since this gets copied to a game design blog let's break it down by technique.

Technique 1: Merging

To reduce complexity through merging simply take two similar elements that are serving similar purposes and turn them into one element. This is at its strongest where players aren't choosing between those elements (and so it doesn't eliminate a choice) but game decisions are impacting them (and so existing options become more multidimensional, as the impact on both halves of the merge needs to be considered)

For infinite legacy this is the NPC leaders and generals. You always drew from the leader deck for a civil action and from the general deck for a military action - there's no choice between them. Players can manipulate leaders (of both kinds) drawing several cards and deciding which one dictated their behaviour. Alternatively if a few turns in they'd noticed that the leaders deck of 3-5 cards was producing a lot of behaviour they didn't like they could assassinate the leader and draw a new set of cards for their replacement.

Having one leader card that contains a civil and military action reduces complexity by taking a card type out of the game and two actions (manipulate & assassinate general) but adds some depth in forcing decisions like "I want to assassinate this guy for his peacetime actions, but he'd do exactly what I wanted if there was a war on".

Technique 2: Derviation

Another option to reduce complexity is to have one thing derived from another thing. So where a game might previously have tracked trade deals and wealth, after derivation it just tracks wealth and has a rule like "a city always has trade deals equal to half of its wealth". This results in one less thing to track, so fewer rules and counters - but risks increasing complexity if the derivation calculation is more complex than the elements that are removed. In some cases a concept can be removed entirely and exist only in an implicit sense embedded in the rules.

This approach is strongest when two things are already tightly linked together and the calculation between them can be described in very simple terms.

For infinite legacy this was the influence markers. Is it necessary to track via markers all spaces that a city influences or can this be replaced with a derivation like "A city controls all spaces that are adjacent to its troops and not enemy troops." I actually wound up going one step further and removed all reference to influence from the game, instead rewording rules directly around troops - so statements like "Place next to a friendly unit" rather than "Place in a space you have influence over." I'm not sure what you can actually *do* in the game has changed at all, but now you can do it with 30 fewer counters.

Technique 3: Inverting

What does a space always contain when you take everything else away?

Nothing.

Nothing can represent the absence of things, but it doesn't have to. If you're requiring a lengthy setup process in which more than half of the spaces contain counters, there's nothing stopping you redefining "empty space" as whatever your counter is and inverting the meaning of your counter. Consider why something like Mansions of Madness has darkness counters rather than light counters - strictly darkness is the default state with light being something that's artificially introduced into the environment. Thematically you could argue that there should be light counters everywhere that are removed when it gets down - but from a game design point of view: That's just stupid. Having the blank space be the most common game state and using counters to show exceptions to this makes a game feel less complicated and visual search to understand the game state easier.

In infinite legacy this meant changing how resources are managed. My first inclination was to have units pick up resources and place "resource depleted" tokens as they took things - though as I worked on it I wound up making some more sweeping changes to the resource system that should simplify a great many other factors.

Now the board starts blank and a worker spends one turn to place (lets say) some lumber on their space and the next turn to send it home to their city where it can be used. This means that the raiding action on the military side can be eliminated completely - just attack a worker between the first and second action and viola - you've stolen the thing - it was right there on the space. The default resource rules now handle it so it doesn't need a special thing anymore.

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There are a bunch of other minor changes that got made, parts of the game were expanded - in particular the rather skinny events deck (along with the necessary additions to the book of legends). The city cards needed a redesign to accommodate only having one leader, which lead to a few improvements in how different aspects were displayed.

I look forward to seeing how all of this works in practice next week. In the meantime I hope you're enjoying following the project and get some sort of insight into how I go about reducing complexity when something seems bloated.
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