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The Mission

Jeff Warrender
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Averill Park
New York
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Back when I was contemplating starting a publishing company, a game I really, really wanted to develop and release was a rebuild of Puerto Rico in the setting of the great Jeremy Irons/Robert De Niro film "The Mission". Sadly, I reached out to alea, RGG, and the designer and they weren't interested in this. I've never done anything more with the idea but in the spirit of brainstorming new ideas this week, I'll take a brief stab at this one as well.

What resuscitated my interest in this idea this week was a brief look back in time at some of the mechanics I've come up with that I felt were original to me. This is not an incredibly long list, but still, these are ideas that I liked enough to build games around. These mostly live in games that I'm not actively working on, and so my thought was, could these be moved to other games so that they can still perhaps see the light of day?

One of these ideas emerged in my development of Collusion, which is another game I've been working on for years and that's currently a bit stuck. I'm trying to figure out how to revamp that one, but one of the things I think will end up getting cut out is the 'power discs' mechanic -- or even if it doesn't it could be useful elsewhere. The idea is that you arrange your power discs in even stacks going around a rondel, and each turn, you can either take an action, which costs a disc, or pass and move the stack from the current area to the top of the stack in the next area. But the 'power' of the action you take is given by the size of the stack. And, actions are limited. So you want to act early if you can, so as not to get closed out; but you want to act late so that your action is more powerful. This is a simple but effective source of tension.

So my thought was to ask how could this mechanic be used differently? For example: forget the rondel and just grow the stack by some prescribed amount each turn. Maybe add a disc each turn, or maybe double the size of the current stack, or whatever. But the focal point could be the same: act early, or act later. Except, if we divorced this from the idea of a fixed 'year', then it would just be a continuous flow of turns, and the decision would be to act NOW or act later.

I realized that this could provide a twist on a role selection system. One player picks a role, and then everyone may choose to use that role or pass. If you use the role, your 'power' for the action is given by the number of discs in your current stack, which you then expunge.

Why must these be discs instead of just having a 'power track'? Actually I'm not sure -- in the Collusion mechanic you could loan discs to other players in exchange for boosts, and your disc came back to you when it floated to the top of the other player's stack. So maybe that could come into play here. For example, I want to use role X, and have available power of 4 but only need power 2; I must spend all my discs, so, hey, does anyone want these 2 power discs for their stack, and what am I offered in exchange for them?

With regard to the action of the game, this isn't a direct port of PR but some of the concepts would be similar. I think the idea is that we're different orders running missions in the Paraguayan jungle, helping to cultivate the land and care for the native people, the Guarani. I think that we're situated along a river, and so the idea would be that role selection represents "we're bringing this particular personage up the river to assist our missions", and we can use that person's ability in seat order. Maybe within this construct there's a draft for each available action -- for example, the builder only has the materials to build certain buildings. I think we each have an area in which to place tiles, but it's more like Cuba than PR, in that the same area will contain crops and buildings. And I think that the boat also flows back down the river, so we need to load it up with crops or finished goods to sell in exchange for money.

The movie has an added political layer to it. The territory occupied by the Jesuit missions is Spanish, in which slavery is outlawed, but it’s being transferred to Portugal, where slaving is legal. The Jesuits want the Vatican to protect the missions against the Portuguese but the Vatican wants to preserve catholic unity in Europe. These aspects should affect the game st some level, with players having very limited ability to control them. But I think they should make the game very difficult — both mechanically, because it’s an uphill climb to resist the Portuguese influence, and emotionally, because the game’s ending should the Portuguese prevail is very sad. It remains to be seen whether this comes through in the player experience. What it at least points to is that the scoring system has to be built around the perceptions of the Guarani people - did they perceive that your mission was a net good for their people?

Lots of vague ideas so far but I think the mechanical core is the role selection coupled with the timing mechanism. Do you act frequently, but inefficiently, or do you bide your time to take actions that are more impactful?

(Edited for spelling errors)
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