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Subject: How NOT to make a special power or racial ability rss

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Désirée Greverud
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First off, absolutely, 100% ignore me if you don’t like what I have to say. This is a game, and a light, fun game at that. Play the way you want. I mean, who am I? I’m just some chick on the internet and hardly the last word on Small World. I made races and powers like these because despite being told otherwise, I needed to see for myself (and hey, the community was right). All this is, is things that the community here has largely determined just don’t work. The goal is to save you time and perhaps encourage more creative designs.

Some things to keep in mind: there is 1 overall concept to a power – to help you score points. There are 6 basic powers. They are a bonus to attacking, a bonus to defending, immunity, more tokens, gaining coins directly and movement. A few powers don’t fit these and generally involve either combining 2 actions into one (e.g. Stout) allowing extra actions (e.g. Ghouls, Spirit, Marauding) or extra tokens in exchange for a detriment (e.g. Pixies, Barbarians).

So the thing to ask about your new power is “does this power give me coins or tokens? Does it make it easier for me to attack? Or does it give me extra defense?” If the answer is No to all of those, you may have a problem.

Let’s look at a couple of common problematic powers:

Send 2 tokens to the tray when you conquer is a very commonly suggested power that fails the above question. It simply doesn’t help you and by encouraging you to attack more heavily defended regions, it actually hurts you overall as you will claim less territory than you would have otherwise. This power hurts a single targeted other player and is just not fun. Don’t do it.

Send an attacker to the tray. I think it’s the Risk crowd that keeps proposing this. This one fails in the same way the above one does. The only advantage is that it can act as a deterrent to being attacked. However, there is no balance to this as even though more heavily defended opponent regions might require more tokens to attack, they don’t kill an attacker, so the ultimate result is that you become immune, since no attacker will attack knowing they will lose a token when they could attack a region with even one more token and come out ahead on the deal. There have been attempts at doing this one using die rolls or random tokens to reveal if an attacker dies or not which may or may not work depending on your play group. But ultimately, even Alchemist will help you win the game better than this power.

Another common problem is the “This race/power makes tokens worth 2 when attacking and/or defending” There are a number of problems here but the main one being it violates the “regions require 2+ number of tokens to conquer” One could argue that Leprechauns and other token placing races violate this but that is more of a bookkeeping mechanic. Tokens are worth 1 token. The numbers in the game simple don’t support multiplying. If you want to have extra strong attacks, give extra tokens like Amazons. If you want extra defense, use a defense token like Trolls. One token is always 1 token. Problems arise when a power gives -1 to attack. Is it one of your double powered tokens less? A fortified Troll in a mountain normally requires 6 to conquer. That would be 3 of your double strength tokens. Now if you have Commando and require one token less, normally this means you need 5 but with double tokens, you need 2 (which equals 4) so you gain an unintended advantage. Point being, the game is not designed for double strength tokens and the numbers just won’t work.

Don’t make powers that allow 2 different races to share a region. Don’t share, don’t cover up, don’t use opponents as defensive tiles. There are very good reasons why there are no powers in the game that allow 2 different races on a space. In a 5 player game with 11 races on the board, seeing who is where is crucial and having two stacks on a region becomes confusing. When someone else wants to conquer it, which stack do they conquer? How do you keep track? Are you considered adjacent? Or there is the power that takes opposing tokens and uses them for your own attacks or defense. First, you have the same potential confusion problem as above with the added problem of the opponent tokens being hidden so people are unsure of how many tokens of each are actually there. Usually, this is done in order to deny opponents tokens. The problem here is this isn’t that game. Denying tokens is like denying a player access to the die. Tokens are the mechanism that players use to play the game and nothing in the game is designed to deny them to the players. If you want to enslave, possess, conscript or otherwise use enemy tokens, create a growing race that converts them or a defense token and give the other player their pieces back If you must deny tokens, place them on your banner instead. Multiple races on a single region is simply a bad idea. Don’t do it.

Don’t make powers that either target specific other powers or races or rely on the existence of specific powers being available. Don’t make a race that gets a bonus to attacking defense structures. As obvious and even thematic as this might be, it doesn’t work in practice (I’ve tried it. I really, really wanted it to work. I had artwork and tokens and everything. I was going to make it work. It doesn’t). What happens at best is that it targets one other player for your attacks because they happen to be the proper type of target not because attacking them is actually best for you. At worst, your power is worthless because the type of thing you are better against doesn’t exist in this particular game. Powers that affect “undead” races, or female races, races wearing hats, powers that begin with the letter S or “skeletons” fall under this as well. And absolutely never ever make a power that ignores “immune”. You wind up with unstoppable force meets unmovable object. “My Gobstoppers ignore immune defenses!” “yeah, but my immunity ignores your special power” “ but my power is to ignore your power” “and my power is to ignore your power ignoring my power” ad infinitum. who wins? The lawyers do! Just don’t go there. Immune is immune. Create a “claim region x with a single token” if you must have ultra-strong attacks, but leave the Holes in the Ground alone.

Don’t make powers that force other players to do things they would otherwise get to choose. Don’t make a race that when chosen, everyone else must go in decline. Or say that everyone must attack you or pay you if they don’t. Players must be allowed to make their own choices. There really aren’t that many meaningful decisions in this game. Let people make them. Don’t mess with the board or the turn counter either. All of these things fail the basic question from back at the beginning: they don’t help you score points and end up altering the actual game playing experience (“I thought this game was supposed to take 90 minutes. What do you mean you just added 20 minutes more to it?”)

OK, wow, that was a whole lot of negative and you’ve probably seen your favorite idea in here and now are cursing me for wasting your time. Like I said, if you disagree, ignore me. It’s your game. Play it how you want. Just know that if you post these ideas, these are the responses you will often get. There are still hundreds… thousands of ideas out there even without these, and those of us who love this game, and love modifying it, want to see those great new ideas.

TL;DR
Don’t make powers that:
Kill two tokens when conquering
Kill an attacking token when being conquered
Are worth 2x (or some multiple) tokens when conquering or defending
Allow/require 2 or more different race tokens to occupy the same region at the same time
Target specific other powers (like “defense structures” or “immune areas” or “skeletons”)
Force metagame choices like when to go in decline or what races can be chosen.
Mess with the gaming situation, like the board, seating arrangements or turn counter

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Matt D
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Started having thoughts about a number of sci-fi property themed races and powers and a number of them broke these rules. A few I felt were obviously weak/targeted the wrong things and needed work, others I thought were good ideas and fit thematically with what I was going for.

A few I think will still work despite this, but a number need better thought. I think using these as guidelines will make a better 'product' in the end. Thanks for posting this.

Happily, there are a number of issues I didn't commit and wouldn't have thought of. This will keep it from happening.
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Levi Petty
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DragonsDream wrote:
Problems arise when a power gives -1 to attack. Is it one of your double powered tokens less? A fortified Troll in a mountain normally requires 6 to conquer. That would be 3 of your double strength tokens. Now if you have Commando and require one token less, normally this means you need 5 but with double tokens, you need 2 (which equals 4) so you gain an unintended advantage. Point being, the game is not designed for double strength tokens and the numbers just won’t work.


This example, which is the only example you gave as to why double-power tokens don't work, only applies to attacking, not defending.
 
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Désirée Greverud
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Gubump wrote:
DragonsDream wrote:
Problems arise when a power gives -1 to attack. Is it one of your double powered tokens less? A fortified Troll in a mountain normally requires 6 to conquer. That would be 3 of your double strength tokens. Now if you have Commando and require one token less, normally this means you need 5 but with double tokens, you need 2 (which equals 4) so you gain an unintended advantage. Point being, the game is not designed for double strength tokens and the numbers just won’t work.


This example, which is the only example you gave as to why double-power tokens don't work, only applies to attacking, not defending.

you don't get the math issues so much when defending (well, you do, but it works against the defender when they lose 1 token) but mostly it's so you can see the stack size. Conquering a region costs 2 + whatever is there. There is no reason not to make a defense token instead of declaring a token to be worth 2 in some situations (but not others). 1 Token = 1 Token. On defense this is even easier since defense tokens do exactly what you want anyway.
 
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J
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Hey that's a really good list you made there. I don't know if you recognize me or not but I've done a lot of critiquing in the past (not as active anymore) even some for you. I actually saved an introduction to use with would be Variant makers:

First of all don't take anything I say very personally. Lets just say I’ve been doing this for a long time. Here are some standards for designing races. Non of these are specifically directed at your races yet.

Second I'll remind you that usually the Race equivalent of a Attribute will have one more unit than the Attribute (like how the Hill Attribute gives 4 units whereas the Human race gives 5). There are exceptions but for the most part this holds true.

Third
-Standard Races/Attributes that assist with offense or defense while active usually have 6/5 units.
-Standard Races/Attributes that score bonus points usually have 5/4 units unless there is some inherent weakness to them.
-Standard Races with pure movement abilities usually have 7 tokens whereas no attribute should only have a movement ability cause Flying will trump it no matter what.
-Standard Races/Attributes that have abilities while in decline and while active are usually docked yet another race token.
-Any Races with more than 8 units should have a detriment
-If a power is good enough it might be docked another race token like how commando is an offense attribute with 4 tokens.
-Just because you have an idea for a power does not mean that you can raise/lower unit counts to make it balanced. Sometimes a power just cannot be balanced no matter how you massage it.

Fourth While SW is a self balancing game try to avoid abilities that are strictly inferior, superior or identical to abilities that already exist. While some do exist officially it is generally not interesting or balanced to do so. If you argue that an unbalanced power is fine because people will pay more/less for it or because other players will attack you more/less when you have it you will simply lose credibility in our eyes and it won't help your case.


See, very similar to what you said.
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Désirée Greverud
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allstar64 wrote:
Hey that's a really good list you made there. I don't know if you recognize me or not but I've done a lot of critiquing in the past (not as active anymore) even some for you. I actually saved an introduction to use with would be Variant makers:


I remember you of course. Most of what I learned & wrote here I learned from you. My goal here was to go into more detail and provide examples as to why these ideas generally don't work. Like why "anti-structure" abilities don't work. We had a disagreement on this when I made a race that ignored defensive structures and you said it was a weak bad idea. But it took me a while to grasp why so I wanted to pass that realization along. I hope you don't feel like I stepped on your toes here. Your input is always much appreciated.
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J
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DragonsDream wrote:

I remember you of course. Most of what I learned & wrote here I learned from you. My goal here was to go into more detail and provide examples as to why these ideas generally don't work. Like why "anti-structure" abilities don't work. We had a disagreement on this when I made a race that ignored defensive structures and you said it was a weak bad idea. But it took me a while to grasp why so I wanted to pass that realization along. I hope you don't feel like I stepped on your toes here. Your input is always much appreciated.


Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

*Does a quick search*

Come one, come all. See DragonsDream's embarrassing past:

*click*

Haha but really no I don't mind at all. I'm not as active as I used to be and my greatest goal in the critiquing that I did was to help people design better races and hope they understand the basics oh what's good and what' bad and/or so they could become better at critiquing as well. In fact, I never know if anyone feels they've benefited from what I've said so it's nice to hear someone has.

I'm guessing you tried your Gremlins in a game cause your comments about "Specifically targeting" factions is spot on. If you are targeting another player it should be solely be because you chose to target them ie you think they are winning. Not because your faction somehow chose for you to do it.
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Danny Mack
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Desiree & Allstar, you guys are great.
I wish I had time like I used to to haunt the Variant forums...or any forums for that matter. LOL Someday I shall return in full force, but meanwhile I'm glad you guys are here.
 
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Désirée Greverud
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bandit_boy7 wrote:
Desiree & Allstar, you guys are great.
I wish I had time like I used to to haunt the Variant forums...or any forums for that matter. LOL Someday I shall return in full force, but meanwhile I'm glad you guys are here.

please, come back! It's been so quiet all summer. It's like every Small World poster went on vacation
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