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Subject: How do you make a Tech Tree interesting? rss

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Drew Bowling
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Recently I've been working on a Euro strategy card game called Alchemica. One of the driving mechanics of this game is the Spell Tech Tree, where players buy different spells and then use them to generate resources to make potions. There are 3 different tech trees, each broken down into 4 levels. Each level has 1, 2, 4, and 8 spells respectively for each tech tree. There is a little competition in this respect because there is only one of each level 3 and 4 spell. One of the challenges in making this game was developing a single level 1 spell into 8 different, unique level 4 spells. I thought I succeeded.

Well...

When I first introduced this game to my friend the other day ago, one of his comments was that there didn't seem to be a lot of choices in the tech tree. 2 reasons he mentioned:

1. Since certain spells unlock and branch off to others, as you go forward, you are limited by the ones you've already bought. This was intentional, but maybe that was a poor choice. (In my defense, this means you have to think more about what earlier spells you want.)

2. There didn't seem to be a huge reason to get one spell over another. They were too similar. I would like to get another opinion before I concede that my spells are too similar, but it's worth mentioning.

(edit) 3. One of the tech trees is the one that lets you cast more spells per turn and "accelerate" spells so you can use them again more quickly. The positive of this tree is that it allows you to do a TON more per turn. It's absolutely necessary. The con of this tree is that, if you were to only focus on this tree, it would do absolutely nothing. It doesn't help you generate resources. It just helps you use your other cards more. My friend said that the fact that this tree can't be used by itself also limits the choices of the players. He thinks each tree should be able to be used entirely independently if a player so chooses. I have to take his opinion into account. I would argue that my version creates the choice between emphasizing lots of spell efficiency cards to maximize the effects of weaker cards or emphasizing other spell cards and using the some spell efficiency cards just to grease the wheels of your resource-generating machine. But I could be wrong.

My friend is more into video games. I asked him what makes video game tech trees more interesting. He showed me a tech tree from a Steam game (don't ask me to give you the name). It was a little different. It also had 3 different tech trees, but instead of branching out, each tech tree was linear. Each focuses on a different element of attack (fire, water, and lightning), but along each path, they also give you different boosts; the lightning tree might increase your attack, while the water tree might increase your defense (not entirely sure that's how it lined up, but that's the general principle). Instead of choosing which branching path you want to take, the decision instead is how far you want to take each path. To me, this sounds like a lot LESS choice, but for him this type of tech tree was the best example he could give.

Okay, I'm done talking. How do you make an interesting tech tree in a game?

P.S. This is my game.
 
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Jon
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Path of Exile's is pretty darn interesting, in part because there are not only "dead-end" branches, but circles and loops and alternate ways (some more difficult/longer than others) to get from point A to point B.

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Nathaniel Grisham

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I feel like I should start by reminding you that you don't have to use every piece of advice that you are given.

I agree that a lot of video games tend to have pretty limited/boring tech trees. The most interesting part is usually choosing which tree to focus on, rather than the tree itself having interesting choices. Your friend sounds like he enjoys mini-maxing, so he would rather see the numbers change with each decision. Other players value changes in utility more than direct changes to efficiency. Not everyone can be easily pleased with the same set of choices.

What makes tech trees, or similar choices, interesting to me is determining what I have to sacrifice in order to take a certain path. If I choose a path for a short game, but the game goes long, will I run out of steam too early? If I choose a long-term strategy, will I have enough time to pull it off? Can I get away with avoiding this resource in favor of monopolizing this other one?

Without knowing your game, or what your spells do, I can't speak about whether they are too similar, but I can tell you what I think would interest me.

Your "acceleration" path sounds to me like it could have a few different things of interest. One path might let me draw more cards, while another might let me play more of the cards I've drawn. Maybe there is a path in that tree that lets me play one of my cards multiple times. Another might be a little more balanced between the other options, if desired. These are all interesting, but don't work with the same kinds of strategies.

I think most of the details will be best worked out while play-testing, and you can see whether players try to branch out, or if there is an obvious strategy that they all go for. In my opinion, if a player takes a card that another player wanted, it should be disappointing, but not so devastating that they can't try an alternative.

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Martin Larouche
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Just my opinion of course... but i find tech trees horrible almost all the times in boardgames and videogames.

That's because, invariably, some techs tend to be better than others for the same amount of effort to get them... or you get stuck having to research crappy pointless techs just to get to the one you actually want.

This results in some techs coming all the time, in every game, while some others are never, ever picked and could be removed from the game completely.

For example: "Advanced fighters" in Twilight Imperium 3. Completely pointless tech. IF the game drags long enough for you to get it, you'll never have time to actually USE it.
Another example: In the recent XCOM videogame. I will only ever research corpses if my researchers have nothing else to do. The bonus they give is horrible for the time required to research them. When they become quick enough to get, they are already obsolete. Love the game, but the tech tree is horrible.

The only "tech-system" i like comes from Kemet. That's because the techs are self-balancing amongst themselves (none are overpowered and if you cannot get one you want, there's always another that's the equivalent). Also if someone picks a tech, it becomes unavailable for the others. This means players are forced to go for techs they would not normally use.
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Dimitri Sirenko
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Miller4h9 wrote:
Recently I've been working on a Euro strategy card game called Alchemica. One of the driving mechanics of this game is the Spell Tech Tree, where players buy different spells and then use them to generate resources to make potions. There are 3 different tech trees, each broken down into 4 levels. Each level has 1, 2, 4, and 8 spells respectively for each tech tree. There is a little competition in this respect because there is only one of each level 3 and 4 spell. One of the challenges in making this game was developing a single level 1 spell into 8 different, unique level 4 spells. I thought I succeeded.

Well...

When I first introduced this game to my friend the other day ago, one of his comments was that there didn't seem to be a lot of choices in the tech tree. 2 reasons he mentioned:

1. Since certain spells unlock and branch off to others, as you go forward, you are limited by the ones you've already bought. This was intentional, but maybe that was a poor choice. (In my defense, this means you have to think more about what earlier spells you want.)

2. There didn't seem to be a huge reason to get one spell over another. They were too similar. I would like to get another opinion before I concede that my spells are too similar, but it's worth mentioning.

(edit) 3. One of the tech trees is the one that lets you cast more spells per turn and "accelerate" spells so you can use them again more quickly. The positive of this tree is that it allows you to do a TON more per turn. It's absolutely necessary. The con of this tree is that, if you were to only focus on this tree, it would do absolutely nothing. It doesn't help you generate resources. It just helps you use your other cards more. My friend said that the fact that this tree can't be used by itself also limits the choices of the players. He thinks each tree should be able to be used entirely independently if a player so chooses. I have to take his opinion into account. I would argue that my version creates the choice between emphasizing lots of spell efficiency cards to maximize the effects of weaker cards or emphasizing other spell cards and using the some spell efficiency cards just to grease the wheels of your resource-generating machine. But I could be wrong.

My friend is more into video games. I asked him what makes video game tech trees more interesting. He showed me a tech tree from a Steam game (don't ask me to give you the name). It was a little different. It also had 3 different tech trees, but instead of branching out, each tech tree was linear. Each focuses on a different element of attack (fire, water, and lightning), but along each path, they also give you different boosts; the lightning tree might increase your attack, while the water tree might increase your defense (not entirely sure that's how it lined up, but that's the general principle). Instead of choosing which branching path you want to take, the decision instead is how far you want to take each path. To me, this sounds like a lot LESS choice, but for him this type of tech tree was the best example he could give.

Okay, I'm done talking. How do you make an interesting tech tree in a game?

P.S. This is my game.



my ideal tech tree would be the one that allows me to pursue several branches at once to achieve a new effect that can be part of my strategy or gameplay style. For example if I could go both lightning and water routes maybe I could learn to use spells that combine electricity and its known conductor to create a powerful combination. I dont know if I can give you an example of this, but this is the tech tree I would love in a game.
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Hedyn Brand
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I second the several branches at once. In-game events should be able to accelerate research.

Each learned tech should also actually do something. Nothing should simply be a stepping stone to another tech to research; give a bonus or a free unit or something.
 
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Andrés Santiago Pérez-Bergquist
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I favor more open designs over restrictive tech trees. Having to go down a specific path to get to a given endpoint feels limiting and inevitably leads to designs in which no one actually feels it's worth getting A by itself feel compelled to get it because they want B for which A is a prerequisite. If nothing else, having multiple possible prerequisites makes for more choice.

I'm particularly a fan of the system in Eclipse, where there are no hard prerequisites, but powerful techs are prohibitively expensive and you get a discount for already having other techs in the same category. That makes for a natural progression from simpler, cheaper abilities to powerful, expensive ones without feeling constrained, and lets you trade off steady progress versus trying to make a big leap to something game-changing.
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Drew Bowling
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I should say that each spell is useful in its own way. And you don't lose your older spells over time. Players are slightly restricted in that you can only buy higher level spells later in the game. You're not "wasting time" by getting a weaker spell. You are just choosing which strategy you want to pursue later on.
 
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TTDG
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http://grrlpowercomic.com/archives/1166 has a skill tree, links to other skill trees, and some discussion.

A good tree allows for combos, which helps keep it fresh.

I've also seen trees before where randomly some of the options are not available each play, meaning you are forced to be a bit responsive in how you play each time.

I'd also say, a good tree does not force you down any particular path. I.e. each path is reasonably equally powerful. Cumulative bonuses from an unappreciated path may surprisingly beat or equal the obvious 'all attack' path. Etc.

You might consider a passive bonus in addition to the main active power/ability. Like cards, the active power is where the interesting text is.

What this comes down to is, for good gameplay, trees need a lot of work!
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James Arias
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I don't like tech tree implementations that force you to remember to look at the tree and find your chit to remember what cumulative set of powers and buffs you've earned (TI I'm looking at you).

I do like systems where only 1 copy of each buff or stat is available. In a coop this lets people specialize into roles, vs. competitive it allows for help me or deny something to my opponent.

Personally I would like trees that are different ... Some enhancing existing actions, some granting new actions others can't do, etc. This forces risk/reward decisions across trees. Picking one tree and sticking with it would be boring unless within a tree you have a lot of variety.
 
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http://www.gamingcorner.nl/images/sheets/ageofrenaissance.jp...

Different branches. Some have pre-req's. Others you can just buy. Buying in the same tree gives discounts.
 
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John Swanson
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This may not answer your question directly, but I think you should consider the following when coming up with divergent tech trees:

Does one choice make the game play fundamentally different, or change the flavor and/or strategy of this play through, from another choice?

I'm assuming you are designing a game that can be played multiple times, and that you WANT to be played multiple times. To me, interesting means I can actually play the game differently. If a second time through a game the only REAL difference is the name of the spell, or how often I have to drink a mana potion, it's the same game for me. But if it allows, or even forces, me to alter my strategy, that can be a lot of fun.

And to be honest, it's hard to see the fun in the example you gave that your friend mentioned; it sounds like he enjoys that system because he generally enjoys the game. And more often than not, translating a video game into a board game results in a lot of fiddly-ness and excessive upkeep.
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Michael Barbarick
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Exodus: Proxima Centauri has kind of an interesting double layer tech tree. The tech tree is divided into four colors, and each tech has a symbol. The symbol as well as color each give a discount on researching corresponding techs.
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Why do you need a tree? Why not synergy? A certain card game has five schools of magic, but doesn't use a tree. While it's easier to cast spells if you only play one school, each school's has its strengths and weaknesses.
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Greg
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A game is about interesting choices, the purpose of a tech tree is to put players in a position that they've got a difficult decision to make about what to get next.

So if your game heavily rewards extending an existing branch over starting a new one then there's no interesting choice - continue is the only option.

If spells aren't creating differences in kind then there's no interesting choice - they'll feel samey whatever you do.

It sounds like you're on to something in having branches that don't work individually, but synergise with other options. However there are two things you need to look out for:

1) That going depth first through the tree isn't so rewarding that there's no motivation to give support trees any due consideration.

2) That a support effect isn't so powerful that it becomes a prerequisite to play and always having that support is necessary.
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Eric Smith
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Just to confirm my reading, the first "tech" picked has to be a single, level one spell from branches A, B, C, or D.

After some time/activity, the players learn another tech and pick from the two spells branching from their first choice above(assume A), or they can go back to B, C, or D? Building on what they know, vs starting over... this sounds like a pretty standard tech tree.

Your friends second concern seems like the most pressing issue; choices between techs should be compelling, and to me are the entire point of the structured "tree" you described.
 
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Garth Tams
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Exodus Proxima Centari and Clash of Cultures has the best tech trees. Options and Space Saving are both executed well in these games.
 
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Drew Bowling
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supafrieke wrote:
Just to confirm my reading, the first "tech" picked has to be a single, level one spell from branches A, B, C, or D.

After some time/activity, the players learn another tech and pick from the two spells branching from their first choice above(assume A), or they can go back to B, C, or D? Building on what they know, vs starting over... this sounds like a pretty standard tech tree.

Your friends second concern seems like the most pressing issue; choices between techs should be compelling, and to me are the entire point of the structured "tree" you described.


Not quite:

Players have to progress through 4 different levels. While at level 1, players can acquire any or all of the first spells from each branch (A, B, and/or C).

After players have accumulated enough money, they can go to level 2. Now they have the same options as before, but in addition each level 1 spell they have unlocks 2 different level 2 spells. If a player wants, he can purchase all 9 available spells, although that will probably be a waste of time and money. And time is important because the higher level spells are in a limited supply. The quicker a player can get the money to get to level 3, the more able he will be to get the spells. Similarly, each level 2 spell unlocks 2 level 3 spells, and the same with level 4 spells.

The level system is in place in part to keep players from zooming ahead too quickly down one path. The higher level spells would be a little overpowered earlier in the game. Instead, players need to slow down and think of what spells and how many he wants to get before going to the next level.
 
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Billy Pitiot
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Have you played Sid Meier's Civilization: the board game?
The have replaced the 'tree' from the video game to a pyramid: to get a level 2 technology you need 2 level 1, to get a level 3, you need 2 level 2 and therefore 3 level 1 and so on:
3
2 2
1 1 1

Some of the further levels improve previous technologies (i.e. give stronger but similar abilities) but it doesn't matter if you have the previous one or not, as long as you have enough of previous levels.

Maybe they did that because they encountered similar problems as you with a 'tree' formation.
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