Jeff Warrender
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The other day I mentioned a new idea I've had for a real time bidding game, in which a bid is resolved when a sand timer runs out.

One interesting thing I've found about sand timers is that they require that a player actually observe when the sand timer ends, and that that player announces that this is the case. This is a grey area in rules writing that is hard to police, as I've found in a coop game of mine that used sand timers to represent the patience of restaurant customers. When the timer runs out the customer leaves, except what if everyone is so focused on other things, or feigns to be so focused, that no one "notices" that the customer has left? Honest players will give up this charade at some point but it can certainly be gamed.

In this bidding game, I don't see how to explicitly state "if you see that the sand timer has ended, you MUST announce this to the group", but I think we can work around it in this case because it's a bidding game: thus the player with the highest bid has an incentive to call out that the auction is ended.

Of course there are other games with an element like "when [such and such] happens, do [X]", and to me the best solution is requiring that a player announces that the condition has been met, such that if no one makes this announcement, the game can continue as though the condition has not yet been met. Incentive is the only viable enforcement mechanism, I would say. Acquire works this way: the game ends when someone announces that all chains are safe or one chain has more than 41 tiles, but if no one makes the announcement, the game continues. I can't think off of the top of my head as to whether there are other games like this though. Obviously the person who thinks they are winning has the biggest incentive to make this announcement, so eventually it will be made.
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Ian S
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Re: Events that trigger when a certain condition is met
A buzzer may reduce some of the problems. Adding a variable time for the buzzer could add a little additional intrigue.
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Carel Teijgeler
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Re: Events that trigger when a certain condition is met
Egg timer?

Or as done in Article 27: The UN Security Council Game: 1 player is chairman and controls the timer. either he gives you the full 5 minutes or lesser time.
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Jeff Warrender
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Re: Events that trigger when a certain condition is met
Sure, external timers or an app or soundtrack could work in some situations, as Escape would indicate. On the other hand timers have some advantages over external timers from a design perspective: they can be placed on specific things, they can be different denominations, they can move around, you can have as many of them as you want running at a time. So the key to including them would seem to be to give players some incentive to announce that the timer has ended. Maybe the person who first makes this announcement gets a resource or something like that, so that you will always have players keeping an eye on the timer, and should have [whatever] event trigger right when it runs out.

 
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Corsaire
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Re: Events that trigger when a certain condition is met
Incentivized or motivated adherence seems like a good mechanism. As long as it doesn't descend into a Slap Jack variant, something like "If you notice the timer is out, you may grab the first player token and announce times up" could get interesting. The upside is also that the game rules allow the players to conspiratorially ignore the timer. You could also add tension like "if your left hand is not on your player card when time is announced, you lose a coin."

For impatient customers type scenarios, you could also use the timer as an execution test... "If the timer is up, you may may not serve that customer." Rolling that into a trade scenario, you could require the two sides of the offer be placed on a "deal card" or an exchange of deal tokens... Either of which, you must check the timer before completing the transaction.

P.s. There's a lot you could do if you introduce limited trade tokens for controlling the length of that phase.
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Russ Williams
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jwarrend wrote:
Of course there are other games with an element like "when [such and such] happens, do [X]", and to me the best solution is requiring that a player announces that the condition has been met, such that if no one makes this announcement, the game can continue as though the condition has not yet been met. Incentive is the only viable enforcement mechanism, I would say. Acquire works this way: the game ends when someone announces that all chains are safe or one chain has more than 41 tiles, but if no one makes the announcement, the game continues. I can't think off of the top of my head as to whether there are other games like this though. Obviously the person who thinks they are winning has the biggest incentive to make this announcement, so eventually it will be made.
Interesting point! The Acquire rule does neatly solve the related problem "Oops, the game was supposed to end, last turn. Do we try to rewind what happened in this current turn and do the end of game stuff?"

There is a similar philosophy in effect (in a much more general way!) in Advanced Squad Leader to handle players not noticing something or forgetting a rule:
ASL wrote:
A.2 ERRORS: All errors stand once play has progressed past the point of commission. ...
This approach seems functionally equivalent to the Acquire game end rule, i.e. Acquire could equivalently have said "The game ends when there are 41 tiles... but if no one notices, and a new turn is begun, then the error stands, and players complete that new turn."

But the Acquire approach of expressing it as player choice (rather than as "this must happen, but if it doesn't then errors stand") seems arguably cleaner somehow. And it also absolves players of little moral dilemmas ("My opponent seems to be overlooking X ... should I point it out?")

On the other hand the ASL approach is more general, and covers other types of errors, e.g. what if someone plays a tile onto the wrong square in Acquire? Should you try to rollback? The ASL approach clearly says no. The Acquire rules are silent (like most game rules) and leave it up to the group's meta-rules.
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Rick Holzgrafe
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I think this is a bad idea, except in cases where it is always to someone's advantage to call out the timer's expiration. Otherwise nobody will care when a timer expires; they will only care about whether it is to their own advantage to call it out.

But I could see a variation, a design where it will eventually be to someone's advantage to call it. The explicit rule would then be that the auction (or whatever) remains open at least until the timer runs out, and legally continuing after that until any player calls the end.

I am reminded of Knizia's Merchants of Amsterdam, with its Dutch auction and a mechanical timer with a bell when it expires. You gave several cogent reasons for avoiding such a device. Here's another difference: in Knizia's game, nothing else is going on until the auction is finished. There's not much opportunity to fail to notice the end of the auction, and the winning bidder has a strong incentive to make sure everyone notices.

But in a design where there can be multiple timers and other things going on as they run, you'll need the design to explicitly accommodate the case where a timer's expiration is either not noticed, or may be disadvantageous to whoever happens to notice.
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Yaron Davidson
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There's a very strong distinction between "players didn't notice" and between "players choose to pretend they didn't notice".

The latter, is, well, cheating, plain and simple. If you're not designing the game for a very competitive tournament environment, I really don't see any point in rules which say "don't cheat about X". Players who cheat are a group problem, not a game rules problem. If you're not worrying how to modify the rules so players won't be able to "accidentally" pay 30 when they bid 40, you don't need to design rules for players to notice a timer has ended and then go on pretending it didn't.

As for actually not noticing, your scenario seems to just be about a single timer running. So just don't worry about it. If players know there's a timer running, they'll check it, probably frequently, because they'll want to be sure they have time, and will stress out on how they're running out of time without doing anything. People close to a time limit always spend way too much time obsessively checking the clock. So they'll notice straight away, for soon enough that it won't really matter.

As for multiple timers running together:

1. Apps are good for that. Not for moving and positioning on the board, but yes for just having multiple timers.

2. If they're for "keep doing something until timer triggers" (like the single one in your main bid scenario, but for several things in parallel), then I think it's a terrible idea anyway. Too much attention will be taken by checking the timers, which means less attention on actual decisions, at a time when players are already trying to do as much as they can in a limited timespan. If you do anyway, then you really should have the timers draw attention, buzzers/lights and such. A bit more expensive than sand timers, but (probably?) not by much.

3. If they're for "wait until time passes before you can do something else" (e.g. like Kitchen Rush, or however that recent pirate-ship-with-sand-timers game is called), then you don't actually have a problem. Because players are both incentivized to notice (they want to take the next action as soon as possible), and there's no equivalent damage if they miss it (they'll do less overall than they ideally could, just like if they were just slower, but never more than they legally should be able to).
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Jeff Warrender
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Well, yes, but I claim it's more grey than this -- you can studiously avoid looking at the timer at all if it's disadvantageous to be the one to discover that the timer has ended.

I do think you have a point that this may not be the way people will normally behave, though, and it may be that people will be looking at the timer frequently. I guess we'll have to wait and see whether they do this so frequently that it's a distraction from playing the game. You can play Escape with the sand timer instead of the CD and it works well enough, and most party games have a time pressure element of this sort -- Scattergories, Scrutineyes, Outburst, etc.

The "divided attention" that might animate this game is, I would say, part of Escape's challenge, the balance you have to strike between "heads-down" play, looking at your dice, and "heads-up" play, being aware of the overall situation.
 
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The Joker
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It seems to me, that it will be no problem, if you have a player that wishes it to end… (the highest bidder?)

I see, why in a coop-game, that might be an issue (although there are workarounds there too).

( Also, I have to say that I have several games, that did fall short for me and my SO and I had to not just fix them but reinvent them / reuse the material. Always wondered whether its would be good/worth to post it somewhere… )
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Russ Williams
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Yeah, it does seem a much bigger problem in a coop game than in a competitive game, where it will be in someone's interest to point it out -- and if it's a weird situation where no one believes it's in their personal interest to point it out, no real game-breaking harm occurs if no one points it out, because no one will "unfairly" win in that case, and players still have the competitive difficulty of trying to win individually vs opponents.

Offhand, it's hard for me to imagine it causing a real problem in a competitive game, except perhaps if some players bring in personal ideas that it's "unsporting" etc not to point out the trigger condition (instead of accepting that the game rules explicitly make players individually responsible for noticing and announcing it), and so they get offended and a quarrel occurs if someone noticed and (perfectly legally) chose not to announce it...

In contrast, in a coop the team could easily collectively remove most or all of the difficulty from winning by ignoring the timer or whatever and trivially easily winning the game.
 
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Koen Hendrix
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Going, Going, GONE! solves this in lovely physical way by giving the auctioneer a big paddle. Once the big paddle is down on the bidding cups, no more cubes can be put in (obviously) and bids are final.
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James Williams
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Even in a competitive game, the situation only works if a player knows they are winning and is therefore motivated to watch the timer, but often that's not the case. Take Boggle, for instance. Everyone's looking at the cubes and frantically writing down words. Rarely does anyone look at the timer, and it often runs out before anyone notices. The problem is nobody knows they are winning until after scores are tallied at the end.
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Russ Williams
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jlwill wrote:
Even in a competitive game, the situation only works if a player knows they are winning and is therefore motivated to watch the timer, but often that's not the case. Take Boggle, for instance. Everyone's looking at the cubes and frantically writing down words. Rarely does anyone look at the timer, and it often runs out before anyone notices. The problem is nobody knows they are winning until after scores are tallied at the end.
Good point in principle, although in practice, my experience with the specific case of Boggle is that if someone gets stuck and stops finding words, then they feel incentive to check the timer and stop everyone else from potentially writing more words.
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Yaron Davidson
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If *all* players are fine with letting more time pass, despite knowing they're not technically supposed to, then there isn't really a problem.

Everyone at the table is aware of the time limit, aware of how it's measured, and think they'll have a better play experience if they didn't bother to adhere to it too tightly? That's a de facto house rule. It's only cheating if some of the players do it, but not if everyone does it together so nobody gets an unfair advantage or pulls something over the other players.
Extra not a problem if it's really not because everyone intentionally ignores the timer, but just everyone is so busy playing they don't bother to pay attention. That's a clear "we're all having more fun not paying attention".

If someone explicitly opened a forum post with a comment like "the game timers are set for 1 minutes, but we found that in our group we feel this is too tight for us, and usually prefer to take 10 or 20 seconds longer. is that a big problem and breaks the game?" , most designers would answer something along the semantic lines of "in our playtests we found that 1 minute was the best balance between keeping the pressure while still giving players enough time to consider their decision, but if your group enjoys the game more with more time, and are a bit more sensitive to the time pressure than our playtesters' average, then go for it and have fun, it's your game". If you wouldn't answer something drastically different, then this is the exact same situation, just less explicit.
 
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