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Subject: How Do You Encourage Variation In Play? rss

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ɹǝpun uʍop ʞǝǝƃ
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OK, I'm going to oversimplify this down for the sake of a brief post and to better leave your minds open to what your own experiences and ideas are. You can assume this to be a wargame or AT or even a euro (one with some conflict, anyway hehe) -- I'm interested to see what answers I get. Feel free to hijack the thread and brainstorm on the theme after you've answered my question below.

Background:
You have a hex grid that is relatively rectangular in overall layout. 2-4 armies will be marching from the corners towards a central objective. The main part of the game is card play going on in the background while this is happening and certain combinations of cards can affect the progress of the armies. Conflict ensues when two armies meet. If this 'marching to the middle' bit sounds dull to you, that's what I'm afraid of. Help me out here with your ideas...

Question:
How do you encourage variation in play?

Examples:
1 Provide obstacles that the armies must march around -- and hopefully into each-other.
2 Have screw-your-opponent card combos.
3 Have intermediate objectives that are worth a lesser victory point value than the central one.

Note: another reason for the lack of info here is that I'm trying to distill my own ideas down and bounce them off of fresh minds. I plan for this to be a free print and play game, so if I can get past this hurdle, I'll post the rules here for any interested parties to playtest. If it's still crap, well... forget I mentioned it!

EDIT: Changed the subject line to a question.
 
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Phil Walker-Harding
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Re: Encouraging Variation in Play
I think about this a lot!

One idea for encouraging variation that I keep coming back to is the idea of letting players gamble for an advantage. What I mean is, having bonuses in the game that may take you out of your way to collect, but their power in getting you to the final objective could be great if used effectively.

A simple example of this would be a car racing game, where certain spaces (perhaps some which are off the main path or tricky to get to) give you special items that increase your speed, traction etc. So depending on your position, you may or may not want to go for these items, in hopes that they will give you an edge at some later point in the game.

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James Hutchings
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Re: Encouraging Variation in Play
You could make the center worth points, but the outside give an advantage in play.

For example the terrain could get harsher as you get closer to the centre (desert, swamp etc), but the objective is to control areas of the centre for a certain amount of time.

If the game is fantasy-themed, you could have random hazards that the armies (maybe they're actually parties of adventurers) encounter. Maybe the players have hazard cards which they can put in the way of their opponents.

You could reward 'doing what everyone else isn't doing'. For example, if everyone hangs back, and one player makes a dash for the centre, that player can hold on to the central whatever-it-is for long enough to win. But if everyone goes for the centre, they'll wipe each other out and the player who doesn't do that will then win. This might make it less likely for there to be 'one best strategy', and thus make it more likely for games to be different.
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James Hutchings
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Re: Encouraging Variation in Play
Here's another idea: say each player has six armies/characters. But three of them, determined randomly, are actually traitors - each in the pay of one of the other players. The player controlling the traitor can 'activate' it at any time, meaning that they move that unit for the rest of the game.
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ɹǝpun uʍop ʞǝǝƃ
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Re: Encouraging Variation in Play
Hmm... some interesting ideas -- keep 'em coming

Writing the above post had the advantage of forcing me to consider this in simple terms and made me think of a couple of alternatives. One was the shape of the playing region:

Instead of having a central objective with players starting in the corners (feels static just looking at it), I'm going to try the 'armies' starting all on one side with the objective at the thin end of a wedge, so to speak. Think of a slice of pie. I don't want it so narrow that it removes strategies of movement, just enough to increase proximity. Will solo test this.

Phil81 wrote:
One idea for encouraging variation that I keep coming back to is the idea of letting players gamble for an advantage. What I mean is, having bonuses in the game that may take you out of your way to collect, but their power in getting you to the final objective could be great if used effectively.

I'm glad to hear you say this. A big part of the background card play is for this mechanism and it seems to work quite well.
 
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Matt Mac
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Re: Encouraging Variation in Play
How about instead of optional objectives there are randomly picked objectives you have to complete to make it near the central area? Some players, based on decisions made before the first round of play, will have an easier time at meeting it than others.

For simplicity's sake, say it's a sci-fi game and 4 invading groups are trying to make it to a space-station control room to reactivate and claim it for their race/team/army. Those who choose a smaller race are less likely to make out good in direct conflict, but can fit through vents, hide and sabotage others, while the opposite is true for bigger races. Again, this is just really generalized stuff. Anywho, you have to make it past patrolling robots, killer space pests, old defense systems, random hull breaches, etc. and what you do sets you up for later. Maybe a player steals a space suit and bypasses many of the traps by going along the outside and entering another airlock.

I think I was starting to make up a game in my head there. Like that Xenophobe arcade game.
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Joseph
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Re: Encouraging Variation in Play
mr_lunch wrote:
OK, I'm going to oversimplify this down for the sake of a brief post ...

Question:
How do you encourage variation in play?


I think that Phil already provided some of the things I was thinking about, so I'll just build off of what he said. (Grossly sweeping generalizations follow)

Choices
Put the player into a position of having to make tough choices.

Engineer it so that you simply can't do everything that you want to do. "Through the Desert" is a good example of that. Not only do you have to choose which of your caravans to prosper, you also have to choose whether to do something good for youself, or something bad for your opponent.

Classic choices from other games include: Speed or range; firepower or defense; strength or stamina; specialization or generalization; believe or not believe; Build/Activate many weaker units, or a few stronger units.

Consequences
Ensure that there is a logical relationship between cause and affect.

Logical in scope, intensity, and duration. Otherwise, play can get chaotic. The summation of these consequences should lead appreciably to a logical end game, but single choices shouldn't win the game unless built on a solid foundation of past choices.

Compel the player to make decisions, and make sure the ramifications of his choice produces results. Preferably, there will be a mix of short and long term consequences.

Risk
Conservative play, IMHO, should be rewarded by a mediocre results. I'm thinking of "In The Year of The Dragon", where trying to do everything is not as good as purposely sacrificing your score in some areas, in order to maximize it elsewhere. (Maybe that's not a great example)

From the wargaming side - "turtling" or playing conservatively usually doesn't produce great results. Many games are engineered around decisive but risky maneuvers.

Maybe "Vanished Planet" is a better example, where you literally have to fling yourself at the stars to have even a slim chance to win. Or maybe the "Settlers of Catan" card game, where you'd best spend your resources FAST, or risk losing them to calamities and bandits.

There are a lot of games that penalize you for playing too conservatively.

My two cents

Respectfully

Falloutfan
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ɹǝpun uʍop ʞǝǝƃ
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Re: Encouraging Variation in Play
All good!

I'm quite enjoying the themes that people add in to their descriptions. If we keep this up, we should compile this thread into a new game

From my very limited play tests this does wind up being a bit of a race game. Where I'm hoping to add the variation is along the way to the objective.

I'll add a bit more info to spice things up:
1 The cards are resources
2 There is strength in numbers
 
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Jed Hastwell
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Re: Encouraging Variation in Play
Quote:
Examples:
1 Provide obstacles that the armies must march around -- and hopefully into each-other.


Expanding the obstacle idea, you could have your armies made up if different units such that some obstacles only block certain types of units, while others can continue over them.

You could also have your objective move around the board in some random/not so random fassion.
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Re: Encouraging Variation in Play
Have a look at how Nexus Ops solves this problem. Basically, anything that leads to more interaction (starting a fight, moving to an unexplored hex) rewards the player.

Secret missions are a good way to provide interaction too: eliminate x red pieces, take and hold a particular map feature, etc.
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Re: Encouraging Variation in Play
This reminds me of the 'Capture the Flag' game type in computer game Myth. Each game was on a timer, and generally, the armies would gather in a ring around the flag. There would be occasional skirmishes when the flanks of two armies met, but most of the combat came towards the end of the game when there'd be a scrum for the flag as the timer ran out.
There was an interesting stand off dynamic... one army might send out a couple troops to grab the flag, then another army would bring every thing they had hoping to hold it till the end... sometimes, everyone would outwait each other and there'd be no fight at all...
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walter willis
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Re: Encouraging Variation in Play
Study the mechanism of Antler Island. Good mix of strategies favored there, changing with player interaction, time and semi-random resource drops.
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ɹǝpun uʍop ʞǝǝƃ
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Re: Encouraging Variation in Play
Rewards for interaction/combat is good. Likewise a timer mechanism. This could be achieved simply with the resource deck running dry and would prevent turtling.
 
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D. J. Hastings
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Re: Encouraging Variation in Play
mr_lunch wrote:
From my very limited play tests this does wind up being a bit of a race game.

What if, instead of merely reaching the objective, players had to sit on it for a while to win, and this put them at a bit of a disadvantage? For example, if your tribe controls the area around the Trading Post, then you can collect some beads (VPs) each turn. But since some of your braves are trading instead of making arrows, the other tribes are increasing strength more quickly than yours. After a few turns, they'll probably be strong enough to take over the Trading Post, at which time you'll begin to get stronger again (since you won't be trading anymore).

If balanced correctly, players might have to choose whether to engage in a back-and-forth skirmish, or whether to sit back and build enough strength to hold the objective for a while.
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James Hutchings
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Re: Encouraging Variation in Play
mr_lunch wrote:
Instead of having a central objective with players starting in the corners (feels static just looking at it), I'm going to try the 'armies' starting all on one side with the objective at the thin end of a wedge, so to speak.


Would that give an advantage to players at the far ends - because they have only 1 opponent to deal with immediately, whereas the players in the middle each have 2?
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ɹǝpun uʍop ʞǝǝƃ
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Re: Encouraging Variation in Play
D'oh! You're quite right about the middle players being at a disadvantage there -- I hadn't even considered that when I typed it. This could work as a two player map, though. No reason why the same base system can't be applied to a variety of layouts. If it's a print and play, just run off a different map
 
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James Hutchings
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Re: Encouraging Variation in Play
Here's an idea for using that kind of board with more than 2 players:

At the start of the game, every player secretly chooses a bid. It must be in the range of 0 to one less than the number of pieces you start with.

Players pick their starting position in order of their bids, from highest to lowest. Tied bids are resolved randomly.

Each player who bids more than 0 starts with a reduced number of pieces - their army is reduced by the amount of their bid (or their money is reduced, or reputation, or whatever the main resource of the game is).
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James Hutchings
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Re: Encouraging Variation in Play
You could use this principle to let you have random hazards etc, without having to worry about them making the game unabalanced. If a random hazard really hoses one starting position, then presumably players will bid high to avoid getting that position.
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Re: Encouraging Variation in Play
Hey, I quite like that! What other games use this mechanism?

I have recently been tending more towards using a carrot rather than stick approach. Long-winded explanation and a bit more info:

On a player's turn they have the option of collecting more resources (cards) or moving their 'army'. As it's pretty much a race to the objective, this causes the player to choose to sandbag or charge forward. There's a slight advantage to getting some of the units there first, but it's a risk as they won't be as strong. The resources only work in certain combinations. Instead of having obstacles, I'm thinking of having locations (probably randomly determined markers) that provide a wild card incentive, ie If you're on that hex, you don't need the resource it pictures.

Your bidding mechanism would fit well into that.

Now, instead of enquiring about variations in play, I think the question I should be asking myself is "How can I allow multiple paths to victory?". This is meant to be a light -- and light-hearted -- filler, so I don't think I'll go into too many tactical options. I'd like the rules to be around 2 pages long

Some resources are more common with less value (duh). What do you think of the idea that the 'wild card' markers (mentioned above) for the lesser resources be worth VP to make them a target?
 
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