John McKelvy
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Hi folks. . .

As a project for my spare time, I am designing a game that reflects medieval power-politics. Gee, super-original! (hehe). My goal is to give the same feel as Kingmaker, but without the interminable endgame and with updated mechanics in other respects.


Anyway, the main units in the game are nobles, represented by Kingmaker-like cards. Each of these nobles can gain assets (titles, mercenary units, offices, etc.) that give them income, military strength, or VPs (prestige.)

I was trying to hit upon a system of combat between these nobles that has the following requirements:
1) Unpredictable results based on player's decisions
2) Strategic decisions
3) Opportunities for bluffing and metagaming
4) Foreseeable risks

My inspiration for the following system is based on a game I ran with my ninth grade social studies students. We took a few days and ran an "iterated Prisoner's Dilemma Tournament."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner's_dilemma

Here's Wiki's summary of the classic Prisoner's Dilemma:

Quote:
Two men are arrested, but the police do not possess enough information for a conviction. Following the separation of the two men, the police offer both a similar deal—if one testifies against his partner (defects/betrays), and the other remains silent (cooperates/assists), the betrayer goes free and the cooperator receives the full one-year sentence. If both remain silent, both are sentenced to only one month in jail for a minor charge. If each 'rats out' the other, each receives a three-month sentence. Each prisoner must choose either to betray or remain silent; the decision of each is kept quiet. What should they do?


So, here's my idea for a combat sequence, based on the Prisoner's Dilemma, but with modifications:

Step 0) Each noble brings to the fight a certain military strength; say, between 1 & 6 units. The units are represented by wooden blocks (or chits or whatever - the point is that they can be individually removed.)

Step 1) Each noble compares combat strengths. The noble with a lower value is hereafter known as the "weak" noble. Higher strength noble = "strong" noble.

Step 2) In secret, both players decide on a "strategy" for the contest by means of selecting one of two cards:

Strategy Cards are:
a) Limited conflict. This represents a less-than complete commitment to the fight and/or a willingness to negotiate.
b) All out. This represents a maximum effort to annihilate the other noble.


Step 3) Strategy cards are revealed. Results are determined according to a payout matrix. This is the heart of the system. The basic idea is that each player can choose to cooperate (as in the classic prisoner's dilemma) or defect (IE, try to hose each other). There are essentially four possible results based on the choices of strategy cards.


Here's a rough draft of the payout matrix:

Case One: Minor Skirmish
- Both nobles reveal "Limited Conflict" as their strategic choice.
- In general terms, this is an "ok" result for each side, and reflects a willingness for each to cooperate for broader strategic goals.
- Results in game terms: Each noble loses one military unit. Strong noble gains a small amount of victory points.


Case Two: "Bloodbath"
- Both nobles reveal "all out" as their strategy.
- In terms of the "Prisoner's Dilemma," this is analogous to both prisoners ratting out their buddy to the cops. "Bad things" happen to both players.
- Weak noble loses ALL military strength
- Strong noble loses military strength = to weak noble
- There is a certain probability that each noble will be "killed in action;" IE, that piece is removed from play. This represents the foreseeable risk inherent in pursuing a risky military strategy.


Case Three: "Total Victory"
- "Strong" noble reveals an "all out" strategy card
- "Weak" noble reveals "limited conflict" strategy

- In terms of the prisoner's dilemma, This resembles one prisoner ratting out his friend, and getting parole (best possible result) and the other prisoner staying silent, and getting charged with the crime (worst possible result)

- Strong noble "captures" weak noble. This means that the victorious player can "execute" the weak noble or extract concessions from the losing player (money, military strength, other assets) through negotiations.


Case Four: "Shocking Upset"
- Strong noble reveals "limited conflict"
- Weak noble reveals "all out"

- Weak noble gains lots of VP
- Strong noble loses lots of military units and/or VPs

- The idea here is similar to case Three, but balanced to give the stronger player less of a penalty.



As we all know, explaining rules can be very difficult. I will try to clarify any vague points as necessary

Thoughts? Critiques? Suggestions?






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Liam
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I think it's rather interesting.

However, in a 2p game why would you ever go for the Limited conflict?

In the prisoner dilemma they are forced into the situation, where as in a game I can pick to avoid the situation? Thus if I pick to engage why would I opt for the Limited conflict decision?

What is good about Limited conflict? I just don't see what it gives me currently?

What if both player picked 'limited conflict' it resulted not in a punishment but a reward - such as a trade agreement of bonus troops? This would open to door to greater backstabs and make 'limited conflict = diplomacy' a valuable decision - somewhat like in Cosmic Encounter.

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John McKelvy
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monkeyhandz wrote:
I think it's rather interesting.

However, in a 2p game why would you ever go for the Limited conflict?

In the prisoner dilemma they are forced into the situation, where as in a game I can pick to avoid the situation? Thus if I pick to engage why would I opt for the Limited conflict decision?

What is good about Limited conflict? I just don't see what it gives me currently?

What if both player picked 'limited conflict' it resulted not in a punishment but a reward - such as a trade agreement of bonus troops? This would open to door to greater backstabs and make 'limited conflict = diplomacy' a valuable decision - somewhat like in Cosmic Encounter.



Good questions!

-This would not work, ever, in a 2P game! This system is strictly for multiplayer only.

-There isn't so much of an incentive for limited, but there is a strong *disincentive* for "all out" --> if both players choose "all out," then there is a good risk that one or both with lose those nobles. I have not figured out exactly how that would work, but it would be on the order of a 25% to 60% chance of combat death for either or both sides.

BUT you are correct - without playtesting, there is really no way to know how exactly to set the incentives.
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John McKelvy
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monkeyhandz wrote:

In the prisoner dilemma they are forced into the situation, where as in a game I can pick to avoid the situation? Thus if I pick to engage why would I opt for the Limited conflict decision?

What is good about Limited conflict? I just don't see what it gives me currently?



- The main thing is that it gives the strong player victory points.
- It may work better to give *each* player VPs, with the strong player gaining more. Fluffwise, "each side acquitted itself nobly in the chivalric arts."


To put this in context, As I currently envision it, combat will not be available at-will. I plan on using some sort of action-limitation system analogous to worker-placement. The main thing is that each player won't be able to (or desire to) attack constantly.

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Liam
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Again interesting stuff.

It might be worth having a look at Revolution!, which often creates limited Prisoner Dilemma style situations.

What about some sort of track board where player are forced into combat, with different sizes of forces hidden to the other player.

To stop one player always opting for the same option players could have a limited number of 'Limited conflict'/'total conflict cards' thus players would be slowly eliminated. Perhaps this continues until there are only two players and the one with the greatest remaining force wins.

I'd perhaps have three decision 'all out war', 'limited conflict' and 'diplomacy'. There are some more advanced versions of the prisoners' dilemma that use multiple options.

Anyway very interesting stuff.
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monkeyhandz wrote:
Again interesting stuff.

It might be worth having a look at Revolution!, which often creates limited Prisoner Dilemma style situations.

What about some sort of track board where player are forced into combat, with different sizes of forces hidden to the other player.

To stop one player always opting for the same option players could have a limited number of 'Limited conflict'/'total conflict cards' thus players would be slowly eliminated. Perhaps this continues until there are only two players and the one with the greatest remaining force wins.

I'd perhaps have three decision 'all out war', 'limited conflict' and 'diplomacy'. There are some more advanced versions of the prisoners' dilemma that use multiple options.

Anyway very interesting stuff.


I've done Revolution and Cosmic Encounter (A LOT) , and I also own War of the Roses - Lancaster vs. York, which has very similar mechanics to revolution!. So I think a lot of those inspirations are seeping through.

To add another wrinkle, I also planned on having "tactics" cards which are hidden modifications to combat totals. Players gain these tactics cards as an action choice. Most of them would have minor-slight impacts but a few would be more dramatic, just to keep things interesting. These are revealed at the same time as "Strategy" cards.

Given the theme (Kingmaker, but set in Germany during the late middle ages) I am not sure that forced combats would really fit. But it is something to consider.

Also, I want to avoid player elimination entirely!

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Doesn't FFG's Game of Thrones have a Wildlings mechanic similar to Prisoner's Dilemma? Each player secretly allots a number of units against an event card. If the total number isn't enough, the Wildlings affect all the players in the game. Cheapass Game's Kill Dr. Lucky's Failure cards are similar.

To some extent, Cosmic Encounter does this less visibly. If you and I agree to play a Negotiate card, we can both gain a base. But if one of use plays an Attack card, the player who plays a Negotiate card loses.

Anyway, I don't notice PD as a common game mechanic, so good luck with it!
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John McKelvy
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Sam and Max wrote:
Doesn't FFG's Game of Thrones have a Wildlings mechanic similar to Prisoner's Dilemma? Each player secretly allots a number of units against an event card. If the total number isn't enough, the Wildlings affect all the players in the game. Cheapass Game's Kill Dr. Lucky's Failure cards are similar.



GOT has, more precisely, a "tragedy of the commons" mechanic.

- Everybody has an individual incentive to be selfish.
- If too many people are selfish, BAD THINGS happen to everybody.

--> thinking about integrating something similar into this game
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Kingbreaker wrote:
GOT has, more precisely, a "tragedy of the commons" mechanic.

- Everybody has an individual incentive to be selfish.
- If too many people are selfish, BAD THINGS happen to everybody.

--> thinking about integrating something similar into this game


I think the most important aspect of that mechanic is that the most selfish person is punished more than everyone else. Its a nice disincentive that isn't nearly as apparent in a RL tragedy of the commons.
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Azlinea wrote:
Kingbreaker wrote:
GOT has, more precisely, a "tragedy of the commons" mechanic.

- Everybody has an individual incentive to be selfish.
- If too many people are selfish, BAD THINGS happen to everybody.

--> thinking about integrating something similar into this game


I think the most important aspect of that mechanic is that the most selfish person is punished more than everyone else. Its a nice disincentive that isn't nearly as apparent in a RL tragedy of the commons.


Indeed. "Pure" implementations of Prisoner's dilemma or Tragedy of the Commons don't really work as boardgame mechanics
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Is there an optimal way to 'play' a tragedy of the commons? I can think of a few for prisoner's dilemma depending on whether you know/trust the other player or not.

As for suggestions for your mechanics I think the idea of three choices for the dilemma might be the best because it would allow people to truly cooperate instead of just not fight hard.
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Kingbreaker wrote:
There isn't so much of an incentive for limited, but there is a strong *disincentive* for "all out" --> if both players choose "all out," then there is a good risk that one or both with lose those nobles.


As the strong noble, I am always incentivised to take all out.
I risk my own noble, yes... but I have a good chance of eliminating your noble, and no matter what you do, I completely eliminate your forces.

As long as I have more troops than you, I can never actually reduce my position compared to yours. No matter what you choose, I'll still have more military force than you, and be able to force the issue over and over.

Prisoners Dilemma only works when both sides are in an equal position. Your game is not.

You may instead want to look at how Cosmic Encounter uses Diplomacy actions.
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palmerkun wrote:
As the strong noble, I am always incentivised to take all out.
I risk my own noble, yes... but I have a good chance of eliminating your noble, and no matter what you do, I completely eliminate your forces.


QFT, I was about to point this out.

But, here's a suggestion: use a "Blackjack" mechanic ... as follows ... (modifying / reordering / inserting into your framework) ...

Step 0- part A) Each noble brings to the fight a certain military strength; say, between 1 & 6 units. The units are represented by wooden blocks (or chits or whatever - the point is that they can be individually removed.)

Step 0- part B) Each noble then secretly divides his military strength into two groups. One group is the Revealed; and the other group is Hidden. The Hidden group may actually have zero strength. The Revealed group must have at least 1 strength.


Step 1) In secret, both players decide on a "strategy" for the contest by means of selecting one of two cards (All-out or Limited)


Step 2) Strategy cards are revealed. The Hidden groups are revealed. Compare the _total_ battle strength to determine who is "strong" and who is "weak". Resolve as usual.


In this method, you can somewhat maintain "equal positions" by having more hidden information.


Also, it may help if there's a possibility for multiple battles without being able to "reuse" the same units. That way, the player who has a lot of military strength may be drawn thin in having to engage in multiple battles.
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palmerkun wrote:
As the strong noble, I am always incentivised to take all out.
I risk my own noble, yes... but I have a good chance of eliminating your noble, and no matter what you do, I completely eliminate your forces.

[...]
Prisoners Dilemma only works when both sides are in an equal position. Your game is not.

In the Prisoners Dilemma, though, a player will always choose for the same option - just like here, apparently.

Characteristic for PD is that both players choose what is best for them individually and so together reach the worst possible combined result. That both parties are of equal strength is just to make the dilemma more elegant.

I haven't analysed the game by the OP enough to see if we have a PD situation here. If the two parties cooperate, do they get a better total result than if one of them (or both) choose betrayal? And is double betrayal the worst possible result? I didn't get that idea, but don't know enough of the game to be sure.
 
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Whymme wrote:
palmerkun wrote:
As the strong noble, I am always incentivised to take all out.
I risk my own noble, yes... but I have a good chance of eliminating your noble, and no matter what you do, I completely eliminate your forces.

[...]
Prisoners Dilemma only works when both sides are in an equal position. Your game is not.

In the Prisoners Dilemma, though, a player will always choose for the same option - just like here, apparently.

Characteristic for PD is that both players choose what is best for them individually and so together reach the worst possible combined result. That both parties are of equal strength is just to make the dilemma more elegant.

I haven't analysed the game by the OP enough to see if we have a PD situation here. If the two parties cooperate, do they get a better total result than if one of them (or both) choose betrayal? And is double betrayal the worst possible result? I didn't get that idea, but don't know enough of the game to be sure.


The original situation isn't a PD because the two players aren't equal.

However it could be PD like if the outcomes were adjusted. At the moment neither side has an incentive to do anything other than all out.

Let's provide a new situation:

A: x units
B: 2x units

If A&B are weak then no one dies. (No change)
If A&B are strong then x units die for both sides, and both nobles. (B has x units left)
If A is strong and B weak then B loses x units. (A and B both have x units and a noble)
If B is strong and A weak then A loses x units. (B has 2x units and a noble)

Is this better? It's very hard to make a PD work here really.

 
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palmerkun wrote:
Kingbreaker wrote:
There isn't so much of an incentive for limited, but there is a strong *disincentive* for "all out" --> if both players choose "all out," then there is a good risk that one or both with lose those nobles.


As the strong noble, I am always incentivised to take all out.
I risk my own noble, yes... but I have a good chance of eliminating your noble, and no matter what you do, I completely eliminate your forces.

As long as I have more troops than you, I can never actually reduce my position compared to yours. No matter what you choose, I'll still have more military force than you, and be able to force the issue over and over.

Prisoners Dilemma only works when both sides are in an equal position. Your game is not.

You may instead want to look at how Cosmic Encounter uses Diplomacy actions.


It depends how much value there is on the forces.

If everyone in the game has 10 each with no way of increasing them, I push forward 6, you push forward 5. I win, but I loose half my forces.

Every non-competing player rejoices.
 
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lamaros wrote:

Let's provide a new situation:

A: x units
B: 2x units

If A&B are weak then no one dies. (No change)
If A&B are strong then x units die for both sides, and both nobles. (B has x units left)
If A is strong and B weak then B loses x units. (A and B both have x units and a noble)
If B is strong and A weak then A loses x units. (B has 2x units and a noble)

Is this better? It's very hard to make a PD work here really.



What if units were tied to VP in some way? Combine that with a change that says Strong nobles still lose forces. Might change the dynamic.
 
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phil_standen wrote:
It depends how much value there is on the forces.

If everyone in the game has 10 each with no way of increasing them, I push forward 6, you push forward 5. I win, but I loose half my forces.

Every non-competing player rejoices.


Such a situation as you describe is completely unworkable for a game. If each unit is equal value, then the end of the game cannot help but come down to mutual annihilation.

A and B fight, lost 5 units each.
Now C moves in on A, loses 5 units, and A is eliminated.

If A and C ever fight at this point... I win, guaranteed. Combined, they have enough to eliminate all my troops... and their own. End result, everyone dies, nobody wins. If they spend even one unit on each other, then they have 8 troops to my 10.
 
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Azlinea wrote:
lamaros wrote:

Let's provide a new situation:

A: x units
B: 2x units

If A&B are weak then no one dies. (No change)
If A&B are strong then x units die for both sides, and both nobles. (B has x units left)
If A is strong and B weak then B loses x units. (A and B both have x units and a noble)
If B is strong and A weak then A loses x units. (B has 2x units and a noble)

Is this better? It's very hard to make a PD work here really.



What if units were tied to VP in some way? Combine that with a change that says Strong nobles still lose forces. Might change the dynamic.


The fundamental problem is that a PD isn't going to mean much in a 2 player game. There has to be a third party around.

If you put PD in as a contest between two players then correct play is always going to be to snitch, as it is the only way you can guarantee you can't lose and might win.

Risking a worse draw is irrelevant unless there is an opportunity cost in that extra penalty. If you have a third player in the game then you have an incentive to go for the weak play, as being out for a long time might cause you to fall behind that third player significantly, but when every other player is in the same situation as you it is pointless.
 
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