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Subject: Tell Me What I'm Doing!! rss

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Perry Fergin
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You are alone in a museum, late at night. Dark cults have gathered to raise an ancient evil. You are mankind's last hope.
The door slowly creaks open as you enter the storage room. You walk past mysterious artifacts, many stained with what seems to be blood. As you approach the sacrificial stone in the center, you notice a shadow flit behind you. Muffled cackling breaks the silence of the night.
You know what you must do.
You need to roll two tentacles and a magnifying glass.

Game Designers,
You guys are great at designing thematic games that really make me feel like I am in a story. You provide setting, background details, beautiful artwork, and great gameplay. You provide the fascinating characters with various interesting adventures on their quest for their goal.

BUT: you don't say what those adventures are!

Too many heavy-themed games don't tell me what specifically I am trying to accomplish. (I'm thinking specifically of Elder Sign and the upcoming Race to Adventure here.) You've got a card with a great picture, flavor text, and an event; but the event is just "Roll x and y", or "Spend x to win this spot." Is it too much to ask to give me some story about what I am trying to do here? If it's a dark closet and I need to roll two magnifying glasses, how about "Search until you find both clues?" If I need to land on Buenos Aires and use a gun, how about "Defeat the Mob Boss and his Killer Robot?"
Don't let the storytelling end when I get to the gameplay!
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Paul DeStefano
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Jesse W.
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So, you don't just want flavor text, you want the game text to be mixed with the flavor text?
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Brook Gentlestream
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I tend to be in favor of creating thematic terms for game effects. And judging by people's reaction to the Queens of Fate rules, there are people who really like this.
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Dylan Green
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Irony aside, I think the main reason most people don't do this is because statements like "Roll 2d6. On a 7+ gain 1 VP." while dry and flavorless, communicate exactly what it is the player needs to do. Statements like "Defeat the wicked witch and her army of flying monkeys dressed like bell-hops" might leave the player wondering exactly what it is they're supposed to do.

I guess there is no reason you couldn't blend them together:

you attack the Wicked Witch and her army of flying-monkeys dressed like bell-hops with your cricket bat(Roll 2D6) if your noble assault is successful (if you roll 7+) you drive the witch into the darkness from whence she came (Remove the Wicked Witch card from play) and collect your reward of cheezeburgers (gain 1 cheezeburger token) if not wear the cone of shame (take the cone of shame and place firmly on your head).

But, as you can see it's a little clunky.

Anyone have any good (serious) ideas about how to pull this off?
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Nate K
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I prefer to separate the flavor of what is happening from the mechanics. Describe what the player is doing, then describe how to actually do it using the game mechanics.

Here is an example from a current WIP:

Quote:
This leviathroll has been equipped with iron plates to supplement its
tough scales and bony armor. It will be much harder to kill then the last one.
Your first goal is to detach the armor from its shoulders and hind legs. The leviathroll will try to buck you off its back; if you fall, you must defeat four Ahdeenite Warriors before climbing a building and leaping back onto the giant creature.

--Leviathroll (Boss, Stage 1)
Aim: 4
HP: None, see Ability 1
Initiate: 1
Strength: None, see Ability 2
Ability 1: You must shatter both pins holding the leviathroll’s armor in place. Each pin has HP 5.
Ability 2: Whenever you would take damage from Leviathroll, instead you get
knocked off its back and must fight four Ahdeenite Warriors.


I describe what it is the player is doing, thematically, and then show them mechanically how this fight differs from normal combat.
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Brook Gentlestream
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Then again, here's some another lesson from Queens of Fate, re-posted here because I think its relevant to the discussion:

---

Queens of Fate is a solo game that uses a deck of tarot cards. When I designed Queens of Fate, I started off with a very abstract story in mind. One of the best features of the game is its immersive feel that lets you tell a story as you play, encouraged by the beautiful and abstract art on most tarot decks. i enjoy working elements of my life within the story of the game, such as my friends, family, and co-workers, and imagining the Challenges as exaggerated supernatural versions of the problems I have in real life.

In the most recent incarnation, I created a custom 'story deck' for players that don't own tarot cards. I made the mistake of adding 'flavor text' to each of the cards that each told the snippet of a longer story, like Weatherlight Magic cards. While this does an even better job of immersing the player in the story, and answers the criticism of some elements being too abstract, the result is that it tells the same story each time you play. Consequently, while I think the game is more fun to learn, I think the game has lost some replay value as a result.

So I recommend learning the game with my set, but then using a regular tarot card deck once you have learned the game sufficiently with the story deck.

While I love flavor text, I have learned it is best for CCGs, where you are constantly being exposed to new cards. In fact I think here it has a practical purpose in helping to tie mechanics with story and art, making their function easier to remember and understand. The desire for new story and the tiresome sameness of working with the same flavor may also help the sale of a collectable games while reducing the replay value of other types of games.
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Jake Staines
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Jackhalfaprayer wrote:
I guess there is no reason you couldn't blend them together:

[...]

But, as you can see it's a little clunky.


For what it's worth, that's almost exactly how Arkham Horror does it. A lot of people have a lot of criticisms of that game, but the ones I've seen generally aren't centred around the way the fluff is worked into the event cards.
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Perry Fergin
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Just to clarify:

I'm not asking for much. Look at Race for Adventure: it's all excitement. You use fantastic machines to travel to exotic locations to do...what? To use a map? Just add a tiny detail letting me know what adventure I'm having:

"Lost! Use map to escape."

That's all.
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B C Z
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I find the Elder Sign reference a bit off...

People seem to create the narrative when they roll the dice and each sequence of required dice tells a story if you let it.

Why do I want some static story when I can create a new one every time because the artwork evokes it?
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Dylan Green
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I guess my concern is that your average player will then say "Alright. Cool.... How do I use the map?"

When games use instructions to players they are giving regularly used words and concepts new, and extremely narrow, definitions. When one uses a map in the real world it has very little to do with what is going on at the game table (The Magic Circle, anyone?).

If "Use the map to escape" means, in terms of the game we're playing, "discard the map card" or "roll a map on the adventure die" or "Dance the map dance to the approval of everyone at the table." Then the player needs to know that "use" really means "discard" or "roll" or "dance."

The way that we usually communicate this, for easy reference, is on the bits and bobs that contain the command form verbs (use, roll, dance).

That's not to say that you can't design a game where "use" can be universally understood. If "use" is always "discard" then you can probably get away with it.

But I think it might be asking for trouble.
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Perry Fergin
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Quote:
I find the Elder Sign reference a bit off...

People seem to create the narrative when they roll the dice and each sequence of required dice tells a story if you let it.

Why do I want some static story when I can create a new one every time because the artwork evokes it?


You have a valid point. People are lazy and don't want to use their own imaginations.

However...

Why read books when I can imagine a story on my own? The idea is to see someone else's idea, to kick back and let someone else do the storytelling. That's what I look for in games like Elder Sign. I want to see their ideas, not my own. (Yes, it is because I am too lazy. I play to relax, and that includes nice eye candy on the components, and great storytelling.) They've taken the story so far; take it one step farther.

For example: Hat tip: LordHellfury
 
Here, I see the beginning of a story: I'm in a room, and a guard flips the lights off. What happens next? What am I trying to do with these rolls? What's the danger? It just gives me an unsettled feeling that there's some rich story taking place that I know nothing about.

Contrast to Nemo's War: Hat tip: Hex_Enduction_Hour
Here, I know exactly what's happening: I'm being attacked by a Giant Squid. My crew and ship are in danger. When I roll, I am trying to either kill the squid or escape. And I know all that without even reading the flavor text at the bottom!

Edit: added quote.
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Perry Fergin
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Jackhalfaprayer wrote:
I guess my concern is that your average player will then say "Alright. Cool.... How do I use the map?"

When games use instructions to players they are giving regularly used words and concepts new, and extremely narrow, definitions. When one uses a map in the real world it has very little to do with what is going on at the game table (The Magic Circle, anyone?).

If "Use the map to escape" means, in terms of the game we're playing, "discard the map card" or "roll a map on the adventure die" or "Dance the map dance to the approval of everyone at the table." Then the player needs to know that "use" really means "discard" or "roll" or "dance."

The way that we usually communicate this, for easy reference, is on the bits and bobs that contain the command form verbs (use, roll, dance).

That's not to say that you can't design a game where "use" can be universally understood. If "use" is always "discard" then you can probably get away with it.

But I think it might be asking for trouble.


I think you misunderstood me. I wasn't talking about instructions for gameplay, but flavor text only; letting you know how this item fits into adventure.

If you look at Race to Adventure, you'll get a better idea of what I mean. Here's a game that really get's my heart pumping. A team of adventurers, traveling to exotic locations, facing danger and excitement. Okay. I got all that. They leave the Empire State building by jetpack, and fly to Antarctica, where they must use the Lighning Gun (!) and map to... what? What are they doing with it? They left out the most exciting part!

Imagine watching Indiana Jones. He's talking with his compatriots in his house, they make some discovery, and he says he's off to the Temple of Doom. They do the red-line-moving-across-the-map thing to show him traveling there, exciting music, etc. And then-- next scene. He's back in his house, saying, "My! It sure was an adventure in that Temple! Good thing I used my whip!" Huh? What happened there? The whole reason I watch the movie is for the action scene. They left out the most important part!
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Dylan Green
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perrygf wrote:

I think you misunderstood me. I wasn't talking about instructions for gameplay, but flavor text only; letting you know how this item fits into adventure.


If that's really the case, then as far as I can tell you are asking for more flavor text on cards. You don't just want graphical representations of what the player must do, but a fun snippet of well written fiction.

Cool. Fair enough.

I'll get right on that.
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Sam Mercer
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Hiya Perry

For me and my games it is more a matter of logistics.

I would LOVE to write a story on each card to act as little windows into the story-top (the story of the table top) that is being built up but unfortunately it requires - simply - a lot of text.

The second example you give has got a lot of text on it. I am trying to keep [AtomPunk cards very clean to make the most of the art. ANd having loads of text like this (although I would like to) is quite impractical - there is simply, no space!

I am approaching this a different way and I hope you would approve, when the game is released it will be released with a small book of novels and stories and snippets from the AtomPunk world. So either seperately, or the back half of the manual; there would be lots of stories that take place in the world. These would bring lots of the different cards, and lots of equipment, snap cards, land cards - all the aspects of the game would be written about.

For example, one of my cards "The Sanguin Extinguisher of Su Yon Kip" - basically, the card is a combat unit but a mad robot and if you dont give it enough "support" it flips out and kill you. The card itself reads something like "-2 support: 4 Damage to each card touching" BUT the story comes in and backs everything up thematically really nicely.

I will paste it hear now (apologies for length) but this is the backstory for that card that will be printed separately in a standalone book:


tl;dr - I leave my cards simple and gamey and apply the thematic bit separately in a book

Some things come with too high a price. - Samantha

Now the place that I found that note was hot. The sun was beating down like some jumped up
bully and the look of it all burned into my memory. It was carnage, pure and simple. The remains
of a caravan, collapsing slowly into the dry earth and splashed with so much blood it looked like
the metal had been bleeding. The area around the place was littered with tangled corpses, pilgrims by the style of their clothes, with all their limbs splayed out at odd angles. That scene still gives me damn nightmares.

The terrible smell beneath the blazing sun that day was what really got to me though. Rotting
pilgrim bodies and the acrid stench of the dead pack ant they’d had with ‘em. At first I thought it
was just another raid, but slung across the top of a small ridge nearby was the outline of a long dead sunhound, the skin parched almost to paper - a sudden change in the wind brought its stench to me. I walked over to take a closer look and I remember thinking that something about the animal’s body was very strange

The sunhound must have surely attacked them, but I noticed that there wasn’t a single bullet or
blaster wound. Sure, you could say that whatever evidence there was had been eaten away by
scavengers, or perhaps the pilgrims didn’t get a shot off… But there isn’t a caravan I know that would hold back with their ammo when they were being attacked by a ‘hound. It’s not like the damn things are hard to see coming. That thing should have been riddled with bullets.

I decided, right then, that I needed to get back to the caravan proper because something about the situation wasn’t quite right and Jenny knows only a damn fool hangs around death like that longer than he needs to. The bodies of the caravan folk were all intact, nothing missing, and it struck me that if the sunhound was the one that killed them, there would be a lot more mess. People always say you’ll have a hard time figuring out how many people there were from what a ‘hound leaves behind. And if the animal hadn’t killed the caravan folk, whatever had attacked them had attacked it as well. That thought sat with me for a long moment. I needed to find out what had happened to these people.

I began searching the rusting vehicles and their owners alike, and something I had missed before became clear. Every single body was pierced, neatly, a finger-sized hole going straight from front to back. I’d never heard of anything in all my long years in the wastes which left a wound like that. Snipers? I kept searching for a clue as to what might have attacked them and eventually, in one of the trucks, I found the body of a man. A note made from actual paper was clutched tightly in his hand which would give me my answer. The message was scrawled and the paper was smeared with dry blood. I guess he was dying as he wrote it. Whatever he needed to say had been pretty damned important.

I unfurled the note, disturbed as hell by this point, and read the spidery writing which has had me confused ever since. It said:

‘Beware the self aware exsanguinator of Su-Yon Kip.’

Well, to this day I have no idea what it means, but, from what I saw that day, I don’t think anyone who finds out lives to enlighten the next man.

-

Excerpt from Nuances of the Apocalypse
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Perry Fergin
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I hear you about logistics, but I'm not really asking for a whole lot. Again, I think the Nemo's War card gives you a great idea of what's going on without the whole paragraph at the bottom: "Attack of the Giant Squid". Okay. Got it. I''m fighting a squid. The Elder Sign card is very vague. Lights go out. Great. Where's the action? Am I battling tentacles reaching out to me from the dark, or trying not to stub my toe? I think a general idea of the adventure can be expressed very succinctly. The card you gave as an example from your game is fine, in my book. I'm facing a robot. I need to give support, or it attacks. That's enough. In Elder Sign, I don't have even that. How will finding magnifying glasses, skulls, and scrolls (in that order) help me get the lights back on (if that's what I'm trying to do)?
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Perry Fergin
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(P.S. I've been following your game. It looks fantastic!)
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Adam Kazimierczak
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I agree to a point and believe that theme and mechanics can be intertwined without sacrificing one, it's just challenging to avoid the "pasted on" flavor or clunky, exception-riddled rules depending on a designer's priorities (sleek and elegant mechanics or narrative rich). Designers are also pressured to make cards "less wordy" which in turn can make them more "gamey" in terms of iconography and abbreviated rule summaries. The problem is that games are like movies: everyone has different tastes as to what that sweet spot is.
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