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Subject: New Game (under construction): Heatseekers rss

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Nick Bentley
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Reposted from my blog

A favorite pastime among abstract game designers is to invent games entirely in our heads, without playtesting. This practice doesn’t always result in good games (to say the least), but it’s a great way to shape and test one’s understanding of fundamentals.

I do it all the time, and I thought I’d share one with my free time today. The idea comes from my desire to make abstract games with large game trees, but which feel coherent, simple, exciting, not arbitrary, and not discombobulating. I’ve no idea if the following game achieves any of those goals (except it does have a large game tree), but here goes:

The Rules

The game is for two players with white and black stones on a hex grid or a square grid (playtesting would determine which is best). One player owns the black stones, the other owns the white.

Each player has a number of small bowls in front of him, and each bowl contains stones. All the stones in a given bowl have the same integer printed on them. All the stones in the first bowl have “1″ printed on them, all the stones in the second bowl have “2″, and so on.

I don’t know how many bowls there should be, but this number is critical to the quality of the game and should be found through playtesting. More on that below.

Players take turns. Each turn consists of two actions:

1. You MUST place a stone from any bowl onto any empty space.

2. You MAY move a stone already on the board by a Chess Queen’s move. If your stone ends its move next to an enemy stone whose value is exactly one less than your stone, and your stone wasn’t next to that enemy stone to start its move, remove the enemy stone from the board, and if that enemy stone was part of a group of enemy stones, remove those stones from the board as well. Note: your “1″ stones can capture the highest-numbered stones of your enemy
(i.e. capture is circular). Captured stones are returned to the opponent after counting.

The game ends either when a player has captured X enemy stones (X is a number to be determined by playtesting, along with a consideration below), in which case he wins, or when when the board is full, in which case whoever has the largest group on the board wins (or second largest group if largest groups are same size, and so on…)

Note the two win conditions create conflicting incentives: you want to keep your groups small to avoid losing them to big captures, but you want to keep your groups big in case the board fills up and you need the largest group to win.

Let’s consider how game-play changes depending on the number of bowls a player has:

If each player has two bowls, then captures will be quite common, and the game will always end when one player has captured X stones of the other.

If each player has some very large number of bowls, say 100 (unrealistic, but this is just for illustration), then neither player will ever capture enemy stones, and the board will always end full.

Somewhere between those two extremes, the game will end about half the time on one win condition and half the time on the other, which balances the conflicting incentives to make big groups and make small groups.

The number of bowls need for that depends on how you set X above (the number of stones needed to capture to win), so that gives you some freedom to keep the number of bowls reasonable if needed. I think a good target would be around 6 bowls. You can also reduce the number of bowls needed by restricting movement power to something with less range than a Queen's move.

Anyway I’m not sure whether the win condition is the best, but a range of different win conditions are possible, so there’s some flexibility to play with there. I’ll discuss this later if it turns out, with playtesting, that an alternative win condition is better.
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Matteo Perlini
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Hi Nick.

From an a priori point of view, I like your game. I'm quite sure that somewhere, hidden in this "combinatorial labyrinth", there is the right mix of number of bowls, numbers of captured pieces for winning, type of movement and type of board, for realizing a great game.

I particularly like the conflicting between the two winning conditions.

However, the less elegant element, I think, is the "numbers of capture pieces" for winning condition. It seems too much arbitrary, although I understand its use.

Good luck with playtesting.


p.s. Your game make me think about a prototype of mine, left unpublished. The game is totally different from yours, but it has in common the capturing cyclic hierarchy. I think I should blow the dust off my game.
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Nick Bentley
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epicurus wrote:

From an a priori point of view, I like your game. I'm quite sure that somewhere, hidden in this "combinatorial labyrinth", there is the right mix of number of bowls, numbers of captured pieces for winning, type of movement and type of board, for realizing a great game.


Thank you kindly

Quote:
However, the less elegant element, I think, is the "numbers of capture pieces" for winning condition. It seems too much arbitrary, although I understand its use.


Yes, I plan to give special scrutiny to the win condition and try out several alternatives. For example, It would be great if it were the number of captures, instead of the number of captured stones. Also, I will look for a unitary win condition that by itself creates conflicting incentives.

Quote:
p.s. Your game make me think about a prototype of mine, left unpublished. The game is totally different from yours, but it has in common the capturing cyclic hierarchy. I think I should blow the dust off my game.


Please do! Maybe we can post final versions in tandem with discussion about the different uses of circular capture. I know at least one other excellent game with the mechanic that deserves discussion (it's called Tricoleur, and it was designed by Joao Neto and Bill Taylor, though I don't know if they've ever discussed it publicly).
 
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Matteo Perlini
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milomilo122 wrote:
epicurus wrote:
However, the less elegant element, I think, is the "numbers of capture pieces" for winning condition. It seems too much arbitrary, although I understand its use.


Yes, I plan to give special scrutiny to the win condition and try out several alternatives. For example, It would be great if it were the number of captures, instead of the number of captured stones. Also, I will look for a unitary win condition that by itself creates conflicting incentives.


I think with number of captures the winning condition is functionally better, but as arbitrary as the number of captured stones. Of course it would perfect to find an unitary condition... I will think about.

milomilo122 wrote:
epicurus wrote:
p.s. Your game make me think about a prototype of mine, left unpublished. The game is totally different from yours, but it has in common the capturing cyclic hierarchy. I think I should blow the dust off my game.


Please do! Maybe we can post final versions in tandem with discussion about the different uses of circular capture. I know at least one other excellent game with the mechanic that deserves discussion (it's called Tricoleur, and it was designed by Joao Neto and Bill Taylor, though I don't know if they've ever discussed it publicly).


I will post here soon but I'm pretty sure you won't like it, it is not your kind of game.
However it has a big branching factor.


(Unfortunately, I don't know Tricole.)
 
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Nick Bentley
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epicurus wrote:
I think with number of captures the winning condition is functionally better, but as arbitrary as the number of captured stones. Of course it would perfect to find an unitary condition... I will think about.


Agreed. I'd love to know if you think of something good.

Quote:
I will post here soon but I'm pretty sure you won't like it, it is not your kind of game.


Try me! I like more stuff than one might suspect based on the games I design. Lately I've gotten hooked on (GASP) deckbuilding games, for example.
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Matteo Perlini
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milomilo122 wrote:
epicurus wrote:
I will post here soon but I'm pretty sure you won't like it, it is not your kind of game.


Try me! I like more stuff than one might suspect based on the games I design. Lately I've gotten hooked on (GASP) deckbuilding games, for example.

Ok, I will post it tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. I'm very curious to know how reliable my intuition is.
 
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Clark D. Rodeffer
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This is an interesting concept, and I hope to find some time to explore it with one or more of my kids. As a first suggestion, using the rules as written, my plan is to use two "bowls" of six sided dice (rather than numbered stones or chips) in two colors. (I have several sets that are commonly sold in plastic packages of 36.) For the board, I plan to start with an order 3 hex grid (19 cells) and add extra hexes until your two competing goals are about balanced, then decide if it's interesting. If so, then I'll try some rectangular grid of similar size and see if 4 or 8 mobile directions are better or worse than 6.
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Matteo Perlini
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milomilo122 wrote:
epicurus wrote:
I will post here soon but I'm pretty sure you won't like it, it is not your kind of game.


Try me! I like more stuff than one might suspect based on the games I design. Lately I've gotten hooked on (GASP) deckbuilding games, for example.

There you go: SEI: a new game with capturing cyclic hierarchy.
 
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Nick Bentley
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CDRodeffer wrote:
This is an interesting concept, and I hope to find some time to explore it with one or more of my kids. As a first suggestion, using the rules as written, my plan is to use two "bowls" of six sided dice (rather than numbered stones or chips) in two colors. (I have several sets that are commonly sold in plastic packages of 36.) For the board, I plan to start with an order 3 hex grid (19 cells) and add extra hexes until your two competing goals are about balanced, then decide if it's interesting. If so, then I'll try some rectangular grid of similar size and see if 4 or 8 mobile directions are better or worse than 6.


Great! After my first playtest, last night on a hexhex5 with six bowls, I rearranged the rules a bit. I modified the original post on my blog to reflect this. Importantly, there was a key mistake which must be corrected for a viable game - the actions must be taken in this order: Move, THEN Place. I also added the following caveat: if multiple captures are possible after a move, the player must pick one (keeps the number of bowls needed limited).

As it is, with six bowls, I think the game may tilt too heavily toward capture. As I don't want more than 6 bowls, I may have to limit movement more or switch to square board with rook movement. I'm not sure.

Anyway I was more captivated than I expected to be in my first playtest, so I'm going to pursue this design to its end.
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milomilo122 wrote:
Great! After my first playtest, last night on a hexhex5 with six bowls, I rearranged the rules a bit. I modified the original post on my blog to reflect this. Importantly, there was a key mistake which must be corrected for a viable game - the actions must be taken in this order: Move, THEN Place. I also added the following caveat: if multiple captures are possible after a move, the player must pick one (keeps the number of bowls needed limited).

As it is, with six bowls, I think the game may tilt too heavily toward capture. As I don't want more than 6 bowls, I may have to limit movement more or switch to square board with rook movement. I'm not sure.

Anyway I was more captivated than I expected to be in my first playtest, so I'm going to pursue this design to its end.


Glad to hear good news from Heatseekers.

Did you try 5 bowls? (In this case, if you follow the Luis's idea, you can use dice as pieces, like suggested by Clark, with the 6 as special marker).

Intuitively and aesthetically, I will stay with a hexhex board. Try to lower the number of bowls, 5 or 4.
 
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Clark D. Rodeffer
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Someone had to do it. To facilitate test playing your game, I added a slide for Heatseekers (on a hex grid up to order 9 using d6) to the ever expanding HexHex4 Google Presentation. Once the board dimensions (and even the grid itself) are finalized, you're of course welcome to adjust things to fit your design.
 
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Nick Bentley
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CDRodeffer wrote:
Someone had to do it. To facilitate test playing your game, I added a slide for Heatseekers (on a hex grid up to order 9 using d6) to the ever expanding HexHex4 Google Presentation. Once the board dimensions (and even the grid itself) are finalized, you're of course welcome to adjust things to fit your design.


Awesome. Thank you!

[update after another playtest: I realized that there's a defensive tactic which makes capture much harder which means that, contrary to my initial claim that more than 6 bowls would be required with the rules as they are, I now think that fewer than six bowls will be required, which is a very welcome development. I'll write another post about this soon]
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