Tuesday, August 21, 2007

New school and enthusiastic students

Just as school starts, I've been playing or otherwise working on several "Brit-like" games, something I haven't done in a long time. The trick now is to finish some rule-sets to the point that I can send some of these games to testers, as I'm not likely to get much testing of the longer ones done locally.

Local playtesting is looking up, however. I'm now at Wake Tech teaching game design, and out of about 100 students there seem to be a fair number enthusiastic about playing non-digital games (as opposed to digital games, which everyone is enthusiastic about). One of the students has taken it upon himself to apply for official club status. Although Monday was the first Monday of the term, we had an impromptu meeting and four people played versions of Law & Chaos.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Invisible Hand

The pseudonymous "Adam Smith" wrote, in "Wealth of Nations", about the invisible hand "to illustrate how those who seek wealth by following their individual self-interest assist society as a whole and build the common good." (Wikipedia) In Britannia-like games, there seems to be an "invisible hand" that tends to balance the game, over many plays, as players recognize that everything they do affects the game as a whole. E.g., in situations where it might be possible to wipe out a nation, a player might choose not to do so because he knows that later this will be of too much benefit to a third player.

Now this doesn't prevent games from being unbalanced--Maharajah 4 player comes to mind, though I understand that can be fixed--but it does help counterbalance problems.

Unfortunately, the "invisible hand" depends on experience and foresight from players, which may be a reason why experienced players often prefer to play with other experienced players, rather than with newbies. The newbies won't foresee the long-term effects of their actions the way the experienced ones can.

From a designer's point of view, the problem is getting playtesters with enough experience to "enforce the invisible hand".

I am particularly worried about the "invisible hand" in a game like EPIC Barbaria, where there are many small nations that might be easily wiped out (there are 44 or so nations among the five players, and few have maxes as high as 10 armies). There's always a temptation, for players, to wipe out a relatively weak nation that foresight shows will often score a lot of points.

In Brit, my solution to this worry about important nations being wiped out prematurely was the submission rules, and this is still the #1 method, though I try to stay away from it because it's fiddly (Brigs to Angles case in point). In Normannia the Bretons are rather vulnerable, but here I have the historical precedent of the appearance of exile Alain Barbertorte from England, who reconquered Brittany from the Vikings using troops from outside the country. In Barbaria I have the relatively weak Spanish vulnerable to the Muslims, and in cases like that I can have new troops simply appear in Asturias even though it might be controlled by Muslims. In the case of the Irish in Normannia, the Vikings might be able to wipe out the Irish, so I've made Connacht an "unoccupiable" province for the Vikings, and the Irish keep coming. In Viking Gold (not a Brit-like game) I have all areas in Ireland rise up against occupiers in the last two rounds of the four-round game. These techniques reflect the fact that Ireland was never Romanized, never united under one administration, and the chaotic Irish keep throwing up gangs of warriors from their forested fastnesses to fight off invaders.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Brit-like prototypes

At WBC I wasn't able to get other people to playtest games, partly because I had to leave Friday afternoon just as more people were showing up, partly because of an inconvenient Britannia tournament schedule, partly because a couple of my most frequent testers did not come this year.

I did play a "new" game, Normannia: the Viking Age in the West, three times, and I'm continuing to play it. I am pretty enthusiastic about it, a "Euroized" Brit that is working well and seems to have some balance.

I've posted an account of a game of Barbaria (formerly Dark Ages), EPIC version, that I played just before WBC.

I hope that I can get Normannia and Arthuria to a point of sending out to playtest soon, but this depends partly on how many playtesters I can find at my new school (where I'll be teaching four sections of (digital) game design).