A relic hunt by Jeff Warrender and Steve Sisk

Monday, August 1, 2011

Composite clues or climbing clues?

In the current version of the game, each clue really consists of three sub-clues, and the number of check marks you have in that clue category determines the level of the clue you're authorized to look at. The three clues each present a different piece of information which, when put together, add up to complete knowledge of the solution. For example, for the location of the temple, one card might have the following:

1. The temple is in a "white" city.
2. The temple is in the Near East.
3. The temple is in a "triangle" city.

Taken together, these point to Nepal. This scheme works well and permits a secondary mechanic whereby a player can reveal the clue he just read to the other players, in exchange for some action cards; but the structure of the clues is such that reading a given level doesn't give away complete information to the other players.

But in some cases, this composite construct seems forced. Consider how we would construct clues for the length of the Staff of Ra in Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is crucial in determining where to dig for the Well of Souls. In the composite approach, it might look like this:

1. The staff is at least 4 feet tall.
2. The staff is at most 7 feet tall.
3. The staff is not 5 feet tall.

Again, this is functional, but it just doesn't ring true as the way information about the staff would really appear in the books, tomes, interviews, etc, that Indy would use to gather information -- it's rather forced and artificial. What if, instead, the clues "climbed"? Consider again the same clue, in a different scheme:

1. The staff is (at least) 4 feet tall.
2. The staff is (at least) 4 feel tall.
3. The staff is (at least) 6 feet tall.

The level 2 clue isn't a typo -- what this idea conveys is that instead of each clue giving partial information, each clue may have the full solution. You only know for sure if you go all the way to the level 3 clue, but you may not have to -- a level 1 clue may be sufficient.

Consider how this could enable a more story-like structure to the location clues:

1. The artifact was carried out of the Holy Land by a Franciscan monk to the desert north of Cairo...
2. ...whereupon it was carried across the desert to Marrakech...
3. ...and there may it sit until our Lord returns.

To make this approach work, there would have to be some cards where the level 1 clue really does point directly to the solution, some where the level 2 clue does, and some where only reaching the level 3 clue leads to the solution. Maybe the distribution is roughly 33% of each, or maybe it's 25%/37.5%/37.5%, not sure.

Now the difference between these approaches is subtle but important; in the composite approach, the clues help the player to narrow down the possibilities, so if he acts on partial information, it is based on a guess, and the goal of the game is to maximize the odds that your guess will be accurate by accumulating as many clues as you can. In the climbing approach, the clues lead the player toward the solution step by step, and the guesswork comes more from how far up the clue chain you need to climb to have correct information. Because the game is a race, time spent chasing down "extra" clues is time wasted, but if you don't chase down those clues, you risk having incomplete information. I think the climbing approach is more thematically consonant -- you could end up digging in the wrong place, but not because you guessed wrong on a 50/50 guess -- rather, because there was more information out there than you realized.

Again, this difference is subtle, but I also think the latter approach is more amenable to enabling the players to get additional information from hunches via "relevance" (see the next post), or from "local rumors" (maybe the next post after that...). By piecing together the clues and little pieces of additional information, players may be able to develop a good feel for whether a given level is the final clue or if there are others that follow it.

Gameplay-wise, I especially like the way this potentially focuses importance on the level 1 clues, which are mostly useless at present.

Of course, it could be possible to use both approaches, and letting the situation dictate which is appropriate. For numeric values (the height of the staff of Ra, the weight of the idol in the Chachopoyan Warriors temple), climbing clues make the most sense; for other categories (challenges in the temple), composite clues may be more appropriate.


  1. Reread this on a whim. Not sure I ever actually saw it before.

    I like the idea, but I think there is a potential problem which is neither addressed nor affected by the structure of the clues themselves.

    Please recall that I am probably out of date on the game rules by several versions, but I think this is a general issue that probably holds true in the current rules:

    I believe that the reason people don't check for solution with level 1 info is that it costs an action to do so. Level 1 info is never going to be worth your time. In the climbing scheme detailed on this post, it's POSSIBLE that Level 1 info is enough, but the chances are low enough that I feel people will still not find it worth their time to check for solution without more info.

    How to address this? Suppose that checking the solution was automatic. Instead of just getting your first checkmark in a category and letting that checkmark sit there, suppose you actually read the level 1 clue at that time (without having to expend an additional action to read a clue).

    When you get your 2nd checkmark, you also get to automatically read the level 2 clue, etc.

    In this way, you gain the information you are supposed to gain, and if you think your level 1 info is good enough (especially in combination with opponents' actions which you observe maybe), then you need not pursue more checkmarks in that category.

    Now, you can make this more fine grained - maybe you get the Level 1 clue with your first checkmark, but you need 2 more for level 2, and then 2 or 3 more after that in order to see level 3. You could tune the difficulty of uncovering this info that way. But the key here is that you automatically check the clue, without spending your limited time or resources on it.

    In retrospect, I don't know why this didn't come up before. And indeed, maybe it's something you already considered. And perhaps with the composite clues it doesn't work as well or make as much sense - but with the climbing clues I think it makes so much sense it seems obviously the way to go!

  2. Good question Seth, I don't know why we've never considered it! I suspect that "read a clue" was separate from "get check marks" because most theme cards have 2 or 3 categories and getting to look at clues in multiple categories for free seemed too "good" for a single action. But if we go with a scheme where different cards give different check mark payouts, and there's a threshold for each clue level, then it's not as much of an issue, as a given theme card may put you over the threshold in one category but not in another.

    This seems like a no-brainer; it reduces some complexity, and it makes much more thematic sense. It never quite made sense that I would go visit Marcus Brody for "check marks" but wouldn't actually ask him anything about the category that he knew about! It seems to make much more sense that, if interviewing him puts me over the threshold in a category, I get the clue straight away. Great suggestion!

    I think my preferred approach at present is to adopt a hybrid of Steve's and my ideas here: each theme card would give 1-4 check marks in one category only, BUT some/most theme cards also have a bonus category in which they give 2-3 additional check marks, but only if you're carrying (or if you pay?) some particular item. Maybe it's another theme card (eg Indy's father can only remember the challenges if he is handed the Grail Diary) or maybe it's a new class of cards, "equipment" cards, which have a couple of other uses that I might have described. (eg the linquist can give information about the location of the temple but only if you're carrying a map for him to decipher).

  3. I suppose it depends on how much detail you want to assign this particular mechanism. My first inclination is to suggest keeping it simple - put some icons on theme cards which represent check marks: 0-4 icons in each of 1-3 categories in some combination (maybe such that each theme card has the same total amount of 'stuff'). If you want to get fancy, maybe a theme card has less info, but some other benefit (a Fedora token, which gives you +1 Luck for example).

    I never liked the idea of theme cards following you around. To me the job of the theme cards was to be the board. Navigating the board and visiting cities has no meaning unless there is a theme card there to visit (or you have learned that you want to dig in that city for a particular item).

    Equipment could be good - or it could be just a bunch more tokens/cards added to the game for no really good reason. Are they necessary?

    The idea of having to qualify for certain theme icons is interesting, but it's also a little weird that you know which check marks you'll get even before satisfying their requirements. Hmm... no more odd than knowing what check marks you'll get before visiting the theme card I suppose. I think having such pre-req's for unlocking certain information is an acceptable hoop to jump through, as it reinforces the routeplanning already present, rather than introducing a new element - you can factor in the bonus icons when you decide where to go next.

    As for what types of prerequisites - I do not know if adding an entire set of equipment is really necessary, but then again what else would qualify? Some could require you to have a minimum score in a particular stat (if you have enough Fight, then you can beat extra info out of one card. If you have enough Wits, you can trick another guy into giving you more info, etc.) Then to qualify for that info you would have to do whatever it takes to increase your stats (I personally prefer the idea of Hat/Whip/Satchel/Gun tokens that you can pick up - simple). Perhaps you can pay cards to temporarily up your stat, so you effectively can pay cards for that extra info, and of course every Hat token you collect reduces the number of Hat cards you'll have to play over the course of the game (for this reason as well as others).