A relic hunt by Jeff Warrender and Steve Sisk

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

More thoughts on Encounters

I've talked a fair bit about Encounter cards, which are a replacement for the bland and fairly wooden "you face a challenge based simply on the number of enemy cubes in the city." There's a new game out called "Fortune and Glory", which apparently involves players being tested in various skills (though in that game, it appears to involve dice and skill checks instead of cards and hand management); however, the mechanic elicited this comment, which I found interesting:

"The dangers seem almost entirely identical in nature. There doesn't appear to be much difference between tackling a Giant Sea Squid or a Zeppelin...it doesn't really sound like it will make you feel like you are encountering one specific danger over another."

(As an aside, I have a tendency to read negative reviews and comments of games that are similar to the one I'm currently working on; if there's something that players don't like about a similar game, it seems prudent to try to avoid these "shortcomings" if possible...)

Now even though the Encounters/Challenges are a minor element of Lost Adventures, it's true that making them feel different, apart from simply having each card have different artwork, could be satisfying to the players, as long as it doesn't require a lot of rules. One idea is to make the consequences of failure different for the different categories: eg failing an Escape challenge costs you some time, failing a Fight challenge costs you some health, etc.

But I thought of yet another way that the visual aspects of the encounter cards, and the ability to have hidden information on solution cards, could combine to create interest. Basically, the idea is this: the encounter card would show the scene that your adventurer faces, and nothing else. No icons telling you the challenge category, no number telling you the challenge difficulty, nothing. To face the encounter, you get to choose what skill you want to apply (luck, wits, escape, fight), and what your skill level is (as determined by your base skill level plus whatever cards you want to contribute to the challenge). Then, you flip the Encounter card over, (because the back side contains a solution table!), and slide it into the solution slot corresponding to the category and skill level you're putting up -- then the card tells you whether you've succeeded or not (or maybe it just says what the outcome is -- ie you get to reveal your lead card, or you're whisked off to an enemy dungeon, or whatever...)

Now, our solution scheme permits 12 different entries, so that means we could have 3 levels in each of the 4 skill categories. Maybe they're 1-2-3, or 3-4-5, or whatever seems best with some testing.

Some obvious challenges with this: for one, replayability could be an issue -- when you see the "Arab swordsman" encounter, maybe you remember that last time you played a Fight 4 and it worked. But in practice it's not that simple; you don't know in advance what card you'll get, and can't always guarantee that you'll have what you had last time -- maybe you're Joe the wimpy librarian instead of Hercules the beefy brawler, and wits, rather than fighting, is your strong suit. Additionally, there are essentially 12 options to try on each card, and more than one might work (certainly it won't be the case that there's only one "solution" for each card). Relatedly, you know that last time Fight 4 worked, but how about Fight 3? Could you press your luck by playing a weaker skill, conserving your cards if you succeed? Or what about trying to defeat the swordsman with Wits instead of Fighting?

This actually leads to what I like most about the idea -- it permits some player creativity, and rewards the player for scrutinizing the scene and determining what plays might be viable. A big swordsman might require a more substantial outlay of cards than a young street tough, for example. And maybe you see that cart full of logs near the swordsman, which you could release on the swordsman with your whip, instead of trying to fight him. Different approaches to each encounter will be possible, but may lead to different outcomes.

It also does what a previous iteration of the challenge system did; it lets you possibly overpay for challenges, in order to guarantee a successful outcome. There was some debate whether that approach was actually favorable; the thought was expressed that it was always better to overpay than to risk failing a challenge and losing a turn. Here, of course, it may not always be obvious which category you could max out in order to guarantee that you pass the challenge card, so even overpaying brings some risk.

Of course, it's an open question whether people will like a system where they have to guess at the cost of the card rather than simply be told by the card what it costs to get by it. And this act of guessing adds a decision point, which will add time. The encounter system is supposed to add interest and flavor to the globe-hopping, but not become a game unto itself, so it will be important not to clutter this system with rules, as this would get in the way of the part of the game that's supposed to be the focal point.


  1. Jeff, this sounds like an absolutely awesome idea! So unique and novel that I might even suggest showcasing it as a main mechanism of the game. It's like a Choose Your Own Adventure mechanism in a board game :)

  2. Thanks Seth! Now I just need to figure out a way to implement it in a prototype for playtesting...

    >" ... allowing the player to choose which stat to use - though mightn't they simply always choose their largest stat and hope that works? I like the thought of multiple different outcomes being possible - like maybe you slide the chart into the appropriate slot and it shows you a particular icon (different based on which stat you used, and maybe no icon if your stat wasn't high enough)... "

    There's certainly the danger of making the choice trivial. I think that the possible outlays for challenges will be something like 3-5, and the players' stats will range from 0-3, so you'll generally have to play one or more cards to have a really good shot at passing an encounter. And the previous system had the type of challenges you faced vary depending on where you went -- that will be preserved here, so in a big city, you'll be more likely to face "wits" or "luck" challenges, whereas in a minor city you'll be more likely to face "escape" challenges, or whatever; the bottom line is that your abilities will influence to a certain extent where you're likely to go, which could lead to something like a strategy.

    Wrt multiple outcomes, exactly: encounter cards are the "gatekeepers" of the theme cards, and so the outcome you're hoping for when you face an encounter is permission to interact with a theme card. But if you put forward a "weaker but still valid" solution to the card, maybe you survive the encounter unscathed, but nothing bad happens to you (but you also don't get to look at the theme card); whereas if you "fail" the card completely, you get captured, or enemy cubes get added to the city, or something like that.

  3. Re-reading...

    I'll point out something that Reiner Knizia said at that NYUPRACTICE Game Design Conference thing last year ( http://www.boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/10046/links-mensa-mind-games-2012-talk-of-dreams-and-gam )...

    Knizia had a game called King Arther that was never released in the US. It utilized conductive ink and a computer... the same technology was used in another game called Die Insel in fact. An evolution of that technology became Whoowasit, a kids' deduction game that was the best selling game in Europe for a couple of years and just came out here last year.

    In Whoowasit, they kept the computer part, but removed the conductive ink, and part of the reason why he said was this:

    King Arther featured a Black Knight which a player could interact with. There were multiple ways to interact with this Knight, and only 1 of those was to fight him. The computer would remember how each player interacted with the knight, and later interactions would depend on the earlier ones.

    Unfortunately, players missed this altogether. They picked the obvious thing to do (usually fight), and when that worked they just chose that every time. Players didn't notice or didn't care that there were different ways to interact with the knight.

    I highly suspect the main reasons for removing the conductive ink and what I thought was some of the more interesting ideas in those games is more to do with cost and technical problems, but Knizia's point is interesting: Players did not care for (or even notice) that interesting decision they were being given.

    That directly relates to this idea of an image for a challenge card - will players grok that they can try different things? Or will they complain that they don't have enough information, or simply choose their largest stat?