A relic hunt by Jeff Warrender and Steve Sisk

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Enemy

So, the “Enemy” – who is he and what does he do?

In the last version of the game, the enemy had two main functions. First, they provided a game clock. If, on your turn, you had the “enemy pawn”, you advanced the “Enemy Progress” track by the current position of the “Enemy Zeal” track, and if it reached its end, the Enemy had found the temple ahead of you (and then you passed the pawn to your right, so it counter-rotates relative to the player turns). The “Enemy Zeal” track started at 1, but advanced by 1 every time someone attempted a dig for the temple or a relic, so it organically accelerated the movement of the Progress track and gave a sense that time was running out, which was cool. Second, there were “enemy cubes” placed in the cities on the board, and these represented the difficulty of the challenge you faced upon arriving in a city. This was very clean and simple, but perhaps a bit too abstract, and worse, they slowed the game down as it progressed – more enemies to beat means more cards to acquire means more turns drawing cards means less turns drawing stuff. Again, this was somewhat desirable – on the one hand, you feel time is running out, and on the other, your ability to efficiently collect information is decreasing, so you feel like the best bet is to go into the temple, perfect info or not.

There was really nothing wrong with this scheme, but I still question whether it was as good as it could have been; there was little correlation between the enemy cubes and the enemy progress, and as mentioned, facing cubes for challenges felt dry and mathematical.

I’ve previously talked about a newer and better (?) system for handling the encounters, but the board topography introduced by the enemy cubes was nice. A simple way to integrate that with the enemy progress is to have the movement amount on the Progress track correspond to the number of cubes in the player’s current city. And, have the movement happen on every turn. Taken together these get rid of the counter-rotating enemy pawn, and the enemy zeal track, so it’s an overall reduction in complexity.

Now comes the part where I add some complexity back in. Sort of. The previous system had a “trigger” mechanism, whereby if there were too many enemy cubes in a city, the enemy attempts to dig for the temple in that city. Again, clean and efficient. I think we can preserve that but broaden the scope a bit, with a deck of “event” cards – whenever a city overfills, an event card is revealed, and it could do one of a couple of things – kidnap a theme card in that city (if there is one), attempt a dig, etc. But one effect I’m particularly interested in considering is “reveal an Enemy Agent”.

I may have mentioned previously the idea that we could perhaps add several “Enemy Agents” into the game, each represented by a card. These start face down in a row. Whenever an “activate Enemy Agent” event occurs (however that comes about), one of them is flipped over, indicating that that Agent is now known to be “active”. As I had said, these agents can be incorporated visually into the encounter cards, so if you see an Agent that has been activated, you can attempt to fight him (and “deactivate” him, I guess?).

But what happens to agents that aren’t deactivated? I want to integrate the enemy presence more strongly into the temple, and I feel like the number of active agents should be a serious consideration for the players – the more agents are active, the more difficult it will be for a player to win in the temple. So I came up with three schemes.

1. The simplest: the enemy progress track continues to click down when players are in the temple, and the amount it clicks down by is determined by the number of active Enemy agents. So, the fewer Agents are out, the more time the players have. This is simple and functional, but only abstractly conveys the sense that the Enemy is competing against the players to race through the temple.

2. The number of active agents represent the level of knowledge the enemy has, “1”, “2”, or “3+”. In the temple, the enemy is assumed to be “right on your heels”, and every time you enter a room, you check the solution card to see whether the enemy acts in that room or not – BUT, the sleeve you slide the card into is “1”, “2”, or “3+”, depending on the enemy’s knowledge. So a more informed enemy will make more intelligent choices. This adds some cool AI to the game, but it’s a minor headache to introduce component-wise, and it may be a pain from a playability standpoint.

3. Once players enter the temple, take the active agent cards and place one between each pair of players. Before play passes to your left after your turn, if there’s an Agent card between you and the next player, the Enemy first gets a turn. The enemy is a single pawn that moves through the temple with some simple AI, and he attempts to pass all challenges and tests any and all features he comes upon. When he faces a challenge, the difficulty is checked against the stats of the current Agent (or maybe all active Agents?), and if he fails, that Agent is deactivated and out of the game.

I like each of these for different reasons. 3 has the advantage that it really hurts to have multiple enemies active going into the temple – with, say, 4 enemies active, the enemy gets 4 turns for every one turn that you get! It would be hopelessly hard to beat an enemy that is so fast (but on the other hand, perhaps you were able to enter the temple before the enemy). I’d have to write a simple AI to govern enemy movement, but that shouldn’t be too bad.


  1. Not to be a negative Nancy here, but adding an Event deck and Enemy Agents to give the enemy personality, stats, and actual game turns... sounds a bit like you're adding something for the sake of adding it.

    I guess the big question is: "What is the purpose of the Enemy in this game," and then "how does that purpose interact with the mechanical problem of the game in the first place?"

    I submit that you don't want 2 separate games - players searching for the temple/grail, and enemy AI playing a similar game - for the players to play out simultaneously. Rather I submit that you want "the enemy" to be something (maybe something abstract) that drives the players decisions organically. I don't think the enemy should require multiple sets of rules and components just to interact with the players as they gather information and search for the temple/grail.

    But then, I see the game as being about that search - information gathering and a little deduction - not really about interacting with the Enemy directly.

    Maybe this is why I prefer the old version where the Enemy served as the game timer and an obstacle to getting the information required. All instances or versions of adding details and personality to the Enemy have not sounded great to me, though maybe I hadn't thought about why not until now.

    That said, if you are interested in giving the Enemy more character in a way that they act similar to the old game, maybe a solution could be to replace the cubes with Enemy cards... that way rather than simply being a number, any given city could have specific types of Enemy, and the cards (rather than the city) could indicate the type of challenge to be faced...

    I'm not sure this is really better though, at least not for me. Again, I may be simply happy with the system as it was, and therefore not feeling like a change is necessary.

    Thinking about the Indiana Jones movies though, while there were specific enemy agents, most of the enemy henchmen were nameless goons who got in the way. I felt like the Enemy cubes did a good job of representing that, and the Theme cards did a good job of representing the named characters (you had some enemy agents in the theme cards).

    Relatedly, I recall an attempt you made to add ambiguity to the theme cards - some characters are less likely to help you (or may even lie?) because of their dubious nature. I think that's a mistake as well, as to me it amounts to taking the players work (in building up to getting information from that theme card), and then only maybe giving it to them. I don't think the game needs (or should have) that extra layer of chaos - if a player does the work, the payoff should be ensured.

    It seems that I view most of the attempts to add thematic trappings to the game (ambiguous characters, enemy personality, theme cards which follow you around...) as additional, unwarranted (and unwelcome) complexity. I'm sure each one is likely to make the game more thematic, but I'm not sure it does so in a desirable way.

  2. Thanks Seth, lots of great points here.

    I think the previous version of the game was a perfectly solid, streamlined Euro route-planning game with some light risk assumption (which is kind of like "press your luck" but not exactly. But I think the consensus opinion has been that a more immersive, more "AT" game would be desirable. So my overall goal is to do that in a way that still retains interesting gameplay decisions, and of course, that has the information gathering mechanic front and center.

    I will grant that my own personal preferences are probably not representative -- I love the idea of clues that might go awry, following hunches to figure out where to get information, relying on educated guesswork to chase down clues, etc. But most people will find that unnecessarily cumbersome -- most players will probably prefer to have the game tell them where they need to go to get info, and then have the game make getting the info the interesting or challenging part.

    But nevertheless, my goal still remains trying to make the game more /cinematic/. And I think adding a bit more personality to the enemy, rather than the heavily abstracted role that they played in the past, might help to convey the feeling you're wrestling against a real foe. Or maybe not; it should be pretty easy to revert to the previous approach if it crashes and burns.

    And while you're seeing things that appear to add complexity, what's important to note is that they also cut a lot of complexity out of the previous system. For example, there are no more check marks, no more zeal track, no more fiddly rules about how to place the tiles in the temple, no more rolling a die to find out what challenge category you face when you arrive in a new city, no more relics, 3 challenge categories instead of 7, etc -- so the overall game should be about complexity-neutral compared to the previous version. And of course, it goes without saying, just because something makes it into a blog post doesn't mean it will make it into the game!

    Thanks very much for your feedback, it's very helpful at pinpointing which of these prospective changes might be productive and which might be unhelpful.

  3. And another quick point about the enemy agents specifically (and again keeping in mind it's just an idea at this point!). The primary role these cards are supposed to play is to make the temple more difficult for the players (ie, to give them less time in the temple) depending on how many agents have been activated. This could of course equally well be represented with a track, but the cards allow three things to happen that a track wouldn't:

    - Gives each agent a "face", and allows this to be integrated with the visual element of the encounter cards -- if you see an agent, you can try to "deactivate" him. (*)

    - Gives a tangible way of defining when the enemy gets to take a turn in the temple (assuming that's desirable).

    - Gives a simple way of defining whether the enemy passes or fails a challenge in the temple.

    Like you, I'm unsure that the game clock isn't a perfectly adequate function for the enemy, but as you know, a prospective publisher has asked for a more pronounced role for the enemy, specifically including direct interaction/competition with the enemy in the temple. So, I'm having a go at it, at least for now!

    (*) I think having multiple things that you're looking for on the encounter cards will be important as a way to prevent players from being able to memorize every one too quickly.

  4. A small thematic note about the temple phase and the IJ films...

    Seldom was Indy racing against the enemy in the temple. Rather, the enemy forced Indy to navigate the temple for them, only to take the prize in the end.

    Raiders of the Lost Ark: Belloq stole the idol after Indy recovered it. Also, Indy found the Ark only to have the Nazis take it from him.

    The Last Crusade: Nazis shot Henry to get Indy to navigate the temple and find the Grail.

    Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: Indy found the Skull on his own (not really a race there), and the Russians let him find the City of Gold (while a spy then led the Russians to it).

  5. True enough -- the enemy is always ultimately defeated not by Indy outpacing them to the artifact, but by their own hubris. But I have no idea how to capture that in a game mechanical way!