A relic hunt by Jeff Warrender and Steve Sisk

Friday, October 21, 2011

Check marks revisited?

As I discussed in the last post, we had a pretty informative playtest at Spielbany, and while there are a number of areas for possible improvement, I think Steve and I were separately dissatisfied with two things that I claim are two sides of the same coin.

Steve opined that there doesn't seem to be enough to do -- you go to a location, you look for a theme card and find it, or not, but then your turn ends; shouldn't you be able to ask around for info, look for helpers, get some supplies, fight some Nazis, etc?

Separately, I liked the idea that each theme card gives you a clue, but in practice I thought it fell a little flat -- once you know that card X gives the Level 3 Location Clue, there's really no reason to go visit any other card than Card X, and everyone goes straight to that card. This does one of the things I want -- create "convergences", where all players (and by extension the enemy) all rush to the same place, but it would probably need some sort of time based trigger to create tension around this, otherwise it's just too obviously the "correct" thing to do.

Now these are actually parts of the same problem, which I alluded to in the last post, which is this: because the crux of the game is supposed to be the information hunt, all of the interesting mechanisms in the game should be built around the information hunt, and everything that doesn't contribute to that is probably extraneous. So to Steve's concern, yes we could add more action, but if it isn't related to the information hunt, it may not be constructive. But on the flip side, if the information hunt is trivial, and is easy for everyone to participate in to the same degree and in the same way, then the hunt won't result in the asymmetry between player knowledge that makes the game interesting.

I've previously discussed the "check marks" system, and while it was abstract, it did a great job of making the information hunt a structured endeavor -- you absolutely can't get a level 3 clue until you've gotten those 3 check marks. I think I like that better than letting you just happen upon a level 3 clue -- I think a level 3 clue should be harder to get, not just more rare. BUT, I still don't like the abstraction of the check marks; it just seems weird that you go and ask a guy what he knows, and he gives you check marks, and also a clue, if you ask him for one. The check marks seems like a bizarre middle-man to the info hunt.

I tried to address this in the "wrong turn" version 8 of the game, by forcing players to go to a "clue space" to get a clue, and the level of clue you get is given by the number of symbols of that category you have in your entourage (ie, you have theme cards traveling with you). It didn't work well, but it at least divorced "authorization to read a clue of a particular level" from "the actual act of reading the clue that you're authorized to read".

However, there might be a cleaner way, and of course, it involves check marks. And it's simply this: originally, the check marks had a 1-to-1 correspondence with clues. Each check mark equated to one level's worth of a clue, so 1 check mark = level 1 clue, 2 check marks = level 2 clue, etc. What if, instead, each clue level is equivalent to 3 check marks each, but there are more ways to get check marks, which have different payouts? For example, a theme card might provide 1-3 check marks, whereas some of the "adventuring" actions that Steve suggests could each pay out 1-2 check marks, and maybe the type of adventure you face determines the category of check mark you get (or maybe it varies from scenario to scenario?).

I like that this could potentially fit nicely in the context of encounters. Visiting the scriptorium in an abbey may bring you in contact with an ancient tome, which could conceivably bring you in contact with some information about the temple whereabouts, or digging around in a tomb could show you an inscription with info about the temple's contents -- but how would those be incorporated into the game under the previous system? But if each of those could provide, say, 1 or 2 check marks in their respective category, then they contribute positively to the player's progress towards information, but still must be combined with other information sources to get over those thresholds. And it also leads automatically to player differentiation. If I'm at 4 check marks in "temple location" and you're at 3 check marks, a 3-check-mark theme card is very valuable to you, as it will get you to 6 total (and the level 2 clue), but it's no more valuable than a 2-check-mark card to me, so our interest in that card will be different.

This could provide a good framework to permit some variety in the stuff that players do each turn, while still fitting everything together into progress towards the actual solution.

Note that an alternative approach could be to simply have 9 pieces of actual information that you have to accumulate before you know the full solution in each category. But I think that would just be too hard to write, and too difficult to play. The check marks may once again be an appropriate abstraction.

1 comment:

  1. I really like the thought process here. I think it works well with the addition of the Visual Encounter cards because it means that those cards can give you checkmarks in various different categories depending on which stat you use and how strong you are in that stat.

    For example, a burly guy at a bar stands between you and some answers... If you choose to fight, then the possible results are:
    1. You are knocked out, discard some cards
    2. You fight off the aggressor, nothing happens.
    3. You knock out the bully, and in his pocket is information about [category A]

    If instead you choose to use Wits, then you might have different outcomes:
    1. Nothing happens (he's easy to outwit, so nothing bad happens no matter how lousy your Wits score)
    2. You outsmart the bully and he spills information about [category B]

    And then if you try to Escape maybe you have the following potential outcomes:
    1. You turn and flee through the door, only to find a group of Nazis waiting outside - you are captured!
    2. You flee, nothing happens.

    And finally, Luck could yield similar results.

    In my head there would be a 12 space grid of results, and you'd cross reference your chosen stat with your level in that stat (via slipping the challenge card under a slot to see it's hidden info) - players would have stats of 1, 2, or 3 in each of those categories (maybe 0, 1, 2, or 3). You can increase these by collecting tokens, and maybe you can discard like 3 of the appropriate cards to advance your stat for a particular challenge (discard pistols for +1 Fight this time).