A relic hunt by Jeff Warrender and Steve Sisk

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Seth's thoughts on Leads...

The Comment system said this was too long, so I'll make it a blog post instead...

Aside from that random idea in the comments of that last post (which popped into my head while reading that post), I have stronger opinions on this which are as follows. Italics denote quoted text from Jeff's post.:

I first assert a well-worn design principle: rewards paid out by a game system should be commensurate with the opportunity cost paid to obtain those rewards. In this game, the reward is information, so the better the information you get, the more you should have to pay (or the harder it should be) to get it.

I do not disagree with that assertion.

In version 7, nine of the theme cards are out on the board at the start. All cards are equally good -- each gives a check mark which is worth one level of clue (although some have more categories than others).

... so they're NOT equally good. I do not think they're equally good, because even 2 cards that each give 1 check mark toward the location of the Manuscript (for example) give different additional check marks. That's a large fundamental difference, since even players looking for the Manuscript are not ONLY looking for the Manuscript.

The "problem" with this system is that it's a little boring, and that it doesn't differentiate between the cards. Yes, the Grail Diary has information about more subjects than Elsa Schneider, but if you're JUST interested in getting info about the Grail Room, they're equally good.

As I just mentioned, you're never JUST looking for information about the Grail Room. I also disagree that it's boring. However...

Increasing the number of check marks required to get a clue gives room for differentiation of the cards. Now, the Diary can know a lot about the Temple Challenges, by giving 4 check marks, whereas Henry Jones Sr, with his somewhat shaky memory, only provides 2.

I think this would improve things... Suppose each card had, for example, 4 icons... some had 2 or 3 of the same icon, while others had 4 different icons. This would definitely serve to differentiate the info obtained from Theme cards, even if only concerned with 1 category.

But adopting the same approach as v7, where all the cards are laid out from the start, would result in the opportunity cost being essentially the same for all of the cards, despite their unequal rewards.

I disagree with this assessment.

Yes, board geography and the game clock play into this somewhat -- it may be better, for example, to visit Jones Sr in a nearby city, accepting the lower payout, than to burn the time/resources to travel across the board to see that Diary.

Board geography, whatever challenge you face to get the check marks, and the opportunity cost of what other check marks you get (and what you DON'T get) when choosing one theme card over another. I think those are all significant costs, and not essentially the same.

But above and beyond this, it seems that the game has to "protect" the higher-valued information more aggressively. And leads are one way to do it.

This is a possibility, but I still don't think it's necessary - it still feels like additional hoop jumping for no good reason (because I think the cost of collecting info is already appropriately high and varied enough for the game as it was in v7).

In this way, the game can make the more difficult cards harder to acquire, but can do so in a completely organic way, as opposed to adding an additional cost or surcharge associated with accessing the better cards.

I think you don't necessarily want Theme cards that are "better" than other Theme cards - I think you want Theme cards that are better suited to one thing over another, but are less well suited for a different thing. The overall net quality of the theme cards should be more or less equal, I think, which allows for not having to specifically worry about "protecting" the "better" ones.

If theme cards have a hierarchy, then the game becomes about going for the best theme card you can get to. I assert that the game is more interesting if the theme cards you are interested in visiting depend on your strategy and course of action, not on the strict hierarchy of the cards (a hierarchy which would not change game-to-game or based on your situation).

I like the idea that all theme cards are functionally the same, and the game elements themselves differentiate between the various cards simply by the way their built, and not in a way that the players need to explicitly police. It keeps the bureaucratic overhead of playing the game minimal, and I think that's key to keeping the length and complexity down.

This sounds noble, and I like the idea of keeping down the bureaucracy and making the game easier to play for the players.

And I too like the mini-race element of the artifacts. As far as I'm concerned though, the Artifacts DID work the same way as the other theme cards, once you found them.

The info hunt to find the artifacts before you could look at them is similar to this leads idea you are proposing in that it adds additional hoops to jump through before you can access that information. I liked that that particular type of hoop jumping is the same type you're already doing in the game (to find the temple info), and I liked that you need not find those particular cards or that you could visit them once someone else did find them.

I do not think the game would work if every theme card required that type of hoop jumping - you need some place to get the initial info to find those other cards. And I think adding leads to each theme card (on top of, or in addition to) having to find the Artifacts is overloading the game with another system.

I liked the amount of info hunting that was in the game before, and I think making the icon system more fine grained will help. What I think you ought to be more worried about changing is the feeling of deduction - you wanted players to be able to deduce information based on player action, and I've never really seen that come through. I did have 1 player who actively tried to use that type of information, but it never amounted to much if anything.


  1. Hi Seth,

    Glad to see you utilizing your authorial capability! As usual, you make a lot of good points, and I wouldn't say I disagree, so much as that I hold out some hope that some of this idea might work -- but it might not.

    A couple of observations. First, in the new scheme, relics are ordinary theme cards, and would no longer have associated clue/solution cards. I too always liked the way these functioned as an intermediate term goal, but in practice, having 7 clue categories to chase down made the game take too long (2-3 hours was typical). I'm thinking of reducing the number of solution elements to 3 or maybe 4, and all pertain to the temple.

    Another thing that was lacking in the previous version, for me, was a sense of place-specificity; the sense that London was in some way different from Istanbul, in a theme-relevant way, not just in the sense that at London you will face Wits and Luck challenges and at Istanbul you'll face Escape and Wits challenges.

    The revamped Encounter system, replacing the challenges, will help a lot with this. Maybe it will be enough. But I also like the idea that different theme cards can be associated with different location categories as well -- Marcus is found in big cities, Sallah in a small city marketplace, etc. If this was indeed a desirable affect, how would the game achieve it? More complicated setup rules would be one way, but the simplicity of the setup has always been the game's greatest strength (in my opinion). So something like "leads" provide a possible way to enforce this. A lead to one type of card will lead you to one type of city, whereas a lead to a different type of card will lead you to a different type of city.

    And by the way, "leads" don't necessarily have to mean "lead cards", although that's what I've been thinking -- Steve has a promising suggestion for a way that leads could simply represent "the rules by which theme cards are added to the board".

    Probably about 4-6 theme cards would still start on the board, the rest would be found by leads, but once they've been found, they too are added to the board. So by mid-game, the game state shouldn't be very different from v7, it's just that the cards are added dynamically/progressively instead of all at once at the beginning, so the game has a sense of unfolding, creating an arc that it sort of lacks at present.

    Yes, there is an arc that's created by the Enemy progress track, but I don't think there's an arc to the information hunt itself -- you're just trying to accomplish as much as you can before time runs out.

  2. Oh, I hadn't realized you'd removed the hunt for the relics. Hmm... maybe it's because it was the version I learned, but I didn't think that was taking too long personally - but I do see how cutting that out could save some time.

    I wonder though if the game would be extensive enough if the only thing you were looking for was the temple - I certainly see now why you have been adding hoop-jumping to the process!

    Looking at it in this light, my first thought is that this could give you the opportunity to make the temple phase a larger portion of the game, or at least more directly connected... I suppose what you already had DID directly relate the info hunt to the temple phase, but maybe the temple encounters could be more detailed.

    For example, if going with the visual encounter cards, the Grail Room could be on a card that contains 3 specific items - if you have level 3 info, then you know exactly which 3 items to look for. If you only know 2 items, and you see those 2 items, there's a non-zero chance it's the right room, but you're not sure... so you probably test it. I guess that means higher level clues afford you better chances to find the right encounter card sooner.

    In case that's not clear, maybe you're looking for a room with 2 exits, with a Torch and a Column. In the temple you come across a room with a Torch, but 3 exits... you know this isn't the Grail Room. I'm not sure what mechanism you'd want to use to test this though, you mentioned Dixit - maybe you put several cards out, and players simultaneously indicate which card they want to test and for which feature - and if you are correct then you get points. Then you replace those cards with more, representing the next part of the Temple.

    I'm not sure how well this meshes with the rest of the game, just brainstorming really.