A relic hunt by Jeff Warrender and Steve Sisk

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Achieving symmetry across the two phases

With respect to the concern I expressed in the last post that the turn mechanic will be different inside and outside the temple, of course one option could be to change the turn mechanic outside the temple so that it's more congruent with the mechanic inside the temple -- basically, to have you draw chips from a cup at turn's end. This wouldn't actually change the turn mechanic very much outside the temple: take actions, draw chips, done, which is not that different from take actions, done. However, I do think it will force a decision as to the role of the enemy operatives vis a vis the enemy cubes. Under the scheme as articulated in the last few posts, the enemy cubes represent the growing menace of the enemy outside the temple, and the operatives are a shadowy presence that lurks behind that menace for most of the game, until the temple phase, when the menace is unmasked and the operatives become its face. And I think that's compatible with the spirit of the movies. But under a different scheme, the cubes would disappear from the design, and the operatives would become the sum total of the enemy's presence in the game, chasing the players around the board and then around the temple, and acting as a constant threat that the players must deal with. And I think that's also compatible with the spirit of the movies! The trade-off is this; on the one hand, the latter approach could have more symmetry between the two phases of the game. For example, "noise" in the temple generates red chips and red chips, when drawn, move enemy operatives inside the temple. If some analogue of noise chips move operative pawns around on the board outside the temple, the whole thing may be easier to learn for the player. But on the other hand, the former approach will be easier to design and balance. An in-between approach, where there are enemy cubes AND operatives moving around, would probably feel cluttered. Which way to jump? In a game that's supposed to be richly themed, I think it's most important to get the feel right, and we've always found that the board filling up with enemy cubes over time has always given the feeling of a growing threat. And I like the way the enemy operative cards could amplify this: you know you're going to face these guys in the temple, but the enemy on the board are the more immediate problem to be dealt with.

So, that may be the best starting point: enemy cubes on the board outside the temple, enemy operative pawns on the "board" only after the action moves into the lost temple.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A framework for the temple phase

I think I have a framework that pulls the ideas of the last post together coherently, without bogging the temple phase down in complexity or rules compliance.

Preliminaries, which aren't crucial to the idea:  
  • Say the temple is composed of cards, each representing a room 
  • Say they're laid out in a 5x5 grid, and 8 of the rooms have testable features.  
  • The room cards are all face-down, except the entrance, but the back-printing on the rooms containing testable features is different, so you at least know which rooms contain features.

Now on to the actual idea:

At the start of your turn, you are given a cup, containing 5 white chips and 2 (?) black chips.  You declare how many actions you are going to take this turn, and remove as many white chips as the number of actions you plan to take.

Then you take your actions, which can include (i) move to a different room (card), (ii) test a feature, (iii) fight an enemy operative, (iv) steal something from another player.

When you move into a room, one or more icons may appear in the room, and you must add a chip to the cup for each icon in the room, as follows:

  • "Noise" ==> red
  •  "Trap" ==> blue
  •  "Operative" ==> black (special)
  •  "Powerup" ==> white (special)
  •  "Phobia" ==> special

The three specials:

A room containing an operative icon means that if that particular operative card is active, you add the matching enemy operative pawn to that room.  If you move through a space containing an operative pawn, add a black chip to the cup.

If you have a powerup card with an icon that matches the icon in a room (eg a map or an amulet, etc), you get to add a white chip to the cup.

If the phobia in the room matches your character's phobia (eg snakes), you take a "-2" tile, and are -2 against any encounter you may face at turn's end.

After you have taken all of your actions, you end your turn by pulling chips from the cup and resolving each chip that you draw.  (I think) the number of chips pulled is given by the number of enemy operatives in rooms that contain either a feature or a player. 

  • White = no effect.
  • Blue = Trap!, draw a temple encounter card and resolve
  • Black = Enemy!, decrease enemy progress track by 1
  • Red = Noise!, move any enemy pawns in adjacent rooms into the room you occupy, BUT enemy operatives don't move if they are in a room with a feature.

If 2 or more enemy operatives are in a room with a feature, they test the feature.  If it tests favorably (eg it's the well of souls, or the grail room, etc), the enemy track is decreased by 10 (?).

 Some advantages of this system:
  • It lets all of the symbols be handled in the same way mechanically during temple exploration:  simply add a chip to the cup
  • It keeps the action in the turn quick; just move and test features, and then settle up the "consequences" later
  • (subtle) Because players will tend to move to rooms with features, having "noise" resolve after player movement will tend to draw enemy operatives towards rooms with features as well.
  • Enemy operatives have a simple AI and a spatial impact on the game, but their primary role is still related to the progress track.

  • It's thematically a bit weird that you don't face trap(s) until turn's end, instead of immediately as you pass them.  Maybe thematically it's that the trip wire and the actual trap aren't in the same place.
  • It has limited continuity with the outside-the-temple turn mechanic.  It does have good conceptual continuity, but there will definitely be the sense that a different set of rules govern the turns inside the temple compared to outside of it.
  • As I've currently laid it out, it only works if the "enemy operative" system is perfectly balanced.  If it's too easy to enter the temple with few operative cards in the row, or to explore most of the temple before you start tripping over operatives, then you won't be drawing many chips from the cup, and so you'll always feel safe maxing out your actions every turn.  (Maybe to balance this there are also "temple guardians", which spawn and move without needing a matching operative card in the card row)
Concerns aside, I think this completes the conceptual work of introducing some of these new concepts (enemy operatives, new encounter system, powerup cards, etc) and integrating them with the old concepts (check marks, challenges, enemy cubes, enemy progress, etc) in a coherent and compact way.  I hope to have a go at solo testing some of these ideas and will report back!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Into the temple

I've been putting off thinking about the temple phase until the thoughts for the external phase solidified, and while that's still in progress, it seems like an appropriate time to see where the temple stands and where it could go.  

The goal of the temple phase is a satisfying third act that mirrors the third act in the IJ movies, in which Indy, armed with some knowledge, enters the lost temple to try to recover the lost artifact.  There are four qualities that characterize the temple exploration:

  • Urgency  The player feels time pressure to complete the temple before the other players, or the enemy, complete it first.
  • Danger  The temple is a dangerous place, and is full of challenges the player will have to overcome en route to the artifact.
  • Discovery  The temple's layout and characteristics aren't fully known in advance, and exploration in the temple reveals surprises.
  • Intentionality  The information the player has collected steers his decisions in the temple and help him to make decisions about, e.g., route-planning.
Our previous version of the temple had all of these qualities to some degree.  There are 9 temple tiles, all of which start face-down, and each of which had 4-6 rooms, 3 spaces for challenge tiles, and 1 testable "feature".  The multi-room tiles let you do some intermediate route-planning, while still presenting some uncertainty with respect to what is on the next tile.  

The problem, as I see it, is that it doesn't really fully deliver on the last two characteristics.  There isn't really much drama to the route-planning at present;  if you don't know what feature you're looking for, you just wander around trying stuff, and if you do, you just wander around looking for it.  The path you take in both cases is a random walk.  And there isn't much discovery -- if you know what feature you're looking for, you activate it; if you don't, maybe you'll activate some features randomly, but again, there isn't a strong sense of wonder unlocking the temple's secrets.

The reason that these aspects fall flat, I believe has to do with the mostly generic nature of the tiles.  Yes, each card has a different feature, and yes, the random challenges will make each tile different, and yes, the rooms all look different thanks to Steve's great visual design work.  But there isn't a feeling of place-specificity to each room, a sense that the room I'm currently in, or the path that I want to follow to get to the Throne Room, is fundamentally different from others.

What makes this more challenging is that the temple phase should feel closely connected to the external phase.  This means of course that ideally, mechanics should be similar, but also that game elements that are important outside the temple should play some role in the temple.  Additionally, we want to keep players on-task, which means single-mindedly searching for the artifact; we don't want to send them off on extraneous side-missions to recover lost gold or something.  

With the addition of new concepts to the external phase (e.g. phobias, enemy operatives, allies, powerup cards), perhaps there is an opportunity to utilize these concepts to amplify the discovery and exploration -- i.e., they provide more stuff to see without necessarily encumbering players with more stuff that they want to do.

Here are sketches of some ideas of things that could possibly be included, and then a future post will pull everything together once I've figured out how to do that.

Phobias are easy:  these can be incorporated overtly into the artwork, and if you face a temple challenge in a given room, and you have a phobia that is illustrated in that room, your response to the challenge is reduced by 2, same as outside the temple.  (The difference is that it's out in the open, it doesn't need a player to "discover" it in the artwork).

Powerups are also easy:  illustrations in the temple rooms can show icons matching those of the powerup cards, and when you go to a room with an icon matching a card that you hold, you get to execute a special ability as indicated on the card.  

Enemy operatives have to be handled carefully.  On the one hand, the idea of enemy agents chasing you through the temple works thematically; on the other, forcing players to police the operatives via some AI is a distraction.  But not having operatives in the temple at all may feel like a missed opportunity.  I may have an acceptable compromise:  some of the temple rooms have a color-coded spot that matches the color of one of the operatives.  If that operative is activated (ie, his card is face-up in the row of enemy operatives), you place an enemy pawn on that space.  Then what happens?

The easiest thing is that the pawn stays put and does something bad when you enter that room:  moves the enemy progress track, or increases the difficulty of a challenge, etc.  Something like that could work.

But I have an idea for a different system, that integrates with this.  The idea is basically this:  the player can set his "aggressiveness" level at the start of each turn, basically representing how fast he's going:  more aggressive means he will traverse more rooms in this turn.  But, there are three aspects that counterbalance going full-speed.  The first is that he's more likely to trip on the trigger for a trap.  The second is that he's less likely to "see" features that he can test.  The third is that he's more likely to generate noise.  Noise acts like a magnet for operatives in nearby rooms, pulling them closer to him. 

I think the way this would be handled is with a set of icons on the traps and in certain rooms. When you pass through a room with an icon, you check your aggressiveness and see if you are required (or enabled) to activate that icon.  What's neat is that some of the features can organically have associated effects; opening a heavy sarcophagus inherently creates noise; approaching the forbidden altar inherently triggers a challenge.  

As more rooms are discovered, the attributes of each room will create a network of effects that players will have to navigate, and this will add route-planning, particularly if the solution to the temple involves multiple steps (eg find the grail and then bring it to a font to test it).

The details need to be worked out further, but I'm optimistic these new ideas might provide useful raw material.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Still more on encounters again

So, to try and distill these encounter ideas into something that sounds like a coherent and compact playable version of the idea, here's what I'm thinking:

When you arrive at a location, you select an Encounter card from the deck for that city type; each card in the deck represents a sublocation (eg a Large City might have a Library, a Hotel, etc), and you know from the backprinting what type of sublocation the card comes from, and what the reward will be if you pass the encounter (it's always the same for a given sublocation).

When you flip the card over, there's an icon showing the challenge category.  You, and all of the other players, get a few seconds (5? 10?) to survey the scene.  Then, you announce how big of an outlay of APs you will make against that category, through a combination of your base stat in that category, any Ally card you have with ability in that category, and any Adventure cards you wish to spend.  Then, you slide the card into the Interrogator and see whether your outlay of AP was sufficient to pass the challenge or not.

But before you get to that point, while you're looking the card over, you and the other players may notice actionable visual elements embedded in the scene.  Specifically:

- Phobia:  Each player has a phobia; if you see someone's phobia on an encounter he faces, his AP outlay in this encounter is reduced by 2
- Enemy Operative:  Through another system, "Enemy Operative" cards are revealed in a row, and affect several systems.  If you see one of the enemy operatives on an Encounter card (whether it's your turn or not?), you can initiate a Fight challenge with the operative to remove him from the row.  The difficulty of the Fight challenge could be the number of Operative cards to his right in the row, and maybe an operative card is worth 3 enemy cubes if you neutralize it.
- Special item:  Through another system, players can aquire "Item" cards, which come in perhaps 6 varieties (eg map, book, amulet, torch, etc).  If you see your item represented in the illustration (eg you have a book card and you see an opened book on the table), you get to execute the special action associated with that item.
Perhaps to add a "race" element, the first visual element identified by one of the players is the one that obtains, whether or not a card has multiple elements.  So if I see a "snake" in an Encounter that you face, and I say "snake", you are -2 for the challenge, and don't get to fight Toht (an enemy operative) even though he is present on the card.
I like this as a way to get all players involved in every turn of the game; to add a mild time element that makes players feel like they must react, which adds some immediacy to facing an encounter; and to enhance the theming by incorporating the illustration into the actual gameplay, and not having it serve merely as window dressing.  This approach has two improvements over the v9 version:  the reward is known in advance, and the challenge category is known in advance.  So it's a simpler form of injecting uncertainty, making it a simple risk-reward dynamic; you don't want to overpay if you can help it, but you don't want to fail the challenge if you can help it.  

One downside might be that it will be easy to memorize the "solution" to each card.  But maybe not, since you'll only know whether a particular outlay worked, or not; you won't know where the threshold lies.  And perhaps several cards will look pretty similar for each illustration.  Another downside could be that to be on the safe side, you'll always just lay out the max outlay possible (if you can), so you're assured of passing.  

A third downside is the possibility of subjectivity -- "what, an outlay of 3 AP isn't enough to dispatch that wimpy looking street tough!?!"  It might be necessary to have a rubric that explicitly structures how the "passing" outlay is determined for each challenge category -- but perhaps the players should never be given access to it, or perhaps they are, but the elements that add to the required outlay are subtle elements in the illustration, and won't always be noticed.  Eg a wimpy looking tough holding a knife may have a difficulty of 3, but since he's holding the knife behind his back it's kind of hard to see unless you look carefully.

The thing is, given this somewhat elaborate way of resolving encounters, you'd kind of like to have a similar system operating in the temple.  Otherwise, the temple could seem like a let-down, or could feel disjointed from the outside-the-temple game.  I do think the Temple is probably due for an overhaul, in a way that possibly incorporates ideas like Item cards, Enemy operatives (though I think they mostly just function as a game clock), and maybe a different conception of how the challenges/traps are triggered.  I don't have such a scheme clearly articulated in my mind yet, but I think there may be some opportunities.