Other Wise

A different horse’s gripping hand

Virtual graphs, virtual networks, connectivity expressed by derived relationships rather than represented directly… I last wrestled with these concepts in Corrupt Beneficence. In this post I’m waving an 18xx/route-building stick at them. The following discusses a possible mechanical representation of the operational side of 18xx as a card game.

Imagine cards. There are cards which simply represent railroad track and cards which represent revenue locations (cities and towns). Some revenue locations are also the home stations of various companies. Thus, for instance, the NYC card might also be the home station of the NYNH&H.

The director of a company, say the B&O, would have a card before them for Baltimore. On the Baltimore card they’d place a token for the B&O’s (home) station. Other revenue locations (non-home stations) would have spaces for companies to place stations ala the normal model. If player were running a different company than the B&O, they would have a different card of a different revenue location for that company’s home station if enough cards for that revenue location exist in the game

During the course of the game the B&O president would place track cards adjacent to the revenue location. Cards could be placed on each of the four sides (perhaps limited by game phase), forming a stack or route leading away from that location. The president might also place revenue locations at the ends of such stacks, assuming that the stack contains enough cards to satisfy that revenue location (eg the Lancaster card might require 3 track cards before it can be connected/placed).

And this is where the network enters. There are multiple copies of the revenue location cards. Thus for instance, the B&O may place track from Baltimore to Lancaster and thence to Chicago. Meanwhile another, say the C&O places track to NYC, and then Chicago and thence Scranton. There would be two Chicago cards, one on the B&O’s network, and one on the C&O’s network. Indeed a company might have the same revenue location on several of the routes that fan out from the edges of its home station.

This is where the network enters. All those repeated Chicago cards are the same location. Thus in the above example the B&O might run a train from Baltimore -> Lancaster -> Chicago (transitioning to the C&O’s network) -> NYC -> Scranton. In fact a route might transition across several different company networks as they connect shared cities into their routes. And in the above example the B&O might drop a token in Chicago (and thus on all the Chicago cards), thus allowing them to run trains out of every route in every company’s stack that contains Chicago. As companies acquire tokens in other company’s networks, they might also place track and revenue locations directly on those networks (where visible from their tokens) instead of onto the networks directly attached to their home stations. A virtual implied network, all build from cards!

Time’s sweet paradox

To some degree games may be classified as reactive and predictive. it all depends on where the players act in relation to the progression of time in the game. In reactive games events occur in the game and the players respond. They may have prepared for such an event in advance, but their response is purely reactive when it occurs. In predictive games player act ahead of the game time, they make choices so that when/if certain matters should come true they are ready and (ideally) don’t even need to react. This is perhaps not a stunning insight, but it got me to thinking, What about a game in which the players are never in present time, a game in which the players exclusively operate in the future, both short and long term? What if players can only operate within the bounds of an increasingly uncertain future?

Imagine a planning game, perhaps a logistics game of some sort. Possible actions are arranged in a stack, perhaps represented by cards or tiles. The bottom action is NOW (ie present time) in the game sense. The bottom action card will be performed on this game turn, either by a player or by the game itself in some autonomous fashion or interpretation. When an action is performed it is discarded or perhaps recycled.

Each player has a number of markers, perhaps two or three which they can place on action cards (one marker per card) in the future. In fact this is the only decision afforded to a player: committing to a future action. If and as when such a card with a player marker becomes the bottom card, that player does that action, and they move their action marker to another action card (unoccupied by another player’s marker) in the future.

But things are not quie that simple. Actions have durations. As quick example a future action might be building a factory. However the action card reaching the bottom of the stack merely means that construction has started. Factory construction lasts 5 turns (ie 5 action cards off the bottom of the stack). If the factory construction card was 3 turns in the future when the player put their marker on it, then the player waited 3 turns before starting to build the factory, and then another 5 turns of actually building the factory (assume some cost for this) before the factory is finally built and the action marker may be used to reserve yet another action in the future. Game state could have changed considerably in that time. Perhaps the player carefully built a Q-Factory as Q-items were in high demand and commanded a price premium, but by the time their factory came online, not only had the Q-item market collapsed, but Q-items were obsolete and couldn’t even be used for any purpose! Then again, they might have started shipping T-items by slow boat over the ocean, a trip that takes 7 game turns, only to find that T-items are commanding a huge price premium when they arrive.

In short the player is constantly committing themselves to events which will only occur in the relatively distant future (in game terms). They have absolutely no ability to react to current events, only to setup changes that will be realised after an appreciable game delay. In short they are stuck in the future.

Some abstractions may be added. Players could be allowed to sell each other the actions they’d reserved in the future, or possibly the actions that have occurred but are still maturing (eg construction on the factory has started but not yet finished). In this way something of a futures market could be supported in which players not only speculatively commit to actions they think will be profitable for themselves, but also to actions they may be able to sell to other players. Of a sudden players are trading in what they imagine the game’s future will be.

Declaring a mysterious type

I’ve posted a first draft of the rules for the un-named game to give an idea where I’m headed. Please note that I’ve not checked or otherwise verified any of the game’s basic arithmetic (eg component counts, scoring values, map sizes, etc), so they are likely to be way off. However the rules should show the intended basic structure and character of the game and to hopefully help get the game name suggestions flowing!

Of uncertain name

I need a name, a name for a game, preferably a punish double entendre. Here’s the premise:

It is 1958 and pop culture is transforming London, life and society. It is the age of the young and the young want to party and to hook up and to disappear into the night. But first they have to get involved, find their ways to the parties and avoid the police who don’t quite approve of the new social order along the way.

Yep, that’s mostly ripped off from the truly wonderful Absolute Beginners, and yes, this is a game all about getting your’s and the other player’s pieces laid1. Structurally the game features network-building, pick-up-and-deliver, a very relaxed definition of player ownership2 and a Velano-inspired scoring system3. Intended playtime is in the 75-90 minute range, which feels about right but it is early days yet.

The other inspirations include the usual suspects:

The core premise is that of shared public actions, player actions which affect and move not only that player’s own pieces, but those of other players. The hope is to create a diffuse yet strong temporary emergent alliance/mutual incentive system that is based on spatial relationships and not partial-ownership via company shares (ie not like Wabash Cannonball, Pampas Railroads etc and more like Bridges of Shangri-La and Clans).

FWLIW previous themes and titles included Infection and Necrosis, but #bgdf_chat successfully persuaded me those titles and themes were non-starters4.

Footnotes
  1. Complete with boy bits and girl bits and disappearing into the night.
  2. Players are colours but they may play any colour piece at almost any time.
  3. I’d dearly love to own a copy of Veleno!
  4. In changing the theme to teenage sexual exploration in the newly liberated London of the late 1950’s, only the names were changed.

Questions of breeding and selection

Consider a game with a number of possible player actions. Actions are limited to a fixed distribution (N of X, M of Y etc). Each action has a duration cost. The actions are represented as cards, one card per action in the distribution.

Arbitrarily order the players. In turn order each player draughts an action from the available set of actions and places it at the end of a growing sequence of action cards. Do this until all actions have been placed into that sequence. Put the player markers on the first, second, third etc cards in the sequence in accordance with their initial player ordering.

The player whose marker is earliest on the action card track has the current turn. On their turn a player does an action. They either do the action of the card their marker is on or pay a fee and to move their marker to and do an action further ahead in the line. The fee is proportional to how far ahead they go. Action cards which have player markers on them are not available. After doing their selected action the player moves their marker forward by a number of cards equal to the duration cost of the action they selected. The card for the executed action is discarded. Depending on the duration and placement of their action selections a player may have multiple turns in a row. Any cards which end up earlier than all player markers upon a different player taking a turn are put at the other end of the action card track in an order selected by the active player.

This process repeats until some round ending condition (eg all of two actions done or only N possible actions left in the track) . The next round starts with building a new action track using the discarded cards on the end of the current track.

Stock market reduction

We’ve been playing 1889 lately (3 games in three days). It sparked the following game notion (and thus the creation of this category):

  • Something akin to an 1830-esque 2D stock market
  • A fairly large deck of cards, each card bearing the name of a company and an arrow (right, left, up, down)
    • Some cards may have double arrows
  • The deck of cards is shuffled and some number are laid out in an ordered draught pool
    • The draught pool should be long, providing a long view into the future.
  • One their turn a player may:
    1. Buy one share
    • If all shares of a company are in player’s hands at the end of a round, the stock value moves up a row
      1. Sell any number of shares
      • On share sales, stock value moves down one row per sold share 1830-style
        1. Play one or two cards from their hand
      • Each played card affects the stock value of the names company by moving its stock value in the arrowed direction
      • Assume a smallish hand-size limit, perhaps 5
        1. Draught any two cards from the pool
      • As soon as a card is draughted a new card is drawn and added to the new end of the draught pool
      • The oldest card is free
      • If one of the new cards is draughted the draughting player must place $N on each older card in the draught pool, sweetening those cards for later players
      • If a card bearing money is draughted the draughting player takes the money
  • The Game is played until the card deck is exhausted
  • The deck is then inverted (no shuffling) and the game continues through the ordered deck
  • Once the draught deck is exhausted the game is over
    • Players cash in their shares
    • Player with the largest net worth wins

Possible extension:

  • Instead of the cards bearing a company and an arrow, have two decks, one of companies and another of arrows and players must draught one card from each deck’s pool and play two cards (one of each) on their turn