Other Wise

Decompositional question

A night of odd dreams.

Let’s say I adopted a hyena model. The hyenas would simply be autonomous critters that wandered the landscape consuming corpses.The pack would grow as it ate, and when larger than X would split into two packs. A pack would consist of N hyenas per tile (not more than two), and would move deterministically toward the nearest corpse, injured or healthy player token (in that order) that another pack is not heading for, twice a day. If more than Q hyenas stepped on a mine it would explode (no choice for the MP) with mostly standard effects (less damage for the hyenas or hyenas heal over in 2 turns).

The real purpose of the hyenas would be to provide an additional drain on the MP’s deployed munitions. I fear that without such a drain the map would progressively fill with munitions until every tile was loaded by the end of the game. Additionally the the hyenas would provide a distracting target for the MP: the MP can’t afford to let the hyenas run about uncontrolled. Finally, the hyenas could provide an interesting set of tactical opportunities ala: 1) Get kids eaten by hyenas by front and back edge of map (not easy, but bear with me), 2) follow hyena pack back across landscape in safety, letting the hyenas detonate any mines along the way.

A possibility. However if I adopted the hyena model, how would it also translate to the disease attack themeing? If the players are diseases attacking a host body and the MP is the host’s immune system, what would the hyenas represent? Surgical excision of dead material? Hurm, there are all sorts of interesting things that lead from there…

Numbers are next, then rules, then simulation.

Fearing fungal dismemberment

I was dreading making the tiles for this game. ~150 Carcassone-esque tiles with adjoining features that form a coordinated land image? The prospect of drawing, printing, mounting and cutting such tiles with any hope of reasonable registration or attractiveness of final result was not enheartening. Urk, no thanks, not me.

A recent trip to the local craft store (D&J Hobbies in Saratoga) gave another idea: Wood squares (roughly 5cm square) painted basic green using poster paint. Different shades of green could indicate plains versus forest. Gray or gray spatters for rocks. Blue or blue strip for river/pond/lake. 150+ tiles should take less than an hour to produce. The map can then be made by simply stacking the tiles into a pleasing form, the resulting grid forming the play-map, the elevations and contours made providing some of the terrain interest for the variant move rules.

Possibly even more pleasingly the smell of the poster paint is reminiscent of preschools. Something is begging me to do this game.

The virus model for the game theme is also growing on me. Becca (a local) has been complaining vociferously that viruses don’t have intelligent direction and that their mutation rates are too low to support the other aspects of the game design, and … she’s right. I suspect mostly however that she’s really just likes the Evolutionary Psychology aspects of the infanticidal theming. I have sympathy. Still, I do like the idea of players playing the role of plagues fighting to infect a host body (represented by the Military Player). It is H G Well’s War of the Worlds all over again.

Meanwhile the repeated requests for roving packs of corpse eating hyenas aren’t exactly falling on deaf ears. Certainly I can imagine interesting models which tie their breeding rate to the food supply via player corpses and then allow fully automatic movement and manipulation of the hyenas (cf the spiders in Atta Ants), but while interesting that also feels like it heads away from the heart of the resource-management design. Nice ideas, shelved for now.

Battle of the cleavage – splitting hairs

A jumble.

Options:

  1. a shared board across which the families move and a private board the Military Player (MP) maintains to track his own mine placements.
  2. every player has a private board and merely calls out the locations of their pieces as they move

Intuitively I prefer #1 as it allows for easier coordinated /shared action among players, as well as reducing the temptation and ease of cheating.

In mucking about in the area it struck me that a Battleships board would be perfect for the MP. They could use the same board and pegs, perhaps with coloured tips, to mark their mine locations secretly from the other players. It would only be a tracking aid however.

Basics:

Players build a 10×10 landscape using square tiles. Landscape features include a river, forests, craters etc. Some features span multiple tiles. The total number of tiles in the game should probably be in the 120-150 range to allow for more variant setups.

Some terrain restricts movement. Some restricts movement for injured only (hard to crawl uphill when you have no legs). Possibly also movable objects (eg big logs) Rivers automagically move contents one tile in direction of flow.

MP seeds the land with face down activity markers. Some will be mines of various types, some will be nothing at all. In seeding the map it will be clear to the players how many munitions of each type were placed, just not where they were placed. The MP would record their munitions placement on their Battleship board.

Players start moving kids across the landscape. Movement is orthogonal. When a kid enters a tile the MP may declare that it detonates. If so appropriate results occur. Some detonations will may also detonate adjacent tiles. Appropriate results again.

Once a kid has entered a tile the tile is “safe” until the tile is left empty. When entered again it may detonate. Thus a kid may secure a tile and hold it secure while other kids hold adjacent tiles secure while a chain of kids traverses them.

Max population of a tile is limited. ~3 or ~5 probably.

MP weapons:

  • Standard mine. Kills tile contents.
  • Big mine. Kills contents, causes orthogonal neighbours to detonate (no choice).
  • Small mine. injures tile contents.
  • Cluster mine. Kills tile contents and spreads 1/2 kill mines to N of 8 surrounding tiles.
  • Mortar. Placed on back of map. Can be moved during nightly restock. On any patriarch action can fire. MP specifies target my placing up to two 3×3 grids of target markets on the board within N squares of mortar location (N=4?). After patriarch’s next action mortar lands. MP reveals targetting tile to indicate target. Mortar kills tile contents and injures orthogonal neighbours. Mortar causes target tile mine to also detonate with possible chain reaction for big mines.
  • Barbed/razor wire. Placed on a tile during nightly restocks. Reduces movement by healthy to 1/2. Injured can’t penetrate. Destroyed by mines and mortars.

A game is organised into days.

  • Each day starts with the MP buying munitions and seeding the field some portion of his stock. May also move mortar emplacements.
  • Then the patriarchs take turns in rotation, each choosing one of three possible actions. Basic actions are: Move, Queue and Equip (?).
  • A given action may only be selected so many times before it is unavailable. Then only the other actions are available.

Once two actions are depleted the day ends.

  • MP is paid cash for kills/injuries and MP may buy new munitions with cash.
  • Patriarchs:
    • Feed their at-home population
    • Unfed population starves and is injured
    • Excess food suppresses breeding rate and cash flow?
    • Receive charity food based on injury/kill rate etc.
    • Breed as a function of food supply change
    • Receive money from already escaped kids

New day starts.

Basic problems:

Patriarchs must:

  • ensure sufficient injury rate for themselves to sustain food supply for their population.
  • ensure sufficient population (inverse function of first derivative of food supply), to maintain activity
  • escape enough kids across field to secure money flow to equip later kids well enough to escape military build up
  • keep MP’s score within winning bounds
  • ensure MP income is low enough to ensure future surviveability.

MP must:

  • distribute income against munition types and expenses
  • distribute munitions effectively
  • detonate munitions efficiently versus score and income
  • keep his own score and specific patriarch scores within winning bounds.
  • generate future income for munitions

It doesn’t feel like it is holding together yet. There are kernels there, but nothing coherent yet. It is still incoherent. Part of the problem for me is that I’m trying to do trinary relationships for the first time. In comparison with ‘Ohana Proaexternal link which strictly implemented binary current translations pairs (A->B), I’m attempting trinary relationships with Splatter my Children and am finding it hard. The intent is for every decision to involve tradeoffs on not just two but three fronts.

I think it is time to get this thing out of my head and either make a quick and dirty slips-of-torn-paper prototype, or actually go full hog and write a little software implementation in Python.

Stretching nerves, render unto efficiency

One of the things about the limited action system (stolen from Wabash Cannonball, tho it is not original to there), is that it provides an interesting turn tension. The is functionally organised into rounds. Patriarchs rotationally take turns until they have exhausted two of the three possible action sets. Any action used by a player which isn’t moving a kid across the minefield is essentially a wasted action that gets less done before the military player gets his next restocking of munitions. But without using those other actions players can’t get kids onto the field, can’t breed new kids etc etc etc, all the necessities required before being able to move kids across the minefield.

This is cute: the more you waste time with getting ready to move kids across the field (which may enclude equipping them with anti-mine devices like chains and brooms), the more impenetrable the minefield will be. The less time you spend on those background actions, the more readily and easily your (expensive) kids will be offed.

The result, I think, will be encouraging tight coordination between relatives. A player may move their kids or their relative’s kids (half distance?) on their turn. Thus the players may attempt to optimally distribute kid-moving versus non-kid-moving actions among themselves so that the maximal distance is covered and the least possible number of non-kid-moving actions are used as required for each player’s success. Of course the fact that the relative linkage is leftward will make that interesting: you can move your kids or the kids to your left, but the leftward player cannot move your kids, only his and his leftward player’s kids. The result is a leaning domino chain of delegated responsibilities.

Hurm. It may be more interesting to have the relative relationships bind in the direction opposite to turn order. Must think about this. The short version is to pick the direction which is more difficult to manage.

Odd thought: Returning an injured kid back to the home side of the board generates extra bonus food? (Display before media? Extra action choice?)

Wages of sincerity

Knowing me, a part of the system will turn into a currency management problem, effectively a question of how to process children into VPs, so I might as well confront that aspect now. The obvious elements:

  • Healthy and injured family (injured generate more food), healthy and injured relatives (injured generate more food for them and less for you) and healthy and injured non-relatives (injured reduce food allocation for you and your relatives)
  • Population growth rate of your family and your relatives (function of what?)
  • Death and injury rate of your family and relatives
  • Kill and injury rate for military player (higher rates produce more replacement munitions faster)
  • Family population versus food allocation (starvation), and ditto relatives
  • Population camp versus population traversing minefield versus escapee/saved population
  • Military player’s score and patriarch’s isolated and combined score.

Other thoughts:

  • Possible distribution of sexes? Female score more, or injured female generate more food, or other sex-tied relation?
  • Cannibalism
  • Lotteries
  • Excess food discarded or increased mortality/injury rate due to over-eating? If injury then there’s a nice feedback loop where excess food produces injuries which produce more food.
  • Trade system for giving food to other players? How would the value of the transaction be recorded? VPs? Suppression of next turn’s food generation?
  • Increase breeding rate whenever food production falls. Decrease breeding rate whenever food production rate rises. No change on stasis?

Life is pain! Early exit ticket discount!

WRT naming of kids: One vision of the game has meeples for the various tokens. Possibly even meeples of different sizes, some with little names printed on them. Cute little familiar names, Billy, Joey, Alice, Beta, Chuck, Sally etc, or maybe even things like Boopsie and Pudge. Smaller ones could even be carved with diapers or some such. Whatever. How you then treat them is up to you.

Remember, you get more food from the UN/charities to feed the rest of your family the more they die or are injured, so you’ll want to plan and schedule that to make sure you have the right quantity of food when you need it and no more.

Counting little fingers and toes

All else aside the first problem is to define the scoring method. The game definition, mechanisms etc are a logical extension of the scoring system. The early posts below specify variable turn order and other mechanisms. That’s silly. Until the scoring is defined there’s no reason to define mechanisms.

As currently described this is a two sided game: the military against the patriarchs. Additionally the patriarchs compete to be the highest scoring patriarch. It is tempting to make the win-state a trinary and allow both the military player and the lead patriarch to both win together. The result would be novel and assymetric: The military player can win or lose against the patriarchs, the patriarchs can win or lose both against the other patriarchs and against the military player, and possibly both the military player and the a patriarch can win together against the other patriarchs. The key characteristic of that broad brush-stroke appears to be a mix of cooperative and competitive play.

The military player’s metrics are fairly clear: slaughter and injury rates versus escapee rate. The better he does at impeding the genetic survival of the families the better he scores. This suggests a simple linear scale with a zero centre point. The better the families do the more the military player’s score tends to the negative. The more mayhem the military player causes the more his score will tend positive. Add in a central zone of scoring where the military player has to share the win with the lead patriarch and the cooperative play elements are extended to include the military player. Simple enough modulo the exact numbers.

The patriarch’s scoring system is a little more interesting. They must cooperate with each other and value each other’s survival and escapee rate, while also valuing each other’s success less than their own. There’s already the concept of each player having another player’s family as their “relatives”. Given the cooperative focus this presents an opportunity for a pretty simple scoring model that emphasises the combination of cooperative and competitive play:

  • Players score for their own survivors
  • Players score half as much for their relative’s survival
  • Players lose score for their deaths by starvation? (probably not)
  • Players do not lose score for their deaths by military? (probably not)

The tempting model is to make each player’s relative the patriarch to their left. Thus a patriarch’s score is roughly:

(survivor_count * 2) + (left_hand_player’s_survivor_count)

Thus each patriarch is directly motivated to ensure the survival of their left hand neighbour, just not at the expense of their own family survival.

Knowing excision of malignant material

I’m quite aware of the indigestibality of the theme. This is deliberate. I expect few publishers would welcome the theme as described. Possibly the game never will be published. I don’t design games for publication, I design them for my own amusement with possible publication as a pleasant bonus. My first interest as always remains designing an interesting game.

I can also see a whole host of ways to tone down the presentation of the theme without changing it structurally. It doesn’t have to be about children. It can be simply “family members”. In fact it doesn’t have to be about family at all. It could be about disease: the military player can be the immune system and the other players can be diseases attacking a host body. That’s irrelevant thematic window dressing. I like and am amused by the minefield theme and so am using it as a working assumption up until it no longer applies well to the design — then I’ll discard it and put on some other theme that fits the logical design.

Given the level of feedback plus how poorly blogs support commenting (nobody is alerted to comments or their replies) I’ve opened this blog to general posting. Y’all can now post to the blog directly.

Go out and die my son

I’ve been toying with this game design for a few weeks. The primary thematic element involves running children across minefields. Those that survive the trip get to escape to presumably live good lives. Those that don’t, well, don’t. The players effectively take the part of family heads determining which and how many of their own children to send out when for potential slaughter or safe passage (they have lots of kids). Key elements are that the game is semi-cooperative, explicitly zero-sum, inferential deduction of likely landmine locations, setting up other player’s kids to clear the path by stepping on and blowing up the landmines for your kids to then follow safely, deliberately sacrificing your own early kids in order to determine and secure a path for later stock etc. The goal (scoring) is simple maximal genetic survival, primarily of direct family then extended and then remote family.

A minor goal of the game would be to provide an opportunity for discussion and education on topics ranging from landmines to exploitation of children, sacrificial costing, personal versus family/group survival, lose-lose decision structures, the meaning of personal sacrifice, relativism etc.

Basic premise:

  • Hex map
  • All hexes contain tokens. Tokens are either mines or dummy mines. Tokens are face down.
  • One military player against the rest. This player plays the side of the military. (In a large player count game there may be two such players?)
  • Players have two types of tokens (direct family and indirect family)
  • Players start at locations along one edge of the hex map.
  • Two types of locations: locations exclusive to each player and locations which start out with a mix of tokens (lids) for different players.
  • Initial allocation of tokens to locations is done round-robin during setup.
  • After setup players round-robin give each other relationship markers for in-laws and cousins (one of each)
  • Each location has a token pool and a queue
  • Turn order is variable. Details TBD.
  • On their turn a player may do one of 3 things:
    • Move one of their kids already on the minefield N steps across the minefield, or move one of their kids at the front of a location queue N steps into the minefield. (N/2 if injured kid)
    • Acquire more kids
    • Move a token in a location (their’s or other’s) from the pool to the queue
  • Each action may be chosen a limited number of times. Once two actions are exhausted all actions reset their use counters.
  • When two actions exhaust their use counters military player gets to (secretly) add more mines to the minefield
  • Initial mines are placed secretly.
  • Mines come in two types. Simple kill mines and scatter mines (kills and scatters half-kill mines in surrounding hexes. The player’s stock of mines is public.
  • Player also has dummy mines.
  • At the end of the turn the player must feed their kids. Food resources are proportional to family death rate: the more die in your family the more food received from charity organisations
  • When a kid moves on the field the military player states for each hex entered whether a mine there explodes. If a mine explodes the military player must reveal the mine, deliver the appropriate damage, and distribute new half-kill mines as applicable.
  • Military player receives new stock of mines proportional to number of kids killed
  • Game ends when all of one family has been eliminated or made it across the minefield.
  • Players score points for members of their (extended) family that made it safely across, less points for cousins and less again for in-laws (the other players). Player with the most points wins.
  • Kids behind the minefield do not score.