The phrase “present interesting and meaningful decisions” has become such a mantra in designer speak that I almost get a little annoyed when I hear myself tossing it around or run across it while reading about other designers. In sports you have a worn out phrase “Deliberate practice and meaningful games.” I’m always trying to be wary of groupthink. I have run across it so often in the course of my life that I’m always on the look out for it. The herd can find water together as well as walk off a cliff together. In the case of “interesting decisions” or “deliberate practice” I think the group has found a solid nugget of wisdom. The debates on the meaning of “meaningful” (or that other bogeyman called “balance”) sometimes make me wonder about the cliff.
Back on track though. When I studied electrical engineering back in the early 80’s one of my light bulb moments was learning about the Laplace transform. You get a whole new picture of a signal by doing a Laplace transform and going from the time domain to the frequency domain. This idea that you could do a mathematical transformation on something and see hidden data and meaning was astounding to me at the time. I’ve tried to apply the concept wherever I can. So with a game design I like to transform it into the decision domain or space and see what it looks like. I don’t use integral calculus of course but I try to draw out a map of all the decisions in the game and how they interact. Often it starts out like a simple flow chart or even just a list. But if you get creative you can work the elements around visually to help figure out how the decisions interconnect. This can also help you figure out whether decisions are interesting or meaningful.
Key Decisions for my board game
Play positive Guild Card to Mission that I want to win OR play negative Guild Card to Mission that I want to deny opponent
Decide Strategy for round based on my resources/Influence Points (IP) versus opponents’ resources/IP
Decide on use of Interrupt Text on any Guild Cards I have versus other useful text on cards i.e Guild Cards have split text options
Choose 2 of 8 options for my turn during round of turns (8 rounds total for 2 or 4 player game)
If need to rebuild resource base then decide on
1) visit guild healer
2) take guild stipend
3) buy item card
4) buy spell card
5) charge a spell card
6) take secret objective cards
7) play guild card for “Guild Event”
8. Attempt Mission Contract card to earn Influence Points then decide which mission
Decide on use of Guild cards, Item cards, Skill cards, Spell cards and Fate Tokens to accomplish challenges on sequential stages of mission challenge track
Decide which of the three face up challenge cards to attempt for each stage of the mission contract card.
Decide on how many wounds you can afford to take while attempting mission contract card challenges.
Decide on how far to push luck in mission/Abort Mission. i.e. multiple reward levels
Opponents’ Turn Decisions
Decide on use of Guild Cards with Interrupt Actions
Post Turn Decisions/Influence Bidding Phase
Based on gold stockpile (mostly from stipend and mission rewards) decide on bidding strategy for number of influence card auctions and opponents wealth/need for IP
Bid on Influence Cards based on need of IP, mission type matches to accomplished mission contracts and opponents’ positions