Archive for January, 2009

Democracy 2 Coupon

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Cliff Harris is one of the pioneers of the Long Tail indies and his games are full of the interesting decisions that make strategy games so much fun. The concept is straight forward. Grab the reigns of power and start making decisions in a wide range of policy areas….. and see if you can hold on to your office 🙂 Cliffski has offered up a special deal for readers of this blog in the form of a 20% discount coupon off of any purchase of Democracy 2 between now and the end of February.

The code is BJRN001CH

You can grab the demo here

Dem 2

A Picture of Approaching Doom

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

So it Begins

I’m an amateur systems analyst with a basic grasp of economics….enough to consistently lose money by buying high and selling low. However, even my amateur eye blinks and then widens in disbelief at the above graphic courtesy of the St. Louis Federal Reserve. How does a complex and not really completely understood system react to an input spike like that? I don’t know and don’t believe those economists with their econometrics and fancy words like regression analysis….they don’t have a clue either. Behold the above graphic and know that you are looking at our Doom. Excuse me while I go corner the market on wheel barrows before everybody needs one to haul their cash around in to go get a loaf of bread.

How much land does an Archfiend need?

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

That’s a key strategic decision that players of Solium Infernum will need to make. The normal sized map is 14 by 12 hexes in dimensions. That translates into 168 Cantons up for grabs but the real number is much lower because many terrain types do not allow a player to claim the hex. Rivers, Lakes of Fire, Volcanoes and Chasms are pure barriers that can neither be claimed nor entered (unless there is a bridge in the river hex of course). Mountains, Swamps and Lava Fields can not be claimed but some legions with a special ability can enter them. So after you take into account the terrain you probably have 120 or so Cantons up for grabs. During the initial land grab you will want to stake out your claim on nearby Places of Power. The driving factor for this is the prestige that each Place of Power grants to you every turn. Places of Power provide a nice steady stream of prestige that can add up over the course of the game. They are crucial to victory. Beyond staking out your claim to Places of Power you will need to decide on how much additional land you want to claim and in what directions. Here are some things to consider:

1. The more land that you grab the more Victory Points you get at the end of the game. You get 1 Victory Point for each Canton that you control when the final Conclave Token is drawn and the Infernal Conclave convenes.

2. There is an event card that can be played called “Infernal Census” during the game. It immediately gives every player a prestige bonus of 1 point for each Canton that they control when the event is played.

3. There is a secret objective card that you can draw and keep that gives you a prestige bonus of 20 points if you have the most Cantons at the end of the game. However if you do not you lose the 20 points.

4. Claiming choke points like bridges or mountain passes can allow for good defensive postures on some fronts. Since legions can support each other by being adjacent, this can work in your favor if the opponent has to file an attacking force through a narrow approach.

5. Claiming too much land can stretch you too thin. This is often true because the map wraps around in all directions. You are likely to have opponents in all four compass directions. The more you expand the more neighbors you get. Exacerbating this is the fact that you will never have an unlimited supply of legions. I first ran into the fun concept of Command Rating (CR) in MOO 2 and it’s really a gem of an idea. Basically it lets me influence player behavior by limiting the number of legions a player can control to the board. The limiting effect is not really as important as the fact that I force players to make certain choices if they want to increase their CR. In this case they normally have to expend resources on leveling up their “Martial Skill” attribute which in turn unlocks +2 CR abilities in their “Wrath” discipline. Players will normally control between 4 to 8 legions so there will usually never be enough to guard all your borders.

6. Claiming a lot of land can create a buffer. This can be both an asset and a liability. Unlike may war games you can be exposed on a section of your front but not fear a spear thrust to your heart which knocks you out of the game. It would be as if the Wehrmacht broke through the Ardennes but then called a halt to their advance because their honor had been satisfied and the Geneva Protocols specified that they must halt. Vendetta dynamics can have this type of effect. The length of the conflict is turn limited as are the objectives. That means you can loose a bunch of territory but not the game. The more buffer you have the more ground you can give until you can shift resources to face the new threat. Conversely though all this land is a liability. Your opponent gains prestige for succeeding in his claim of Vendetta. Waltzing in and taking 5 Cantons unopposed while you get organized is going to push your opponent ahead. Like any good equilibrium system the more your opponent grabs the more he has to start worrying about these issues as well.

So the design goal was to come up with a system where expansion had obvious benefits but also included a negative feed back element that regulated expansion. The design envisioned players jostling for important places of power as well as trying to build buffers around their base stronghold and newly acquired places of power. As a player expands at the expense of his neighbors some negative feed back begins to kick in. How artful the player is in managing those forces will be a big factor in how the player fares in the game.

Here is a screen shot from the early part of a game:

How Much Land

The active player sees all his icons in red. His border markings are in red as well. All opponents icons and markings appear in black. In this case I’ve secured a nice area of land around my stronghold that borders on the River Styx (running east/west) which is only passable at the bridge. To my west I have secured a pass bordered by mountains. To the east I have secured a bridge on the river Acheron which runs north/south. I have also capture a Place of Power known as the Great Bronze Pyramid. At this point I have a large open area to the north where eventually I run into a neighboring Archfiend who is moving south towards me. You can actually see that we have made contact already to the south over the bridge across the Styx. He has captured a Place of Power that sits just south of the bridge. I need to decide how much land I want/can claim towards the north before we bump into each other there.

Complicating this is the fact that the player in the land bordering my bridge over the Acheron is the same player I encounter traveling west through the mountain/river pass.

Neighbors

That’s the nature of a closed universe. I’m certain that this will cause some players no end of pain, consternation and disorientation. All I can say is “Welcome to Hell!”

Unknown Pleasure of 2009

Monday, January 19th, 2009

A big thanks to Kieron Gillen and the lads at Rock Paper Shotgun (RPS) for including Solium Infernum as a game you might not have heard of but can look forward to in 09. I’ve got some great company in the group. The mini-interview also has some shiny new screen shots that I whipped up.

Enabling Monkey Wrenches

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

When I went about designing the core mechanics for Solium Infernum, I was determined to allow players to be able to throw a Monkey Wrench into the grand apparatus that was their opponent’s plans. In the board game Ticket To Ride you can sometimes do this by claiming a strategically placed short track connection between two cities when you realize that one of your fellow players is trying to make a connection there. It’s annoying and often effective because if they can’t complete the route for their objective card then they lose the points on the card instead of gaining them. The hand of the monkey wrench thrower is public information and that has an effect on the player dynamics.

Solium Infernum has a bunch of mechanisms like this as well in the form of Rituals, Events, and Diplomatic Efforts (Insults and Demands). But I also wanted to include the anonymous monkey wrench in the game. I actually took it one step further and allowed for the framed monkey wrench but that is another story. The anonymous monkey wrench lets you interact with your opponents in a negative way without having to necessarily leave a calling card. If you pass a dice roll challenge for example when performing some rituals then your identity is not revealed. This helps generate paranoia and when you throw in the possibility that you can be framed for such acts then the paranoia can go right up to 11.

I’m going to discuss an example of monkey wrench throwing from the early game stage of Solium Infernum which I have come to call “The Great Land Grab” phase. When you start the game you only have a stronghold and your “body guard” legion. You control the hexes (called Cantons in the game) immediately adjacent to your stronghold but everything else is up for grabs. That means you will want to scope out the locations of the Places of Power scattered about the board and also the key geographical choke points if there are any. The map wraps in on itself so you’ll need to adjust your spatial reasoning to that concept. Don’t worry it doesn’t take a 12th Level Intellect to come to grips with the geometry of Hell. You’ll soon be looking for enemies in all directions which I hope will help heighten your paranoia as well.

Here is a snippet of a screen shot showing the results after the first turn of play:

Great Land Grab of Hell

Notice the player with the “Flame” icon has moved his legion away from his stronghold towards the Place of Power called The Tree of Woe. If you roll your mouse over the icons you get a display of the key information in the info box at the bottom of the screen. Depending on the stats of the player’s starting legion (and the stats of the Place of Power) he might be considering a frontal assault and quick capture of the stronghold. It would be a big boost for him certainly if he could take The Tree of Woe quickly. He would immediately start receiving the +1 Prestige Point that it grants and he could also move the legion to claim other Cantons or key locations. If a Canton isn’t claimed by any player then the first player to enter it gets ownership….thus the term “Great Land Grab.” Once a Canton is claimed you can’t enter it unless you have a claim of Blood Feud or Vendetta with the owner.

This is also the point where other players can ready their monkey wrenches. First of course you have to decide whether you think using one of your precious few order slots is worth the effort. You will probably only have two order slots available at this point and you have to claim Places of Power and Cantons yourself. You might also be thinking about bidding on another legion in the Infernal Bazaar if you have sufficient resources. Another legion at this early stage would allow you to cover a lot more territory. But let’s say you have decided it’s worth the risk. If you foil the attack on the Place of Power and the legion is damaged or lost then you will have slowed down your opponent’s expansion defined by a point somewhere between annoying and crippling. Sounds like fun to me. Here is one way you could go about it:

The Monkey Wrench

This is the dialogue box you see when you click on a “Ritual Slot” in your Ritual Chamber. You see a list of rituals that you can perform (based primarily on the levels of your Avatar’s attributes) and the respective costs in resources. The Combat Deception Ritual allows you to temporarily decrease the attributes of a legion or place of power. The efficacy and duration increases as your power level in the “Deceit” Discipline increases. Since you have just started the game your attributes are pretty low (you spend points on these when you build your Avatar before the game). In your present state you can only affect the target’s attribute by a value of d6 and for single turn. But that might be enough to alter the combat on the next turn if your opponent goes for it. It all depends on the stats of the two combatants and what you have divined of your opponents intentions. Maybe other players have noticed this aggressive move and are going to be piling “Combat Deception” rituals on as well? Now we are talking some multi-variate game theory interactions here. Feel the burn. The nice thing too is that even if your ritual fails (success isn’t automatic but depends on the level of the target and your level in the discipline) you have a decent chance of not being labeled as the monkey wrench thrower. There is no need after all to poison relations with your neighbors right off the bat 🙂