Monday, July 5, 2010

Origins, Part 2: The More Things Change...

One cool thing at Origins was the dealer room, a large room where lots of game companies were demonstrating their new games. Many people in the game industry were there, including Lou Zocchi, the inventor of the 100-sided die*, and Steven Long, the writer of the HERO System rule book. (It's too bad that I forgot to bring my iPhone so I could take pictures, that I didn't bring along any books for autographs, and also that I didn't get around to telling Mr. Long what I thought about the quality of his writing**.) Another thing I learned was that the popularity of sequels is not limited to movies and video games. Even in board games there are a lot of expansion packs and sequels being sold. Also even games that are supposed to be new often borrow a lot of mechanics from other games. For example, I participated in a demo of one game with the following characteristics (the implication should be obvious from context even if you don't know about the game):

1. In the game, players are working cooperatively, and win or lose together.

2. The game is played on a map consisting of interconnected regions. There are several types of objects that can be in these regions, including (a) players, (b) "tokens", which players are trying to get rid of and which come in four different colors, and (c) "special markers", which help players move around the board.

3. During a turn, the players whose turn it is does the following three things in this order: (a) take a certain number of "actions," (b) draw two cards from a "good deck" and keep them, and (c) draw one or more cards from a special "bad deck", do stuff based on what it says on it, then discard it.

4. Actions include the following: (a) attempt to remove tokens from the region you are in, (b) move to an adjacent region, (c) move to any region on the board by discarding a card matching that region, (d) move from one region containing a special marker to another region containing a special marker, and (e) discard a card matching the region you are in to place a special marker in that region.

5. When you draw a card from the "bad deck", it will tell you where to put new tokens. If a card tells you to place tokens in a region, and there are already three tokens in that region, you instead put one token in each region adjacent to that region. If this happens too many times, you lose the game. You can also lose the game if the card tells you to put tokens of a certain color out, and all the tokens of that color are already on the board.

6. The goal of the game is to "complete" all four colors. You can complete a color by going to a certain location and discarding a large number of cards of that color. Once a color is completed, tokens of that color still appear as normal, but it is possible to automatically remove all tokens of that color from the region you are in when taking a "remove tokens" action.

7. This game is NOT Pandemic, nor is it, according to the game designer, "anything like Pandemic." It does, however, cost about twice as much as Pandemic. (The game is, of course, Defenders of the Realm.)


*Several years ago, I did a standup comedy routine about Dungeons and Dragons, and I said the 100-sided dice were "too much like frat brothers" because they "kind of rolled around a lot and wouldn't stop until they landed on the floor." I was not the only person who thought this, because since then Mr. Zocchi has redesigned the die to add a hollowed out inside with pebbles in it as a "braking system" so it doesn't roll around too much.

**What I think about his writing is that the system itself is great because you can create almost any power you want with it, but he is in desperate need of an editor (the credits in the book do not have an editor listed). This is because most of the book is filled with a lot of excess verbiage. The best example I found is the following (copied verbatim, including the parentheses:)

A mentalist who achieves this level of Mind Control could make an enemy attack one of his (the enemy's) allies/teammates (instead of the mentalist's allies/teammates, whom the enemy is fighting) or even just surrender. He could even make the enemy direct his attacks against himself.

My proposed rewrite is:

A mentalist who achieves this level of Mind Control could make an enemy attack anyone that that enemy could legally target, including itself.

I showed this to Dave, the GM of our Hero System game, and he agreed, saying that "when a computer science graduate student can write more clearly than you can, it's probably time you should get an editor." I actually think, however, that computer science actually teaches you to write more clearly: a lot of what math and computer science are about is finding ways to express complicated concepts in unambiguous and concise ways.

1 comment:

Dan Mont said...

Who knew that the world of dice manufacturing had so many facets to it? (ha ha)

I hear you are going to another gaming convention in Indianapolis next month with Mom. I hope it is as fun as the last one.