by Erik Smith
Recently I've been purging my wishlist, deleting games I don't think I'll like enough or get to the table enough to make their purchase worth it. One of those games was Lifeboats
, a game focused almost entirely on negotiation. Sound familiar? I decided it wouldn't get enough play because I'd always turn to another game for my negotiation fix. Not the one this blog is about, but still a great negotiation game: Cosmic Encounter
I love Cosmic Encounter. It's one of only two games I currently have rated a "10". I don't want to replace it, and I don't think it'd ever be possible. So how can I make another great negotiation game that does feel different enough to keep and play both? It's certainly possible, but I have to be sure the feeling it gives is substantially different from Cosmic Encounter.
I could point out all the mechanical differences that make it a different game, but what I want is a game that feels
different. They could be two totally different games that give a similar feeling, but then it would be unnecessary to have both because you'd only go to one to get that feeling. So what will make this game feel
different from Cosmic Encounter, or any other negotiation game, for that matter?
Note: Cosmic Encounter is just an example here, there's a lot of great negotiation games out there and I want this one to be different from all of them.
1. Hidden Information.
Most negotiation games have hidden information, which leads to bluffing. Using Encounter as an example, the cards in your hand are hidden so you can use them to bluff during encounters or surprise people by pulling an effect out of nowhere. In this game, though, the revealing of information is much more spaced out, since you only know who sent what troops where when that "where" scores for points. This means you could lie to someone for a long time, but since how many troops are in each area is always known, you'll have to find some way to convince them round to round.
There's lots of asymmetrical negotiation games. Encounter has alien powers, Diplomacy
has different starting territories... For this game it's Technologies and Regimes (below). Since you need a community effort to advance on the tracks which unlock these technologies, you'll need to convince people to help you if you want to unlock them. And blank "fake technologies" should add another bluffing element to the negotiation as well.
I haven't totally figures these out yet - they'll probably be one of the last things I add in to the design, so maybe in a couple weeks I might start bringing them up again - but right now I plan for them to be more unique and flavorful abilities. These will be different from Techs in a few ways, though! Flavor-wise, they represent the people in charge rather than the achievements of the district, which should cause them to have some different sorts of effects; they'll have disadvantages to balance them out, while technologies will be a clear bonus (but compared to other techs, they should be balanced); and most importantly, they change throughout the game as regimes are overthrown. This should make the feel of the game different every time and keep the dynamics around the table constantly changing.
All of these things, like the rest of the game, are focused on not only making the negotiations unique but also on making them complex, intricate, challenging and, above all, fun. These negotiations are the heart of the game and I'm trying to show this by only including mechanics which should have an interesting effect on the negotiations and keeping the game overall pretty simple. This is why I've cut the mercenary idea from the game, among other decisions.
I hope you've enjoyed this post as an interesting change from just listening to me babble about the design process. But I have been thinking about one thing, so a quick bit of babble before I go (I'll try to make it quick):
I've mentioned I want to avoid "Munchkin Syndrome" in this game. The way Cosmic Encounter does it (which I won't explain here, but you understand if you've played the game) is phenomenal, but it's not something I really want in this game. So I've come up with two ideas I'll try out that will hopefully be enough to prevent the dreaded MS from infecting my game. One, shared victories will be allowed - this idea was inspired a bit by Encounter, and hopefully will also make negotiations more interesting. Two, points will be hidden, but still trackable. I know some people hate HTI but I think it does a good job of not making games into festivals of kingmaking and MS. If someone really hates it but still wants to play this game, they can track points openly, but that's their decision. I think hidden trackable points will fit this game perfectly.
Okay, one last thing. I hate calling this "this game" or "my game". I need a tentative title. There's a 95% chance this won't be the final title, but for now, I'm calling the game "Dystopian Diplomacy", or "DD" for short.
Ok, NOW I'm done. Hope you enjoyed it! Sorry it's been a while, soon I hope to figure out a regular update schedule but for now I'm still too busy with school and sports to be able to rely on any plan like that. So, till next time - happy gaming!