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17 Dec 2012

Game development blog no.4

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This is part of a series. You can read the previous entry here: Game development blog no.3

Several weeks have passed since we last updated you on "the corruption game" - aka, Kleptocracy. We've been redesigning the game from a fundamentally different angle. Which isn't to say the first attempt wasn't working - I think there's mileage in that still - but I find a mixture of destructive and iterative approaches to game design bring out the best results.

So this new direction is inspired by - brace yourselves - Monopoly. I know what you're thinking: we're either idiots or this is another one of our cynical marketing ploys. Both, probably. The truth is, many years ago, I wouldn't dare go near Monopoly and all its heavy baggage. It's over-familiar, clich├ęd and hated amongst gamers (a hate that is only semi-justified, incidentally). So what's going on?

Well the core idea of Kleptocracy is that of working your way around a society, insinuating yourself in various circles, gaining influence and trying to keep others from becoming equally influence - all the while syphoning off big bucks. When we took a step back from this, it was clear that we could quite naturally represent this as your prototype, roll-and-move board track. Why not? Because it's both unoriginal and mechanically flawed (it rests on a frustrating amount of luck), that's why. But suddenly those things start to look like challenges ... Can we make a roll-and-move game that is rewarding to play and familiar-yet-different?

Additionally, while you inevitably invite the scorn and dismissal of the elite for producing something that looks superficially trite, you also make everyone else relax as they can immediately recognise something familiar and known to them. And in this day and age, giving new players a visual or emotional anchor is vital to retaining their attention while you go through the rules.

All that said, I'm clearly a little uneasy about my own choice as I'm spending so much time pre-emptively defending a design decision that hasn't even been fully implemented yet. Time will tell... Meanwhile, something within this game has lead to a new game:

Another new game? Spare us!

Sigh, yes, sorry. While trying to work out how the "make up your own rules" mechanic might work for the president in Kleptocracy, I stumbled onto the idea of laying out key rule "ingredients" and having the president interpret them or manipulate them into a new rule. I really liked the idea of the law being fuzzy and the head of state being the person to interpret the law in their own favour.

After a day of messing around with cards with single words and phrases and even making my own random word generating script, I realised this was a whole other game. And the perfect theme suggested itself - instead of a president interpreting the law, what if players were high priests interpreting the Word of God to suit their own agenda?

This seemed much more fun! I built a quick prototype in a day and we tested it last Tuesday. When I say test, I unpacked it, explained it, then repacked it again. There was a crucial flaw that would allow players to vote not for the best interpretation of the divine message (what I was after), but to vote strategically for whatever would best help them in the game. This is a pretty common problem and there are numerous work-arounds from anonymising the source to giving incentives for voting for something else that doesn't directly benefit you.

I've done neither of those and instead made it into a bit more of a bluffing game where the personal interests of each player are far less known. Let's see how it works tomorrow. My ideal is still to make a very open language game that is supported by robust scoring/ voting, but I think I need to learn a lot more about both language and player psychology before I can pull that one off.

Posted by Andy S on 17 December 2012 - 3 comments

Comments so far:

  1. Sounds greatV from Larkhill - 18 December 2012
  2. These ideas immediately made me think of The 3 Commandments, a game published in English by Rio Grande, copies of which were being flogged off for a few quid in The Works recently. There one player takes the role of high priestess, who has cards describing legal and illegal moves for a pawn on a board. The other players have to move the pawn and work out what the rules are, which could be nothing to do with the pawn, but could just as easily be to do with how they are sitting. Nothing like your ideas, other than the theme idea and some sense that one person knows 'the rules', while everyone else has to follow them. If you can find it for (I think my girlfriend paid this in some post Christmas sale thing) £3:99 - which made every one of the Rio Grande and Queen games they had worth getting so I did - get it, even if just for parts. Surely a more satirical theme for a rule mangling/guessing game would be something like funding bodies vs academics... artists vs critics (though who holds the power to determine what the rules are there?)... or celebrity chef vs customers (think Marco Pierre White chucking people out of his restaurant). Maybe a mechanic like the one used by The 3 Commandments could form a secondary mechanic in a political game, with special favour granted from the figurehead being scaled according to some absolutely pointless criteria which have nothing to do with what they think they are trying to achieve. Sorry got carried away there.Grand Master Meio from The 3rd Moon - 11 January 2013
  3. Looks like your project died out. You have my sympathies. In all honesty though, it's obvious it wouldn't ever make it anywhere. You'll never sell your board games when 2+2=5.Some man from a very "free" place - 29 January 2013

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