Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gladiators Reversals

The normal progression of the game escalates the strength of the combats. In order to play a card, the card must be equal to or higher than the current strength. The incentive they have to play low cards arise from the fact that a victory is only valuable if there is glory attached to it, and the very highest cards don’t have any glory. By starting off high, your opponent can plead for mercy without penalty and you have wasted a high card in your hand. This form of ascension will mitigate a lot of the luck in the game by making card play much more strategic. Especially if high value cards are limited in number.

But, in order for the system to feel dynamic and exciting, there has to be a way to reverse the previous attack and reset the fight to a lower value. This reversal may also reset the glory accumulated during the attack so that players don’t end up losing the game on account of one epic chain of attacks. In order for the system to be exciting, the players need to feel vicissitude, undulation in fortune and a back and forth... but at the same time the cost of loss cannot be so high that there is no recovery.... there need to be enough of these rounds of combat to make the game interesting.

To keep the number of rounds high enough to allow player’s to come back from loss, mitigate the effects of chance and apply their superior combat tactics, the process of reversal needs to be well balanced. Too frequent, and the combat will never end and the cost of winning will be too high. So, how do you limit the capacity for reversal? Do you make it a card feature or a framework feature?

As a card feature, you could control the number of times it can be used so as to obtain the desirable frequency but it subjects the process to a great deal of chance. It seems rather arbitrary whether you have the card you need or not and it de-contextualizes the power’s capacity. If certain cards have that feature, you will hold onto them until you need them and treat them as ‘safety’ cards. From a design standpoint, it also requires that we define the relative value of a ‘safety’ card in relationship to the other cards. There is no unified balance to the system but only potentially a playtestable balance between the powers.

However, as a card feature, reversal is a fiat solution to the problem. We impose rules in the design that tell the players what is an acceptable amount of reversals and foreclose opportunities for them to exploit card synergy (and context) to gain an advantage over their opponent. It becomes less of an issue of guessing what the other player is going to play and out maneuvering him and more about managing the efficiency of your plays to optimize a fundamentally luck based system. It isn’t complexity, but stochastity.

On the other hand, as a framework feature, it opens up the possibility of endless reversals. If a card can always reverse another and be reversed by a third, then the reversal system never ends. The conditionality of reversals in the framework would have to be difficulty to obtain in the projected hand size of the combatants, otherwise, they will always have a solution to the current problem. A dynamic reversal system needs a feature that dramatically limits its use, but which nevertheless remains clear and transparent and potentially always available.

What if you could reverse a maneuver, but only if it is one lower? So, you can use any technique that is equal or higher, but you can also use a technique that is one lower as well. That way, techniques need not be numerous (easier to track) and the system can ‘reverse course’ but it would not be super easy to do so.

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