Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Difference in Emergence

What is the difference between a non-party character and a party character?  It is one of our design prerogatives in Goblins: Alternate Realities to make these categories interchangeable.  You play with the main characters because they are more versatile than the non-main characters.  

A. They have more versions of themselves and hence a greater variety of special powers that they can be played to create.  
B. They (if you can only play with one copy of each unique card) provide you with character stability insofar as you are more likely to draw them than non main characters.
C. They are more well rounded than non-main characters.
D. They have a better opportunity to win duels than non-main characters (with multiple copies).
E. They may become more powerful through the use of loot that is tagged to a class structure which only the main characters have.

Is this enough to overcome the restrictions imposed by multiple copies?  Would it be better to have a deck full of non-main characters?  

For one, it means that you never replace cards you’ve already played so every card in your deck is in play.  
For two, it means that you don’t run the risk of having one of your characters killed and losing your ability to use them.  
Both seem to be very compelling reasons to never create a party... and seemingly dominant provided that there aren’t additional properties on the main characters which make them worth playing.  

It might require a limit to the number of character cards that can be played to a location... if it turns out that you can only have five characters at your location at a time, then there would be a built in incentive to use characters which can gain benefits from the loot that you have.  In this case, it magnifies your abilities to be able to add 3 more cards to the equation.  You also wouldn’t be able to simply play more characters to overcome obstacles.  If other players put characters in your way, then they would pose a significant threat to your progress that cannot simply be overcome by playing more characters yourself.      

That seems to be a necessary rule to make the system function well... and perhaps something that can be dictated by the quest card.  If the quest card indicates how many characters you can have in your play space, then each quest is additionally customized to its party and the limit is adjustable on the card level.  

What complicates the game is when parties which are built to revolve around one or two particular characters are paired with quests for parties that are designed to have more.  If Kore is a one man fighting machine, what happens when he is paired with Big Ears (a fellow paladin) or Forgath (a fellow dwarf).  Presumably, all the loot that applies to him applies to them as well and the deck would get the benefit of having more than one main character.  Let alone the fact that you might be able to crowd his decks with other non-main characters as filler.  It seems like it would result in some very odd events when a one-man character is allowed to interact with quests with more than one character limit.  If one version is balanced, it is likely that the other isn’t.

But, that kind of defers the question to one of quest-character compatibility.  Is Kore’s quests really well suited to him and he very ill-suited to other quests?  If he is a combat machine, then it is possible that he is less useful in quests which require more diversified skill sets.  So, having him in those decks would end up working somewhat cross purposes to the goal of the deck.  Especially if it turns out that the synergy between Goblins with each other and their loot is sufficient to outweigh the inclusion of Kore.  If Kore is strong provided that he has all his items, then you would effectively be limiting the potential of everyone else by properly supporting him.  And, if those other items are necessary to complete the challenges associated with other quests, then he would seem to be a less useful character despite the fact that he is stronger.

He might instead end up being used by all the players as their ‘enforcers’... sort of like a freelance fighter pursuing other parties.  That might not be that bad of an emergent property considering the way that he appears in the game.  But, of course, it seems like a lot of care would need to be used in order for this property to emerge.

It seems like there may need to be some reinstitution of racial/class compatibility.  Kore is not an obstacle to just anyone, but to particular races.  Or, perhaps instead of a limit to the number of party members there are restrictions regarding what kind of characters can be played?  In that situation, it becomes possible to limit Kore’s abilities to be used for certain quests outright since he just doesn’t fit into the permissible races and/or classes.  This fiat rule would allow us to control the design a little more directly.  Rather than play out all possible metagames, this would pre-emptively limit certain possibilities that are broken.

It is hard to say what is broken and what is not though.  At this point, what are the storyline constraints that we have when the creator is fine with any possible set of alternate realities and monsters being used as characters and items being used by anyone else?  It seems difficult to design a game that provides a fun/balanced experience as a boxed set and would allow such radical, anti-themetic, customization.  So, where are the limits on customization or what is the coherent thematic thread?

I feel like people who play this game want an experience that is thematic.  That being able to play an existing party in an interesting way supersedes the pleasure of making any party at all.  So our design goal is to maximize the customizability within the limits of coherent party play.  Or, perhaps I shouldn’t worry about this element at all and allow it to take shape?  That it doesn’t matter if there is no balance between Kore and other characters because it is not my job to make one.  That is a strong point and at the same time a fundamental weirdness if because of the balance of the boxed play, it becomes optimal to play with the same very strange collection of characters.

Star Wars CCG had to confront this problem with their expansions and the metagame.  But they had a cost system built into their CCG which obviated the problems we have here.  If it is the case that playing Kore is no different than playing any other card, then there is no longer an established guideline for game balance.  We are set adrift into a realm of emergent limitations which turn the design into a player and just turn the player off.

It seems for this reason that the game will only exist in a balanced state by our deck construction.  Everything else will not work.

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