Category Archives: Game Design

Dominion: Intense

Writing about Yu-Gi-Oh got me thinking about Dominion, and how it’s about the only board game that my wife actually enjoys.

As a thought experiment, I considered how Dominion would change if you took all the randomness out of the game. It wouldn’t be hard to do. Here are my rule changes:

  1. When setting up the game, each player may stack their deck.
  2. When you discard multiple cards at once, you may put them on top of your discard pile in any order.
  3. When you have to draw and your draw pile has run out, you flip your discard pile over and turn it into your draw pile without shuffling it.

There you go, deterministic Dominion. I haven’t tried this yet. I’m going to, but I wanted to write down my hypothesis first. I predict that making Dominion deterministic will significantly increase the intensity of the game, which in turn will make it more fun for a few of my competitive gamer friends, but at the cost of alienating more casual players (e.g. my wife).

At GDC I attended a great talk by Luke Muscat from Halfbrick, where he discussed a prototype he created that made people at the office into mean backstabbing jerks. His hypothesis was that three mechanical characteristics of his prototype led to this behavior, together creating a game with an extremely high level of “intensity.”

  • No Randomness – It was a pure strategy game, based on skill alone.
  • Duration – It was a long game (weeks) with a high time investment.
  • Chaining – This one’s harder to describe. There was a mechanic that let connected groups of players get very powerful, but only if every player in the chain participated. This led to the formation of teams, but also lots of backstabbing since there could only be one winner.

This Dominion variant is based on the first of his points, and on some of Greg Costikyan’s work on the role of randomness in games. Taking randomness out of a game places the blame for failure squarely on the player. If the ideal family game gives you that “win because of skill, lose because of luck” feeling, deterministic games are missing the second half of that equation.

It’s possible that Muscat’s second point will come into play as well, but I’m not sure yet. I think for less skilled players, the game may go longer as they struggle to stack up the right cards and create winning combinations, and it’s hard to be saved by a lucky shuffle. On the other hand, very skilled players may be able to close the game faster, reducing the stakes of a given game and therefore its overall intensity.

This all reminds me of playing Egyptian Rat (also known as…) in high school, with friends who were trying to count not only the cards in their own deck, but in their opponent’s deck as well. Our version of that game evolved a series of rules designed to preserve its deterministic nature because the high intensity was a major feature – the “slap” mechanic being the primary point of intensity, suggesting that games requiring constant attention or concentration also have a high level of intensity. We were able to pull casual players into Rat though because games were often short, again lowering the stakes.

I’m sure the designer considered a non-deterministic game when creating Dominion – I wonder how quickly it was thrown out. I’ll give this a shot, and if anyone else tries it I’d love to hear about your experience.

Jamie Griesemer: “Design in Detail: Changing the Time Between Shots for the Sniper Rifle from 0.5 to 0.7 Seconds for Halo 3”

Jenga Tournament

Reflection on a talk by Jaime Griesemer: “Design in Detail: Changing the Time Between Shots for the Sniper Rifle from 0.5 to 0.7 Seconds for Halo 3.”

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The Little Things

Zelda 2006

I was recently introduced to some interesting studies, looking at features I’d never noticed in a couple of games that I know very well. These are features that are essential to the feel of these games. Does anyone know of other clever game features that you don’t usually notice?

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Anthony Burch: “Rev Rant: Snakes, Plants, and Difficulty”

Plants vs. Zombies Are Now Adorable Misfit Toys

Reflection on an article by Anthony Burch: “Rev Rant: Snakes, Plants, and Difficulty.”

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Raph Koster: “Do auction houses suck?”

Place bid!

Reflection on a blog post by Raph Koster: “Do auction houses suck?”

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Pascal Luban: “Designing and Integrating Puzzles”

...play a game...

Reflection on an article by Pascal Luban: “Designing and Integrating Puzzles”

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Raph Koster: “Narrative is not a game mechanic”

Black Knight

Reflection on an article by Raph Koster: “Narrative is not a game mechanic”

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Dave Grossman: “A Journey Across the Main Stream: Games for My Mother-in-Law”

Token Art Photo

Reflection on an article by Dave Grossman: “A Journey Across the Main Stream: Games for My Mother-in-Law”

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Richard Garfield: “The Design Evolution of Magic: The Gathering”

Magic The Gathering Cards

Reflection on an article by Richard Garfield: “The Design Evolution of Magic: The Gathering”

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My First GM Experience

books

Yesterday, I ran my first tabletop RPG.

My only previous experience with tabletop storygames was one abstract GM-less game (like Polaris) that was fun, but nontraditional. Now in my game design class I’ve been assigned to create and run an adventure module using light, D&Dish rules. The goal is to tell a strong interactive story with a good interest curve. Remember, I’ve never played D&D before, much less run it.

I’d say the session was a surprising success!

I’ll upload my full postmortem when it’s complete. For now I’ll summarize by saying that things started slow but picked up well, and the best moments were when the players surprised me with their ingenuity. At one point they devised a plot worthy of any TV show that I hadn’t planned for at all. Thanks to Dave, Kai and Jimmy for playing!