As promised, to celebrate my growing Kickstarter campaign I am continuing to share lessons learned from and general thoughts on Hot Pursuit. This will be a discussion about an aspect of game play that I obtusely ignored. Not intentionally – it just wasn’t something I thought much about.
Take a moment to think about 2 of your favorite games which feel the most dissimilar. So, not a couple of drafting games (which I love). Make sure they are actually different. For example, Coup and Love Letter.
Yes, they are both very short, inexpensive card games featuring player elimination. Sure, they both involve a level of bluffing and deduction (what your opponent is hiding is important information). This is where the “obtuse” part comes in. It took a year of game design for me to figure this out: Love Letter’s cards force the game to progress and end; Coup relies on the players to progress the game (the cards are simply tools).
You may be thinking, “Duh, Derik.” If not, bless you. Here’s the break down:
- In Love Letter, the player’s turn consists of drawing one card and discarding one card for a stated effect. The game ends when there are no cards to draw or all but one player is eliminated. The key here is those cards and effects. They are structured in a way that forces conflict. You see, players MUST discard a card and use it’s effect. Those effects all revolve around eliminating a player or gathering information in order to eventually eliminate a player. In other words, players are moved toward the end of the game by force and they can do nothing to fight it.
- In Coup, the cards themselves have very little affect on the actual game. It really comes down to how good you are at bluffing, or how badly you can bluff when you are actually telling the truth. That’s it. That’s the crux. Sure, there is some money collection, and money is used to pay for murd… influence, but the speed with which you are able to collect said money still comes down to your bluffs. So, if everyone plays poorly and only collects “Income” (1 coin), the game rules will force an end in (10 x #Players) + (4 x #Players) – 1 turns. A.K.A. a real long time.
By now you’re probably thinking, “Why’s that matter?” Well, here’s why:
Hot Pursuit is very much a player driven game (like Coup). The game will never force itself into an end-state because the cards do nothing in and of themselves. The only way the game ends is if someone is able to wrangle the 2 (or 3, depending on story) “Key” cards (Blue, Pink, or Red) into their hand, facing them. It takes memory, deduction, and a little deception – A.K.A. a lot of work. This isn’t necessarily a problem, though. The fact that almost every single new player HORDES a Key card when they find one does make it a serious problem. You see, Hot Pursuit was originally a 3 – 10 player free-for-all. With everyone out for themselves, and the vast majority of them hording at every opportunity, games go NO WHERE in a really long, painful time. That’s a great illustration of why Love Letter is so easy to teach: even playing poorly with no direction, the game still ends very quickly and has a definite winner.
One of the toughest pieces of feedback I received (and it was only twice) was that the early game was boring because it didn’t go anywhere. At the time, I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about. When I played with experienced players, the games were tough, tense, and terrific (heh). But, that was the key. New players wanted the game to tell them what to do – they wanted the cards to do something. Most people couldn’t wrap their head around a game-plan for acquiring both Key cards because they couldn’t bear to give up the one they knew about.
Coup game a clear reason for your action every turn: to gain enough money to eliminate the other players before they eliminate you. Ultimately, Hot Pursuit stalled because no one had a clear path to victory. Sure, get the 2 cards, but how? – See that? There was no direction to the game. I couldn’t see this problem until I sat down at a convention with game designers/publishers and a few hardcore gamers. We stalled. Badly enough that everyone started throwing out ideas on how to fix it. A lot of thoughts revolved around adding card abilities (making it component driven), which I refused to do because it violated a primary design goal. Then, Brent Critchfield suggested I make it cooperative. Well, that won’t work because it’ll take maybe 3 turns to win. “Okay. How about cooperative with a traitor working against the rest?”
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner! Some clean-up and story writing still needed to be added in, but all of a sudden players had a distinct goal to reach for. Teaching is still a little rough because of the 2 goals and counter-intuitive play (it’s HARD not looking at the card you are being handed), but everyone gets it by the end of their first game. Better yet, they want a do-over when they lose and they feel smart when they win. And they should – it ain’t easy!
Funny enough, this same lesson applies to the solitaire version of Hot Pursuit. It had a reasonable goal (get the Blue, Pink, and Red cards together, in your hand, facing you) and an AI to continuously mess up what you know about card positions, but it would never end until you either solved the puzzle or gave up and let the “bad guys” win. Until we added a timer. Just a stack of extra Yellow “crowd” cards made all the difference. Now, there was a clear and ominous goal: collect tie the paper trail (Red Document) to the Corrupt Commissioner and Dirty Detective before they are able to wash away their sins. As the crowd grew from the timer you also got this great visual of the Corrupt Commissioner making the evidence disappear forever into the city.
I really love player driven games for just that reason – they are typically tough and have high social interactivity. But, now I know that I have to make sure my player driven games have a clear direction – a relatable goal.
What about you? What are 2 of your favorite dissimilar games? What makes them different and how is it important to your enjoyment?