02 November, 2017

NaGaDeMon 2017 #2 - Integrating Theme and Rules

The idea behind this project is a parlour game which can be easily understood by casual game players and those who don't really play games at all.



The genre of game is one where a minority of players have more information than the majority. It could easily be played under a theme like "Updated/Rebooted Battlestar Galactica" where the informed minority portray cylons, while everyone else plays humans, or a theme like "Salem" where the enlightened minority might portray a cabal of witches while the rest play townsfolk. Regardless of the way the game is skinned, the same types of roles would apply in the game, but they'd be renamed to fit the theme.

None of this is really innovative in game design, and if I walk into my local game store I see half a dozen variants on the game already. Each with a cleverly written spiel on the back of the box, each with quirky graphics to fit the theme, but like the countless versions of Monopoly there's nothing really different about them.



That leaves me with two options. Bearing in mind that I think roleplaying hacks are a barely a set beyond writing fan-fiction, the first option of simply re-skinning the game is unpalateable. It might make the game approachable, especially if I pick the kind of genre that might make it easy for non-gamers to relate to... maybe fairytales with the informed minority playing a cabal of shapeshifting child-eating witches... maybe a ring of underground criminal hackers, with informants and undercover agents in their midst. It might be considered the lazy option, or it might simply be the option that novice game designers pursue before they are ready to take on a real challenge. There's not actually anything wrong with it, but I prefer ideas that push the envelope.

The second option is to introduce a mechanism of play that gives things a point of difference to the other similar games out there. Following this option means that the new mechanism of play needs to really reflect the theme. You don't introduce a new method of martial arts and list of weapons into an RPG that's supposed to be about social intrigue (well that's not really true, a lot of companies and game designers do this exact thing).

I was thinking of setting the game in a gambling den, perhaps a "noir" poker parlour, or a Japanese Sengoku era yakuza den. In either case, the players would be criminals or citizens. The specific variant rule I was thinking of adding to the game was a prison where players could be sent by a majority vote during the day phase, then instead of sending a player to prison, a prisoner may be executed by the majority vote. A single character becomes the prison warden, or chief of police, and if this character is killed by the criminals during the night phase, all of the prisoners are released rejoin play (at which point a new prison warden is elected). The game ends when all the criminals are either dead or in prison, or when there are more free criminals than free citizens.

Generally, criminals would be able to kill anyone not currently in prison, but one special criminal might be able to kill inmates if they too have been imprisoned. Similarly, there might be a specialist character with the ability to break other characters out of prison. Just adding the idea of a separate play space within the game adds huge potential for new character archetype ideas in the game, and variant play experiences. The catch is that a lot of these archetypes would need to be playtested to see how they would impact the overall experience. 

On a similar note, I've been considering the balance of characters in the game. The part of the wikipedia article focused on the mathematical game theory underpinning the game suggests than the total number of criminals/mafiosi/werewolves should be proportional to the square root of the total number of players, unless there are detectives who able to determine which other roles are active in the play environment. I'll be going with the original Davidoff rules on this one, with the criminals/mafiosi/werewolves roughly making up roughly a third of the total number of players. This version of the game will also have special characters with abilities making up roughly a third of the total. This leaves us with a third of the players as citizens/townsfolk/farmers, but since no-one publicly knows who is whom, and since the outcome of the game can be driven by personality and popular vote as much as anything else, I don't feel too much concern for this.

Working with a minimum of 6 players...
Criminals/Mafiosi/Werewolves = 1/3 of total (round up)
Regular Citizens = 1/3 of total (round down)
Special Characters = remainder of players

6p = 2 Criminals, 2 Citizens, 2 Special
7p = 3 Criminals, 2 Citizens, 2 Special 
8p = 3 Criminals, 2 Citizens, 3 Special
9p = 3 Criminals, 3 Citizens, 3 Special
10p = 4 Criminals, 3 Citizens, 3 Special
11p = 4 Criminals, 3 Citizens, 4 Special
12p = 4 Criminals, 4 Citizens, 4 Special
13p = 5 Criminals, 4 Citizens, 4 Special
14p = 5 Criminals, 4 Citizens, 5 Special
15p = 5 Criminals, 5 Citizens, 5 Special
16p = 6 Criminals, 5 Citizens, 5 Special
17p = 6 Criminals, 5 Citizens, 6 Special
18p = 6 Criminals, 6 Citizens, 6 Special
19p = 7 Criminals, 6 Citizens, 6 Special
20p = 7 Criminals, 6 Citizens, 7 Special
21p = 7 Criminals, 7 Citizens, 7 Special
22p = 8 Criminals, 7 Citizens, 7 Special
23p = 8 Criminals, 7 Citizens, 8 Special
24p = 8 Criminals, 8 Citizens, 8 Special
(Curiously, I developed this ratio of player types before researching the game)  

Now it's just a case of working out what those special characters are, minimise their rules to make them easily legible to a non-gamer, and organise the sequence of play. That'll be the next post.  
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