Monday, June 24, 2013

Design Talk: Poison Pawns

So I recently came up with an idea for a game I call "Poison Pawns". It's a computer game intended to showcase the avatar creation system, so it's got lots of people and not much action.

In the game you (and everyone else) are particularly corrupt intergalactic senators, and the point of the game is to gain control over various places and factions in a shared game universe.

Vying for control works with you and at least one other senator (maybe a player, maybe an AI) getting together for a short game. This can be live or highly asynchronous, depending on the specifics.

Pregame, there are 30 or so "cards" on the table arranged in rows. Each row is a different kind of thing: a plot, person/people, place, or thing/faction. You take turns picking cards until everyone has a specific number - around 7 or 8. The cards don't vanish: they are just marked with the face of the player than chose them.

After selection is done, each player turns cards into scenarios. Plot cards are defined with a number of slots, and players simply fill those slots in. So you might have chosen the plot "Person X rigs election for place/faction Y to get person Z elected as president". Then you might fill it in: "Bill rigs the election on Newplanet to get Suzy elected president". While you can only use plots you chose, you can fill them in with any card on the table, even if someone else chose it.

If you play that scenario and the game ends with it intact, then whoever chose Suzy would end up with control of Newplanet, and the steady trickle of wealth and power it produces. The president's stats do matter, augmenting that.

The game proceeds backwards in time, each player having the option to play a plot of their own and change the context of all the plots that followed.

For example, if you take control of Newplanet, I might then play the scenario "George fines and over-regulates the shipping industry". This nets me a lump cash payoff and also significantly degrades the economy of Newplanet, perhaps even taking it into the red. (Not all assets are positive, and landing someone with a bad asset can be a victory in itself.)

On the other hand, maybe I don't want you to control Newplanet. So I play "George implements reforms across Newplanet". Alone, this plot actually improves Newplanet slightly. However, it automatically works to counter any subsequent plot with competing interests. So George catches Bill's attempt to rig the election, removing Bill from play and canceling that plot. This only works if George's interests aren't compromised. If George is owned by you, or if I had assigned Suzy to implement reforms, then the election rigging would go ahead just fine, because those characters would be okay with it.

If you saw that I might do this and wanted to control Newplanet, you might have picked the "Person X has a price..." plot early in the selection system, and then tried to guess who I would use. This plot changes someone's allegiance, but it costs money depending on their stats and whether they are neutral or aligned with someone. Since you have to choose ahead of time who you are going to bribe, this can be difficult to use. Normally, you'd use it to cement the allegiance of your most important character. However, if I felt confident that you'd use either George, Suzy, or Bill to spearhead the reforms, I could set it up so that two of them are participating in my election plot and the third is covered by this plot as insurance.

All of this leads to a system where you know exactly what plots each player can use and the people, factions, and places they'll want to score with. It's a complex system of predicting what the enemy predicts you'll predict...

The game takes place in a shared universe, but once claimed assets remain "locked" to their new owners for a certain amount of time. Perhaps a week. During that week, other players may pay their own level in coin to sign up for the battle over it. Up to four players may get involved, at which point the list closes. At the time the asset elapses, those players show up and play. If players aren't available, unless it's set to asynchronous mode, they just don't get to participate and are out the entry fee.

The requirement for players to pay their own level in coin means that it's not profitable for players to target weaker assets. If Newplanet is a tremendously valuable property, maybe level 200 players will jump at the chance to pay a billion tons of platinum to compete for it. But if Newplanet is just some rural planet worth almost nothing, they'd lose out even if they dominated. Players have the level of their highest-level asset, as well: so if Newplanet is rank 200, then whoever owns it will automatically have a minimum level of 200. If that's too high and they can't afford to pay billion tons of platinum all the time, they might cede Newplanet or just not show up at the reclaiming battle (which they get to enter for free).

Since the game is intended to show off the avatar system, your avatars and clothes are a big focus. The galactic senate is a very fashionable place, and senators always spring for the rejuv treatments... and, of course, you could just stick to your own little senate quarters and spend all your time dressing outrageously and inviting people over for parties.

Anyway, that's the design of "Poison Pawns".

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