More about randomness

Few weeks ago Michał Oracz wrote article about randomness in games and explained why he tend to put randomness into every of his designs. If by any chance you haven’t read his article yet, here is a link. I must agree with Michał and I must confess that I also – on purpose! – put randomness into my designs. Today I’d like to add small appendix to Michał’s article and explain what exactly randomness in games means to me. And why I try to add it to every game I design.

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I have this gamers group here in Gliwice. I don’t play with them, but I know they are active and once a while I ask them to help me. Some of them helped me with Pret-a-Porter, some other helped me with Robinson. I totally disagree with their approach to our hobby, I regularly provoke them and try to irritate them and poke and… Yeah, we banter a lot. Really. A lot.

They are those hardcore gamers who play only Trajan, Agricola, Brass, Le Havre, Caylus… They play every Friday. They call it League. They have ranking, prizes and all that stuff. And they hate randomness. They try all those heaviest possible euro games and after one play they decide if the game was good enough to be part of the League and may be played as a part of ‘playing for ranking’. If there is any luck in the game, the game is lost.

Yeah, that kind of gamers. You know them. Or perhaps you are one of them. These heavy euros maniacs are everywhere. And so many of them is afraid of luck element. They are afraid of unknown. They are afraid of uncountable. They are afraid that things will suddenly turn in unexpected direction and all their calculations are worth nothing.

I make fun of them every time I meet them.  I make fun of their fears. I say that they are poor players.

*

Random element in the games bring unexpected to the table. And along with unexpected, it brings challenge. It throws troubles right into your face and say: ‘Deal with it.’ It makes you improvise. It makes you adjust your plans and strategy It makes you think with tension, it puts ‘Fuck!’ word into your mouth and makes you crawl to get out of unexpected troubles. It gives emotions. It makes you prove your worth.

Randomness lets you prove you are best. No matter what.

Randomness throw some horrible shit in your way. Now you try to win. Do your best.

And if you win… Yeah, that’s the feeling.

 

 

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Hiding the raisins

 

(this is guest post by Michal Oracz)

Neither Neuroshima Hex nor Theseus, and especially not Witchcraft are particularly story oriented games.

I’m not even trying to delude myself that these tactical monsters will take my players plunging into a different world, full of metal corridors, blue fog and radioactive fumes. These are all tactical games, kind of logical, while based in my beloved worlds – the postapocaliptic Neuroshima and the claustrophobic space horror.

Does that mean I don’t like story games?

Just the contrary – I love them.

In the last decade we created a lot of roleplaying games in Portal, among these two major lines. First, Neuroshima rpg – a 400 pages long rulebook and 23 expansion-books. All of these together with the anthology of short stories makes more than three thousand and five hundred pages describing the world of Neuroshima.

This universe has nested board and card games such as Hex, Convoy, 51st State, New Era, the Polish edition of Resistance, as well as a tabletop war-game called Neuroshima Tactics and a computer game Neuroshima Apocalypse.

Our second big rpg title is Monastyr, a dark fantasy game set in a world at a breakthrough between the age of knights and the age of industrialism. This world is ruled by xenophobia, populated by extremely intolerant and permanently stirred nations that form an anti-pagan alliance. Where the second part of the world is still filled with the hated magic. It’s a world divided in every aspect: religious fanaticism against rational cynicism, the pope against the emperor, union of men and technology against the world of magic, the underworld against the surface world, humans against the other races. For Monastyr we created 8 expansion-books and an anthology of short stories. Also the boards game Stronghold was set in it.

This is what we did for a dozen or so years. That was our job, hobby, passion. We created worlds, stories, we worked on characters and locations, events and threads, factions and challenges.

And this is where I feel best.

Most of my unfinished drafts and board game projects are mostly all kinds of adventure-story games, sometimes very weird ones.

Somehow, don’t ask me how (well mostly by coincidence) only my strictly strategic games were published so far. And so when you take Hex’s manual in your hand, or any of the expansions, you may under an impression that it was written by a robot.

I assure you, I’m not a robot 🙂

Using the space that Ignacy has given me on his blog, I’d like to sneak in a handful of curiosities; they will be a little hermetic and will concern the story that is hidden in or behind all of my tactical, board creations.

You must know that factions in Neuroshima rpg are very closely related to one another and are not as divide as in the board game NS Hex. A random example: Borgo. Mutants on the board fight against Moloch, in the world of Neuroshima rpg they kind of do the same but not really. Mutties often paranoid respect any kinds of technology, you can stumble upon whole altars raised from old engines and devices. Many mutants consider Moloch to be their god. To be honest Moloch is indeed their creator because in NS mutants are not an outcome of radiation nor magical anomalies, instead they are the effect of Moloch’s genetical experiments. It is Moloch that creates new species of a post-human, capable of existing in a completely devastated world. They are bred in terrariums that look like Moon’s landscape – desolate. Nobody knows why, since it was Moloch that initiated the destruction of the entire human civilization and took control over what remains. Naturally as authors of Neuroshima rpg we know perfectly well why but we left it hanging in the corebook as one of the few unanswered mysteries of this world. Moloch created many species of mutants, it’s armored convoys spread them all over the continent. Mainly in the proximity of the Mississippi river – the most noxious area of them all. As to Borgo himself – a charismatic cyber mutant, he rallied some a part of the mutants under his banner – hatred towards mankind.

Oh, yes. The factions they do mix – and it’s visible almost in every aspect of NS Hex.

The newest expansion for Hex is the Mississippi faction (as usually stripped of a complex story that can be found on the pages of Neuroshima rpg). We will find many mutants in the grounds adjacent to the Mississippi river because the river it Moloch’s main testing ground for new species. One of them being the Sharrash rats – independent but despite that they do a good job protecting the underground roads near Moloch’s borders. These mutated rats can also be found solo, for example in the area of Mississippi. Since humans are particularly distrustful towards mutties, that don’t look like homo sapiens, the mutated rats never take of their masks. Of course their looks are not exactly those of a normal rat, they are more like the batfaced vampires from the movies made after the year 2000. But hey, it’s better to keep your mask on, especially with a face like that.

And now a curiosity: well among the Hex’s Mississippi you can find one of the Sharrash rats – I’m curious if you can recognize him.

How about another piece of the Mississippi story? In the manual you one can encounter a strange rule called Dead Breath. When both armies will go down to zero during the battle, Mississippi wins. Why? Naturally to get rid of the unresolvable draw in the tournament rules (while using the tournament rules almost every draw is resolvable).

But what is it about story wise?

Dead Breath is a disease that made its first appearance in the area of Neuroshima’s Detroit and changed the city into a closed fortress. This disease changes people into bloodthirsty – let’s not beat around the bush – zombies. Where did come from? Who, one day, delivered its source in a metal container to the border area of the ruins of Detroit? And why was it opened? By whom? Officially it’s not known. All fingers point at Moloch and yet one of its sick experiments, aiming to prove something, to check something. Why in that case a unit that draws with Mississippi loses? Since for this faction a draw is actually a win? And why is this form of winning called – Dead Breath. Precisely, it’s a suspicious relationship, isn’t it?

In many places of the Hex there are resins hidden and they are very no more no less a kind of hermetic references to the world of Neuroshima rpg.

Does this introduce anything to the game? Absolutely nothing.

Why are this story based ‘winks’ in a game like Hex? Absolutely for nothing.

It’s just additional fun during the process of creation. Creating game, even such tactical monsters, should be mainly based on fair fun. For example a fun game of hiding the raisins.

 

PS. I just can’t wait when my new game comes out, since I have this feeling that the constant discussion about Hex, Theseus or Witchcraft is starting to sound with an echo of a bothersome mantra 😉

Unexpected jump back to summer 2007

Yesterday I was driving to Wroclaw and – as nearly always when I drive – I was listening to gaming podcast. In the line I had new episode of The Cardboard Jungle podcast so I connected my Iphone to audio system in car and began to listen.

At some point guys began to present their Top 10 games. My twitter pinged and said: ‘You’re going to be happy in a little bit #spoileralert’ The kind of spoiler I may accept.

Well, yes, I know that Matthew and rest of the team plays Portal Games games so yes, I was kinda hoping that Robinson will make a list. And I was right, Robinson did make it. 4th place on Anthony list. Then it got beaten by Neuroshima Hex on Matt list and then by New Era on Paul list. It was super cool and it made this trip far less sucking (two traffic jams and one cloudburst during one trip achievement unlocked!).

But the magical moment came when Paul mentioned how he got hooked into Neuroshima Hex. It was because of trailer for Neuroshima Hex. Paul said (and I quote here):

‘It had this kinda this gentlemen speaking but it was really deep voice that matched the setting perfectly and it was just kind like you know my soldier is going to attack your base for 1 point of damage but then your opponent places a sniper across the board who’s gonna kill that guy before he hits the base and then your opponent takes the next turn and it goes Oh, yeah, well this guy is gonna smash the sniper before he can shot that guy who wants to hit the base so he can get the base…’

It was like I was hit right in my head. In a second memories hit me really really strongly. I a moment I was back in summer 2007. Why is that? It’s because Paul just quoted word by word what narrator in this trailer said.

We published this trailer 7 years ago.
And Paul just said it straight out the head.

***

Back in 2007 we were 3 guys from Poland, from poor country with no board games market nor any board games traditions. All we had was Neuroshima Hex designed by Michal Oracz and belief that we can do impossible, go to Essen and conquer the world.

Back in summer 2007 we had no skills to make video trailer. Nor we had funds to pay for one.
But my brother was at college at that time and had lectures about that. He said he will help.

Back in summer 2007 we had no skills to make video animations. Nor we had funds to pay for one.
But one of Neuroshima RPG fans was doing movie for some sideback project and he agreed to give us for free few seconds of animation.

Back in summer 2007 we had no professional lector. Nor Polish nor English one.
But one of Neuroshima RPG fans knew a guy, who knew a guy, who might do it for a beer…

Back in summer 2007 we had no skills to make soundtrack. Nor we had…
But one of our fans here in Poland played in heavy metal band and said he will help…

***

I could say that back in 2007 three of us: me, Rafal Szyma and Michal Oracz had nothing, had no money, no experience, no tools to make an international debut.

I won’t say that. I rather will say:

Back in 2007 three of us: me, Rafa Szyma and Michal Oracz had courage to do impossible, had determination to do impossible and what is most important had friends who made impossible… possible for us.

From nothing we made a movie trailer that 7 years later Paul quotes out of his head.

I am proud of New Era at 1. place of Paul list.
I am proud of Neuroshima Hex at 3. place of Matt list.
I am proud of Robinson at 4. place at Anthony list.

But above that all I am so f… proud of us, back in 2007.

Paul, I have to thank you for bringing those memories and reminding me about the mission impossible we did going to our first Essen. That was hell of adventure. Summer 2007…

Hearthstone

7903-6221302753-HeartIt was for free so I downloaded the app and decided to give it a chance. I wasn’t impressed with the first game, but what the hell, it was quick, so I played again. I felt it was very random, with no real choices and stupid names for cards but I played again. And then just one last time…

I put Ipad on the shelf and… OK, few minutes later I took it back and played again. Hey! I had spare weekend, sir! Don’t blame me! I played a couple of more time and that was it!

That was it, because… I mean, battery got dead so I had to recharge my Ipad…

***

This is not reason to boast, but I was never into Magic. I do believe this is flaw for designer. Every game designer should know Magic. I don’t know. I played it few times, I got frustrated that I draw Land card when I don’t need it and that’s it for my whole turn and I refused to play it. I am 100% sure that I am missing something in Magic and as I said, I find it a flaw in my resume.

For the past three days HearthStone is like Magic for me. New cards, new abilities, direct combat, creating deck, everything I would love in Magic and what is more – it has very simple fix for the only one thing that I hate in Magic – Mana system. You don’t have Lands here. You just get 1 Mana each round. Brilliant.

I don’t know how long it will last. I know that at this point I have so much fun. This game is fast. It gives me new cards after every few wins. It let’s me kick real people in online mode. It has cool animations. It let’s me tweak with my deck.

I was never into Magic. Will I be into Hearthstone?

We will see…

How much maths used for designing the game?

That is question that I was asked on Twitter by RPG Edo this week. Answer is simple: it depends on the game. And it depends on the designer too. If we put in one line Stefan Feld, Ignacy Trzewiczek and Roberto Fraga and ask them this question, I bet that the answer would vary. Even if we put one guy, like me and ask this question, answer would vary too – there is not that much math behind Convoy but on the other hand there is hell of a math behind Pret-a-Porter.

So basically my answer would be something like: I don’t know, sir.

This answer sucks. So let me do what I can do best and share three short stories from my design history and math.

***

I could write plenty of funny articles about me designing Pret-a-Porter. One day I will. They would all gravitate around one simple subject – before I published PaP my reputation in Poland was more or less ‘Polish Roberto Fraga’. Funny and crazy dude who plays all kinds of party games at every single convention he is at.

I do remember the very first time I brought Pret-a-Porter to convention for some testing. I asked my friends:

‘Hey, I have economy strategy game to test. Would you help me?’

‘Absolutely!’ Tycjan replied bursting in laugh. Ignacy and economy game prototype – this was hell of a joke!

Then I put a board on the table and began to explain rules. In a second Tycjan stopped laugh. And got this awkward impression on his face. You know, this kind of face that says: ‘WTF?!’

Few years later he admitted that he was 200% sure I was going to show him my new party game prototype and I was only joking about economy and that for the whole test game he couldn’t believe what was actually happening. He couldn’t believe that I really designed economy game.

The truth is that foundations for Pret-a-Porter’s economy were built by my friend Rafal. I had the very first version of prototype prepared – everything ready to play, but without even a single number. No cost of cards, no cost of resources, no income, nothing. I knew exactly how the game should work, I knew flow of the game, I knew that these resources must be more expensive, these less, I knew everything. Everything, except the numbers.

So I asked  Rafal to help me with numbers. He lives in Gdansk, 800 km away. He took train and visited me. We played one game of Pret-a-Porter without numbers, just imitating final flow of the game, role playing it and then he sat and in a few hours wrote numbers on every single component I had. Next day he took train and got back to Gdansk. And I spent next 8 months with my most trusted testers balancing the game and polishing those numbers. But if it is not Rafal giving me a good start…

How much maths used for designing Pret-a-Porter? Much, sir!

Do designer of Pret-a-Porter is some kind of MathGod? Not at all, sir!

***

Last year we published Legacy. This is medium weight and very thematic eurogame with cute funny pictures on cards. As me tweeter feed says many of you already played the game (thank you!) and those who haven’t yet… Well, pick your copy today!

When you play Legacy you got immersed by theme and you might not even realize how much math is involved in this design. Let me show you just a glimpse. There different nationalities – certain number of cards for each. There are different occupations – certain number of each. There are two main values on cards – Income received and Prestige received and new Cards received. There are also special skills – each of them must be somehow considered in terms of its value. And from these different values we need to calculate final cost of each card. And since this is a card game about creating combinations of cards – all these values have to be considered not separately – character with Prestige 3 is worth 9 points of balancing, but considered in pattern of all cards in the game – character with Prestige 3 nationality French, occupation Artist is more valuable than character with Prestige 3 nationality British, occupation Diplomat…

This is math I can’t do.

This is math I hire people to do.

I covered this in my article. And my MathGuy in Portal Games covered it in this article and in this. If you want to see his magic tricks, read those articles. You will see a lot of things from behind the scene.

How much maths used for designing Legacy? Hell of, sir!

Did Ignacy have any idea how to keep balance in the game after introducing all changes he wanted to do in the game? Not at all, sir.

 

***

New expansion for 51st State (called Ruins) is in print. Ruins expansion has 40 cards. There are cards with super new skills and abilities, all those cards players can’t wait to have in hands. But among those super cool cards, there are also boring ones. Disappointing ones. Cards that are nearly the same like cards from the base game. Did Ignacy have no new ideas and put crap into box? Really? I had this funny discussion with one of the testers. He asked:

‘Those cards that give Fuel or Gun, they suck. I have plenty of those in base game. Do I need to buy expansion to have more of this crap?’

‘Yes, you have.’

‘Couldn’t you design something with new abilities?’

‘Yes, I could.’

‘So?’

‘I put them, because you need them.’

Here is a thing. Behind these all cool cards there is a math. Take 51st State and check how many Iron icons you have in Contract section. Take The New Era and do the same. Take 51st State ad check how many Fuel icons you have in Contract section. Take The New Era and do the same. And Gun, and Brick… And Spoil section. And Action section…

It all has to match. Because when you play the game, you need to have well calculated and balanced chance to draw a card that gives you Iron. Or Fuel. Or Brick…

So if you buy Ruins and you add those 40 cards to the base game, it means that chances to draw this crappy and boring card that says: ‘You receive 1 Fuel‘ are lower. That’s why I need to add copy of this crappy, but very important card into the expansion. Expansion will add new abilities, new powers, but will also try to not blow balance of the whole set of cards.

How much maths used for designing Ruins? Well, not that much, sir.

Did Ignacy have any problems with that? No. This time he managed to do it by himself. Yay!

Lannister

PrintI bought the book the month it was released in Poland. I was in college, it was 1997 or 1998, I don’t remember exactly. Huge novel, well promoted. Since I was quite busy at the moment, I didn’t start to read it. I lent it to my fellow mate from our gaming club. He said it is an amazing novel. Other fellow mate asked me so I lent it again. And then I lent it again. And then, few months later I was the only person in our club who didn’t read the book. Me, the owner of the book.

When finally the copy of the book came back, I was busy again. I forgot about it. But then, few years later FFG published A Game of Thrones CCG. Man, I was into it. I played a lot. I even played in tournaments. I love that game. I was really into the story. And yet, I still couldn’t catch up with the novel, I knew the world only from cards and pictures. Book was on my to-read list. For years…

And then, few years later HBO made a TV series. What a hit! Everybody, literally everybody was talking about it. It was 2011. I had Pret-a-Porter and New Era and Convoy on my head. I had no single weekend that would be free. So everybody was talking about new episodes and I… and I was keeping GoT on my to-read and to-watch list. It was ridiculous. I was the guy who bought the book in 1998! I made all my friends fell in love with the story. And now everybody was talking about it and me… Still waiting. Still believing that one day I will catch up…

Yeah.

Finally I made it. I just watched two first episodes of GoT HBO season 1. I have many episodes to catch up, but at least I made first step.

And after watching these two first episodes my question is: How the hell it is possible anyone on that planet wants to play Lannisters kin (in CCG/LCG or board game). They are f… assholes. Pure evil. Snakes. I f… hate them. I would never play this faction. And I will always attack them, no matter what. You play Lannister? I attack you. From the very first turn.

Yeah, that’s me. Catching up with the story you all already know. I’ll have fun, will I?