Sunday, May 17, 2015

Tyrant: Exploring a New Design

For the past several months, I've been working on a new board game design that I'm calling Tyrant. I've moved from initial concept to slow evolution of rules and systems to initial prototype. After playing the prototype solo, I'm frustrated and mentally tired so I think it's a good time for me to step back from the design and start writing about it. This will likely be the first in a series of design entries that will hopefully help me break through to the next stage with this game.

Tyrant in a nutshell:  2-4 player game, with asymmetrical sides.  One player plays the "Tyrant" who runs a city with an oppressive regime. The other players are "Rebels" who have risen up in revolution against the regime and are attempting to overthrow the Tyrant, while also vying for power with each other. It's a moderate complexity strategy game - on par with Clockwork Wars, I think - that will take around 2 hours for 4 players.

Tyrant plays out on a circular city map, with the Tyrant's tower located in the center. There are 3 districts that surround the tower, and within each district are ~18 neighborhoods. The neighborhoods come in 4 flavors: residential, merchant, industrial, and civic. I figure I'll use a color-coding scheme down-the-line to make this clear.

The goal for the Tyrant is to survive 3 days. If the tower hasn't been toppled through assault by the end of the 3rd day, the Tyrant wins. There's an alternate win condition for the Tyrant that I'll discuss some other time. The Rebels have to assault the tower and knock it open within 3 days - and if this occurs, the Rebel with the greatest number of Prestige points wins the game. 

The theme of the game is very much a city in the midst of a revolution. There are roving gangs on the map (controlled by the Rebel players), police (controlled by the Tyrant), mercenary units (controlled by the Tyrant), riots, and neighborhoods on fire. The Tyrant has some black magic up her sleeve as well, and can periodically place terrible curses and hexes upon the rebel factions. In terms of setting and place, I'm undecided. I'm imagining a dark fantasy world somewhat like the one featured in The Black Company by Glen Cook. If you've read those novels, you'll have a sense of where I'm coming from - and why I think of the Tyrant as a "her." But I'm not committed to anything specific and am trying to keep the setting flexible, while focusing on the mechanics.

Tyrant is going to be a very different type of war game but there are some features that might remind people of other games. I've taken some inspiration from the classic Avalon Hill game, Titan, in how stacks grow and split. There are no "armies" on the map, but rather "gangs." I'm hoping to use stacks of poker chips to represent the gangs. As they recruit more members, they grow in size. There's a maximum gang size (7, currently), after which the gang needs to split into 2 stacks of chips. I think this mechanic gives the gangs a sense of growing organically across the course of the game, periodically splitting and recombining.

I've developed a relatively coherent set of rules - enough to play the game - but it doesn't run well right now. Here's a list of items I really need to focus on:

  1. The resolution mechanic. Gangs have 3 basic actions: inciting (to recruit more members), looting, and attacking. How is success determined? I started with a simple dice-rolling system, but I'm not happy with it. Considering moving to a card-based system with *slight* deck-building aspects (but don't worry).
  2. Progression and tension. Right now I don't think there's enough of a sense of progression on the part of the Rebels to make the middle and late game feel different from the early game. 
  3. Narrative. This game needs a strong narrative backbone - it can't be too abstract. As such, I think I'm going to use cards quite a bit to describe specific revolutionaries, specific neighborhoods, specific mercenaries, random events, etc. This is necessarily going to introduce more randomness into the game, but enhance replayability and narrative. I think that's the direction this game is taking me, and I'm fine with that.
  4. Player interaction. There's a lot of interaction between each individual Rebel and the Tyrant, but not enough between the Rebel factions. I'm still trying to figure out how much I should incentivize (or not) rebels attacking each other.
In subsequent entries, I'll try to tackle specific design issues that I'm struggling with and use this blog as a springboard for ideas.