I’m still talking about pace*, and the third thing developers can do to make sure a game’s pace is on point:
- Reduce downtime
- Structured turns
- Make the game evolve <—- we’re here
A common refrain from a disappointing game is the feeling that the gameplay at the end was no different then the gameplay at the start. It feels the same, or perhaps even is the same. Engine building games in which the engine sputters out before it really has the chance to shine, or games which don’t empower the player in any way. I have played some published games, as well as prototypes, in which the game settles into a rut, barely breaking out of it except for random event cards. No sense of urgency, just repeat until fade. So what can we do to prevent this from happening in games?
Have options change for players throughout the game. Something Agricola does to amazing effect is ramp up the efficiency of the available actions as the game progresses. You might still have to go back for wood, but really the fight is over growth without a room. Those later actions make the game exciting, and every turn begins with a new one. Important here is the idea that the actions are better, worse actions would slow the game down towards the end (and that can happen with pure random selections).
Empower the player, whether through engine building or power ups, make them feel constantly more powerful than previously. Agricola does this again masterfully- as your farm improves you are able to do more- whether take more actions, improved actions, or set up your feeding engine, players are rewarded for good play by having stronger rounds. Similarly, all Civ games are based upon this idea that your civilisation gets more powerful, and everything starts ticking along like clockwork (unfortunately, so does your opponents, but there’s the game). Ideally, a player should see a future action and consider it utterly impossible, only to find it more than possible by the game’s end.
Understand where in your game the key turning point from engine building to point scoring is going to be. Some of the best engine builders, whether deck or tableau based, have a key tempo change where players switch from engine to points. Switch too early and you may run out of steam, too late and you miss out on points. Dominion and Through The Ages, amongst others, have a key difference between experienced and inexperienced players being when to chase after the points. And when that tempo switches you don’t want to be behind on the curve.
In “From the Ground Up” (new name for 3 Districts, until I change my mind again), I’ve tried to meet all three of these things. Player’s are in charge of the options available, but the higher victory points for the more powerful buildings means there should be a natural progression into more powerful actions. The engine being built is a relatively simple one- a money producing based upon the number of cards, but it works effectively to push players forward. The jump from Level 1 to 2 to 3 is decided upon by players, but it needs to be considered- too soon and you may not bring in enough money, too late and you’ll leave points on the table.
So there’s all my thoughts on pace, and hopefully a great deal to explain what I’ve done to make sure From the Ground Up is a well paced game. Making a number of changes to it which will need to be tested, but luckily I’ve got a playtesting spot at the UKGames Expo! New icons will need a bit of explaining, but I’m hoping to bring something which looks good and plays fantastically. If you’re going I hope to see you there.
*Although, saying what I’m going to post about so far in advance has really hurt my pace here ironically enough.