Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Profile: Sue Cook

Sue was the lead on the design of the SAGA Game System. This article from Dragon Magazine #259 (May, 1999) features Sue, and I thought it would be cool to share it here. 

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Fate & Fortune -- Character Abilities

The image shared here is a page from Fate & Fortune that talks about the four primary character abilities: Strength, Dexterity, Cognition and Humor. These replace Strength, Agility, Intelligence and Willpower respectively.

You may notice that I am retaining the Ability Score ranges and modifiers as used in 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. While Fate & Fortune won't be truly compatible with Dungeons and Dragons, I will be doing my best to incorporate familiar elements where possible to make it easier to adapt existing materials into the Fate & Fortune system.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Mind Space

Mind Space is one of the new Kickstarter Games that we received recently.

Mind Space belongs to a family of games called "Roll and Writes." While I tend to refer to all games in this category as "Roll and Write" games, it should be noted that the term "Roll" is open to interpretation. In this context "Roll" refers to any form of random value generator. "Roll" specifically refers to the rolling of dice to create a random value.

A very popular game in this genre, "Welcome To..." calls itself a "Flip and Write" because you flip over cards from a deck and no dice are involved. A new favorite in this category, "Joan of Arc" calls itself a "Draw and Write" because you draw tokens from a bag to produce the required random element. If we keep up with this "truth in advertising" approach to game terminology, Mind Space is a "Roll and Flip and Write because it uses a combination of cards and dice to generate its random results.

Anyway, before I go any further down this particular rabbit hole, just know that "Roll and Write" games are all games with a primary play mechanism involving the generation randomly of some value, aspect or resource, and the subsequent recording of this result on a sheet of paper (or dry erase board ... or whatever.) To my knowledge, the first (and arguably, still the most popular) game in this category is Yahtzee.

In Mind Space players have a couple of dry-erase boards to write on and some markers of different colors. At the start of the game a row of cards is flipped up showing 5 different polyomino shapes. One additional shape a 1x2 domino is also represented and always available. At the start of every turn, five dice are rolled and positioned based on their number beneath a card showing a different shape. Dice numbered one are placed under the first shape. Dice numbered two under the second and so on. Any dice numbered 6 are assigned to the 1x2 domino shape.

The numbers on the dice are used to match them to card shapes. After this, the numbers don't matter. Now, what you care about is the colors of the dice. By using a colored marker that matches the color of one of the dice, you draw the shape associated with that die on your dry-erase brain. (Yep, everyone has a dry-erase brain. Cool!)

After you draw your first shape, all new shapes have to be touching a shape already drawn, but two shapes of the same color can't touch each other. The placement rules are simple but create an interesting puzzle. After every turn, a new card is added to the beginning of the row of shapes and the last card in the row (at the "5" position) drops off. Then the dice are all rolled again and reassigned to new shapes.

Each color scores differently. So, there's a surprising amount of challenge hidden within this simple puzzle. Add to this special scoring objectives that will give you more points if you manage to complete them before anyone else, and Mind Space creates a really satisfying game play experience.

Sunday, September 03, 2023

Fate & Fortune -- Recreating The Fate Deck -- Identifying Trump Suits

The key element to the SAGA game system was its use of cards. Both iterations of the SAGA system, Dragon Lance: The Fifth Age, and The Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game came with their own version of the Fate Deck. I'm going to talk about the Marvel version because it's the one that I own and am most familiar with.

Marvel's Fate Deck is made up of five suits: Strength (Green), Agility (Red), Intelligence (Blue), Willpower (Purple) and Doom (Black). Notice that the suits (except for Doom) are actually character attributes. This is important because attributes relate to actions that you can take during the game.

The suits also have an "icon" to represent them. So, the cards are color blind friendly. These "icons" are famous figures from the Marvel Universe that serve as an exemplar for the attribute in question. The icon of Strength (green) is the Hulk. For Agility (red) it's Spider-Man. For Intellect (blue) it's Mr. Fantastic. For comic fans, these associations are super intuitive and the deck works well.

At first, I focused on transferring these same associations to standard card suits: spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs. (Justifying how the Spades suit and symbol are representative of Strength, and so on.) This works okay-ish, but I spent a lot of game text building these associations and they are never going to be as intuitive as they are for the custom deck.

So, I changed my focus from the thematic to the mechanical and decided to forget trying to make these associations intuitive. I won't talk about them at all. I'll simply write the rules to capture these associations without asking the player to "interpret" anything.

Mechanically, these associations provide a "trump" benefit. It works like this: if you are taking an action that uses your intelligence ability and the card that you play belongs to the intelligence suit, then the card played is trump. I needed my cards to do this, but without spending loads of time in the rules drilling into the players head that Spades means Strength.

I wrote my trump rule like this, "If the Suit of a played card starts with the same first letter as the Ability for the action, then the card is Trump."

The rule takes care of itself. There is no need to remember the associations between suit name, icon or color or try to invent clever ways to make these associations seem intuitive. I let the rule stand on its own as written, and the player just has to be able to spell. 

Now, all I have to do is use names for the four character abilities that start with one of the letters that start the four suits in a standard deck of cards: C, S, D, and H. I'll talk about the four character abilities that I chose next time.