Would You Rather....?
Thanks to the online Tabletop Game Design community, I am able to playtest Sodalis multiple times a week. With the game under new scrutiny, I recently had to make some tough decisions on Sodalis' victory conditions.
Tribute Where It's Due
Sodalis is won with three types of Tribute. These represent the three core elements to Sodalis' gameplay. The blue represents the element of chance; rolling dice and getting specific rolls will result in the Tribute of Sight. The red Tribute represents dealing damage; even if dice weren't involved, players will still reduce each others life. Successfully reducing an opponent's life to 0 nets you a Tribute of Strength. The yellow Tribute represents movement; escorting a neutral token - The Artifact - across the board will grant you the Tribute of Speed. I bring these up to discuss the important issue of decision-making. What defines a good decision? How can I create a system that creates good decisions?
As it stood, players could collect any amount of each token, and as the Tribute of Strength was the least risky and the most accessible, I saw several games where the victorious team had a pile of red tokens for their Tribute. Did these players have a choice? Absolutely, but this choice was practically already made for them. You get a Tribute of Strength, which allows you to roll more dice. What good does rolling more dice do? You can deal more damage! Why would one put down their (now even bigger) sword to move The Artifact across the board for the sake of variety? The name of this article is chosen because of the nature of the game "Would you Rather...?". In this game, a player is given a choice between two options- the more difficult the choice, the better. This game illustrates an important tenant of good game design: having players make decisions between two equally attractive or equally unattractive options.
Stretch Your Legs
Players incentivized to simply sit there and throw dice until a team won did exactly that. Not to say this was uninteresting, but it felt flat. Games would reliably end with Champions clumped in the middle.
I decided that this game needed a reason to move about, and elected The Paragon to be a more active participant. The Paragon would take a turn, and would move toward one team's scoring zone depending on how many Champions of that team were next to it.
This led to long, grindy tug-of-war games, but players were moving! Many solutions yield new issues, however. All a player needed to do was pop a squat on the Paragon- to the point where all of their (painstakingly created) Arcana appeared useless. Why try to send an enemy back to their base if it's a gamble to succeed? Why not just hop on the objective- which requires no risk? Again, players were being given biased "Would You Rather...?" questions.
Is there a decision? No, only the illusion of one.
Okay, the tug-of-war is flat, but maybe it just needs something to spice it up? Who says there can only be three types of Tribute? I decided to create a deck of cards that would determine tribute-earning tasks- I had a particular champion in mind for each task. Tribute became generic tokens with no bonuses. Upon earning tribute, that Champion could run it over to The Paragon and pull the tug-of-war rope that way.
This improved interaction, but moving around the board felt like a chore, as it was so core to how the game was won. Players would only interact (or not) with each other so as to gain Tribute, and then spent one or two turns running to the Paragon. It felt like a dozen minigames happening at once with little tension or intrigue. Players were more opportunists than masterminds, mindlessly going for the lowest hanging fruit on their turn. No brain cells needed.
I realized I was making a good thing decent, trying to add complexity as a form of super-glue for a mechanic that was begging to be in a different game. Indeed the best solutions are simple:
Make one - and only one - of each Tribute the condition of victory.
Each team has their own artifact in their base, which the opposing team must collect.
Through this, players would need to touch on each aspect of gameplay, and are compelled to make some tough(er) decisions about playing offense or defense, which Tribute to go for first, and whether to stick together or divide and conquer. A good game designer will give players a decision. A great game designer will make every option plausible. Players should feel like they are at Baskin Robbins-- not like they are dividing out chores. I am by no means a great game designer, but listening to the excited strategy-planning of my playtesters lets me know I am on the right track. Thank you for reading, please reach out if you have any thoughts or ideas. -Austin