Patch Notes: Risk and Reward

Patch Notes is a series of blog posts related to the development of one of our board games. They are used to communicate changes while also going into depth to explain the reasoning behind that decision.

Games of chance are the most common and oldest games in the world, evolving cross-culturally across time. Their compulsive nature stems from an exploitation of the brain’s reward systems, making their engagement close to a biological fundamental in most warm-blooded creatures.

But, we don’t like mechanical risk in RPGs.

I’m already spending painful minutes agonising over the resulting outcomes of a binary impetus on the world. Multiplying the possibilities from that action by affixing the result to a D20 scale totally breaks me.

Adding the flavour of risk is such an easy way to make your game more engaging! It also adds bucket loads of diversity between sessions and can aid in shrinking the skill-gap between players.
If you want to avoid using randomness to achieve this- you’re need something pretty special to cover all those bases while still remaining accessible.

Thus, the crux of the problem we’ve run into with Strive raises its ugly, slightly-boring head.

It’s sort of just not fun enough.


And there we were! Thinking it was great!
The system was functioning well, getting out the way of the roleplaying while still adding some limitations to aid creative problem-solving.
Our testers were enjoying it and we felt like we were closing in on wrapping up the core systems.

It took a few things for us to finally see the issue:

  • Honest Testers – we had a testing group who didn’t really like the system and weren’t afraid to say why.
  • Slow Start – The adventure had to be created at the last minute due to unforeseen circumstances and wasn’t structured in a way that showcases Strive’s strongest features.
  • Four Players – Even if you didn’t have the card you needed, at least one other player at the table would. So players were disengaged during scenes they couldn’t influence and faced no real difficulty during scenes they could.

We have so many ways to make the experience of playing Strive far more engaging. Mechanic based skills and equipment, levelling systems, character arc cards and deck manipulation abilities are all ready to implement. We have to be sure the core is working and enjoyable on its own merit before we start piling on more features.
It’s not so easy to check if the primary experience is still a great time after you begin to obfuscate it with other systems and we just don’t feel like the core is quite tight enough quite yet.

After finishing the session early so one of the players could pick up their cat’s medicine before the pharmacy closed, we descended into one of the most productive feedback sessions I’ve ever experienced.

Everyone at the table was an avid boardgame / RPG player so their suggestions were often accompanied by valuable examples of how they had seen similar mechanics done in other games.

One such example was the wargame Malifaux where when you want to perform an action you flipped the top card of your deck which revealed a playing card, you could then play a card from your hand of 5 to override that card, refreshing the cards in your hand only after every unit had completed their action.

I had played Malifaux in the past but I was on day three of a fast so I don’t think it fully sunk in. (I do remember I won though. (I never forget a win.))

We quickly went through all the current card interactions, slotting them into this new draw/play mechanic, surprised to find that they fit rather snuggly. We arranged a meeting for the following day to finalise the overhaul for the next playtest.

That night I lay tossing and turning. Running through possible fixes for some of the issues and coming up with some new mechanics. Of course, these were all complete nonsense on reflection the following morning, but I felt invigorated by the idea of a clean-er slate to work with.

“Burn it all to the ground!”
“Scorched Earth!”
“This time it will come out perfect!”
The void was calling to us. Pulling us down. And we were descending into it willingly.

How many times had we found ourselves at this same crux? Facing a seemingly unsolvable mechanical problem and so choosing to throw it all away and start again.

Not this time.
Not yet at least.

Four Cards…  Four cards in hand instead of five.

Doing this decreases the possibility of players getting the card they want/need which increases the chance they’ll have to strive or take a wound which in turn increases ‘peril’ levels. Peril being that feeling like something important is at risk. Instead of melting the whole thing down for parts, we’re hoping that a slight turning of the ‘Difficulty Through Chance’ dial might result in a strong turning of the ‘Loads of Fun’ dial.

If that doesn’t work, we’ll jump hand in hand into the void and try the Malifaux thing.

Filed under: Blog, StriveTagged with: , , ,

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