Sunday, April 11, 2010

Kyrgyzstan, a land of too many consonants.

There's been a revolution in Kyrgyzstan. Without knowing anything at all about who's revolting and why (cue the revolting puns), the question is, what do you know about Kyrgyzstan? As it happens, I think I know a little more than most who haven't ever set foot in Asia:

Yes, it's in Asia. It's in the northern part of Central Asia, where all the countries end in "stan". It's capital is Bishkek, formerly known as Frunze when Kyrgyzstan was part of the Soviet union (it was renamed for Mikhail Frunze, a comrade of Lenin's). Despite being a former SSR, Kyrgyzstan emerged with no soviet defense industries after the breakup of the soviet union. It's possible it still has ICBM silos or whatnot; for some reason people don't like publishing those locations on the internet...

It's main strategic relevance in the region hinges around an American airbase. The airbase we need for the dropping of bombs upon Afghanistan. Otherwise it's the standard USSR satellite politics; America tries for increasing relevance in the region, Russia tries to keep America out of it's back yard, and the country in question tries to play both of us for the loot. With the added complication that the country is predominantly Muslim and therefore we should also be worried about the establishment of yet another thuggish shariah theocracy in the region. Economically, it's yet another third world basket case.

So how do I know all this? Well, I'm building a board game with a world war taking place in Asia, and all of this has come up in the research. (Well, except for the bit about Frunze. I've played another board game with Frunze listed as a city, and we keep making jokes about it: "Frunze, is like your Amerikan Fonz, no? Is much better. Fonz hits jukebox, plays decadent rock and role. Frunze hits jukebox, plays Internationale for the edification of glorious worker revolution." Yeah, communism jokes, always funny.)

So now that I'm done bragging (if you believe that I've got a bridge to sell), let's actually spend some time talking about game design. As I mentioned, I've been building a world war type board game in Asia. One of the basic mechanics you've got to work out when you're building that sort of game is "how do players replenish their units?" There are a couple ways to do this; fixed rewards, random rewards, IPCs, or something weirder.

Fixed rewards means that you always get the same number of resources every turn. On the plus side this has very few memory or upkeep issues; as long as you remember how much you're supposed to get, you're ok. The downside is that this is relatively boring.

Randomizing rewards offers all the thrill and excitement of a craps game. The trouble is, if it isn't a game of craps then you're getting less of the effect; games of chance grip our interest proportionally to the amount we have wagered on them. If you're going for higher wagers, then the slots in Vegas will give you more action than any board game. Well, any board game that you aren't wagering on.

The third option is the IPC route. IPC stands for "Industrial Production Certificate", and is the unit of currency in Axis & Allies. Broadly speaking, IPC compensation is any method of resource generation that's proportional to resources that you already have. That's a bit of a concept, so let me start with the examples.

In RISK you acquire resources in the form of armies, generally tied to the amount of territory you already own. The specific rule is one soldier per three countries, with some modifications (rounding, continents, etc.) In Axis and Allies, each country comes with a number on it, and at the end of every turn you get that many IPCs if you control that country.

The downside of the IPC method of distributing resources is that it's more complicated; you have to count up the amount received every turn, you have to remember the rules governing that sort of thing. It isn't exactly intuitive that you round down your armies in RISK, or that you can never receive less than three. If the turns are short, then the constant computing and upkeep gets on your nerves.

The upside is that going with the IPC method allows you all sorts of mechanics that you can use to fine tune game play. For example, in both RISK and Axis and Allies you can increase your resource acquisition rate by conquering new territories. Players will naturally want to use their armies for something, but if conquest is just a waste of manpower, then they'll be unhappy about conquering. If you make conquest a way to shore up your strategic position, people will be able to make the fun move while knowing it's the right move. They'll have more fun, and that's really the whole point of the game, isn't it?

So what's all that have to do with the price of tea in China? Or more specifically, the price of Oil, Tanks and Guns in Kyrgyzstan? Well, I prefer the IPC system, and I've been building a war game in Asia. So I'm trying to figure out how many IPCs to assign to each space. Which means I've been doing my research on all the little stanistans, and therefore I know a think or two about the latest third world sinkhole experiencing a violent upset. Wasn't expecting that at all.

(For the record, Kyrgyzstan is added to neighboring Tajikistan because the two of them together make a better board space. Seriously, look at that sinuous border, I don't want to have to draw that, or figure out which piece is where mid game. Together they add up to one measly IPC. Not exactly the economic powerhouses of asia.)

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