Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Resources, and acquiring them

So, in my last post I talked about four methods of acquiring resources. Or at least I named four and then completely and utterly failed to talk about the fourth one. To refresh your memory, the four classes of mechanics that board games use to replenish people's resources are as follows:

1) Fixed Rewards -- That is, you get the same amount of resources each turn regardless of or with very little dependence on your board position.
2) Random Rewards -- That is, the amount of resources you acquire each turn depends on a random factor, a die roll or drawing a particular card.
3) IPC Rewards -- That is, you get your resources based for the most part on your board position.
4) Weird Rewards -- Or anything not covered by the previous three categories, which are pretty broad.

There also a fifth category that I hadn't thought of when I was writing my previous categories:

5) Quest Rewards -- Resources granted for achieving a specific in game objective.

Ok then, let's get... what's that? You're not happy with me just saying it's the miscellaneous category? Ok, ok, I'll feed you a couple examples now before blathering on more about theory. How about a nice game of Chess? Since in Chess you never get more than your original forces then I'm listing this as NO replenishment of resources and therefore putting it in the weird category. Which is a bit unfair to Chess, after all it was around long before the other games I'm discussing. (Ignore pawn promotion for now. Please?) The money disbursement mechanic in Junta provides another example; one person gets the cash for all the players and distributes it accordingly.

But let's get back to my entirely too theoretical treatment of the subject. I want to properly define "resource". It is sort of a difficult concept. A resource is anything that you can use to win, exchange for something you use to win, or produce more resources with. It encompasses: Pieces on the board, currency, cards in hand, victory points, certain kinds of spaces on the board, and special abilities. And probably a heck of a lot of other things that I can't think of right now. A queen in Chess is a resource, it helps you to win. A $500 bill in Monopoly is a resource, it can be exchanged for properties which help you to win. A country in Axis and Allies is a resource, it produced IPCs, which are a resource as they can be exchanged for armies that help you to win. You dig?

One more thing to point out before we get into the list of examples: One game usually has multiple types of resources, and they have a tendency to replenish in different ways. And one mechanic might replenish resources with more than one of the general methods I mentioned above.

But let's get to that list of examples. Starting with category one:

1) Fixed Rewards: War. Yeah, that War, the card game where you flip over one card at a time, winner takes em all and you'll never ever finish the game because it takes so bloody long, and it's just a rote task that gives you no choices whatsoever and doesn't even entertain you with picture of Candy. Which also works as an example. In each game, you get one card per turn, period.

Fixed Rewards show up in all sorts of games that are actually interesting to play. ("Interesting" for anyone over, say, 10 years of age). They make up for the boring resource acquisition by other interesting choices, or they have other resources that replenish with a different rule. In RISK for example, the payout you get for the cards you turn in is essentially fixed, only depending on how long you're able to wait out your opponents. In Magic: the Gathering you draw one card per turn, but that card can do so many things...

Fixed rewards also encompass rewards schemes that vary within a framework dependent on the game rules and not on elements of chance or actions of the players. In the game Empire Builder the reward for picking up and delivering a load is based on the distance traveled. Despite the fact that this changes from card to card and the value granted changes as well it's essentially fixed.

2) Random rewards: Slot machines. You put your nickel in, you pull the lever and you get a random number of nickels out, usually zero. Most casino games are based on this, with the exception of things like Poker, where you're also playing the other players. (The payout isn't uniquely dependent on the cards, it also depends heavily on the actions of other players).

Random rewards show up in a lot of places as a hybrid with the others. Randomness can make games more fair, or at least make it that way. You might be in a losing position, but if Lady Luck sends her smiles then maybe you'll pull it off. Those times make for great stories. It's also the case that games that have a basically random mechanic which is changeable by good strategy. Take Settlers of Catan: The resource cards are distributed by die roll each turn, but by proper placement of your cities and by clever building of new settlements you can greatly affect how much and what resources you have available. Alternately, I can think of a number of Magic decks that take a seemingly random resource and make it less so. (The cascade combo decks, anything with counterbalance/top, or any really consistent aggro deck if you'll allow just high percentages.)

3) IPC Rewards: Axis and Allies. You figure the game that I get the name from has to come up. In A&A, you own territories, each with a number on it. Whenever you end a turn in control of that territory, you get that many IPCs, which you trade in at the start of your next turn for various weapons of war with which to do in your foes. RISK works similarly; you get armies every turn based on the territories you control. Note that this often operates indirectly. In Monopoly, if you have a lot of money you can buy a lot of properties which gets you more money...

The benefit of using IPC Rewards in a game is that it gives you a really great lever for shaping the game the way you like. In the game I was talking about last time I wanted people to engage in more fighting, so I gave it an IPC basis to reward conquest. It also gives advantages to players who put more strategic thought into the game; if a small decision about resources now means a bigger change in resources later then the game rewards the strategic player who actually takes the time to think this out. Since a lot people play board games as a form of intellectual competition, this is important.

4) Weird Rewards. "Oh thank you for that... Sporran. I'll wear it whenever I feel like prancing about in a skirt and I need a purse." Err... that's not it. Weird rewards aren't unified by any major principle, so the best I can do for you is list off a couple of them. In the game Power Grid the resource market replenishes at a fixed rate, but since the price of resources varies with the purchases of the other players I'm going to list this one as weird. Not to say it isn't an interesting mechanic. In Dungeons and Dragons the resources granted to the players are done entirely at the whim of the Dungeon Master. Not that D&D really compares that easily with other board games, but I might as well put that here.

5) Quest Rewards. Two words: King me. While I'd normally list Chess and Checkers as weird for their zero resource replenishment, the ability of pawns to be promoted and the possibility of turning checkers pieces into kings actually constitute a net increase of resources. Quest Rewards cover any situation where completing a specific, pre programmed action in a game gives you the rewards. In the game Shadows Over Camelot you see this frequently, whenever players turn in quests. Some of the newer individual Magic cards also fall under this category; Planeswalkers with their ultimate abilities, or the new Rise of the Eldrazi cards with the leveling mechanic.

Well, that's about all I've got to say about this right now. I've got this sinking feeling that I'm leaving stuff out, but I'm gonna ignore that. For now.

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