08 January, 2012

Hell On Eight Wheels: Two – The Influences

There are a few games that seem a natural inspiration for Hell on Eight Wheels. These are game combining strategy, a bit of luck and human interaction. I see these three aspects as being important to game play, and a good game places at least two of these in constant tension. So first, a bit of theory.

You could look back at some of my game vector theory posts to get an idea of where I’m heading with this idea, but at the simplest level there are three forces interacting on the play of a game.

Luck is the easiest to spot, often in the form of a rolling die or a drawn card. The game of “Snakes and Ladders” is a clear example where the only factor contributing toward a win is the outcome of repeated die rolls. No matter how many times you’ve played before, the result is purely based on the dice. This makes for a fairly simple game, and one that can be played by virtually anyone with the smallest amount of instruction.

Strategy is harder to achieve, but is can be seen most clearly in classic games like “Go” or “Chess”. In games such as these, there is no random element in play; each of the pieces has a specific function within the rules and the mechanisms of the game are carefully constructed to prevent arguments between the players. An experienced player has an advantage over a novice in a game such as this because they understand the nuances of strategy and the way the rules interact with one another. Such games are often considered “easy to learn but hard to master”.

Human interaction could be considered the hardest aspect of game design to master. The last 10 years have seen heated debate within the roleplaying design community about the “social contract” between players involved in a game. Some pastimes considered games exist without board, pieces or dice; they are purely social activities. An example of such a game might be the party favourite “Truth or Dare”, where everything is about the social interaction…there are no randomisers and no strategies (unless you include the ability to bluff, or lie in response to questions).

Most games combine these three elements in some way. Some successfully, others not so well.

Poker might be considered a game that draws heavily on the elements of “Luck” and “Human Interaction”, since it is often about playing the players as much as it is about playing the cards.

The board-game “Diplomacy” is clearly a game where “Human Interaction” and “Strategy” dovetail into one another.

Gambling on horse racing could easily be considered a game of “Luck” and “Strategy”, especially when dealing with seasoned punters who read the form of their competitors and play the odds to gain the highest chance of a good return.     

Every combination of these elements promotes different styles of game experience, and within these elements are hundreds of variations for mechanisms that could result in very different game types.

The four main influences for Hell On Eight Wheels combine these elements in different ways. I’ll be looking at each of them more closely as they relate to the specific aspects of the game. Some inform the way we’ll be moving figures across the board, others inform the procedures for resolving conflict between figures, a few provide other twisted ideas that help to tailor a specific play experience.

The four main influences are:

Blood Bowl (Games Workshop) – The idea of a sport board-game has distinct connections with what I’m doing here. It is the main influence, and will inform many of the mechanisms present.
Roborally (Wizards of the Coast) – I love the movement and injury systems in Roborally, I’d love to work out a similar series of mechanisms for Ho8W.
Magic the Gathering (Wizards of the Coast) – The simplicity of combat in this game is awesome, but allows for marvellous strategy. Force versus toughness with a few opportunities for keyword traits and spell effects to manipulate the outcome; the whole conflict should be resolved in a matter of seconds. The other major contribution from this game would be the turn sequence structure, as a new player (when the beta set was first released in the early 90s) I found the elaborate definition of the turn sequence to be complicated and perhaps a little unwieldy…as an experienced player later, I saw that the turn sequence was in fact a carefully structured framework for many other effects.
Malifaux (Wyrd Miniatures) – The card playing mechanism for this game is really clever, including the way you can “cheat fate” by strategically playing cards from your hand rather than random cards from a deck. I foresee this coming into play as a method for gaining advantages from fouls.

A few minor influences include:

Freebooter’s Fate (Freebooter Miniatures) – I like the combat system from this game, it’s fast and reflects a very physical form of fighting. I don’ know how well the mechanisms will survive into the final game, but the inspiration is present.
Exalted (White Wolf) – A very particular mechanism from this game (the combat wheel) has some very specific connections to certain mechanism ideas I have.
Formula D (Asmodée) – I haven’t played this or looked into it very carefully yet, but a few references by people interested in Ho8W have piqued my interest. Besides, it’s a car racing game so I can see that there might be some good reference points in it. 
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