01 April, 2016

Making Things Deliberately Unfair

One of my long suffering backburner projects has been "Bug Hunt", a little game about kids chasing insects and other bugs in a swamp. It's been a fun little game involving a bit of luck, a bit of strategy and a bit of double dealing.

I've just spent the last few hours working on cards for the game and rewriting the rules according to the playtest updates it's seen over the past year. It's going to form the cornerstone for a university assignment I've been working on with a group of other students (I hate group work, but they're letting me take the lead on this one).

The thing about this particular University project is that it's for a subject about diversity and social injustice. I need to create a game that is inherently unbalanced so that players can see what it's like to be in a situation where things just aren't fair.

Originally, Bug Hunt purely had little girls chasing the bugs, this was to give the game a point of difference. Now I'm using a mixture of male and female bug hunters, with distinctly gendered mechanics. First you choose if you want to play a boy or a girl, and pick what family they are from (there will probably be a bunch of cards depicting the various bug hunters)...then the imbalanced mechanics are applied over the top of the game. This way players won't know who has the advantage until it happens. There's a 50/50 chance that boys or girls get the advantage in play, and if we have 4 different families then we can have 8 variants...4 variants giving the advantage to boys and 4 variants giving it to girls. One of each variant for girls and boys will give another significant advantage to different families.

Since I'm looking at applying two levels of imbalance into the game, one gendered and one socio-economically based, I want them to feel different.

In the game, a bug hunter who accumulates too much bug toxin finishes their turn, loses their bugs, passes out, and goes back to the start. Once this happens, they build up a bit of immunity to the toxin, to mitigate some of the negative feedback loop that would otherwise occur. Here's where I think the gendered mechanism might come into play.

If the boys have the advantage, we play on the toxic masculinity syndrome and say "Boys are Tougher than Girls", they start with extra resistance to the toxin and can therefore stay in the field to collect bugs longer. If the girls have the advantage, we say "Girls are more Careful than Boys", and in this case the advantage is exactly the same with the girls having extra resistance to the toxin. 

The socio-economic imbalance in the game would be more overt. If the aim of the game is to collect bugs, a single family will be considered the wealthiest, and those hunters who belong to that family will be granted bonus bugs to start the game with. Let's say they get a bonus bug per player in the game. So in a 2 player game they start with 2 bugs, in a 3 player game they start with 3, etc... The game ends when all of the bugs available bugs have been collected. Everyone then compares who has the largest matching set of bugs. The wealthy hunters will be more likely to have a larger matching set simply by virtue of having more bugs, and thus will be more likely to win.

The playtests happening so far with this deliberate imbalance mechanism have proven reasonably effective.
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