03 November, 2017

NaGaDeMon 2017 #3 - The Professionals

OK, so I'm running with a late 1940s Film Noir vibe. That means laying with all the stereotypes that fit the genre... hard-boiled detectives, femma fatales, gangsters, corrupt cops, undercover agents... basically in a setting that nods to all those elements without specifically indicating a time period. Maybe a bit like "Sin City"... so I guess that actually places it in the "neo-noir" camp.

The violence and the confusion of interconnecting storylines certainly fits the feeling that I'm aiming for in the game.

We have roughly a third of the players as "Upstanding Citizens", roughly a third of the players as "Racketeers", and the rough remaining third as "Professionals" (who have some kind of quirky ability that manipulates play in some minor way).

My first list of professionals was as follows...

The Doctor - who can heal someone injured, either by pointing at someone each turn and hoping the person they've pointed at is someone who needs saving...or by a one off ability to save a single player regardless of who they are.
The Private Investigator - who can look at a single players character card each turn.
The Watcher - who can peep at the racketeers during their action phase.
Cupid - Who can choose a pair of lovers, where one lover will commit suicide on the night immediately after their partner has died.
The Corrupt Cop - Who acts an an upstanding citizen but wins the game for the racketeers if they are the last citizen active and out of prison. 
The Undercover Agent - Who is the reverse of the corrupt cop, acting with the racketeers, but winning the game for the upstanding citizens if they are the last racketeer active and out of prison.
The Police Commissioner - voted on by the majority of players at the start of game, they may place a character in prison at the start of every turn. Where imprisoned characters may not use their abilities, but they are safe from being killed by racketeers each night.

Some of these characters quantifiably modify the duration of play, others have a less direct impact.

If we assume both day and night phases constitute 5 minute rounds, and that a typical game of this nature basically lasts a number of rounds equal to one less than the number of players (where the final round has two players, of whom one will be victorious), then a six player game should last no more than half an hour, but a 24 player game could stretch out to 2 hours. That's a long time to wait for those players who were eliminated in the first few rounds. So we want the types of professionals who slow down gameplay (and keep other players alive) present in the mix with low numbers of players and we want the professionals who speed up gameplay (and kill off other players more quickly) in the mix when the number of players gets higher.

The Doctor is a clear professional who should be in the game with low numbers of players. This role automatically has the chance to add five minutes to the game length (and keep things interesting for other players) if they get to use their power to bring a character back to life. The Doctor might not get to use their power successfully before they are eliminated, so it's not a guaranteed lengthening of the game. Similarly, a one off use of the power is something that is more valuable to the doctor in the early game (because if they don't use it, they risk dying before it activates), while a "point-at-a-player-every-turn" becomes more valuable in the late stages of the game when there are less potential players to be killed or to point at (there's a higher chance that the person being pointed at will be someone targeted by the racketeers). So, The Doctor becomes one of our "decelerators". 

Cupid, on the other hand is blatantly a game "accelerator". Cupid picks a pair of players and if one of them is killed, the other dies immediately thereafter. Thus, a pair of layers is eliminated in a round, and if Cupid is still alive, they may choose another pair of players to have entangled fates. Each time Cupid get to use their power, the game basically shortens by a phase. This speeds up the game, and is something we'd probably want to add as the numbers of players in the game grows.

The Corrupt Cop and The Undercover Agent have the opportunity to speed the game up by a turn, because they automatically win the game for the opposite side of play if they are the last ones active. Again, it isn't guaranteed because they might be eliminated earlier in the game.

The Watcher and The Private Detective are even more nebulous in their effects on play. In a game defined by informed minorities, they have the potential to become the smallest minority who is the most informed. But it's in their interest to subtly divert the conversation around them rather than blatantly reveal their knowledge, because as soon as their role is identified, they will be immediately killed by the racketeers. In the smallest of games this power could be potentially unbalancing, as either of their roles could expose themselves in an act of self sacrifice to take out a large proportion of the racketeers. In medium to larger games, the character would have to survive toward the later stages of the game before this gambit could be played, and they'd have to follow a low-key strategy to reach those stages of play. Still, they definitely count as play accelerators.

Some versions of the game have a "shaman/wizard/wildcard" type character who can either kill someone, or heal them. Maybe using both abilities, once each during the game. I'm hesitant about this role, mostly because I'm struggling to connect that sort of ability set to a "neo-noir/sin city" archetype.

I considered the idea of a "madame/pimp" archetype to fulfill the "Bartender" role which commonly occurs in this sort of game. Such a character points at another player during the start of the night phase and prevents that player (if they are a professional) from using any powers they might have. But this role has basically been subsumed into the Police Commissioner role.

The Police Commissioner and the notion of the prison becomes the ultimate accelerator in game length. The game is won by one side or the other, when the opposition is completely killed or imprisoned. Technically, every time the Police Commissioner uses their power to imprison someone, the game duration drops by a phase, and every time a Police Commissioner is killed those phases are added back onto the game unless the imprisoned individuals have been executed by a popular vote of everyone outside the prison.

To make things more interesting here, two additional character roles were added to the pool.

The Lawyer works as a counterpoint to the Police Commissioner by releasing a single person who has been imprisoned. Thus, they are a decelerator, but they only get to use their ability once per Police Commissioner. In a cut-throat game where Police Commissioners are getting killed one after the other, the Lawyer may have the chance to release numerous characters from prison.

The Slasher functions exactly like a regular racketeer while they are out of prison, but once they are in prison they may kill a single person imprisoned with them every night phase. This seems like a powerful ability, but if there are only two people in prison and the slasher is one of them, it's in their best interests not to kill the other inmate otherwise they've exposed themselves. Similarly, if they kill every turn until the lawyer frees them, and suddenly the prison killings stop, they will have also exposed themselves. The slasher is another accelerator, and since they are a special professional on the side of the racketeers, they would only get added into play with the largest of games.

With all this in mind, we get a bit of a structure for when certain professional characters might be best introduced into the game. There should be a priority to add game decelerating professions at lower numbers of players, and game accelerating characters at larger numbers of players. Similarly, we try to avoid adding new professionals to the racketeers team until the highest number of players, because the mathematics indicate that there is an even chance of winning when the ratio of upstanding citizens to racketeers remains around the 2-to-1 mark.

Currently I'm looking at the following order...

The Police Commissioner (Unknown Affiliation, Accelerator, always present) - The Police Commissioner is always present, everyone knows who they are but doesn't know their faction or if they have any other secretive professional abilities.

The Private Investigator (Upstanding, Accelerator, always present) - Yes, I start with a game accelerator, but this role is such an ingrained part of the noir genre that it feels wrong not to include them right from the beginning. Besides, as said previously, they add to the intrigue and have to be careful not to expose themselves.
The Night Doctor (Upstanding, Decelerator, always present) - Using a one off version of the power (nod if using the power, and anyone killed by the racketeers is automatically healed), this professional has a larger imact in small games and a lesser impact in large games.
The Lawyer (Upstanding, Decelerator, minimum 8 players) - Countering the accelerating effects of the Police Commissioner's actions, it's important to get them in fairly early. 
The Gifted Psychic (which is the new name for the Watcher, Upstanding, Accelerator, minimum 11 players) - Yes, another accelerator, but like the Private Investigator they need to be careful, and they ramp up the intrigue.
Cupid (Upstanding, Accelerator, minimum 14 players) - The degree to which Cupid accelerates thing is a wild card, but in larger games there is the potential to have multiple lovers exposed during the course of play.
The Slasher (Racketeer, Accelerator, minimum 17 players) - The first of the non-Upstanding professionals, they have the potential to accelerate things pretty rapidly once they are imprisoned. They aren't added as a part of the mix until 17 players are present, so at this point things need a bit of speeding up anyway.
The Undercover Agent (Upstanding, Accelerator, minimum 20 players) - By the time we get to this size, there have already been a few accelerators added to the mix, this one doesn't accelerate things much further. It also helps to counterbalance the advantage gained by the Racketeers through the introduction of The Slasher. 
The Corrupt Cop (Racketeer, Accelerator, minimum 23 players) - Another bonus character for the criminals and racketeers, again not a huge advantage for them but potentially enough to change outcomes.

If we look at times based on professionals added at various player thresholds, and still work on the idea that a character will be killed every night phase by the racketeers, and almost every day phase a character will be either be killed or imprisoned. Assuming most accelerators take away a game phase, and most decelerators add a game phase...Calculating 5 minutes per phase, we get the following average numbers.

6 players (1 accelerator/1 decelerator) = 25 minutes
7 players (1 accelerator/1 decelerator) = 30 minutes
8 players (1 accelerator/2 decelerators) = 40 minutes
9 players (1 accelerator/2 decelerators) = 45 minutes
10 players (1 accelerator/2 decelerators) = 50 minutes
11 players (2 accelerators/2 decelerators) = 50 minutes
12 players (2 accelerators/2 decelerators) = 55 minutes
13 players (2 accelerators/2 decelerators) = 60 minutes 
14 players (3+ accelerators/2 decelerators) = 55 minutes
15 players (3+ accelerators/2 decelerators) = 60 minutes
16 players (3+ accelerators/1 decelerators) = 65 minutes
17 players (4++ accelerators/1 decelerators) = 60 minutes
18 players (4++ accelerators/1 decelerators) = 65 minutes
19 players (4++ accelerators/1 decelerators) = 70 minutes
20 players (5++ accelerators/1 decelerators) = 70 minutes
21 players (5++ accelerators/1 decelerators) = 75 minutes
22 players (5++ accelerators/1 decelerators) = 80 minutes
23 players (6++ accelerators/1 decelerators) = 85 minutes
24 players (6++ accelerator/1 decelerator) = 90 minutes
(an extra + has been added as an accelerator where Cupid and The Slasher are added to the mix, reflecting that they might be able to use their abilities twice or more per game)

I'm basically looking at about an hour per game, with the professional characters added in smaller games pushing the game length longer toward that midpoint. and with the professional characters added in larger games offsetting that effect and reducing the potential game duration.

Of course this may need to be amended and revisited after a few rounds of playtesting. 

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