02 October, 2015

Making a Convincing Randomised Card AI

Thanks to +A. Miles Davis, I recently read through some playtest reviewsof the Kingdom Death: Monsters boardgame.

Those reviews can be found at...

I've loved the miniatures in the Kingdom Death game series since they first came out, but haven't yet bought any, if I'd had the cash when this Kickstarter was launched (or at any of the times when the pre-release sales were available), this is the time when I'd love to have gotten into the world. Looking at these reviews makes me regret that even more. There is a distinct visual aesthetic to this world, a dark nightmarish place filled with hellish monsters and almost primordial archetypal beings existing somewhere myth and mutation. 

The thing that gets me about this game is the card based AI used for the monsters. Shuffle the deck, flip over cards in sequence for the monster, when you run out reshuffle the deck. The cards function as hit points as well, if you damage the monster, they lose a card (and therefore one of their attacks). I'd probably need to play through it to get a full idea of how the game best works, but there seem to be some interesting quirks that I like, and a few that I don't.

I like the idea that different attacks are linked to different parts of the body. attack something in the hand (possibly chopping it off) and a claw attack can't be used again...(but the creature might have two hands/claws, and therefore two cards depicting this), attacks to the legs moght reduce a creatures ability to make sprinting charge attacks at long distance opponents.

I like that certain hit location/card combos might initiate counter-attack responses if they are targeted.  With a melee attack on the chest and you might get close enough for a grapple attack. 

I like that there are complimentary randomising effects, from both cards and dice. But there are similarly effects that simply initiate at certain times depending on the revelation of cards. 

I don't like the fact that there seems to be a completely self-contained subset of cards for each creature in the game. The "white lion" seems to use a specific deck of cards each of which constantly make references to it as a creature. 

There were a couple of other things that irked me a bit, but I'm writing this the morning after and read the reviews the night before, so other than the lazy design on the card layout, some of the overly convoluted "roll on this table so you know where to roll on the next table", and a few bits in the rules that were obviously not explained clearly enough (because the reviewer made a mistake, and added an editing note to explain this)... I'd really need to give the game a few solid plays to really find the bits that felt wrong.

But that brings me to the idea of a random card draw AI, it's a concept I've toyed with before, especially as a way to emulate a GM role in multiplayer co-operative games. El Cazador was an example of this, as a game where multiple pilots engage a "Pacific Rim" style drift effect where they suffer issues due to their backstories during a fight, but if they can help each other overcome those issues they become a stronger fighting unit against mysterious horrors from the edge of the solar system. In that game, no numbers were used (since it was designed as a part of a "No numbers" contest), and coloured tokens drawn in sequence would determine the actions of the horrific creatures.

I also toyed with it a bit in Ghost City Raiders when defining the way certain mission villains operate.

But it's an idea I'd love to revisit.

Exploration of the Darkhive, and confrontations with the strange creatures hidden in it's shadows might be a good way to do that. Which brings me back to those Kingdom Death reviews, because an exploration of an strange nightmarish world by underpowered survivors facing dangerous monstrosities  seems common to both settings.

The Darkhive version of the game might begin with a Shellbrood attack utterly wing out a region of the Hive, with a few survivors left to scavenge the resources left behind, rebuild a barricade slum, gather other survivors, face mutants and leftover Shellbrood in the wasteland of ravaged cells, build new resource centres, possibly find other settlements to trade with, gradually grow the settlement to a hamlet or even a village, then (if they're lucky) face off against the Shellbrood powers that wiped out the region in the first place.

A co-operative side to this might see multiple players facing off against one or more creatures, while the competitive side comes from earning the most glory, finding the most useful items for the home settlement, and proving the most adept at achieving personal goals. So this might be a fun opportunity to develop a new AI system, vaguely integrated to the "System 4" mechanisms... If it works well I might even be able to port it back to "Other Strangeness" (the original "System 4" game).

Lots to think about.
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