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Author Topic: [Cranium Rats] Dice Economy, Refreshment and Sweet in the Middle  (Read 4316 times)
Thunder_God
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« on: April 14, 2006, 11:38:13 PM »

This is a sister-thread to this thread about Token Economy.
The game is present from my signature, you can just click this link if you don't have the patience!
I have a problem with posing my questions as such, so if you read something as a possible question, "answer" it and we'll talk, if it's not actually a question I'll let you know. I will use little asteriks(like this *) to note things that are turned into questions at the end of the post. Try to answer these questions when posted, for I may post my answers to them following the mark.

I steal when I see something good, although I don't steal for stealing sake's, so we'll start with a new idea rather than my original ideas, and tie it into them as we go.
TonyLB has started this thread(which I admit to not having read beyond the first post as of yet) where he seeks two Bad-Good-Bad curve mechanics, these are mechanics where you're rewarded for not having too much or too little, and where there's a sweet spot in the middle where you want to be.
"So why should I have such a mechanic? What use is it at all?" thought I. I reflected upon Settlers of Cattan which I witnessed over the past week and saw it in there. If you have few resources you're no good, you can do nothing. If you have up to 7 resource cards you're safe. If the dice come up as 7 on 2d6 and you have more than 7 cards you lose half. You have 7 and you lose nada, you have 8 and you lose 4. Spanky.
"So what, your source uses that, why slavishly add it? Adding it for the sake of adding it?" So I thought some more about what use it is there, and once again reflected upon Settlers. Why do it?
One reason was to limit the number of resource cards available, but that's nothing, so people have more resources, boo fucking hoo, they can then use them to do more, which is what leads us to the second point.
The second and important point is that it pushes people into action. It forces you to trade and do things, even if suboptimal things. If you do nothing, you have no resources and can do nothing. If you don't do nothing and have too many resources, then you're not pushing the game forward, you're just sitting there with all your cards, a non-player.
Sweet in the Middle is there to force you into action, to punish you when you're idle.*1

So after we did all of that mental paddling and back-pedaling as to the how and why, we move on to how it deals with Cranium Rats, the actual game in question, and the answer is that the answer lies within another mechanic present in the source material that I was contemplating.

Refreshing pools. Games have this way of stopping death-spirals. Sure you become more effective the bigger/stronger you are, but the other side can always do something, can always come-back as it were. You draw new cards every turn, you get new resources, you roll the same number and type of dice and luck can always favour you.
There's always something that lets you turn things around, there's a pool that helps you regardless of your (inferior) position.
In Cranium Rats you're at a danger at 0 dice, you both can't add dice to Conflicts, you can't protect yourself beyond that first free die in Bids, you can't initiate bids for control of an event at all(this also means you're sure not to win narrative control for it unless you use your much rarer Tokens)! Last and most important, you're at risk of falling below 0 dice if you fail a conflict or someone steals from you. You're at risk of losing a semi-permanent Aspect Dot.(see how this relates to Sweet in the middle? We get BAD at the low-end)
You gain a new dice every time you succeed at a Conflict. That's rather poor considering how fast you use-up your Dice. The up-side is that if you win/lose an Aspect Dot you get a whole pool. Currently pool equals your Aspect Dots. That's not much when your Aspect=1 and another person's=8. He'll crush you.
So I've been considering a revision, Pool=9. This gives you more incentive to try and gain that Dot, and makes you more willing to lose that Dot. You're trading advancement for Temporal Power. How very Aspected of you.
Another revision I'm considering is that you gain(maybe also lose*2?) dice equal to the amount by which you win(/lose) the Conflict(Not in Bidding, the whole point of Bidding is using your dice, not replenishing them).*3

This leads us to the other side of Sweet in the Middle. We've discussed what is bad at having few or no dice, but there was nothing wrong with having a maxed pool, except you couldn't go up, ensuring you'd bid(and lose) at least one die so you won't waste this chance. Now though, you can gain up to 9 Dice in any conflict, so we can finally have a BAD for having too many.
If you have over 9 Dice(=Pool max) at the end of any scene, each of the other players(including the Enlightened) gets 1 Token.*3 and all Dice over 9 get removed.
In-game logic is that the Aspects balance one-another, they're there to ensure no one gains control. In game though the Tokens are added to the players rather than the Aspects, which will serve to force people to use their Dice fast and furious rather than sit on them. Tokens also drive the narrative control and this will create a balance between success and narration control.*4

Last, and directly a question! How do you think about using Tokens to refresh pools, creating an even more direct connection between the two Resources? This will obviously replace the 1 Token per 1 Die mechanic existing right now, but will create a direct "Refreshment" mechanic, and once a player is down will create an even stronger cause to trade one's Tokens.
This gets a bit murkier because Tokens belong to players while Dice belong to Aspects, and each Player has 3 Aspects he owns, spread over 3 Characters.

Thoughts, comments?

*1 What do you think of "Sweet in the Middle" mechanics? What do you think would work well in Cranium Rats?
*2 Should this be for both win/lose or only for win? PCs are more capable than UnSeeking, but it results in clunkier mechanics.
*3 I'm wary of making these changes before playing since they'll probably change the whole feel of the game, thoughts?
*4 Following a discussion I had this week at a convention I realized this, which actually belongs to Token Economy. The choice is whether to have more control of character goals, gain narration rights, etc. or be more effective. You choose what is more important to you.
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Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #1 on: April 15, 2006, 06:59:29 AM »

I'm not sure if it helps, and while reading I recalled my experiences with multiplayer Babylon 5 CCG.

Influence was used as a refreshing resource pool, and victory points at the same time. At the beginning of every turn players got back their spent influence, up to the full "victory points" value.

Whoever got 20 Influence 1st, won.

I was possible to slowly build your influence from the minimum of value 3 (?) up to 10, by simply investing points from the resource pool. After that, it took conflicts or special cards to increase influence.

Of course, no one wanted you to have too much of an influence. When someone reached say 17-18, other players usually started to worry, and ganged up on him, showering him with influence-eating conflict cards. At the same time, they still had to watch their backs from themselves, because it was easy to gain advantage when many players opposed the currently strongest one. E.g. in one turn player A and B allied against player C who had say 19 Influence, and next turn players B and C were against player A, who suddenly grew in power. What I liked in B5 CCG was that in multiplayer it wasn't only what cards you have in your deck and what you draw. You had to be cunning and try to manipulate and deceive other players on the social level. It was possible for someone with very poor deck to win simply by means of being a sneaky bastard ;)

Anyway, when you had 3-10 influence no one was interested about you, because you were simply no danger.

At about 10-16 you mattered a bit, but there was no reason for anyone to worry too much about you. At 10 influence there was no reason for anyone to attack you, because you could easily get lost influence back to 10 in the following round. Every point of influence over 10 lost was a pain, though.

At about 17+ you were suddenly attacked from every side, and brought back to as low Influence as possible.

I remember playing a Centauri. For most of the game I remained at 10 influence and silently accumulated cards. During that time I feigned weakness and allowed other players to get at their throats. Then, when no one was paying attention I played all of my influence producing cards at the same time, getting to 20-something at once. Usually for the next 10 minutes other players desperately browsed through their cards to find a way to stop me, but usually it was too late. My, how I liked those games ;)
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Thunder_God
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« Reply #2 on: April 15, 2006, 07:05:53 AM »

My, how long has it been since I've played the game.
I only played it on a one-on-one, though my friend and I have 4 decks between us. Thank you for reminding me of the game, my brother is now of age where we can play with him as well.

See, this is exactly what I don't want. I don't want someone sitting and hoarding resources and then winning in one fell-swoop. I want you to have to be active constantly, always a risk, always at risk.
Look at my Aspect Advancement, you gain Marks by winning Conflicts, but one Conflict lost erases all Marks. Go up 1, go down 2 as it were.*5
You risk nothing, you can't go up, you have to expose yourself to the other players.

*5 Is this too harsh? To lose all Marks?
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Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2006, 07:58:01 AM »

Quote
My, how long has it been since I've played the game.
I only played it on a one-on-one, though my friend and I have 4 decks between us. Thank you for reminding me of the game, my brother is now of age where we can play with him as well.

I stongly recommend playing multiplayer B5 CCG. Fun, fun, fun. Completely different game from one-on-one. The game has been designed specifically with multiplayer in mind I think.

Quote
See, this is exactly what I don't want. I don't want someone sitting and hoarding resources and then winning in one fell-swoop. I want you to have to be active constantly, always a risk, always at risk.

As I've considered it, the thing is that I have always been active, and always at risk. It manifested inwardly, but I was.

Most of the game I've spent struggling to persuade others that I'm not a threat. And it wasn't easy, given that there was closed group of around 10 players involved in those games, and everyone knew how I play. So, I had to feint. I had to involve myself in some conflicts, support other players and the like. I had to pit others against them. And all the time I had to convince everyone that I don't yet have half the cards I need and that my Imperial Telepaths had not went through the whole deck three times yet. I was always at risk - if others got aware that I'm about to sprung my little Influence generating surprise, they suddenly started to cooperate and Thwarted me. I could do nothing with three wars declared against me and all the Influence being constantly sucked up to a minimum.

What's interesting I think, is that the game specifically allowed me to risk at a social level rather than risk only mechanically.

Quote
Look at my Aspect Advancement, you gain Marks by winning Conflicts, but one Conflict lost erases all Marks. Go up 1, go down 2 as it were.*5
You risk nothing, you can't go up, you have to expose yourself to the other players.

*5 Is this too harsh? To lose all Marks?

That depends how easy it is to regain those marks, and how much of a disadvantage having no marks is - and since I didn't see the game in play, I can't tell. Unless they can be gained once more rather fast, failure wouldn't be crushing. Crushing failures are never fun - they are only frustrating.

Looking at it, I have Threads from my game before the eyes. You can't increase Threads and advance (nor the characters, nor the story) unless you put them at stakes and risk losing a level or two. Putting Thread at stakes automatically makes the conflict more difficult. Failing in a conflict means you lose levels from Threads that were put at stakes, but only as many as you voluntarily risked before. And it is still relatively simple for players to go up the ladder once more.

Still, they must constantly try to complete their Threads, unless they actually need some at middle values. If Thread is increased over 3 (5 is max and allows for completing the Thread), it will automaticaly fall down to 3 by the end of the session.
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Thunder_God
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« Reply #4 on: April 20, 2006, 01:14:32 PM »

Hmm, what do you think about the prior questions, and about "Sweet in the Middle" in generic and specifically in CR?

There is no penalty for not having Marks whatsoever, they're purely a measure of how far you are from advancing or from being able to bid for advancement.
Gaining Marks is as easy(and hard) as succeeding in Conflicts.
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Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #5 on: April 21, 2006, 10:35:39 AM »

A random thought: why not, after conflict is lost, lose a number of Marks equal to the number of since you currently have in a Reservoir (minimum 1)? That way, players would be prompted to use their dice, but not to use too much.

Also, maybe it would be good to increase the Role of the Marks. Tie them somehow to the refreshment of pool maybe? Automatic refreshment equal to your current number of dice every round or something like that? An option to spend them for something instead of just hoarding them for Aspect advancement? E.g. an option to spend X Marks in order to gain a Token (limited to the beginning of round maybe, or something). Maybe X = the number of dice you currently have in Reservoir (minimum 1)?

Another thing - what about making the reservoir size equal to, say, Aspect +3 (or +4, or +5)? That way high and low Aspect players would have a bit more equal chances, and the problem of having Aspect 1 vs Aspect 8 and not being able to do much would be a little bit softened. But then, bigger pools would need higher refreshments I think.

Just some random thoughts.

Quote
*1 What do you think of "Sweet in the Middle" mechanics? What do you think would work well in Cranium Rats?

Just as above, but since I didn't play the game, my ideas are not very reliable. As for the Sweet in the Middle in CR, I think it somehow fits - the game evolving about balance and all. Aspects unbalance the character, but they strive to balance themselves.

Quote
*2 Should this be for both win/lose or only for win? PCs are more capable than UnSeeking, but it results in clunkier mechanics.

So the more dice you bid, the more chances you gain more dice in return. A gamble. Somehow I think that I'd prefer static gains if I played - but maybe you prefer to have this temptation to gamble.

Quote
*3 I'm wary of making these changes before playing since they'll probably change the whole feel of the game, thoughts?

Not sure how would it work.

Quote
*4 Following a discussion I had this week at a convention I realized this, which actually belongs to Token Economy. The choice is whether to have more control of character goals, gain narration rights, etc. or be more effective. You choose what is more important to you.

Actually Drama in Threads works similar way. You spend Drama in order to set more mechanically important stakes, to purchase new Threads, but also to give Trait awards to other players, draw temporary resources (Potential) from Threads and Support others in conflicts.
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Thunder_God
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« Reply #6 on: April 23, 2006, 01:05:35 AM »

A random thought: why not, after conflict is lost, lose a number of Marks equal to the number of since you currently have in a Reservoir (minimum 1)? That way, players would be prompted to use their dice, but not to use too much.

Also, maybe it would be good to increase the Role of the Marks. Tie them somehow to the refreshment of pool maybe? Automatic refreshment equal to your current number of dice every round or something like that? An option to spend them for something instead of just hoarding them for Aspect advancement? E.g. an option to spend X Marks in order to gain a Token (limited to the beginning of round maybe, or something). Maybe X = the number of dice you currently have in Reservoir (minimum 1)?

Another thing - what about making the reservoir size equal to, say, Aspect +3 (or +4, or +5)? That way high and low Aspect players would have a bit more equal chances, and the problem of having Aspect 1 vs Aspect 8 and not being able to do much would be a little bit softened. But then, bigger pools would need higher refreshments I think.

Just some random thoughts.

First, there's a need to review the Token Economy thread since I slowly build on the steps of previous changes.

Your first idea is a bit problematic because that's not "Sweet in the Middle", but rather, "Caught between the Devil and the Deep blue Sea", you get screwed either by having no dice(you can't bid) or any dice at all. It's just a question of how much you're willing to trade of each.

I like having the Die Reservoir set and static, currently the number "6" calls out to me. Even if you have Aspect+4 you have a Death Spiral, where an Aspect at 1 has 5 dice and an Aspect at 8 has 13 dice. I'd rather keep it as is.
Also, I don't see what I can gain by having Marks as another resource, I'm already bordering on extreme complexity when it comes to resources, I also don't see why players would spend their Marks, nothing beats increasing an Aspect. Also, Tokens belong to players, not Aspects, and what Aspects want is one simple thing, to increase. An Aspect would never want to go down.

As to automatic refreshment, I'm still divided about that, I have the Tokens every session, I'm wondering if to do something automatic with the dice or to just keep the increased refreshmenht(1 die per success over opposition in Conflict)?
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Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
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