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[Black Cadillacs] -- Streamlining Data Management

Started by Darcy Burgess, February 27, 2009, 12:41:53 PM

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Darcy Burgess


Man, I wish that the thread title was a clever allusion to a cyberpunk-esque game of bringing down megacorps (watch this space!)  I'm actually here to continue a thought that I posted about back in the summer.  Back then, I said:

Quote...I was thrilled when an emergent property I had long been hoping for showed up during Saturday's game.  The [player's] comment went something like this:

"Y'know, I like the way that I feel like I have to work with [my fellow players] against the [GM].  It's a nice parallel to how the characters have to work together."

That's always something that I've wanted.  The system demands that you grab it, learn it (it isn't immediately intuitive, and it is fiddly,) and wrestle with it.  Friday evening, Jason pointed out that there is a great deal that I can do to streamline the information design of the play aids.  His second suggestion of "trying to make the first (teaching) game feel more like the second game" is spot-on.  But, I need to do this in such a way that the players have to work together and help each other out at each and every step of the way.
(emphasis mine)

So, here's the situation.  If you're playing Black Cadillacs, you've got a board in the middle of the table.  All (ok, almost all) of the dice you have access to for your rolls are segregated on this board.  There are card piles.  Everybody has a hand of cards.  Tokens!  Death dice!  And last, but not least, stacks of poker chips surround the board.

Now, I really like the poker chips.  Characters in Black Caddies have very dynamic stats -- every time you roll the dice, your stats change.  The level of your stats, and their relationship to the other characters' stats forms the playground that all of that meta-level challenge plays out on.  The whole business is critical.

But damn, is the table ever busy.  Too busy.

I'm working on a different way of tracking stats.  The basics are in place.  In stead of piles of chips (bye bye chips, I'll miss you!), there will be three tracks on the board.  One for each of Valour, Horror and Hubris.  Each player will have 3 colour-coded tokens, one for each track.  The basic mechanic remains the same, it's just its implementation that changes.  However, there is an important distinction between chips and tracks -- chip stacks are theoretically infinite in height, while tracks are of a predefined length.  I need to crunch some numbers and settle on how long each track will be.  (It'll be definitely less than 10 each.)

This  whole business also raises some interesting possibilities for the characters' check-boxes (is 5 too much now?).  Also, I'm kinda excited about the possibility of characters max'ing out stats, and the increased leverage that will give the foe.

Kinda giddy.

PS -- if you were about to go out and buy poker chips just to play Black Caddies, well, caveat emptor!
Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.


So where do you want the struggle to be? Intentionally creating a counter-intuitive game structure is an unusual design choice. What part of the complexity do you want to keep, and what gets in the way? 'Cause designing how you present information can do some of that wrestling for people, cuing them in into what's important. I suppose you'll need to explain what angle you want to take between those two, or all the usual ideas about streamlining could work against you.

Tracks don't need to be finite, if you draw them on paper as a number line with a counter on it! You have a line and you have a number of divisions across it. As you get more "chips", you just move the counter up one, putting in an extra line if appropriate. Unless your invested in a limit of course. With your game I have an image of it being played by actual soldiers in some surreal way, you know, like some slightly arty war film/play where they narrate their own lives and deaths, so I like the idea of keeping it rough and ready by nature. I know you don't want people to refer to their trooper sheets much, but is it reasonable to put the info there? Between games you could just circle the point on the line that the chip was last at, and rub it out when you restart.

In the same growth orientated vein, is it correct to say that the war sheet grows from a blank sheet as people define the nature of the conflict? If so that seems an excellent way of keeping focus and building a nice identity, if it's done right.

Something else that hits me when reading your rules preview: If there is a foe instead of a GM, would it be possible to take the "rules/behaviour police" role out of his hands? That seems like it might make people more willing to take it up, if they don't have to also "be responsible" for playing by the rules. I know in our group we split that role between me and a friend, who often sits opposite me. I take on the mechanics, he takes on the tangents. It might be cool to put that in as an option, although many people will do it anyway if it suits. I tried to fit that into the above metaphor with the squad leader taking that roll, but I don't know.


I never really thought of the table as being too busy.  I mean, all the stuff in front of you serves as visual cues as well as tools you can utilize to beat the hell out of the enemy.  It's almost like you placed a table in front of the troopers and spread out a .30 cal, Mauser Kar 98K, STG-44, M1 Garand, BAR, stick grenades, trip mines, bayonets, canteens, and ammo and say pick your poison. 

The one benefit of chips that I see is notice is that it is very clear who is leading what Strain.  With a track I would maybe have to spend a nother second or two trying to read stuff upside down or see the exact number I'm looking at.  With all that being said, I'm not completely opposed to this idea, just thought I'd throw my 2 cents out there.
You can call me Charles

Darcy Burgess

Hey again,

Sorry for the absence -- my browsing time is hella-limited right now.  I had a chance to playtest the "tracks and tokens" over the March 7 weekend.  Wow.  What a flop.

It didn't make managing the data any easier, it just made it hard in different ways.  Specifically, you'd always be checking back and forth, like, "OK, who's got the black tokens?  Oh.  Ok Glenn's black.  Is Jake blue?  No, Gilles is blue.  Shit.  Ok.  Then, in that case, I'll assign 3 horror on this roll -- that way red is tied with blue."

Which is weird -- you've got colour-coding issues in the poker chips (steel-toe'd) edition.  I think what makes that easier is that everyone's got there big honkin' pile of poker chips (bank) right in front of them.  It's always obvious who's blue and who's red.

I also think that the stacks of chips are easier to process in terms of "who's highest, who's tied" than tracks -- I don't know why, but that's what I think.

Update done!

What I really wanted to talk about was the "extra something" that I wanted to glean out of the tracks implementation.  I wanted a situation where Troopers' Strains could max out -- basically, another opportunity for the Foe to force ties among the Strains.  The poker chip implementation doesn't allow that.

Except now it does -- because each trooper has a finite number of chips (I'm thinking 13) to use.  They'll flow back and forth between the Strain stacks and the bank.

I'm also noodling on some (ick, stupid stakes) stake-setting and free-play issues.  If anyone has any rough patches to talk about during the Rising Action and Conflict Proposal phases of play, I'm very interested.

Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.