Saturday, 27 August 2016

Act of Treason - A History in Design

Hi all,

So, lets cover how I came up with the idea of Act of Treason. This journey started about 4 years ago. So forgive me if my memory is a little fuzzy, but I certainly remember the broad strokes. I won’t bother going into what Act of Treason is. For that you can visit www.playaot.com to find out more information.

Cards for Act of Treason
I was really getting into board games back in the day. Settlers of Catan, 7 Wonders, Dominion, Power Grid, Claustrophobia, etc. A lot of the popular ones, and a few of the lesser known. I was having a grand old time. Then I started playing social deduction games like Mafia, Werewolf, and Battlestar Galactica. I loved these games! The social aspects of these games were awesome, but I always felt there was room for more. They left me feeling like the mechanics actually didn’t lend itself to real deduction - the mechanics got in the way. There was room for improvement.

These games also had some mechanics that dampen the experience and could have used some mitigation. A good example of this is in mafia, how one person always dies at the start without any knowledge. They just die. This one mechanic alone is of such detriment that games like one-night werewolf and The Resistance have started cropping up. Sure these games have other aspects top them, but I feel like one of their primary goals was to remove that one flaw - early player elimination.  And it's fair enough because it's a fairly big negative. Act of Treason has player elimination, but mitigates early player elimination by providing strong incentives to keep everyone alive - because once the killing starts, it doesn't stop! So all players typically die at the same time, or there abouts.

I wanted to make a game that expanded on the social intrigue and deduction that these games have. A game that REALLY let players use their social skills to their full extent, without the game holding them back or clipping their wings.  I had no idea where I wanted to start mechanically, but I had a good idea for theme. My first prototype was horrible. *wretched*. I can’t explain how bad it really was. But it took a long time to make, and it had mechanics that were lengthy and completely unnecessary. It didn’t really do what it was trying to do. But it taught me a couple of very important lessons in game design. When starting out on a new project:

  1. know what makes your game fun and,
  2. keep it simple. Only start with mechanics that directly feed into point 1.

Honestly, the game will likely change a lot from your first few prototypes. Don't spend ages analyzing every tiny detail. Get the core parts in that derive the most enjoyment and get them functional. It’s best to just strip out everything that isn’t core, and just see how the concept performs. How the ‘fun’ parts work. Is it actually fun? Why? Why not? If not how can we tweak this to get to the fun?

For Act of Treason, I did exactly that - whittled down the game to only the core parts. The social deduction. The game essentially had Tribute (all players secretly contribute cards to check to determine who wins the round), and the ability to assassinate that that was really it. These were the mechanics that got people talking and accusing one another. The fun part of the game. And it worked! It was the third prototype and it really had people loving the game. It had a lot of flaws for sure. But people enjoyed the game in spite of them. I had managed to target the fun part of the game and create mechanics that allowed players to tap into it.

It was actually pretty quick for me to reach that point. What took much longer is honing in on how to improve the mechanics, what mechanics worked best, and how to mitigate the negative mechanics. That takes a long time, and often I would try out a mechanic only to find that it added too much complexity, or got in the way of social deduction. The Act of Treason third prototype is similar in a lot of ways to the final prototype, but I’ve tried so many things in-between now and then only a few of the mechanics stuck. A lot of changes were simply small revisions that improve the quality of life of the game.

I strongly believe that Act of Treason hasn’t changed from the 3rd revision that much because early on I focused on what was fun and threw out anything else I didn’t need – because anything else would just get in the way of the fun! And that's how every game should be. Even now the game still has that format. It's just that the mechanics are even better streamlined to promote the fun - the social deduction.

Does this approach work for all games? I think it will work for most, if not all - and I think it's a good mindset to have. You need to understand what makes your game enjoyable. And then work on two core pressure points

  1. What aspects makes the game fun and how can it be improved.
  2. What aspects detract from the enjoyment of the game and how can we mitigate or remove them.

Is it really that easy? Well, no - it's a simplification. However, I can’t stress enough how important it is to remove the negative features in a game and to understand what makes your game fun. These are vial and arguably the most important things that turn a good game, into a fantastic game. I’ll try cover this off in a video on my channel OverIceProductions at some point in the future because it is important. I feel there are many games out there that don’t do this enough - especially point 2 - removing the negative aspects. That is what provides the balance and polish.

Phew that was a lot! I have no idea what we'll cover off next week - it'll likely be shorter - something fluffy. Then maybe after that we’ll do something similar to this post and cover off some specific design examples within Act of Treason.

Game On,
 Tyson

Creator of Act of Treason // www.playaot.com
OverIceDesign on Youtube // bit.ly/OverIceDesign

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Music of the week:
Caravan Palace // Lone Digger - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbsBEb1ZxWA

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