Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Act of Treason Design Journal - Part 2

To see Part 1: Design Journal Part 1

Note: I think the most useful application of this document is as an example, to assist in making your own Design Journal for your own game. There are many benefits to making a 'Design Journal' as described in Part One. 

While this document does give some impression of what it would be like to play Act of Treason, this is not the purpose of this document. I'll have 3rd party reviewers for that purpose - their reviews are coming soon. The most accurate impression of Act of Treason comes from playing the game yourself.

Why 5 to 10 players?
5 is the minimum number of players required to play Act of Treason, while 10 is the maximum. 5 to 8 is a good player range in my opinion, with 6 or 7 being the best.

With 9 or 10 players, the game becomes a little harder to manage, and takes a little longer to play. The game still works of course, but playing a nine or ten player game with all new players is a tad difficult, as new players add additional chaos and length to the game. The player limit stops at 10 for this reason. I think the game would become too unruly, especially for new players, if the player count was 11 or more. And lowering it to 8 or 9 players would cheat experienced groups that wish to play with more people, and can do so comfortably.

Lowering the minimum number of players would be good, but is difficult without warping how Act of Treason currently works. Even if it could be done, Act of Treason is a social game and doesn't suit well to so few players. With only 4 players, there is not much room for social interaction and figuring out who is who. For these two reasons, Act of Treason is just not well suited for less than 5 players.

While a minimum of 5 players might be difficult for some groups to pull together, the player count can be seen as a great opportunity to meet new people. Socializing is often easier if you have a catalyst to help facilitate conversation. Act of Treason would make a great catalyst, as it provides an opportunity to socialize via the game as well as just casual conversation - swapping back and forth between the two as the game progresses. It would make me happy knowing that people were running games of Act of Treason at their local game stores around the world and using Act of Treason to meet new people.

Not only that, but playing Act of Treason with a batch of experienced players who you don't know that well is my favorite way to play. This is because the dynamic at the table changes with the players, much like how the social dynamic changes when you have different people in a room. This can provide you with a whole new play experience. Playing with new players adds another level of unexpected outcomes that you may have to navigate - a new landscape that you need to explore if you want to win.

How does the game usually play?
Each game will start off slow with the players organizing the group and focusing on passing Quests for the most part. This early stage of the game is mostly about gathering evidence on who is who based on their actions. It's giving the players an opportunity to set themselves up for mid and late game. As the Kingdom Strength drops, so will the players suspicions rise. Players will be eyeing each other up and taking note of every action and word. As we near the late game, Players will use their evidence gathered and their suspicions to weaken potential threats while securing the positions of themselves and their so-called "allies". Assassinations tend to hold out until the last round or two where many players will likely die in a bloodbath - a last ditch attempt to root out the Traitors. The Loyals attacking the suspected Traitors, while the Traitors try to influence the carnage so that they are not in the firing line, and perhaps taking a pot shot or two of their own if it doesn't increase suspicion against them! All the while Traitors will be keeping an eye out for the Heir. They may need to make a last ditch attack on the Heir if it comes down to it!

Note that the Traitors can win if Kingdom Strength hits '0'. This rarely happens as Loyals will try to win by killing those they suspect before this will happen. The Loyals can win by completing 5 Quests successfully. This rarely happens as the Traitors will place negative cards into Tribute to try ensure this does not happen. This is why most games always end assassinations.

Experienced players tend to play differently when compared to new players. It's exceptionally difficult to describe all the tiny things that goes into the difference between these two sets of players. However, One of the biggest differences is that experienced players develop a 'social contract', of what's good for the group. With familiarity of the game the players develop an understanding of how all players should act for the good of the realm, and deviating from this raises suspicion. New players cannot capitalise on this, as they don't know what good for the realm entails. New Players will often try act in self interest as there is no penalty from their peers in doing so. One of the toughest things with designing Act of Treason was to correct for this so that the mechanics encouraged the development of a social contract early, and didn't penalize the players too heavily for not having a social contract among the group. This was done by limiting the total available court cards on player count, Adjusting the cost of the Court cards to acquire based on Kingdom Strength, Rewarding players for leaving cards in court, and lastly, having ordered quests (optional) that reinforce the social contract in the early game. Each one of these small tweaks helps to encourage players to be more invested in what players are doing - or these tweaks act as 'caps' so that players can't screw up things for their team too much.

New players tend to focus on themselves and acquiring personal power - this masks the traitors who would be smart to also make use of this tactic. New Loyal players do not yet know what is best for the realm, and thus do not make any demands of the group. It was interesting to try and fix this mechanically - to smooth out the learning curve for new players and to assist in them realizing where they may be going wrong. Loyals have a better chance of winning in an experienced group because of the social contract. This is one reason why the rulebook has tips on how to play - Unfortunately, one cannot just add in a social contract as part of the rules - at least not without some costly negatives. This would effectively null out many of the interesting strategies as it would override player choice. For example, If you couldn't buy Court cards early on in the game, then no social contract would be needed. Nothing would be learned or could be used as evidence to draw suspicion when a player capitalizes on this opportunity, as there is no opportunity there - no need to make a choice.

The game has been balanced with this in mind, so that even with an experienced group playing optimally, the Traitors should have enough room to work with so that they have a good chance to win. And this chance of winning improves with good tactics and skill. In a group with all new players, the Traitors should have a much easier time.

Why is there a Steward?
The Steward ensures that turn order is fair and balanced, with little to no luck involved.

  • Player turn order is decided upon by the Steward. 
  • The choice of a new Steward is determined by the old steward, but can be heavily influenced by the group. 
  • Making an 'untrustworthy' choice for the next Steward will potentially hurt your trustworthiness and standing among the group.
Because of the above, even though the Steward picks the next Steward, it is better considered as a group decision. Thus, "the group" (who may or may not be influenced by traitors) picks the individual who will decide turn order.

Turn order has a significant effect in Act of Treason. Essentially deciding who can attack first. Attacking first is a big advantage in Act of Treason. Because of this, turn order cannot be randomized as this would mean the victor is decided by random chance rather than player skill and choice. As you can see, the concept of a Steward or something similar becomes almost a requisite in a game like Act of Treason, where Player turn order is so critical to winning.

I personally dislike games where arbitrary turn order, or seating position can have an effect on your chances of winning. I've managed to mitigate this by having a Steward who picks turn order. There is no randomization, there are no ties. All is fair - and determined in a very social way.

Is the Steward Role too powerful?
In my opinion the Steward is only as powerful as the knowledge that each team controls, and it can easily be misused. Either team can successfully use or misuse the Steward role. Each individual can subvert or lie to the Steward about what they will do. If giving the Steward role to the other team loses the game it for your team, then you deserve to lose. If giving the Turn to a player who turns around and stabs you in the back loses it for your team, you deserve to lose.

Yes the Steward role is powerful, but it is easy to misuse power and lose just as easy as it is to use it and win. For this reason, I do not think it is overpowered. Anyone can whisper in your ear and have you harm your own team.

The real power is in being able to correctly figure out who to trust and not trust. Or persuading others to trust you. Once you have that, you don't need a Steward Role. In fact if you were the most trusted player at the table, the Steward Role is mostly useless to you. Players will protect you and kill those who try to attack you.

My conclusion is that, yes, the Steward Role is powerful - but not by itself - it is certainly not overpowered to the point of imbalance.

Are the Quest effects necessary? Can Quest effects cheat players out of a win?
Quest cards have an effect that come into play as soon as they are picked as the Active Quest. The Quest effects give for a changing landscape that the players must adapt to. There are some positives and negatives to this, but I took Act of Treason in this direction as it creates for a more interesting strategic game in my opinion. The cost is that there is a slight increase in complexity.

Quests can provide some powerful effects at times, however, they are known well in advance. As such there isn't luck involved. A Quest that allows the first assassination of the round to be unblockable is known in advance, and can be accounted for. If you suspect a player suspects you are the Heir, you can take actions to prevent them actioning this Quest Effect.

I wouldn't say that a Quest effect can cheat you out of a win, only that it can provide the opportunity for a win/loss if you let it.

What stops the Steward Role from 'bouncing' between two players?
There is no rule against this as this should be self correcting.

Early game this is inconsequential and a fix would only serve to add more rules without significant benefit. Late game, this can be a balanced and valid strategy.

Most players dislike it when two players pass the Steward back and forth early game. The bouncers aren’t buying themselves any favors as this usually results in some animosity towards them. These bouncers are likely hobbling themselves for late game when they will have to rely on their teammates to win.

Furthermore, only the Traitors know who are on their team in the early game. What benefit is it to bounce the Steward back and forth when you cannot be sure of who you can trust?

Needless to say that 'Steward bouncing' is not a great strategy, and the Steward usually gets passed to other players in time.

Lastly, while this could be corrected for in the rules, this would restrict player choice. Perhaps a situation could arise where only two players are seen as most trustworthy early game, and this decision is echoed by the group. eg: during the first Quest, two players put in a hefty four knowledge cards each, and this wins the Quest for the group. In this example, should the two players be allowed to pass the Steward back and forth? I certainly think so.

Ultimately, Act of Treason is about group dynamics. I don't want to restrict how the group interacts unless it can't be helped.

Tune in next time for the following:
Why aren’t there more Examinations in the game?
Why are there lots of ways to get Examination Blocks?
Why do players gain Examination Blocking if they Examine?
Why does the Steward get to reward a Court card if the Quest passes?
Why are the Quests ordered?

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Development Diary #7 - 10th of Feb

Hey Y'all,

Today I am excited to announce that on Saturday 12pm on the 10th of Feb Act of Treason is planned to launch on Kickstarter ( Friday, 9th,11:00 am GMT).

To aid in a successful launch I will be running a promotion leading up to the release date. As previously mentioned I've been toying with bonus "Social Media" stretch goals to help spread awareness of Act of Treason before the Kickstarter goes live. After much deliberation I have landed on going ahead with this plan, and aiming for 4,000 followers which should be an obtainable goal. That should be enough to help me to secure funding for Act of Treason.

4,000 may seem like a lot to some of you. I have laid out my rationale below which I help explains where I'm coming from. I'm trying to choose a number that will yield a successful Kickstarter - nothing more.

To reward all of us for hitting 4,000 followers, I will personally turn my pockets inside out and lay down *double* of the budgeted money for both the Art of the final product as well as the Marketing during the Kickstarter campaign. This helps me and it helps you. I get to make a more beautiful product that I can be prouder than a gushing parent over - and you can have a nicer, better looking game that you can love playing with your friends. We all win!

Note that there are additional art budget increases in the kickstarter stretch goals as well. So even if we don't hit this goal, there is still plenty of opportunity to fund even better kick ass art for Act of Treason.

It wasn't easy to come up with that reward. I wanted a reward that didn't detract from the product and divert attention or effort elsewhere. I also wanted a reward that all backers could enjoy. A reward that would be fair to all backers. This reward is in line with my main concern - making the best game possible.

It's easy to just say doubled - what does that actually mean? Well, for the Art, the current baseline  budget is ~$5,000 USD. Which is roughly break even when hitting the Kickstarter funding goal. This will double to ~$10,000 USD if we hit 4,000 followers! Marketing during the kick starter is currently set to $2,000 USD. Naturally this will increase to ~$4,000 USD. Keep in mind, marketing doesn't just help me! More marketing means more pledges and more pledges means hitting stretch goals. It means even more budget. It means economies of scale. It means negotiation power, etc.  Ultimately, this all leads to an even better product for you!

So, How'd I settle on 4,000? Well previously on the blog I've floated the figure of 1,000 eyes on, within the first 24 hours. Or even better 1,000 pledges within the first 24 hours. I have been assured by others and my own research that this is a good step in the right direction, and will definitely help to reach a successful kickstarter campaign.

In order to reach 1,000 I figure that we'll need more than 1,000 followers. The conversion rate for each social media account I have isn't likely going to be 100%. I imagine that for twitter I'll have a very low conversion rate of say 10%, and for the email list I will expect something along the line of 70%. Because of this I definitely need more than 1,000 followers across all social media if I want 1,000 pledges within the first 24 hours.

Also to note, nothing stops people from signing up to more than one social media channel - which is fine. However, what this translates to is an even lower conversion rate for each social media channel. For example, the same follower could be spread across 4 different media channels, but would only result in one sale. Because of this I would imagine that 4,000 is at least the bare minimum needed to get that delicious 1,000 within the first 24 hours. If anything 4,000 could be too low - but I want to set an obtainable goal for you all that incentivises both you and me to make this project a success!

Note there will be some foot traffic from Kickstarter as well as marketing traffic from my advertisements. So naturally we will get a few bonus pledges that won't come directly from followers, but the more we get in the first 24 hours increases our chances of hitting that glorious front page and getting that prime spot on that Pareto distribution.

4,000 Followers just seems like a good start to me. Who knows, if we happen to hit 4,000 quick enough I can always offer another bonus reward!

Here is our progress so far:

It's looking pretty nice so far, but we only have three months to hit that 4,000 follower goal!

Now, as alluded to above, I believe the email signups are a much stronger indicator of interest than the other social media follows. Because of this I have offered a very nice x3 bonus for *all* email signups - the strongest indicator to buy of all the social media. After all, an email signup is someone who has taken the time to sign up either using a link on the blog or from the website - they aren't just looking for a follow back.

This is reflected on the graph above, so the actual number of email signups is around ~25 at the moment, this gets boosted to ~75. If you wish to help me out, you know what to do.

Thank you to all of those who have followed the journey so far and I hope to open my arms and invite many more of you in the coming weeks!

The Part One of the Design Journal was quite well received, which I am humbled by. I'm glad to see people enjoyed reading through it and hopefully they gained insight from it. In the pipeline is part 2 of the Design Journal and I will be also running a series called The Dominant Strategy, where I will be talking about all aspects of game design, game theory, and game analysis. This is inspired a little bit from the stonemaier blogs which discusses all things related to Kickstarter. A fantastic resource which I hope anyone looking into releasing a game on Kickstarter checks out - A ton of great info there! Well I want to do a similar thing, but for Game Design! The first article of The Dominant Strategy will be "What makes games fun", and I can't wait to share it with you!

Both part two of the Design Journal and Article one of The Dominant Strategy will be posted up in the next week or two.

Until next time squad fam.

Papa bless,

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Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Act of Treason Design Journal - Part 1

Hey Y'all,

During the creation of Act of Treason I typed up a document. A Design Journal, intended to show publishers the rationale behind the game mechanics of Act of Treason. If a publisher ever wanted to make changes to Act of Treason, I had to be able to back up my position. The document served as a nice reminder to myself for the reasons behind some of my choices. What I could and couldn't afford to change and why.

In the interest of helping future designers I'm happy to share this document This reads as an FAQ, trying to answer questions designers or publishers may have for me - which I think is the best way to lay out something like this. it's a good way to sort through the creative process and to map out the choices you've made.

As a designer, if you have robust rationale behind each question you are asked, then that's a good place to start! If you don't then you seriously need to consider a redesign, or at least be prepared for it not to work when putting it to the test. If something just works and you can't explain it - that just means you need to work harder to find out what the reason is! There is a reason for everything! If something is broken you need to find out why! If something is working there is great benefit to knowing why! Everything has a reason, so you should be able to make a document just like this one - but for your game, or any other game worth their salt for that matter. You should be able to explain the why.

There was quite a bit of text from the design document so I've broken it up into four parts which I'll be releasing as I feel like it over the coming weeks. I've tweaked it a bit and added some parts to keep it up to date. Unfortunately the first part is a bit less juicy in terms of design than the others, but hopefully clues you into my frame of mind as I was designing Act of Treason.


Act of Treason Design Journal

by Tyson Bennett


This document gives an overall view on the mechanics and design choices behind Act of Treason.

Design Goals:
The idea for Act of Treason came about after I played similar games such as Mafia, Werewolf, The Resistance, and especially Battlestar Galactica. Having played these games, I noted several improvements could be made on this genre of game - the most important improvement, is that there could be much more in-depth social play where persuasion, deduction and deception are important and highly rewarded - players would win or lose based on their social skills and wit alone. I do not think that games currently in the genre capitalize as much on this as possible and I wanted to make a game that did.

I feel like Act of Treason has hit these design goals - Act of Treason should be easy to understand, and yet challenging to master. It should offer a slight increase in complexity when compared to existing games in the genre, but offer much more depth when it comes to the strategy and the tactics one can take in order to win.

What are some Similar Games and where does Act of Treason differ?
As mentioned, Act of Treason was inspired by Mafia, Werewolf and The Resistance. When creating Act of Treason my goal was to design a game that mitigated the "flaws" of these games whilst building on what makes these games fun – the social interaction. I feel that Act of Treason has accomplished this goal, allowing players more tactics and meaningful choices when it comes to social interaction and deception.

To name a few improvements:

• Players have multiple avenues of influence, through individual actions, tribute, and, most importantly, social interactions. If a player is eliminated, it will be likely due to their actions, and not luck (although luck can play a small role). This is in contrast to say Mafia, where players have very little influence on the game and luck can take a major role. Players can vote in Mafia to try change the outcome, but that's about it for most players. Act of Treason has taken steps to ensure that players have a high degree of influence on the game, and that the influence never fully outs them as a Traitor, a Loyal or an Heir. I've seen amazing tricks to deceive others. One example is faking to be the Heir (while loyal) to provoke a Traitor to attack and expose themselves. Or you can fake being the Heir (as a Traitor) to prevent being eliminated by loyals. Another example is dropping an additional card into Tribute and then lying about it afterwards to throw off suspicion that it could be you who caused Tribute to fail. There are lots of viable strategies in Act of Treason!

• Game length gives you the time to investigate and allows you to build up a case based on historical actions, and other historical evidence. Contrast this to say One Night Werewolf where players are given almost no time to investigate, but more importantly, almost no historical actions or evidence to go off of. The most noticeable difference here comes down to the skill vs. luck between these two games. Act of Treason allows you to tap much more into skill because it allows for this increased game length to acquire evidence and position yourself for late game.

• Game length in Act of Treason also gives the advantage of slowly building tension, a great example of this is in the modern video game called Playerunknowns Battleground (PUBG). Games of PUBG last up to 30 minutes with a map that reduces in size as players are eliminated. Because of the time and effort investment as well as the increasing of intensity, the end of a game can be extremely intense and rewarding. This is akin to what happens in Act of Treason. As the game runs on, players become more emotionally invested in the outcome - there is a lot of time and effort invested and still so much potential for change. Like pubg, the investment, time and tension often leads to a very exciting finish. Because of the nature of Act of Treason, play times can vary a bit. A short game can be caused by the Traitors or the Heir making a mistake. A longer game is almost always caused by players partaking in longer engaging talks - trying their best to persuade, trick or deceive. Longer doesn't typically mean bad in Act of Treason, and conversely a long game has players fully engaged and invested in the outcome which is a good thing. In other words some of the best games of Act of Treason can be the longest.

• Mechanics are put in place to help ensure that players are eliminated at roughly the same time in Act of Treason, near the games end. This is to ensure that players do not have to sit out for a long period of time. Contrast this to say Mafia, where a players are eliminated early based on very little or no evidence, or The Resistance where while there are no 'eliminations' players can be excluded for many rounds at a time, pseudo-eliminating them.

What do I consider the weakest points of Act of Treason to be?
• The upper player limit is a bit on the high side with 5 players needed at minimum. While this doesn't adversely affect play and is great for big groups, it does mean it can be tricky to get a game together for some people. It seems to be the nature of the beast for Act of Treason, and I have been unable to find a suitable solution for lowering the player count below 5.

• Act of Treason is a bit more complex when compared to some of its predecessors such as Mafia or Werewolf. Again, this is unfortunately the nature of the beast. I set out to make Act of Treason a more socially tactical game - and in order to do that it was very likely the complexity would increase. I'm proud to say that I have taken considerable steps to reducing the complexity so it is no more complex than it needs to be. I imagine that most boardgamers would be able to take on the challenge of Act of Treason (there are certainly more complex boardgames on the market). However more casual gamers or younger gamers may struggle with their first few games - but they can certainly learn it with persistence!

Why is there an Heir?
The Heir is arguably one of the most important mechanics in the game. Act of Treason isn't the same when there isn’t a Heir. I briefly toyed with variants that didn't use an 'Heir' mechanic and they failed, quite spectacularly. The main reason to have an Heir is so the Loyals don't want to kill anyone - One side needs to fear needless killing while the other side needs to profit from it. This is one of the dynamics of Traitor vs Loyals + Heir in a nutshell - The loyals don't want to kill needlessly in case they hit the Heir and lose. Without the Heir, the game turns into a bloodbath.

Furthermore, Traitors and Loyals both have reason to pretend to be the Heir, and the Heir has reason to pretend to be a Loyal. This means that all 3 types of characters have cause to act similarly or act as another, and that makes it difficult to identify a player’s loyalty by their actions alone. This allows the great acts of deception and intrigue that we see in Act of Treason during game play.

This all happens because there is an Heir. As you can see, the Heir is a character that is at the very core of Act of Treason.

Why is there Player Elimination?
It could be said that The Resistance or Avalon doesn't have player elimination, but I would say that it kind of does. If a player is excluded from the rest of the game (by being removed from checks) because they are a suspected Traitor, then this almost like they are eliminated. They are not actually eliminated, but they might as well be - the effect is the same.

Act of Treason seeks to correct this by holding off on eliminations until the end of the game, where you won't have to wait long before the game is over and you can start another. While eliminations can occur early, this are rare, and it does come with a cost - another player will have to trade their life and Tribute becomes harder to pass which speeds up how quickly Kingdom Strength is lost. The chance of being eliminated early and having to sit out for a long time is very low.

I often tell my playtesters that killing players triggers the games end. It’s all downhill after that. This is how it's designed, and this is how the game plays out very often.

Tune in next time for the following:
Why 5 to 10 players?
How does the game usually play?
Why is there a Steward?
Is the Steward Role too powerful?
What stops the Steward Role from 'bouncing' between two players?