Thursday, February 21, 2008

Everyone Likes A Little Action

Last time I said "All games deserve a theme." Now I'm going to throw out a mechanic that I think can be grossly over looked by some designers and yet wholly embraced by others. A part of a game that can shake things up, change player positions and keep everyone on their toes. An element that must be handled with care in design as it can prove to be totally pointless or over power a game if not implemented with care. That piece of gaming is. . .Action Cards. With precious few exceptions I'm here to claim today that All games should have action cards. I've jokingly said this to many people in our group. Now while jokingly said secretly it's always meant when you hear me say "This game needs action cards." Most of the time when I start pointing out how they could be used I'm agreed with.

Now before I get started on this one let me state I know a lot of you are going to claim me insane for some of my suggestions. I can already hear the cries of "That game works great like it is, perfect design doesn't need improving upon." Here's there thing though...had your favorite game been released with a deck of action cards chances are you'd love it just the same and argue that the game simply could not be played without that deck of cards. With that said when I get to the point where I'm talking about a game you dearly love and adore, remember that line, shut the fuck up and keep reading. Once you've read the whole post you can leave your thoughts in the "Unimportant Opinions" section if you really feel the need to 'call me out.' Otherwise go curl up in a dark corner of your closet, cradle yourself and you wipe the salty tears of rejection off your cheek, shaking and thinking over and over "the big scary man with a blog attacked my favorite little board game.

What was I talking about again?

Action cards! One of my favorite pieces in any game typically...when implemented correctly that is. You have no idea how excited I was when I first came across Nightmare Chess. Not only by one of my favorite game designers but it was an attempt to make chess a fun game to play!

I'm not so thick as to think that all games with action cards are designed well to include them. of course. Often times certain cards or even the entire deck itself seems to have been an afterthought or thrown into the game as a remedy to a fundamental problem with the game itself. As a guy who dreams of being a game designer myself and who has several games developed and play tested I can understand the heart ache of putting work into a game, play testing it only to have to giving a big sigh of disappointment and think "Damn, this was a good idea but it kind of doesn't work." At that point said game should be stripped down and be completely retooled like you'd do to a 2 dollar whore. Games like that can be saved but an action deck is not always the answer...yet then sometimes it is.

I bring to you my first suggestion and (as I like to do when I write these things I'll now point out that this is) the catalyst for this entry. Fagin's Gang. This game releases and I'm immediately intrigued by it simply because it's a board game based on a literary piece. NICE! So I read about it and well some comments are not as favorable as others but that happens and still I liked the idea of the game and the description of game play so here we go. The game absolutely works. The game is sort of fun. Ahhhhhhh now there's the problem innit? Only sort of fun. Where I felt the game fell down was what they call the "Market." Everyone goes to the market and then bails out when they can't or don't want to buy or sell. At times people would sell a commodity only to buy it right back the next round just to stay in the market for 2 extra turns. Combine this with several places that a good action card would just help out those "helpless" situations or make players be very careful about positioning due to the fear of an action card and this game would rock! What if a deck were included and when the market started cards equal to half the number of players rounded down are turned faced up. The first person to leave the market first takes a card and so on. Now there is even incentive to leave the market if you don't really have business there. (HINT This is fixing a little problem with theme.) As for the details of the cards...well I'm actually developing those and you'll have to check the Geek for variants to find them once I ever get them done. Flavor, tension and functionality all added to this game in a heavy dose via action cards.

Here's a new game that came out and took the gaming world by storm! I've played it a few times now and I love this game. It's greatness in cardboard form. A full on finance game with a bit of warfare and a smackling of screwage as far as the countries go. What's not to love? Not much actually but an action card deck is just that much more to love. I haven't quite figured out how to get cards into players hands. Perhaps if you have the option to invest (as in you hold the investor tile or do not hold any nation's flag due to not being majority stock holder in any of them) and choose to not invest you draw a card. This however might not put enough cards in play however and perchance too many in one single players hand. Another thought is if you control a nation and pass the investor spot on the rondel all players who have stock in the nation get to draw one card. That might work but we'd have to see. The cards here could represent all sorts of things from exceptional markets (discount for a nation who imports this turn or an extra unit can be imported) to espionage (remove a dollar figure from a nations available funds) to special defenses (cancel one battle.) There are so many ideas for cards in this game it's not funny. All would do the same as with Fagin's Gang, generate tension on what might get played or be a small helping boost when you need it most and as I pointed out would be very thematic as well. Cards here are a great idea.

Well I recently got to play a game that I have heard quite a few good things about. I was personally let down by it. Oh it looks great. Bits are nice chunky plastic pieces nicely molded. The game play however, while having more screw factor than expected, ended up being a bit...boring. There it is again! Dull game play. This game could easily benefit from...yes I'm saying it again Action Cards people! This time the game in question is Manhattan and yes I deliberately did not include a picture because I wanted to bury the title in the paragraph. Those who are familiar with this game can just imagine the beauty of it 12 to 15, maybe 18 cards shuffled right into the deck. For this game I'd implement goofiness in the cards. "All players pass their cards to the player on their left." "When a player plays a card for placement discard this card to immediately take that card then give them the top card from the deck as their new placement card." Yes of course I'd also have..."Godzilla attacks! Remove the top piece from every building in one city." Dammit people you know this is a good idea!

That right there are three perfectly reasonable examples of games that could have action cards and the game would only benefit from it. There are so many others though that I hereby choose to not go into detail with but I've thought about it. Some of those are; Puerto Rico, Ticket To Ride, Formula De', Hansa, China, California and honestly the list could go on and on. Tons of games...basically what I'm saying is the only games that instantly come to mind that do not need action cards are the ones what have them already built in.

I know what you are thinking. He's managed to name off and defend quite a few board games thus far is that all he's got? Hell no!

How about Liar's Dice? A pure die rolling, bluffing game right? A game that's been rethemed and licensed so many times it's stupid. From fancy board versions to the ghetto print out to just grab a cup and 5 six sided dice. (That's the Front Porch Classics version there to the left. Fancy schmancy I know. I picked it up for about 5 bucks at the annual Barnes & Noble's clearance sale...great box looks nice but still a dumb ass game.) Getting action cards into this would simple just give them out at the beginning of the game or maybe each time you lose a die you draw a card. Cards could be literally anything that felt like it would work in your group. From logical to sheer dickery. Steal a die from the leader. Change one die result after revealing dice. Making cards for this is so easy I could spew them out like the drunk bitch at a party spews half digested pizza after her 7th shot of tequila. This is the part where fans of this inane game spout off that action cards would ruin the perfect balance of the game as it is. WTF!?!? This is a pretty lame game people how the fuck could action cards screw it up any more? All I see action cards doing here is adding a nice new unexpected element to a relatively boring game perhaps creating the rift in time and space that would make me actually want to play this.

There is one other game but I'm hesitant to mention it here I think it would shock you more than any other game I have mentioned thus far. The truth is however that I am reluctant to mention said game as I have in the works already an action deck designed and am considering marketing it on it's own. So I'd tell you but intellectual property rights and all...and really you think I love you that much? After all that's been said in this blog? It's a cold world out there and I'm happy to bring a bit of the cruel coldness to you right here on. . .The Dice Hate Me. Until next time get out there get yourself a bit of action...and you dork I'm not talking about board gaming here. Seeya kiddies.