Workers and Cards

January 21, 2019

Right, well, first I want to thank everyone who responded to last week's post. I was pleasantly surprised by not only the support, but all the good ideas people had for the What We Found There project. It made me feel like I made the right choice, talking openly about my design project, so, in the spirit of that, let's keep going!

I want to talk about the two mechanics of the game I am most excited about, because I have loved them in other games and am excited for the chance to play around with them.

The first of these is the concept of specialized workers. Think of Railroad Revolution or Chimera Project. The idea is that the workers you have are not created equal. For whatever action you assign your worker to take, that action is going to be modified in some way by the innate properties of the worker itself. I think the concept, when executed properly, can add some much-needed life to the stodgy worker-placement genre.

As the initial concept, you would have four tiers of workers: 1 - undergraduate students, 2 - graduate students, 3 - post docs, 4 - professors. And each would have a power equal to their tier, meaning, roughly, a professor would be four times more powerful at an action than an undergrad.

So a lot of actions will be tied directly to the tier of the worker using it, like, "gain X astrophysics research" where X is the worker's tier. And other actions will have a tier threshold, so lower workers can't even use it. For instance, a professor would be the only worker who could apply for a grant or hire new researchers.

Of course, you are the professor, so you will only have two of those worker types (one for each mirror universe). Post docs and grad students can be hired, meaning you'll have to pay them each round, but they will also have additional specialized benefits. For instance, maybe one of your post docs gains additional theoretical research whenever he takes an action to do theoretical research. Maybe one of your grad students has a fellowship, so he is actually free to employ. Lastly, there are undergrads, who act more like a resource. They don't stick around very long, so you can basically deploy them once to get a small benefit, but then they go back to a communal supply.

The other dynamic at play here is that a worker of a higher tier can always bump another player's lower tier worker out of a space. The owner of that worker doesn't gain or lose anything - they already took the action and got the resources - but I think it will add an extra layer of strategy to the worker deployment (given the right balance of available spaces, of course). Players could start with their lower-tier workers to maximize what they can collectively gather, but you can always deploy your professor to a space early to completely lock players out from taking advantage of it. In a way, it is sort of similar to something like Russian Railroads, except you only have discrete values of workers that you can use.

Some very outdated Gloomhaven cards!

The other mechanic I am interested in exploring further (admittedly, I already explored it significantly in Gloomhaven) is multi-use cards. Multi-use cards are just spectacular on all fronts. They give players more meaningful choices, and they reduce the number of components in a game. Instead of four decks of cards you need to keep track of and draw from, you can condense that down to one, which also means the publisher has to only print one deck of cards instead of four. The only down side is that you've gotta make sure your graphic design can handle getting all the necessary information onto a single card in an easily digestible format, but that's something we said we wouldn't think about.

Right, so the idea is that I wanted to have four separate semi-random aspects to the game that players could engage with by drawing cards. The first is the post doc and grad student workers. Because each will have a unique power, it's not as simple as going to a "family growth" space and getting a new worker. You'll need a card corresponding to a specific worker before you can hire them and bring them onto your team. You also have to remember that you're dealing with two mirror universes, so you can actually use the same card to hire that specific worker on both sides of the divide.

The second random draw is the new action spaces that players can build, which are themed as equipment to be installed in your lab. There will be a large spatial component to how equipment is installed, but we'll save that for another time. Again, though, I would like each of these to be unique, meaning the development of each individual game can vary strongly depending on which equipment is built.

Third, I would also like to implement other permanent bonuses players could gain, adding a stronger sense of engine-building to the game. Think of something along the lines of minor improvements in Agricola. These will also be unique and greatly varied. They would be themed as collaborations with other scientific groups in academia.

And three things might be enough, but four seems like a better number for these sorts of things, and you could also just have one-time bonus resources, so if a card is useless to you as the other options, you can just play it as a free action on your turn to get whatever resources are depicted on the card. I like this because it also adds an element of the unknown to what capabilities the other players have. You know what some of the resources they have are, but they could always be hiding more in their cards. This is important because a major part of the game will have players turning in various amounts of research to progress global goals (closing the gateway), and so you want players to be able to make unexpected plays based off hidden information so that the outcome is less deterministic.

So those are the main ideas rattling around at the moment. Right now I am working on ideas for these multi-use cards - worker powers, equipment actions, collaboration bonuses, etc. - but once I get enough of those in the bank, then it's a matter of getting a rough prototype together to take it for a spin. Hopefully it will suck less than last time!

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