In my previous blogpost, I discussed the importance of having clear design goals and game objectives. This time, we’ll explore how I applied this advice to Allegiance.
The basic premise of Allegiance – to include its theme, objectives, and core mechanisms – was conceived in a single brainstorm session. In early December 2013, I learned about Dice Hate Me Games’ 54-Card Game Design Challenge. It inspired me to come up with a simple card game that could be played with a deck of just 54 cards. I spent the evening deciding first on an in-game objective (and the feeling I wanted it to evoke), then the theme, and finally the mechanisms. That night I created prototype cards. The next day I played the first session of the Allegiance with my local gaming group. It was met with some success and a lot of optimism. Ultimately, Allegiance would grow beyond the 54-card limit for the contest (to its current form of a 96-card deck), but that is a subject for a different time.
In that first night, I asked myself the same questions I posed in the previous blogpost:
What are the in-game objectives?
I knew I wanted to base a game around a variation of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. I also knew I wanted to base this prisoner’s dilemma type choice on the players’ ability to choose which side they wanted to be on (the Temple or Thieves’ Guild). Very few deduction and deception type games allow players to choose their side during the course of the game, instead opting for hidden, but assigned, roles. The objective of Allegiance is to have allegiance with the organization (the Thieves’ Guild or Temple) that has the most influence at the end of the game. The catch is that multiple players can have a shared victory if they are allied with the Temple and it has higher influence. However, only one player wins even if multiple players have allegiance to the Thieves’ Guild and it has the most influence.
What is the theme of my game?
The theme of Allegiance is that a Thieves’ Guild has emerged in a medieval city, and the Guild members are vying for influence with the established Temple. The stark, minimalistic black & white artistic design reinforces the differences between the two organizations.
What are the core mechanics of my game?
The mechanics for Allegiance are fairly simple: players simultaneously draw cards, which they allocate to the Thieves’ Guild and Temple to affect the influence of those organizations. They also keep cards in their hands, which affect their allegiance with the Thieves’ Guild and Temple. Some cards also have actions players can use to affect their own hand of cards or those of others. Each card has two values: one for the Thieves’ Guild and one for the Temple, so player choice on what to do with each card is multi-faceted.
How complex should my game be, and How long will it take to play?
I wanted Allegiance to be a lightweight card game with some interesting – and unusual – decisions that played in less than a half hour. My goal was 15 – 20 minutes, though I was willing to sacrifice play time if it meant achieving other goals.
How many players should the game support?
Because of the nature of the game, I knew it would not be able to support two players. That was never really a goal of mine. I didn’t set an upper limit to the player count, though the practical component limitation (cards in the deck) essentially established the player count for me. Even now, the only limiting factor to the player count is the card count, and you could expand the player count by adding a second deck. Because of the simultaneous draw nature of the game and the fixed number of player actions based on the card count, scaling the player count doesn’t affect the length of the game.
Who is my target audience?
Ultimately, I think Allegiance could appeal to a very broad audience. The theme is not restrictive or inherently limiting, at least in my opinion. The art is designed to appeal to a broad range of players. Admittedly, there is a little bit of “strange math” in the form of slightly unintuitive card placement, which may be off-putting to some on the initial play. However, the card allocation mechanism is really one of the key elements to the decision-making process in Allegiance, and what makes it standout.
How much direct player interaction should my game have (and should it be competitive or cooperative)?
I wanted there to be a full gamut of player options, ranging from a fully cooperative game (where all the players are allied with the Temple) to a completely cut throat game (where all the players are allied with the Thieves’ Guild). But, for the most part, the core decision that each player will be forced to grapple with is whether they should go for a solitary victory, or work collaboratively for a shared victory. In this regard, the level of player interaction can range widely, according to player strategy and choice.
How does the game build tension and provide for interesting decision-making processes?
A lot of this is addressed above, but tension is primarily created through two methods:
– There is a strategic-level tension of each player’s choice to ally with the Thieves’ Guild or Temple, and
– There is a tactical-level tension of choice for card allocation every round, wherein players must decide which cards to allocate to the Temple and the Thieves’ Guild and which card to keep in their hand.
How much luck should be in the game, and how can the luck be mitigated?
Luck in Allegiance is based on the card draw. Because of the end-game mechanic (deck exhaustion), low player count games are inherently less luck-based because of the higher card draw count players experience. However, the final card draw and allocation mechanism used in the game allows for a high level of player control over their allegiance and the influence they give to the Temple and Thieves’ Guild. Players can also opt to keep cards that give them actions as a way of mitigating luck.
In summary, I used the basic questions presented in the previous blogpost to help construct the core premise of Allegiance. The game’s design has evolved considerably, but my design goals have remained consistent. This consistency helps focus the game design process.
Good references and source material for this post:
– Dice Hate Me: 54-Card Game Challenge
– Prisoner’s Dilemma
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