December 17, 2008

Ambition

Another Game Design Challenge that I really enjoyed. The requirements stated that it had to be an online game, but I think I might want to build this in board game form.
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Ambition is an online game for 4 players. It mimics the conventions of a physical board game, with a virtual game board, game pieces representing the players, and cards that players can pick up and use.

All players start at the beginning of a path that has 100 steps. The players play in real time, with all players participating in each turn simultaneously. Players may take a maximum of one minute per turn. Gameplay centers around virtual cards. Players start with 3 cards. Each turn consists of choosing a card to play and choosing how to play it, and at the end of each turn, players get a new card at random.

There are three types of cards, each of which can be played one of two ways: either for the Greater Good ("played GG"), or All For Me ("played A4M"). The cards types:

1. Quandary Cards
Players have a 50% chance to pick up this type of card.
- If you play this card GG and ALL other Quandary cards in play this turn are also played GG, then you move forward 5 steps.
- If you play this card GG and ANY other Quandary card is played A4M this turn, then you move backward 2 steps.
- If you play this card A4M and ALL other Quandary cards in play this turn are played GG, then you move forward 10 steps.
- If you play this card A4M and ANY other Quandary card is played A4M this turn, then you move forward 1 step.

2. Help Cards
Players have a 25% chance to pick up this type of card.
- If you play this card GG, then you must choose one OTHER player who then moves forward 10 steps.
- If you play this card A4M, then you move forward 1 step.

3. Hurt Cards
Players have a 25% chance to pick up this type of card.
- If you play this card GG, then you move backward 1 step.
- If you play this card A4M, then you must choose one OTHER player who then moves backward 5 steps.

These cards essentially encode the Prisoner's Dilemma. Rational self-interest always demands that the cards be played A4M, but the best outcome for all is that everyone play them all GG.

In other words, Ambition is about selfishness and sacrifice. It is designed to teach a moral lesson through its game mechanics.

Two more rules enhance this lesson:
- If a player finishes a turn on spaces 1-29, they are automatically moved forward 1 space at the end of the turn. If a player finishes on spaces 60-99, they are automatically moved backward 1 space.
- Lastly, the game supports multiple winners. Any player who finishes within a 75-turn time limit wins the game.

These final rules amplify the fact that winning is nigh impossible through selfishness alone. Also, the open winning condition prevents the game from becoming totally cutthroat at the end.

Critically, Ambition must support an online chat channel during the game. Players must be allowed to discuss and negotiate as they navigate a complex social dilemma.

The numbers used in this design may be changed after playtesting, and the game may be colored and themed in order to make it more appealing.

Some lessons are best imparted through gameplay, and I believe that the lesson presented here (the basis for my personal understanding of morality) is one of them.

6 comments:

Michou said...
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Michou said...

This game sounds fun/interesting, although I don't know how much replay value it would have. But why would anyone play a "Hurt" card, if not to drag someone else down? (Unless you only have "Hurt" cards, which would be very unfortunate.) There is no motivation to play a Hurt card as GG, because if you were going to play GG, then a quandry or help card would both be, overall, more beneficial, as all involve moving people forward (unless you don't want to move your friends forward, in which case you may as well use the hurt card as an A4M.)

E McNeill said...

a) On rare occasions, you will only have Hurt cards in your hand. Will you take one for the team?

b) I wanted to include a means for players to punish each other. If one guy keeps ruining the Quandary plays, others might decide to all use their Hurt cards against him.

Michou said...

I accept your reasoning.

Another point that occurred to me later- do you believe the idea of everyone who reaches the end in the first 75 turns winning will be [readily] accepted by all players? It seems like the idea of 'being first' might be a concept that is hard to break.

E McNeill said...

Totally! And the target audience (as stipulated by the Game Design Challenge) was 11-15 year olds, who would be even more likely to succumb to "me first" proclivities.

That, I think, is why the game will be interesting. If a group of mature, intelligent, good people thought about the game and started playing, they'd play all their cards GG, finish it in no time, and be bored. As soon as anybody insists on being the fastest, however, things start to get interesting. Overcoming the need to be first is what the game is about.

... said...

Ooooh. That would be fascinating to watch. :) [although probably annoying to play with them]