Landmark Games Part 7: Can’t Stop

CantStopPress-your-luck is a venerable category among games with many distinguished entries. King among these is the 1980 Can’t Stop by the also venerated Sid Sackson. It is a must-play for those with an interest in dice rollers like Yahtzee, Pickomino, or Plucky Pilots and those with a similar interest in other luck-pressing games like Duck, Duck, Bruce.

Can’t Stop’s roots lie in intriguing mathematical concepts that have engaged many minds. Sugar Pill Studios posted an extensive analysis of Can’t Stop probabilities while giving gamer and Boardgamegeek member Rob Igo created a handy reference sheet, and Michael Keller’s analysis advises us to invoke his Rule of 28.

Can’t stop is educational without being “edumacational;” It can teach basic arithmetic and basic combinations, It can teach nonuniform distributions and conditional probability.

For all these mathematical implications, its key concepts are still easily accessible.  Its key rules are elegant and easily parsed by non-gamers:

  1. Roll all four dice.
  2. Divide them into two pairs and add the numbers.
  3. Place/advance markers on these numbers if you can. If you can’t, remove your progress and pass the dice.
  4. Would you like to roll again?

The essential constraints come from rules 2 and 3.

Rule 2 dictates that the four dice must be summed into two pairs and no other configuration. For the casual player, this keeps the number of configurations small and manageable–3 at most. For the gamer, this gives us the kinds of limited options we simultaneously dread and adore.

Rule 3 transforms rule 4 from a trivial decision to an agonizing one. Look how far I’ve gone! Surely I can go to the top! Or can I? One failed roll could cost me everything I’ve accomplished! The gambler in us says to keep rolling while our inner pessimist screams to stop!

One other element makes Can’t Stop stand out from many of its luck pressing peers–it can be won on a single turn.  This element should be mandatory to any game designed in the genre.  No matter how remote the odds may be at any moment, no matter how bad your placement, it is always possible to hit a hot streak and pull a win.  This is the key–that knowledge that you could win on your next turn if your luck is with you–that will keep you in the game right to the last moment. How some luck pressers choose to omit this element is quite honestly beyond me.

 

Closing Thoughts

Can’t Stop is the avatar of press-your-luck games.  It is accessible and yet deep.  It is clear and yet confounding.  It gives us the thrills and the agonizing decisions to keep us bringing it back to the table for years, long after many of its contemporaries have been consigned away in garage sales and second-hand stores.  It is excellent.

 

What are the landmark games?  Which titles should every game enthusiast play at least once?  Can’t Stop is my suggestion.

Have you played Can’t Stop?  What do you think of it as a landmark game?  What other games do you see as notable ancestors to newer games?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create and account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

 

Gen Con 2014

Design partner Luther Bell Hendricks V, development phenom John Eyster, and I had the pleasure of attending Gen Con 2014 last week. While that delightful annual roller coaster deposited most folks back into their normal lives gently, like the babbling stream at the foot of a waterfall, it was merely one of the loops in the roller coaster of August for us teachers.

My classroom is now prepped, I’m settled in and ready for those smiling faces to arrive Monday and that means it’s time to get back to the important business of blogging!

Guardians of the Galaxy

GuardiansoftheGalaxyA few days before departing for Gen Con, three of us checked out Marvel’s newest blockbuster. Chris Pratt was a familiar face from Parks & Recreation, the Guardians were familiar from their comic appearances in the 1970s and 80s, I’d noticed at my FLGS that Marvel rebooted them in comic form (presumably to build anticipation for the film) and wondered how they’d do on the big screen.

Folks, this was worth it.  Action? Yes.  Adventure? Yes.  Space Opera? Yup.  Is it perfect? Hardly. Lee Pace was wasted on that glowering cardboard cutout of a villain.  It is worth your time to see? Definitely.  Were I of a mind to develop alternate characters for Sentinel Tactics, these Guardians are be the ones I’d do.

My Work at Gen Con

Our main purpose at Gen Con was to promote Sentinel Tactics and it’s thrilling to say that it was well received.  Our central objective has always been to give players a new way to interact with the Sentinel Tactics-mainSentinels setting and it looks like we succeeded.  While the game may not have the broad appeal of some other titles *cough* X-Wing *cough* its core audience was thrilled.  Some players delighted at the opportunity to play a villain.  Some appreciated a chance to scratch their wargaming itch with Sentinels-playing friends.  One was so enthusiastic that he posted a strategy guide for the scenario we’d been running!

Christopher Badell and I had a chance to sit down with W. Eric Martin of BGG for a Geek Speak about Sentinel Tactics and I promise to add a link here just as soon as it’s up.  If you haven’t had a chance to get a good look at the components yet, this will be a good way to do it.

In addition to Sentinel Tactics, APE Games released their Rolling Freight Expansion #1.  This expansion offers a new power into the Rolling Freight system and three new map features.  It’s fans seemed quite happy with it and I’m doubly eager to see the response to Expansion #2 (scheduled for next year) which offers two more maps, this time streamlined for two players.

Kevin Brusky (Mr. APE Games) and I had an opportunity to speak with The Spiel (link tba) and I promise to add a link here just as soon as it’s up.  We elected to reveal another game I’m developing for APE during that interview.  the working title is “Muster & Battle” and I’ll be blogging about it here soon.

On another happy front, we took several meetings with publishers in the evenings and have come away with some exciting new projects.  I’m not free to discuss them publicly *yet* but details will be coming soon, I promise.

Other Excitements at Gen Con

Every year, I pour through the convention previews and assemble a “must look at” list.  This year turned out to be an exceptionally good year for conversions to the “must buy” list.  I can’t offer any complete reviews here but will mention a few of the stars and why I liked them.

HABA

Plucky PilotsHABA is easily one of my favorite game companies.  They make solid kid-friendly games that still feature intelligent, meaningful choices.  It was a major delight to see HABA USA decide to have a booth at Gen Con.  When I dropped by, the staff was delightfully cheerful and busy.  Lea Culliton tells me that not only will they be back next year, they will likely double their booth size.

Haba had several new games on display and I elected to bring home a copy of Plucky Pilots for its press-your-luck mechanism and general sense of whimsy.

AbyssAsmodee

The Asmodee booth had several good games on offer but after a short demo with codesigners Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier, it was clear that Abyss offered an economic model and gameplay which made it the one to grab.

Indie Boards and Cards

Always clever at pulling money from my pocket,  IB&C debuted Dragon Slayer, a dice game at a price I could not refuse.

Z-Man

pocket_battles_confederacy_vs._unionIt was in 2009 that Z-Man Games first released a Pocket Battles game.  In my ignorance, it wasn’t until 2013 that I tried one of them out and discovered what a little gem I’d been missing.  Fortunately for me, they put the original three back into print alongside the newest entry in the series, Confederacy vs. Union.  The pocket battles series is a perfect example of what I’ve tried to accomplish in my own game designs–a place for both strategic and tactical decisions, clear rules, fast play.

Did you make it to any conventions this summer?  Which ones?  What was your favorite game?  Who was the most interesting person you met?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  You keep reading. I’ll keep writing.

Triggered Effects, Part 5

The Story So Far…

Triggered card effects all fit under a general “when TRIGGER occurs, do EVENT” template. They can make a card situationally powerful.  They can give cardsets a mechanical theme.  They can create opportunities for counterplay.

We have taken a look at several categories of trigger and effect, including several from our insightful readers.  We have also taken a look at four different combinations and suggested a game which might might best serve each.

For reference, here is our working list of triggers and events.  Let’s try four more combinations.

Triggered Effects in Columns

 

 

 

 

Combination 05: B + E

Trigger (B): Receives Damage

Event (E): Cardplay

Here’s another combination that feels right for Duel.  Since battles can last over several plays, it would be interesting to create a card that grants cardplay each time it is damaged.  One of the deck concepts being developed for this game is “Gamers” and the idea of playing cards each time one of your cards is damaged certainly seems like a gamer-y kind of effect to me.

TCG PlayerTCG Player is my attempt at such a combination.  Strength is fairly high in Duel–to date, there are only two cards in nine decks with Strength greater than 10–so this should ensure that its ability kicks off at about twice on the average.  Since this card’s ability is reactive, there’s also good incentive to play it face down to entrap your opponent rather than simply playing it for its Strength.

Taking a second look at the card, there’s a rising concern that this card is overpowered.  Playtest will confirm or refute this concern of course.  Should the card indeed be too powerful, there are multiple ways to address the issue.  The TCG Player could be weakened or it could be left strong while the other elements of the deck are weakened to counterbalance its power.

 

Combination 06: A + H

Brushfire WarTrigger (A): Critical Mass

Event (H): Game State

This combination evokes thoughts of a card-driven political tension game and Twilight Struggle by Ananda Gupta/Jason Matthews is one of the classics.

I confess that it’s been a few years since I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy this game but I believe a card of this type might look something like this Brushfire War.

 

 

Combination 07: I + G

Trigger (I): Forced Discard

Event (G): Component Condition

Right on ScheduleThis combination makes me think of a two player card-driven game about breaking out of prison. Perhaps it’s because we recently saw Guardians of the Galaxy and its delightful prison break sequence?  In any case, one player will play the guards while the other plays the inmates.

In an environment like this one, the Guard player’s deck would likely include a number of cards which counter Prisoner player’s cards or force the Prisoner to discard cards.  A classic trope of the prison break movie is the moment at which the prisoners subvert the Guards standard operating procedure, turning their plans against them.  In this spirit, we give the Prisoner deck this Right On Schedule card.

 

Combination 08: D + F

Trigger (D): Revelation

Event (F): Component Quantity

The idea for a theme is somewhat thin on this one but how about a worker placement/blind auction/deckbuilding hybrid in which the workers are cards?    In the majority of worker placement games, all workers are identical (Leonardo da Vinci and my own Zong Shi are exceptions) but if workers were cards, they could vary quite a bit.

Harbor MasterEach player is given a small deck of mediocre starting workers and the like–Copper and Estates for you Dominion fans out there. The central gameboard features spaces from which actions, goods, better cards can be drafted in a worker placement manner.  Cards (workers) are played face down with a marker to indicate ownership.  More than one player can choose the same space.  Once all cards have been played for the round, each space resolves.  The player with the best worker gets the full effect of the space while everyone else gets a minor, lesser, effect. Ties would be broken in favor of the lower–and therefore first–card

One card players can acquire in this environment might be our Harbormaster shown here.

 

Another Project

Continuing our back to school adventures, here’s another a nice homework assignment for you.  This time, I’m giving you the trigger, the event, AND the type of game this trigger must be used in.  See what you can think up and submit your ideas to our comment section.  Constraints breed creativity.  Go for it–you can do it!

Trigger (A): Critical Mass

Event (H): Game State

Game Type: Pick Up and Deliver

 

Gen Con 2014!

In addition to back to school season, it’s also Gen Con season!  Luther, John and I will be in attendance, primarily at Greater Than Games–booth 1949.  We’ll be running demos of Sentinel Tactics all weekend.  Come by, say hello, and let’s play a game!

 

We have now looked at eight of my “when TRIGGER occurs, do EVENT” examples.  How did I do?  What combination did you find most interesting?  What made you like it so much?  Which one did you like least?  What keeps it from being more enjoyable?   Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress (http://wordpress.com/) and follow this blog.  You keep reading. I’ll keep writing.

Triggered Effects, Part 4

The Story So Far…

Triggered card effects all fit under a general “when TRIGGER occurs, do EVENT” template. They can make a card situationally powerful.  They can give cardsets a mechanical theme.  They can create opportunities for counterplay.

We have taken a look at several categories of trigger and effect, including several from our insightful readers.

 

Putting Them Together

We have put quite a few tools into our designer toolbox over the last two weeks.  Having tools is great.  Using them is better.  We need to try combining some triggers with events and take a look at which combinations best fit which games.

Triggered Effects in Columns

This list has nine categories of trigger and an equal number of event categories.  Multiplying those 81 combinations by the huge number of game categories out there and my mind became overwhelmed.  There were too many options pick a starting place.  Then I remembered A Whack on the Side of the Head and the power randomness can offer to driving creativity.  Rather than trying to take each combination on in turn, I elected to let ranom.org pick one from each column and discover what those combinations inspire.  Here we go…!

 

Combination 01: B + C

Trigger (B): Receives Damage

Event (C): Endurance

This combination evokes images of firefighters in me.  Starting from there, How might a game which includes a triggered effect like this one look…?

Sally JoIn towns of the American frontier era, volunteer fire departments competed for the honor of being the ones to put out the fire.  So extreme was their enthusiasm that this rivalry sometimes devolved into fisticuffs, even as the building burned down beside them.  

For a game set in this era, players draft firefighters, then fight fires with their teams.  Firefighters are represented by cards which have two attributes–Bravery, Fortitude.

This a triggered event of this type in this setting suggests a character with low Bravery but high Fortitude.  Let’s make it our mascot–the classic dalmatian–and name her Sally Jo.

 

 

Combination 02: D + D

Trigger (D): Revelation

Event (D): Cards

CoachThis is a combination quickly found its way into Duel. Playtesting has shown that in many decks, certain cards are better at some times than others.  This means that an important element of play is dealing with cards that arrive at better or worse times.  This is on its face not a major issue.  Card games like Magic: the Gathering, Sentinels of the Multiverse card game, and Cheat (Bullshit) all present exactly this challenge to players.  

Since players may place cards face up or face down, revelation effects fit perfectly into Duel. I’ve been experimenting with quite a few of them. What if one of the Duel decks emphasized card combinations but also included a way to exert control over your hand?  One of the decks I’ve been developing has a Sport/Athletics theme and this sounds like a perfect job for a coach.

The Coach card was given low strength but I think his ability text is a solid match for a Revelation + Cards combination.

 

Combination 03: C + B

Trigger (C): Deal Damage

Event (B): Currency

Sylvan Sea SerpentMany of the people in my design group play M:tG regularly.  It’s only natural then that discussions about its design should occur around the design table quite often.  Apart from the occasional draft match, I haven’t really played M:tG since the 1990s but looking at this combination immediately made me think of Mr. Garfield’s game.

Will generate currency–mana–green and blue seem like natural colors for the job.  Playing with a few combinations gave me the Sylvan Sea Serpent shown here.

 

 

Combination 04: E + G

Trigger (E): Acquisition

Event (G): Component Condition

Let’s try applying one to a pure eurogame–something which would easily sit alongside Princes of Florence on any gamer’s shelves.  Each player gets a play mat with a grid of squares.  Each player is working to fill his grid with buildings in order to achieve the best (highest scoring) town.  

A number of resources appear each round according to the roll of four dice–one for each resource type.  The particulars of these dice is not terribly important to this exercise but let’s say that these are averaging dice which show 2-3-3-4-4-5 on their faces (eager shoppers can find them here).

BayardAt the heart of the game will be card drafting/play mechanisms to navigate.  Cards collect resources, spend resources for build buildings and the like.  At the beginning of each round, a number of cards equal to the number of players is revealed from the deck.  These cards generally generate labor to construct buildings, make certain buildings cheaper to acquire or award endgame bonus points for building types.

Into this game, we bring Bayard the Stevedore.  He contributes little to your labor pool but offsets this with his particular ability to manipulate the resource supply.

 

 

Your Weekend Project

August means back to school season and what better way to gear up than with a nice homework assignment?  Try this combination out for yourself.  See what you can think up and submit your ideas to our comment section.

Trigger (E): Receives Damage

Event (G): Component Condition

 

These were my first four examples of the “when TRIGGER occurs, do EVENT” formula.  Next time, I will attempts to take on four more.  How will I do?  Come by Tuesday and find out!

What combination did you find most interesting?  What made you like it so much?  Which one did you like least?  What keeps it from being more enjoyable?   Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

Triggered Effects, Part 3

The Story So Far…

Triggered card effects all fit under a general “when TRIGGER occurs, do EVENT” template. They can make a card situationally powerful.  They can give cardsets a mechanical theme.  They can create opportunities for counterplay.

We have identified eight categories of trigger so far–Entrance, Tap/Untap, Exit, Acquisition, Revelation, Damage to the Card, Damage by the Card, Critical Mass.  I also pointed out that any of these effects could use the opponent as the trigger rather than the card holder.

We have addressed five categories of effect so far–Victory Points, Currency, Endurance, Cards, and Additional Cardplay.

I also challenged readers to identify any triggers I missed and to predict what other effects I would list.

 

Another Awesome Reader

Reader Jayson took on my challenge to identify missing triggers, suggesting four AND a modifier.  Jayson’s triggers were

(a)  “Play immediately when this card is drawn…”

(b)  “When you are forced to discard this card…”

(c)  “If X on this card is greater than Y…”

(d)  “When randomizer is X…”

There are all interesting triggers and each certainly has its place in design.  I find (b) particularly interesting and have been mulling that one over quite a bit since reading Jayson’s comment.

Jayson went on to point out that many triggers could be modified in the negative case “If X does not…” which may be seen as a special case of the Critical Mass trigger discussed in the last column but is certainly worth keeping in mind nonetheless.

 

More Effects

Triggered card effects fit under the “when TRIGGER occurs, do EVENT” umbrella.  We have addressed five categories of effect so far.  Today’s blog expands our list to include game component effects and internal effects.

 

Game Component Effects

Obviously, card effects can be used heavily in card games.  But cardplay mechanisms can also be used as part of a larger game.  This opens up a world of card effect opportunities for the intrepid designer to explore.

Glittercats correctly anticipated this area with the comment “A lot of games use card effects to control non-card mechanics. So the card’s effect may be to move tokens on the board, or re-roll dice, or some other interaction with non-card components.”  Let’s take a closer look at the options this gives us.

 

Component Quantity

Card effects in a  board game could direct us to add components, remove components, move components, or swap component locations.  These effects will say things like

“…place a control marker in your weakest area.”

“…remove 2 voters from the most populated area.”

“…you may move all of your workers from the defeated area.”

“…swap the position of two adjacent racers.”

 

 

Component Condition

Card effects in a  board game could direct us to alter the components themselves.  These effects might say things like

“…advance the toxicity marker one level.”

“…you may immediately reroll one of your dice.”

“…refill an empty farm.”

“…flip a die over to its opposite face.”

 

Game State

Similar to component condition, our effects could change the overall state of the game.  We could achieve this by altering the topology of the game board, exhausting areas, refreshing areas, or even changing the odds.  These effects might look like

“…add +1 to all die rolls for the rest of your turn.”

“…add a map tile from the supply.”

“…remove a depleted mine from the board.”

“…open one gate.”

 

Internal Effects

BerzerkerUp to now, we’re focused entirely on outwardly-directed effects.  But what about triggered effects which target the card itself?  This ground has been well-trod by constructed deck games but what about applying these effects to other types of games?  These effects could have our players

“…give this card +1/+1.”

“…remove a timing stone from this card.”

“…untap this card.”

“…remove all enemies from this card.”

These were my other categories in the “when TRIGGER occurs, do EVENT” formula.  Next time, we begin combining triggers with events.  Which which games use which combinations best?  Come by Friday and find out!

What effects did I leave out?  If so, what were they?  What game trigger do you find most interesting?  What made you like it so much?  What game triggers do you dislike?  What keeps it from being more enjoyable?   Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  You keep reading. I’ll keep writing.

Triggered Effects, Part 2

The Story So Far…

Triggered card effects all fit under a general “when TRIGGER occurs, do EVENT” template. They can make a card situationally powerful.  They can give cardsets a mechanical theme.  They can create opportunities for counterplay.

Part one of this series identified six categories of trigger–Entrance, Tap/Untap, Exit, Acquisition, Revelation, and Damage to the Card.  I also pointed out that any of these effects could use the opponent as the trigger rather than the card holder.

I also challenged readers to identify any triggers I missed.

 

My Awesome Readers

Several astute readers took on my challenge, identified missing triggers, and shared them in the comments section.

ConspiratorJacob Titus Sanders pointed out that while I had discussed damage dealt to a card, I had completely overlooked damage dealt by the card.

studio228 suggested critical mass effects of the form “if you have 6 or more cards in your graveyard…,” or “if you’ve played three or more actions this turn…,” or  “if either player deals 12 damage in a single turn…”

Readers Rob and willbanalog pointed to resolution mechanisms–the “stack” for triggered effects found in M:tG and the immediacy of triggered effects in Marvel Dice Masters.

Regular reader, frequent contributor, and all-around spiffy dude Carl Klutzke remarked that triggered effects could be used to clean up otherwise wordy card effects.  Carl, we’d love to see a few specific examples from you.

Granite OniCarl also noticed that I’d completely omitted start/end of turn effects which is tragic when you consider how frequently such effects appear in the Sentinels of the Multiverse card game.  Reflecting on such effects, I might still leave them off the list however.  So many games which include start/end of turn that phases are commonly reserved for just this purpose whereas what I was hoping to address in this series are effects which are not so evident.  Of course, I did include tap/untap so maybe start/end of turn should be these as well.  there’s certainly something there to think about…

 

Approaching Effects

Triggered card effects fit under the “when TRIGGER occurs, do EVENT” umbrella.  Having taken a revised look at the variety of triggers that exist, we now begin a take on the other half–effects.

 

Victory Points

Many games keep score with victory points of one kind or another.  The simplest and most obvious effects then would say things like

“…gain 3VP.”

“…all opponents lose 2 VP.”

“…all opponents must give you 1 VP.”

 

Currency

If your game has an economic element in which items must be bought or sole, currency is another obvious effect.  Overt currency effects tend to say things like

“…you have 5 extra silvers this turn.”

“…each opponent must give you 1 coin.”

“…all your Shekels count double this turn.”

 

Endurance

Venerable MonkMost Constructed Deck Games (CDGs) are dedicated to survival.  Players of these games generally think highly of any mechanism which extend life.  Because some CDGs use the deck itself as a measure of life while others track life separately and the daddy of them all M:tG does both, these effects may be overt or covert and say things like

“…gain 2 life.”

“…all opponents lose 1 life.”

“…target opponent loses X life and you gain X life.”

“…shuffle your discard pile into your deck.”

 

Cards

warehouseFor many card games, the cards are a currency in and of themselves.  Gaining or losing cards can then be quite important.  Effects of this type might read like

“…draw a card.”

“…all opponents must discard a card.”

“…all opponents must discard the top card of their deck.”

“…draw a card at random from each opponent’s hand and add it to your own.”

 

Additional Cardplay

Sometimes it is not so much how many cards you have but how many cards you can play.  In these games, players would be quite enthusiastic about effects which give the opportunity to play more cards.  Cardplay effects read like

“…+1 Action.”

“…gain 3 green mana.”

These are the first five card effect categories in our look at the “when TRIGGER occurs, do EVENT” formula.  Next time, we go after the rest.  See you Monday!

What effects did I leave out?  If so, what were they?  What game triggers do you find most interesting?  What made you like it so much?  What game triggers do you dislike?  What keeps it from being more enjoyable?   Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog.  You keep reading. I’ll keep writing.