Tension on Mt. Avalanche

Oh boy! I have been super-duper busy the past 3 weeks, I finally get a chance to write a post. I have been showing off It’s an Ambush! and AVALANCHE!, playing Pandemic Legacy, doing a podcast interview for AVALANCHE!, and of course school work. I am actually writing this as I watch the games for the IEM tournament for League of Legends. There are so many roster changes I don’t know who to even root for… I also ate half a box of Oreos and really feeling it. But hey, it’s getting super cold in Boston. Gotta get that hibernation fat going sometime.

So we finally get to my first game ever, AVALANCHE! In AVALANCHE!, you and your friends are attempting to climb the world’s newest, tallest, most dangerous mountain, Mt. Avalanche. However, all the professional mountain climbers are too busy with Mt. Everest. So now big companies are sponsoring you to climb to the top. But, there can one person who was the first to summit Mt. Avalanche, will it be you? “AVALANCHE! is a semi-cooperative 4-8 player tabletop game where you race to the top of Mt. Avalanche while working with your friends than back stab them for the win! It plays in about 45 minutes. It is easy to learn with quick turns and a lot of interaction with your friends.” This is usually what I tell my friends when they find out I am making a game, which by the way feels awesome.

So why should you play my game? My game, AVALANCHE!, that I made without any prior experience. Playing AVALANCHE! let’s you a feel what you imagine the stress and tension to be like while climbing a mountain. This feeling is interspersed throughout the mechanics and game play but it is most emphasized in three places: drawing cards with possible hidden Avalanches, rolling for Avalanches, and surviving the journey to the top.

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The board in question. Be the first to reach the top and survive one whole turn to win!

During your turn, you have 10 Action Points (AP) to do a myriad of things including climbing up the mountain, drawing cards, playing cards, hurting other players, and using your character ability. Different actions have different costs. There is some tension waiting to see whether your friends will help or hurt you but there more frequent tension when drawing. Drawing has some inherent risk built in. Most of the cards (~85%) are beneficial cards, but about 15% of the cards are “Instants.” Instants cards include AVALANCHE!, Super AVALANCHE!, Gust!, and Updraft (which actually is good). Think of Pandemic. For those who have not played Pandemic, when you draw an Instant, you must play the card and then the mountain tries to stop you from reaching the top. So you are playing and steadily climbing towards the top. Nothing had gone wrong. You have some AP left over and you want some more cards to help you out even more… then you draw an AVALANCHE! Plans ruined, not only do you lose a card draw, you also might taking a step away from your goal. Thematically, you are making progress towards the top but then you feel a rumble and mounds of snow rushes towards you. You steady your footing and prepare to survive what is coming.

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One of 4 Instant cards

Note: because of how I used to name Instants, I might use Instant and Avalanche! interchangeably. “Instant” is a category of cards that includes Avalanche! and a few other cards.

I designed my game around the Instant mechanic. You draw this Instant card and it’s an Avalanche! Everyone around the table looks up and makes that dreaded stare into your soul like you forgot to turn off the stove when you left the house. You then get the glory of determining the strength of the Instant. To do this, you just roll 2d6 dice, that’s two 6 sided dice for those who don’t know. The more you know! Everyone around the table, including you, rolls to see how well you can survive the Instant. Let’s say you roll an 8 as the Instant’s strength. You then roll a 10, your friend Amy, Albert, and Alex roll a 2, 7, and 8 respectively. You and Alex get to survive the Instant and stay where you are because you rolled equal or higher (10 and 8 vs the 8). Amy and Albert (2 and 7) however fall down 1 tile. Sad face. This is the main mechanic in my game. It creates tension when revealing the Instant, then tension in rolling to see the strength of the Instant, then finally more tension in what will you roll to resist the Instant. Everyone around the table is participating as well so it allows you to play the game outside of your turn as well, which helps cut down downtime between turns. I feel this mechanic meshes well with the theme because an Avalanche can occur whenever you are climbing the mountain and affects everyone around the table. However, I do understand real avalanches are deadly and many people have died buried in snow. I am not marginalizing the awe of real life avalanches. But in my game, Avalanches have much less disastrous consequences, and the art style and gameplay support that idea.

Finally, there is tension through surviving the journey to the top of the mountain. At the beginning of the game, you start with 10 health points (HP). Once you reach 0HP, you die and your character is removed from the game. You lose HP by getting damaged by other players, thematically named “Punching” another player. Punching someone causes them to lose 1HP, moving them towards their demise. However unlike other games, your HP is also a resource (just like cards are a resource). Whenever you fail to resist an Instant, you can make up the difference with HP. Say the Instant strength is a 10 and you roll the average of a 7. You can choose to lose 3HP to survive the Instant, therefore staying where you are. You gain a positional advantage but you inch closer to death, posing other players to “Punch” you to death on Mt. Avalanche. Sacrificing your HP is entirely you choice. You can choose to never lose your HP and win the game, or win the game with just 1HP left (you can always recover HP by skipping your turn). Or you can choose to kill everyone on the mountain allowing you win the game. As your HP drops towards zero, the tension of what your friends would do grows. Sure they do not want to harm you when you are full HP in fear of retribution, but when you are about to die and they kill you, they do not have much to fear from a dead person.

Designer note: many people will purposely design games so there is no player elimination (killing players so they cannot play the game until a new game is started). This allows all players to keep playing and not miss out. After much deliberation and changes, I decided to add player elimination to AVALANCHE! because it further enforces the tension theme. If what you do have real consequences in the game, players will take their actions more seriously and become more immersed into the game. It also helps quicken the pace of the game. When there are less players, rounds are quicker so the game picks up the pace pushing the game towards its conclusion while reducing eliminated players’ waiting time.  Also thematically, it makes avalanches more real but being able to hurt players but still not as deadly as in real life.

So there’s my 3 main mechanics of the game that enforces the tension esthetic/theme I am trying to build for AVALANCHE! I truly feel that they work cohesively together mechanically and thematically, which is not an easy task for any game designer. As always, thank you for reading and please feel free to leave a comment about game design or anything I have talked about.

Next visit: More mechanics! Who doesn’t like mechanics?

 

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It’s an Ambush! – the 5 minute mafia/werewolf game

Good news everybody! I tested my new game and it felt fun!

I am writing this as I devour a chicken Caesar salad. It’s delicious and delectable.  Also, I eat it without any dressing. I know it’s weird, everyone says wtf Tony. But hey man, haters gonna hate.

I threw away that dressing like a savage.
I threw away that dressing like a savage.

As I was typing away last time, I had this epiphany about making a new game based on convincing other people with asymmetrical knowledge. I extended that to whether you tell the truth if up to you. There is no theme so see if you can find the bad guy. The bad guy gets to substitute one of the good guys and the person who gets to peeks at one of the cards. If it’s a good guy card, they can get their friends to vote for it to score. But if it’s a bad guy, he can sabotage their friends by tricking them to vote on the bad guy while abstaining from the vote themselves. This is the entire Meta-game. I realized after editing this, a better way is to say it is a 5 minute version of Mafia/Werewolf. You convince people if they are good or bad and you vote on it.

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This is with the Counter-Terrorist vs Terrorist theme. It felt a bit controversial and not as friendly as other themes.

Small note, all the images that were used were from the nounproject.com. They are great for pixel type art like this. It is open source as long as you give credit.

After some confusing explanation and three rounds of play, our small 3 man group understood the game. They were lying back and forth with some truth massaged in here and there.
Here was a typical round. Everyone had their good guy cards face down in front then got their identity card. The person who was the bad guy exchanged their card for a card on the table. I counted to 10. First person to peek looked at a card and said it was good or bad. Then everyone does simultaneously voting. If it passed the card was opened and whoever voted gets the points if they were right. If they were wrong or lied to, they lost a point. That is the gist of the game.

This with the Good Guy vs Bad Guy theme.
This with the Good Guy vs Bad Guy theme.

The fun was in believing your friends or not. If you put your trust in whet it belonged, you got rewarded. I’d you didn’t, you got punished. Simple as that! (See, just like Mafia/Werewolf)

However there were critiques about it of course. There was a lack of theme. The counting was clunky. The bait and switch was noisy so people knew who was the bad guy. Exchanging the bad guy card meant that person ended up with the good guy card in their hand. People associated their role with the card in hand. Also all the rules were verbal so they couldn’t reference anything if they forgot the rules. Don’t you forgot to make a reference sheet. It’s super-duper important.

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The player whose card is revealed gains an extra point gives direction to which card to peek. If no one got the extra point, it really would matter whose card was revealed because it would be entirely arbitrary.

I will go one by one explaining why those were problems and what I did to fix them.

First, theme is what entices people to play it. You pick up a Lovecraft game because you want to be in the world of monsters and ancient beings. Or you pick up a Batman game because it’s a batman game and you want to be the caped crusader with gadgets and money and power. You could have played the same mechanically similar game with the shadow of Mordor but would you wanted be in a fantasy world with goblins and ogres or going around beating up baddies in an urban sprawl modeled after NYC. However, mechanics and gameplay is why people keep playing. For this game, I listed theme after theme:

Wolf in sheeps’ clothing, ghosts, chefs, cyberpunk/steampunk, nuclear fallout, occult, historic events, prison break, law, flight, medical, or zombies were a few of the ones I liked. I narrowed it down to doing a Halloween theme of scaredy cats visiting a carnival for the fun houses but one is a horror buff and convinces other people to do the haunted house. Another one is velociraptors trying to eat meat but one of them is a vegetarian velociraptor that tries to convince the group to eat green leafy veggies (the good guy/bad guy becomes an object that looks like another yummy dinosaur but up close it is actually a tree). However, I finally settled on a Heist theme where bandits in the Wild Wild West have their preference of train carts to rob but one of them is an undercover deputy setting up an ambush on one of the carts. I am still on the fence about it though. I think I might change it to the velociraptors because it’s so silly. I mean come on, vegetarian velociraptors!

The Wild Wild West theme.
The Wild Wild West theme. It is tentatively called “It’s an Ambush!”

Next, the counting was just me counting down from 10. I started counting from 30 and then 20 but those were still too long. I decided to use a timer on my phone that counts down and plays a sound. This way it’s more consistent and the bad guy can see the count.

3rd is the clunky moving the cards around the table. Before we start this one, I think this game can be only be played with cards (which limits what we can use). All the cards have to be the same or else you can differentiate the Bandits from the Deputy and the Cash from the Ambush if it we used dice or meeples. I thought about using a label on the bottom of a tile that you flip up to see it like to really peek at it. I still don’t have a real solution for this. A temporary solution would be to add the Ambush as its own card that is placed in the middle of the table. The Deputy then just swivels the cards to switch them. The sound might still be heard but if we use an electronic timer that plays sounds as it counts down it may mask the sound. Again, this is a temporary solution.

4th and last, changing the card (and your perceived roll) with the board confuses what you are. However, adding the extra Ambush card helps solve this. The Bandits and Deputy keeps the card/role in their hand the whole time.

After all these changes, I did get a small chance to play with my gamer friends outside of my tabletop designer club aka Game Makers Guild of Boston, MA. It did not go over well. I did a bad job explaining it and they did not get it and frankly I think they just wanted to play Super Smash Brothers WiiU instead. Understandable. We played a few rounds and they did not get it. No one really read their cards with the instructions and guide on it. I bothered them with bad games in the past; the only one they seemed to have liked was AVALANCHE! Critically though, they did mention, “What was the purpose of lying?” I need to reflect is lying has enough of an advantage besides taking someone’s card out of the game and losing their extra point (you say their card is the Ambush card and it is voted out and avoiding giving them the extra point. Hopefully everyone else’s card is taken out and you end up gaining the extra point). My advice to you when playing with friends, rehearse how to explain the rules so it is clear. Make comparisons like this is a 5 minute version of mafia/werewolf. It helps them understand how to play and most importantly how to have fun playing.

These past few posts have been a small side project that I got stupidly excited for. What do you think about the theme? Wild Wild West or Vegetarian Velociraptors?

Next visit I will start writing to you about AVALANCHE!