The Case Study: Player Abilities

Lots of cooperative games give players unique abilities. In Forbidden Desert, one player might be good at carrying extra water while another can dig buried players out the sand faster; in Shadows Over Camelot, King Arthur allows the knights to coordinate while another (maybe Gawain?) gains bonuses when fighting off Mordred’s siege engines. These abilities provide some extra replay value (since which one you get changes from game to game) and can open up some interesting decisions; should the water carrier hang out by the oasis and concentrate on topping off the other players’ canteens, or is it more important to have him or her go help dig?

Over the Next Dune has been in sufficient flux that I haven’t wanted to spend too much time putting in abilities. In fact, I’m not sure whether the final version of the game should have them at all–“they’re standard fare in cooperative games” isn’t a good enough reason. However, they’re fun to think about.

Implementing these is tricky because it would be easy to undermine the cooperative aspect of the game. One of OtND’s design rules is that the players must need to work together. Giving players more capability might end up allowing them to “Rambo” their way through the game by their lonesome.

Below are five abilities, one for each player token, which I think at least pass the “does this blatantly undermine the cooperative nature of the game” test. Feel free to give them a go. No promises–I haven’t playtested these at all. They’re just fun notions.

1. “Hey, Over Here!”–When a player token would be captured by a searcher, you may instead center that searcher over this player token. This player token, and any other player tokens covered by the searcher, are captured. Direct the searcher “down,” toward the starting line, just as if a player had been captured normally.

Since this ability can only be used to save another player, I don’t think it enables “Rambo”-ing.

2. Pop A Tire–Once per game, when this player token is adjacent to one or more searchers, choose one of those searchers to be affected by terrain. For the rest of the game, any time that searcher’s movement would cause it to enter one or more squares with terrain in them, the searcher must expend two squares of movement instead of one. If it does not have enough movement remaining to expend two squares of movement, it stops moving.

The searcher will still catch the player token using this ability if the token is in front of the searcher. As a result, this ability can’t be used to help yourself–only to set things up for someone else.

3. Throw Something Shiny–Once per game, when this player token is adjacent to one or more searchers, choose one of those searchers and point it in a direction of your choosing.

This could easily be used to save yourself. A player using it still has to think about where his or her teammates are, so it might be OK, but I’m leery about this one.

4. Coordinator–Once per game, when this player token tricks a searcher, the searcher does not capture player tokens it moves over. If the searcher is occupying any player tokens’ spaces when it stops moving, it captures those player tokens.

I think this may actually be the strongest of these abilities–it can solve some really difficult problems, perhaps too easily. It has both team-oriented and individual-strengthening applications, depending on the situation, so it would need careful testing.

5. No One Left Behind–Once per game, when this player token is adjacent to another player token, you may choose to move the adjacent player token along with you for your first square of movement using the same rules as apply when tricking searchers.

Totally team-oriented, so I think this is OK.

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