Lines of Questioning: Adding Difficulty

The more I play Lines of Questioning, the easier it gets. That’s a good thing–but like so many good things, it means more work. 😉

I’m pleased to find Lines of Questioning getting easier because it suggests that the game’s decisions are meaningful. If they weren’t–if all paths were equally good, and the player’s in-game choices were largely irrelevant–one would expect win rates to be constant over time. A win rate that improves with experience indicates that players can influence their chances of victory by learning to make better decisions, which necessarily means that those decisions matter.

However, the fact that skill is rewarded is a two-edged sword. It also means that the game could become less enjoyable over the long term, as players attain greater levels of mastery and the challenge wanes. This is where the work comes in: it’s necessary to provide ways for players to crank up the difficulty.

Fortunately, there’s no need to start with a blank slate. Lines of Quesioning’s fundamental design rule is that the game should evoke the experience of a lawyer questioning a witness. That rule doesn’t need to be treated solely as a constraint; it can also be a source of inspiration. If the game should be more difficult, and needs to capture an experience, what’s a more difficult version of that experience? What are some situations where it’s harder to get necessary information from a witness?

– the witness lacks some key information

– the witness lacks some key information–and doesn’t want to admit it

– the witness is consciously hiding something

– the witness is wrong about something, and the lawyer must demonstrate that, preferably getting the witness to agree

– the witness wants to say something, and is inclined to blurt it out even if it’s not germane to the questions being asked

– the witness is being offensive to the judge and/or jury

– the witness gives lengthy answers that obscure the point

– the witness gives lengthy answers that unnecessarily give opposing counsel material to work with

– the witness responds to an important question by invoking the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination

– the judge is in a hurry

– the jury is distracted

That’s a good list to start from. It includes a number of situations that both make the lawyer’s job more difficult and are interesting to deal with; since “difficult” and “interesting” are exactly what Lines of Questioning needs, they have a lot of promise. I’m especially gripped by the notion of simulating a witness with something to hide, or who’s lying and has to be brought around to the truth; both situations are challenging and fascinating in the courtroom, and–if properly implemented–could bring those same traits to Lines of Questioning’s play.

Proper implementation is, of course, the tricky part. I’m going to try this first:

Something to Hide (a variant for players seeking a greater challenge)

Randomly choose one of the corner spaces. Answer tiles cannot be played in that space unless they are played directly on top of a question tile. If the witness must play in that space (e.g., because the witness’ line of answers cannot continue), the witness instead plays on the next unclaimed corner.

My thinking about this rule goes like this: Testing has shown that hemming in a corner with answer tiles and then ending the line of answers is a powerful strategy. It causes the line of answers to restart in a corner, have nowhere to go, and restart again in the same place the next turn, building up toward claiming the corner. This rule makes that approach much more difficult, since the line of answers will now “escape” the corner.

In addition, the rule has thematic appeal. Requiring that the tiles come out in layers, question-answer-question-answer, suggests that the witness will only talk about his or her dark secret after the lawyer asks directly about it, and won’t expound further on the point until the lawyer asks a follow-up question.

Of course, testing may reveal that this isn’t the change we want. There’s only one way to find out!

As always, I hope you’ll join me in trying this change. You can find the print-and-play version of Lines of Questioning, with the base rules and everything you need to play, here:

Lines of Questioning – 10-14-14

Cutting everything out takes less than half an hour, and the game plays in 15 minutes.

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