Part of elegant game design is killing as many birds as one can with as few stones as possible. To that end, I’d like some of the player powers in Lines of Questioning to serve both as a way to make the game easier and as a kind of “tutorial mode” for new players. Let’s hammer out how that might be accomplished.
Facts: Bending the line where tiles connect is a powerful strategy in Lines of Questioning, and is important to success. It’s also fun; bending the line in this way opens up many new possibilities, and players consistently enjoy using the technique to get to unexpected places. Put simply, it feels smart!
However, new players often take several games to realize that the line can bend in that way. As a result, during those first few games they routinely miss possible moves. This is a problem for two reasons.
First, it makes the game less interesting. New players who don’t see the moves bending the line allows think the game has fewer options than it does. They also miss some mandatory moves that they would need to weigh and either play into or around.
Second, missing a line-bending move sometimes leads new players to think a line cannot continue when in fact it can. These errors have an unpredictable effect on the game’s difficulty, depending on whether the line that’s incorrectly ended is a useful one or one the new player wants to get out of. Unintended variations in difficulty are a likely source of unsatisfying experiences, so these errors aren’t just bad in some abstract sense; they can do real damage.
Separate and apart from those considerations, Lines of Question’s “basic variant” is extremely difficult. The player badly needs a power boost.
Issue: What player power would simultaneously give the player substantially more power while also helping new players master bending the line at sharp angles?
From the last post:
1. Use a weighted power when (a) the power should help players, especially new players, decide how to approach the game; and/or (b) the power is meant to add satisfaction to the game experience.
2. Use a unique power when (a) the goal is to create a new set of decisions; and (b) the power will not frustrate players by being difficult to use correctly.
Holding: Try this power: Reasoning: Since an important goal of this power is to teach new players about the game’s strategy, a weighted power is more appropriate than a unique one. Weighted powers encourage players to do something, and we want this power to encourage players to try out crazy bends in the line.
A weighted power “make[s] the player better at a game action everyone can take. The player might pay a lower cost for the action, or get a bigger payoff, or be able to take it when other players cannot.” Lines of Questioning is a relatively simple game, so there isn’t as much design space for weighted powers as there might otherwise be. For example, there are no costs to playing tiles other than the opportunity cost of choosing this one over that one, and that cost isn’t amenable to being lowered.
There is, however, room to improve the payoff when a player bends the line at a connection point. Giving an additional payoff is also a very direct way of giving a power boost, so this seems like a valid avenue to explore.
Lots of new payoffs are conceivable, but this power is specifically aimed toward new players. That means the payoff should (a) be obviously impactful, as new players might not appreciate subtle game effects, and (b) not be difficult to use.
My feeling is that the reward here achieves those things. It’s a blatant, desirable payoff that’s virtually impossible to use incorrectly. Although it needs more testing, I also think it’s appropriately strong, a sufficient power boost to make the game winnable without being so much as to make the game easy.
In fairness, this does edge into the realm of unique powers. However, my first impression is that it will comply with the rule that unique powers not be frustrating. The only wrong way for a new player to use this power would be to pick a space that already has a winning stack in it. Any other choice is at least fine, and might be great. Since bad choices will be both hard to find and clear when they exist, they shouldn’t be made very often.
We are somewhat violating the rule that unique powers should be used only when the goal is to create a new decision; that wasn’t one of the objectives here. Unfortunately, the limited design space for weighted powers makes it difficult to give a reward without doing something new. I feel that the benefits probably outweigh this downside.
Last but not least: one of the rules for Lines of Questioning, instituted back when it wasn’t even called Lines of Questioning, is that the gameplay needs to be thematic. Casting the player power as a strategy pursued in the courtroom makes the power less of an artificial construct, keeping the theme of the game intact.
Testing will likely reveal that this power needs to be tweaked, or perhaps even changed wholesale. As an early attempt, however, I’m happy with it. On Wednesday I’ll let you know how it’s shaking out in play.