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Mechanic seeks Theme

I know, I’m not supposed to be designing games this way any more. But I was thinking about mechanics, and I came up with some that seem to fit together quite nicely. Now I need a theme that will actually make sense with them.

So the mechanism is a combination of bidding and predicting. Both fun, right? You aim to win bids in the usual sort of way, but also to predict correctly how the auction will go for you.

This is the sort of thing I’m thinking of. Each player (there are 2-4 players) has a set of tokens numbered 1–12. These are used both for bidding and for predicting. Each round is a set of 12 quick auctions: auctions take place by each player secretly choosing one (or zero) of their bidding tokens and then simultaneously revealing. If the leading bid is double the next highest, they win that auction. If not, everyone gets a chance to (again secretly) add a further one (or zero) token to increase their bid, and so on.

Before the auctions start, you have to secretly predict both how many of the 12 auctions you will win, and also how many of your tokens you will have left at the end. You mark these predictions by removing the corresponding tokens from your hand and placing them face-down in designated spaces. (So you don’t have those two numbers available to bid with.)

You score 1 point for each auction that you win. If you correctly predicted the number of auctions that you won, you score +10 points. If you correctly predicted the auctions and also correctly predicted how many tokens you would have left, you score +[that token’s value) points, and also you ‘retire’ it, ie. it is not available to you in future rounds. The game ends when one player has ‘retired’ six of their tokens. Whoever has scored the most points by that stage wins.

There will need to be some tweaking of this, eg. there might be an obvious optimal strategy, or it might go on far too long. It might be that the things up for auction should be of different values, rather than just 1 point each. But anyway, that’s for the future.

The current problem is: what’s the theme? I can’t think of any real-life situation where you ‘score’ in that sort of combination of ways.

The use of ‘retirement’ suggests that perhaps the bidding tokens could represent people, eg. members of your family that you’re trying to get into infliuential posts? Or they could be quanta of effort that you’re allocating to a series of races? It needs a bit of thought… what d’you reckon?

22 replies on “Mechanic seeks Theme”

I’m not very good at this stuff, but your mention of ‘races’ makes me realise that this system might be have some similarities to the one used in “The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game”. In this you have horses which are numbered 1-6, 6 being the best, and you enter them for races worth different quantities of points. You also bet on the races after the entries are revealed. There is, however, also a dice-rolling element.

My “I don’t think the mechanic does really sound all that much fun actually” is to be read with the caveat “for me”. I just never really liked any of the auction games that I’ve played. Without enough info to think you can deduce what the other people will choose it seems v random, and with a chance to guess it becomes an analytical challenge more than a “how well can you build heuristics” game.

But they are popular, so I am clearly to be ignored.

Having said that, I like the points being awarded for predicting how well you would do. Reminds me very much of a whist game (Prediction Whist?? I guess there are variations) and I like the interplay of “do well” and “do as well as you said you would”. Might benefit from some public info on your prediction (though I think full info. would break this game).

Yep, prediction whist. There’s also a 3-player variant (I think you jettison one of the 2’s to get a 51-card deck) called something like Sargent Major.

I think I’ve played versions where rather than gaining points for matching your prediction, you lose points based on how far *off* (either over or under) you were, so that night be another consideration…

…Depending how purely numerical you wanted to keep it, you could actually set it thematically in the stock exchange (words rhyming with Banker optional ;). It’s not exactly how financial instruments work – but the possibility of losing horrible numbers of points and having to get a bailout is topical at least 😉

Yeah, I was a bit wary of a setting in the actual world of finance, I think that’s a bit of a turn-off for people at the best of times. (Apart from Pit, I suppose.) Something like corsairs as per would be more enticing, if I can see how to make it work.

Mm, Nomination Whist (as we used to call it) was definitely one of the inspirations. Used to play a lot of that at school.

I think ideally it would have an element of being able to deduce what the other people will do. That will be the Clever bit. Maybe everyone scores victory points for the thigns they win at auction slightly differently (because of a random card handed out at the beginning), so you can work out that some lots are more valuable to some players than to others.

Bidding games – pah!

On the other hand…
It sounds almost like it could fit some kind of setting where the tokens represent some kind of team or crew and there are a couple of special positions that a team/crew member can be assigned to.
So if it was a ship (first thing I thought of, blame Corsari) then the number of wins prediction piece could be in the crows nest and the number of survivors piece somewhere like the brig. The rest are the normal crew. At the end of the round if the crew member in the brig correctly guessed the number of survivors (or dead would be better) then they get thrown overboard for being bad luck.
Next round of combat starts…

A variant on pirates could be a gang of thieves, where a Mastermind is your prediction guy.
Each “round” could be a particular heist, and (if you want some assymetry) the targets could each be particularly valuable to a certain player/gang (or perhaps better 2 gangs out of the 4).

Yes, I did a bit of thinking about the value and I figured that each ‘lot’ could have properties in a range of categories, with each player being randomly at the start fo the round assigned a (secret) bonus for collecting stuff in one category. Observation of the early auctions would then give clues as to who was collecting what. Ideally there would be a ‘through’ plotline of some sort that carried on into subsequent auction rounds as well, rather than just resetting the deductions at each new round.

Gang of thieves is good, I’ll work on that.

12 auctions each round seems like an awful lot. At the minimum, a full game of this would need to feature 72 auctions, and more likely 100+?

Did I read it right that to ‘retire’ a piece you need to have both predicted the auctions *and* your remaining pieces? And the game is only over when one player has done this 6 times? Again, seems like quite a lot…

That implies a theme to me – not a good one, but a funny one. Banzaii! (The C4 series). Bet now bet now bet now (GONG) Betting ENDS… You could use a chess clock, an iPhone app or any other timer device.

You might want people to scrutinise each other and their playstyles, but if not, perhaps salt each auction by the use of randomness? I dunno, have random I-ching style characters on people’s playing tokens (or the thing you’re playing for), and draw card(s) at the beginning of each auction to work out which tokens (or rewards) are boosted or depleted?

You’re right about the length, that is defiitely an issue. I’m going to try it with 6 lots per auction rather than 12, to see if that actually works, but even so it might end up taking a while if people don’t get it right very often. Might need to have a fixed number of auctions, rather than ending when 6 pieces retired. I guess a fixed number of auctions could be tied in to the ‘through’ plotline in some way (eg. one auction round per hour through the watches of the night, must end when dawn breaks).

Mm, your thoughts re randomness tie in with mine as mentioned in comment about to . I was thinking something like: symbol can be red or blue, round or square, hollow or solid eg. red solid square, blue solid circle. Each player has a bonus for collecting (a different) one of these properties, eg. one is trying to collect solids, another is trying to collect reds.

I’ll admit that this comment is inspired by the opportunity to use this icon more than anything else.

The mechanic hints at, well, a messy brawl to me, possibly between whatever you want to call drunken pirates. Lots of people are fighting for whatever reason (to win whatever prize is worth, e.g. 1 point) and if your man is not successful (i.e. you don’t have this “double the next highest score” advantage) then you can just send someone else in to help them. A higher value would be associated with a rougher, tougher pirate.

I think it’s interesting that your bid for “this is how many tokens I’ll have left at the end” is a number that you can’t use in that, er, set of auctions. Thematically, this could be something like someone leaving pirate life and standing for election for public office; because you’ve bid with them, they clearly aren’t going to be going brawling that time, and “predicting the number of tokens left at the end correctly” could be the analogue of “getting elected”, giving a satisfying reason for retiring the token.

Not sure this is convincing even me :-/

Mm, I’m having dioubts myself I must say.

Considering an alternative whereby tokens get retired if you get the prediction wrong, and if you get it right you just score extra points. Makes more thematic sense (they got killed/arrested/whatever), and will likely ensure a quicker end to the game.

(In general I don’t like games where if you start doing badly then it’s difficult to recover, but I guess they do have their place in the gaming firmament…)

Maybe add a zero-point piece and players must bid one piece? Could also be played using a suit of cards as tokens 1-13.

Theme: investment banking? TV psychics? Football tournament?

Mm, I wasn’t sure whether it would be good or not to force players to bid one piece. Will have to try both ways I think.

TV psychics is interesting, that could be a popular theme! I’ll have a think about how that might work.

As far as theme goes, I was also going to suggest something along the lines of pirates divvying up booty, but it has been mentioned elsewhere, so you can count this as seconding that suggestion if you like.

Unless I’m misunderstanding, the need to double the next best bid to win means that no one can win an auction if any of their opponents has used their 7 token or higher on that lot, and in subsequent rounds on that same lot would only have to add 1 [value unit] to make you have to add 2 just to match them, let alone increase your ratio. You may well have considered that as part of the system, and decided that in the round, it works, but it looks problematic to me.

As for whether it sounds much fun, I think that would partly depend on context, what you’re bidding for, whether winning particular lots allows you to pursue some strategy or another to make one lot at least subjectively more desirable than others. If they are of different absolute values, people will all have the same sort of incentive to bid for each.

A couple of people have noted a similarity to some forms of whist, and that occurred to me too, except of course that in whist you already have three additional elements [the random deal and the four suits, one of which is a trump]. Using one of your tokens as a predictor rather than spending it does add an extra factor to your mechanic, but I’m not sure that it’s enough to be honest. Also, I can think of no rationale for making a prediction reducing your spending power.

So. In my opinion, I think you might have the bare bones of something, but it would need a fair bit of tweaking before it would sound like something I’d like to spend an evening doing.

Bare bones is all I’m hoping for at this stage: as long as they hang together, that’s a framework that the fun bits of the game can be built on!

In practice I would expect auctions to be contested past the first round only very rarely, although I might have that wrong. But if I am wrong, it’ll be easy to tweak that winning-auction rule as required. The main design purpose of it is that in general people should be committing 0 or 1 token to each auction, but occasionally they may have the opportunity to commit more.

Have you ever played Hols der Geier? This reminds me of it a little.In that game, when two players reveal an identical high card the next player gets the cards. That game cheerfully solves the problem of theme by having a theme that bears no relation to the mechanics. It simply has attractive cards with cartoons of vultures and mice and you try to get as many high-scoring mice cards as possible.

The requirement to win by double suggests a non-terminating auction so you may want to reduce the winning margin.
I have played a few games with elements of this. A couple of popular games you might want to look at are Dwarf King and Condotierre. In both games you get dealt a hand so there is a variable element. I think this is pretty essential otherwise the game will be too predictable and players will evolve a strategy and then always lay the same way so limiting longevity though since that is at the core of the cocept you may want to stick with it anyway. In Dwarf King there are varying bonus conditions which help to mix the game up.

Thanks for the pointers, I’ll check them out! Agree that a random element is essential.

I was figuring that if players want to commit stacks of tokens on one auction, let them (it must terminate when they have no more tokens, anyway) but in practice no-one would ever want to: actually winning an individual auction is not likely to be that important, managing your stock of tokens will be more so. (If I get the points balance right, that is.)

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