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  Mechanic #206 - Multi-Pawn CYOA
Posted: Jan 6, 2015

A way for multiple characters to participate in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story simultaneously.

  Pen and Paper

Many of my ideas have been board game ideas as of late, and partly this is because video games tend to obscure their mechanics. When they don't, they tend to be simplified systems designed specifically not to be explicit and complex, such as to not distract or confuse the player when he'd rather be hitting monsters (compare Diablo 3's systems to Diablo 2's). Similarly, I am limited by my own meager pixel art skills, so I can not easily present ideas that require a first person perspective or being seen in motion - which is too bad, because I have a couple of those.

Board games, however, require that the players themselves implement the gameplay mechanics directly. This is easy to present using static pixel art. But beyond that, board games represent a challenge as a designer. Things that are trivial on a computer, such as AI or even state variables, can become unwieldy and cumbersome when directly implemented. This is one of those ideas. Easy on the computer, but complicated with a pen and paper.




Fig 206.1 - xxx.

The idea here is that I wanted to present a short adventure to players that could be done solo. Borrowing the idea from Star Trek the Collectible Card Game, you bring a set of characters to a specific location in order to solve an adventure. Each character has attributes and abilities that will affect how the adventure plays out. With ST:CCG, it was a series of cards representing obstacles that could only be removed if you had the right character attributes to defeat it. I wanted something a bit more thematic and story based.

So, for this idea, picture that you have a team of characters that you want to take on a specific, short adventure. A bunch of survivors arrive at a school overrun by zombies. Some pirates land on an uninhabited island to look for treasure. A team of spacefarers arrive at a planet to answer a distress call. These adventures are not strictly about wandering around a maze and fighting enemies. Instead, you meet characters, discover problems, attempt to solve them, and when failing that, try to escape.

The core of these adventures is that classic low-fi adventure format, the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book - or pamphlet, in this case. Each adventure is contained within its own pamphlet, with a player's team starting at page one, and moving through the CYOA flowchart to one end or another.



Fig 206.2 - CYOA Flowchart.

Accompanying this CYOA pamphlet is a piece of paper with a flowchart on it and some small circles at the bottom. The flowchart represents, more or less, the flowchart of the CYOA pamphlet. It's not exact. It skips some segments, hides others. Instead of representing every decision in the adventure, it represents the ones where the player can sort of pause. I'll explain in a minute.



Fig 206.3 - Chips Are State Variables.

The little circles at the bottom of the sheet represent state variables for the adventure. You can place colored poker chips (or something like that) on them. At their most basic, it is a binary flag. No chip = off. Chip = on. But having colored chips allows for a bit more fidelity. No chip = unattempted. Red chip = failed. Green chip = success. The chips can also be stacked, to indicate a count of some sort. And so on. These chips are used to record player decisions (or more accurately, the results of these decisions) that can be referenced by the adventure to affect flow.

If "Fuse Box Fixed" flag is on, go to 34. Otherwise, go to 187.

If "Turns Taken" has 5 or more chips, go to 69. Otherwise, go to 187.

And so on. There's actually something else the circles can be used for, but before I talk about that, I have to introduce the concept of pawns.



Fig 206.4 - Pawnfrontation.

The way you keep track of your progress through the adventure is through pawns placed directly onto the flowchart. Each pawn represents a single character in your group, and they play together as a group. When you make a choice, you move all the pawns on a square to the next square, as directed by the adventure text. However, an important part of this idea is the concept that the pawns can split up - not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

At the most basic level, you might find a passage which has conditions to move to the next one. Some decisions will allow you to split up.

If at least one character has ENGINEERING skill, a group may move to 14.

If you want to check the basement, a group may move to 1432.

If you want to check the attic, a group may move to 54.

In this example, if you have enough characters and the prerequisites, you can split up into three groups (or even two or just one) and simultaneously explore all three decisions. You basically segment off each group, then starting with the top choice, go through that sequence until you hit a passage that says YIELD. Put that group of pawns on the associated number for the YIELD and then do the second group and then the third.

Keep taking turns with each group, continuing on to the next YIELD passage, and then do the next group. Using the state variables at the bottom, things that happen to one group could affect the others. For instance, the group with the ENGINEERING character may find a fuse box, and upon fixing it, turns the lights on (add a chip to "Fuse Box Fixed"). Then another group may encounter a room which is either too dark to go into or has the lights on where they can find treasure.

The state variable circles at the bottom can also hold pawns. For instance, maybe the effect of failing to fix the fuse box causes the ENGINEERING character to fall through a trap door. Place his pawn on the "Captured" state circle. Later, a passage may allow a group to rescue any characters on the "Captured" circle. Another possibility is to allow characters to travel between groups after a few turns. Place the character into a "Travel" circle and add a chip to the circle every time the group he is traveling to takes a turn. When he gets enough chips, he is added to the group.

Ultimately, each adventure has to come to an end. When a group gets to an End passage, the adventure is over. That passage will tell you what to do with each of your characters in the other groups. Maybe you lose "Captured" units, while the other groups need resources paid to be rescued from the other paths of the flowchart.

How well this mechanic works is largely up to how the adventures are written and implemented. This idea is simply that multiple characters are playing the same flowchart simultaneously, making different decisions. The adventures dictate what those decisions will be and how interesting it will be to make them. Since the flowchart represent decisions and not a physical location, it could even represent a rift between two disagreeing parties, or even allow units that are in the same place physically, but see it differently (one character is blind? Crazy?).



Copyright 2007-2014 Sean Howard. All rights reserved.