January 29, 2008

And, in the completely opposite corner from my last post, some ways of looking at resources as a designer, in a very analytical, crunchy way.  (I’m sure some economics majors or game theory folks probably have developed all of these ideas somewhere, and I’m just reinventing the wheel.  Still, worth thinking about if you design games).

The Big Picture

Resources in games boil down to two questions- “What do they do?” and “How do I get them?”  (This includes negative resources, such as “Points of DOOM!”, and the questions are interpreted into why you don’t want them, and what you need to do to avoid getting them).

Between these two questions, every resource has a value – some resources are more valuable than others.  Every min-maxing, munchkin, system monkey, tweaker has a skill for figuring out values of resources, often better than the designers when they put them together.

Looking at those two questions, and figuring out the value for any resource, will help you shape your game.  This is both carrot and stick, and the hard rules that dictate how things can and can’t get spent/earned whatever are the walls to the maze you’re building for play to happen in, systemically.


Is the resource usable or reusable?  For example if many games, if your character has a sword- it’s a reusable resource- you can fight with it all day, it won’t get used up.  Spells, gold, hitpoints?  Those are expendable, they can disappear.

Global amount

How much of it exists, or could exist in the game?

Unlimited- there is no hard limit to how much can exist in the game.  For example- in most games- experience points – you could play forever, the game will never “run out”.

Limited- there are X number that can exist in the game.  “You get 10 scenes and then the game is over”.  Or, “There is one Eye of Vecna” or whatever.

Local Amount

What’s the maximum a player/character/pool whatever can hold?  What’s the minimum?   How does this interact with the global amount?


Accumulative – It can only go up.  (For most games, that might be experience points)

Diminishing- It can only go down.  (The number of players in a rock-paper-scissors contest)

Variable- It can go up or go down.  (hitpoints, gold, etc.)


How fast can you gain it?  How fast can you lose it?  How fast can you spend it?


Parallel Resources are seperate- they do not directly affect each other.  For example, in many games, getting more skill points in Painting doesn’t give me more hit points or life points.

Intersecting Resources affect each other- maybe one produces another, limits another, or can be traded for another.  For example- gold can buy healing potions in D&D, therefore, gold can be equated to healing spells.  (or really, with magic items, gold can be equated to a LOT of abilities, which leapfrogs the whole slow cycle of XP gain to gain abilities).

1001 Nights- an example

So looking at a game with a simple economy, 1001 Nights works like this:

Dice are the primary resource- they are used to keep your character in play, to achieve your ambition (one win condition) or win your freedom (another win condition) or to counteract other players’ achieving the win conditions.  They work mostly by helping you accumulate the positive win condition resources, or avoid gaining the lose condition resource.  There is no way to diminish these resources, so there is always a spiral towards endplay.

Asking questions puts dice on the table.  Answering questions causes them to be rewarded (randomly- sometimes to the storyteller of the round, sometimes to the question asker).

Therefore, it’s in everyone’s best interest to ask questions, and most importantly, ask questions that are likely to get answered.  When a player gets a certain number of dice, the round ends (maximum limit, as a timing device).

It’s in the storyteller’s best interest to answer as many questions as possible, but to spread it out so that the end condition for a round is acheived- when they, themselves, have gotten the most dice out of it, and everyone else has less.

That’s the brutal numbers game of 1001 Nights, and encourages a basic style of play that works for its goals.  (and trust me, even knowing this, I’m terrible at the level of creative, social angling necessary to really succeed at this game.)

It also has an intense layered creative aspect of the content of the questions and answers, and a social aspect in how players gang up on each other or form alliances, but that’s all rolling on the wheels of the resource system.  Which I guess makes it a lot like poker- the harsh social reading/bluffing etc. rides on the basic mechanics of cards and probabilities.

As you can see- knowing the resources is super useful- though by no means does it give you the “one way to play the game”.  As a designer, it’s useful because it helps you figure out the “How does your game do it’s thing?” question.

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