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Paying in time, paying in turns

June 8, 2010

Aside from the PTA game, I’ve been playing a lot of boardgames recently. I’ve been looking at mechanics where the player has to choose between several options, and the price of a poor choice is a “wasted turn”.

In gamist play, this is pretty much a given – “Oh, you moved your bishop here? It didn’t threaten anything AND it gave me another turn to set THIS up.” In a literal sense, this is what we mean when we talk about “initiative” – being able to be ahead on setting up your plans and actions while the opposition has to play catch up.

For roleplaying games, a good example is D&D 4E’s use of positioning- sometimes you want to be in a certain place, sometimes you need to move- failing to see that can put you behind, leave you open or at a disadvantage, etc.

But a lot of roleplaying games -don’t- use these mechanics. And I think the reason why is this- for a Narrativist or Simulationist bit of play, “wasting time” isn’t a punishment on a single player- it’s antithetical to the experience of the whole group.

If your point of play is to have a good story, saying, “Ok, now we’ll have 10 minutes of boring stuff as punishment” doesn’t encourage people to try to have better story through play, it just means 10 minutes of boredom.

While Gamism prioritizes the experience of strategizing, player choice, and consequence, both Narrativism and Simulationism prioritize the experience of the fiction. Costing time is effectively getting in the way of that experience.

This is also why a lot of modern designs focus on having opt out rules or advice (“Say Yes”, “Giving the Conflict”) when a conflict is foregone or nearly over- if you know you’re going to lose, there’s not much point in making three more dice rolls, just close it up and keep the game focused on the fiction.

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