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Each game elements should have at least 2 functions

Page: DesignArticle.Article-MultipleFunctions - Last Modified : Tue, 11 Jan 11 - 2142 Visits

Author : Eric Pietrocupo

In one of the game design book I read, the author talked about the Hollywood's rule of thumb:

Hollywood rule of thumb: If a line in a script doesnt serve at least two purposes,it should be cut.

I don't particularly like Hollywood but I like this theory. There are very few working recipes in game design because somebody could make a successful game by using something everybody else failed to use. So you cannot say for sure: Always do that, or never do that. But the Hollywood rule above seems to work most of the time. Still, it could probably be possible to make a game without using it.

How does the rule above translates in game design? It's simple, every game element, or almost all of them, must have 2 purposes. Which means that the player must have 2 reasons to acquire or use it. I have applied this theory to my "Fallen Kingdoms" game and believe me, it does make a difference. Here are a few examples I found by passing through my game collection:

Settlers of Catan: Each settlement or City allows A) to gather resources when the right number is rolled B) give victory points.

Puerto rico: Each building gives A) a special ability B) victory points at the end of the game.

Duel Masters: Each cards can either be used as A) a spell/monster or B) as a mana.

Age of Mythology: Soldiers and monsters are used A) to attack your opponents B) at the end of the game the largest army get's victory points.

Fallen Kingdoms: Rumor cards gives A) intimidation to help in battles B) Victory points for each card and more victory points if you have the majority at the end of the game.

Fury of dracula: Dracula moves to a destination to A) Reach a target or avoid the players B) place encounters and traps for the players.

Hacker: Players hack system to be A) adjacent to other system they want to hack B) get special bonus for hacking other systems (same type of system).

Leonardo Da Vinci: Players acquire workers for A) having more people to bid on stuff B) having more people to work on invention development.

Louis XIV: The portrait cards are used for A) Placing influence on the matching portrait B) recover influence from the reserve.

Shadow over Camelot: Combat cards are used for A) completing quest B) Destroying catapults.

I gave a lot of example to illustrate the various way that a duality could be implemented.

Most of the time, the nature of each purpose is different. For example, in settlers of catan and puerto rico, the games use a combination of special ability and victory points. So both purpose are of different nature. The most common duality is combining a special ability with a number. One of the reason is because it makes the game element easier to analyze than if for example, a element could give 2 special abilities. Now it gets much more complex.

You can use more than 2 functions if you want, but more than 3 functions is risky and can make the game very confusing. Multiple function cards are very popular in card games like "San Juan" and "Race for the galaxy". Still, sometimes in these games, there are some functions that the player does not have to think about it. For example in san juan, when you produce a resource, you use a face down card. Yes the card has another use, but the player does not have consider the card in his decision. He just take any face down card and place it under his building.

Analyzing 51st state

While there are some games with too much functions. I played lately a game called "51st State" which had 4 ways to play each card. It made the game very hard to analyze. Here is an example of card.

As you can see, this cards has various sections:

Red top section: Resource gained if sacrificed.

Bottom Blue Section: Resource gained each turn.

White section above blue: Special ability, translated in icons.

Cards icon on the top left of the picture: Card type icon.

The other information is accessory.

So in this game, a card can be used in 4 different ways.

You can play it as a building, in that case, you will get the special ability expressed in icons in the white section.

You can use this cards to get resources, but there are 2 ways to get resources: Get many resources once, or get little resources every turn. Now this could be comparable to a value (like victory points) where either you get points once or every turn. So it is not so bad for 2 additional functions, but it gets more complicated when you consider that there are different types of resources. Now it multiplies the possibilities.

Finally, you can play a card to replace a buildings already in play. One of the card icons of the previous cards must match one of the card icon in the new cards.

So the problem in this game is that there are so many functions that you are always thinking of what is the best way to use each card, and since you have multiple cards in your hands, you end up with multiple combination. The above example could be easier to play if one of these rules were modified:

  • There is only 1 type of resources. The blue and red income would not be too much complex and it would be easier to compare cards.
  • There were no building upgrades. That would reduce the number of functions to 3.
  • You only had 1 card in your hand. If you play 1 card at a time, you only need to analyze what is the best you can get from that card, so it reduce the possibilities created by combining cards.

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