Games and Persona

Jay Gischer (
Mon, 22 Aug 94 10:29:45 -0700

I believe that the job of any game designer is to figure out what
the focus of the game is, and to then design a game in such a way that
those decisions are rich (many alternatives are viable), and that
other decisions are got rid of, designed away or made trivial.

One way to think of this is to give the person a "persona" -- identify
the player with an individual, and give the player the sorts of
decisions that that individual would make and try to automate or
abstract away the sort of thing that would be delegated to the staff.

Some games that benefit from a strong persona are:

Flat Top
Hitler's War
Axis and Allies
Fast Food Franchise
Continental Rails

Some games that do not have a strong persona:

Third Reich
Squad Leader ad nauseum
(orig SL wasn't too bad. An excellent example of a game that
ought to be on a computer, and have all the trivia removed from
the player's head.)
Any GDW monster: DNO, FITE, so forth.

The games with a weak persona are very popular, so I conclude that
some people like this kind of game. I have no better name for them
than "micro-optimizers". No insult is intended, people like what they

That was just to illustrate the concept. To apply to Olympia, it seems
to me that the most important strategic questions are: How do I spend my
noble points, whether in the flesh or in the abstract? Where do I go?
What should I study? What should I collect? What and when should I
attack? and What and where should I build? Plus diplomacy.

Given that, I think you should spend most of your time answering the
above questions, and a little time trying to work out logistical

Now of course, reality sets in: Let's deal with GIVE.

Most of the time GIVE is a logistical detail. A gives B the workers
she just trained, or the stone she just quarried. This should not be
burdensome to the player.

But sometimes what you want to do is GIVE a hostage to a rival in
return for exorbitant amounts of gold. This operation need not be
trivial to write, since it is an action with strategic significance.
But the mechanics should be simple, and the trade-offs rich.

The mechanics we have currently mostly support this. To exchange
stuff, you must be in the same location. It's simple, it has no
exceptions, it makes the rumored teleport item spell more valuable.

On the down side, it is possible to make a silly mistake, and it's a
pain on the first month of building something.

The "first month of building" problem can be attacked many ways. Move
<unit> is one, but is still too general. The game report could simply
give us the next five codes for structures, just like for nobles.
This can be made simple and untroublesome.

As for silly mistakes, I bet people don't make them twice.

On the subject of seeing inside structures: I don't see any need to
duplicate the position report to hide/not hide interiors of things.
What you see in a location is already dependent on who you are, e.g.,
do you know about hidden stuff, have you done a CONTACT, do you have a
character that is hidden, etc. So why not extend this to the sublocations?
This would reduce the size of the turn, it seems to me, not increase

As a footnote,
I tend to like hidden information games, but it seems to me that what
Scott proposes (making all province information partial and
incomplete) is too radical to alter in a running game.

Now to conditional orders. The request for this seems to be based
upon the desire to do more with one turn. My reaction to this is,
"Well, sure, and while you're at it, can't you add a FLY spell, and
give me guns, too?" There is nothing broken, this is simply desire
for a new capability. The heart of this conflict is a conflict
between people who want to micro-optimize, and people who want to
operate on the strategic level.

Let's take for example, exploring uncharted waters with a ship, a
problem I have this turn. With a raft of conditionals, such as
IF forest, or IF ocean or IF city ... I could spend a lot of time coming up
with conditionals to cope with every possible twist and turn of the
coast, and probably manage to spend the entire month sailing.
These considerations don't seem "in persona" to me.

Without conditionals, I have to think about what the provided map
looks like, about what the most likely obstacles are to be, how to
move around them, and what I can do if I end up beached somewhere.
These considerations, do seem "in persona" to me.

Well, this message is already too long, but I have one final
observation. Having more than one noble in the same place is an
advantage. I like that very much. It helps the GIVE/sublocation
problem. It helps when selling fish at market. It even helps when
you are exploring by ship. It helps you "attack unless you give me 100g".

I think this is good, and I am opposed to anything which dilutes it.
Nobles points are the most important resource in the game. It should
help a lot to have two of them together. Conditionals undermine this,
as does GIVE across sublocations.


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