Thursday, August 05, 2021
Win/loss conditions in narrative board games
I haven't played any board games lately. I was on holidays, and most of the board games I have are too big to bring with you in a suitcase, or to play on a small holiday apartment table. But I have been looking at two board games this week, in order to decide whether I would want to buy them.
The first is Destinies, a game that got a lot of rave reviews on YouTube. It is from Lucky Duck Games, who previously made Chronicles of Crime, and works with the same "scan the QR code with your phone to get information" technology. Only this time the story is some sort of dark medieval fantasy, with witches and werewolves. One of the reasons the game got so highly rated is that it is *very* accessible, the rules are easy, and there aren't a lot of things to get confused about. It is quick to set up, explain, and play, even with beginners. In no time you are exploring a tile-based map, interact with various locations and NPCs, find items, improve your skills, and try to advance the story towards you fulfilling your "destiny", your choice between two possible options on the back of your card.
What Destinies doesn't have, in one of the weirder game design decisions I've ever seen, is a loss condition. You can't lose all your health and die, because you don't even have health. If you succeed your skill checks the game advances faster than if you fail them, but that is the only difference. If you play solo, without a time limit, the game will always end with you achieving your destiny and winning. You can select a challenge solo mode, but all that this does is to tell you after X turns that you haven't achieved your destiny in time and kick you out of the game. So why would you want to play that? Destinies can also be played by 2 or 3 players, but then simply the first player to achieve his destiny wins, and the others lose, and don't see the "good" end of their story.
Because of this system, Destinies doesn't have a cooperative multiplayer mode. You can't work together to overcome the challenges of the game, because there simply aren't any challenges of the game. Every player simply follows their own destiny, which might overlap with the destiny of another player, and explore the map looking for specific stuff, e.g. three silver items to forge a silver weapon to kill the werewolf. But the success and speed of that is mostly a matter of luck, you might find a silver item on the market, or you might not; you might decide to move north and find a silver item there, or it might turn out that the silver item was south of you. You might roll high or low on your skill checks, with only limited option to mitigate risks. If you don't care about gameplay and all and manage to simply get immersed in the story, that might be a good experience. If you are a strategist / tactician who likes to learn how to play a game well, you'll be severely disappointed. In the end I decided that the game wasn't really interesting for me solo, and because of lack of cooperative play it wasn't interesting for me and my wife to play together. So I ended up not buying it.
Instead I ended up spending my money on crowdfunding Lands of Galzyr on Gamefound. This is another story-based game, still not overly complicated, but it can be played cooperatively. Lands of Galzyr is a lot lighter-hearted than most of the story-based games I currently own. You play an anthropomorphic animal exploring an open world. In many ways Lands of Galzyr is similar to Destinies: No health points; a character board on which to mark your skills, against which you make rolls to succeed skill checks; a personal adventure to follow; items to collect that can help you with said skill checks; an app to tell you the story and the consequences of your decisions.
So why would I like Lands of Galzyr more than Destinies, especially if I could buy Destinies right now on Amazon, while I will have to wait at least a year for Lands of Galzyr to be made and delivered? Several reasons: Lands of Galzyr can be played cooperatively, and I'm sure my wife will love it; the skill check system is more interesting and at first look feels more tactical to me; but most importantly, the prestige point system: Lands of Galzyr is played in sessions that aren't overly long and limited in the number of turns; but how good or bad you played is measured on the prestige track. You don't just get a binary "you win / you lost" feedback, but you see how many prestige points you made out of the target number. And your story doesn't end there. You can either start another game directly and continue, or "save" the game and continue another time, with the possibility that decisions you made this game will affect the next session. If you did a lot of good prep work and it didn't pay out this session, maybe next session you'll make a lot of prestige points quickly and do much better. Your "win" or "loss" doesn't end your story, or give you a less good outcome to it. There probably is a campaign end somewhere, at which point you'll need to reset the game, but you can play many sessions on the way there.
In other words, at the end of multiplayer game of Destinies, one player will have achieved his destiny, have a "hard" win, and get a good end to his story, while the others get a "hard" loss, and a failure epilogue to their story. In Lands of Galzyr, at the end of a multiplayer game, the players will have a "soft" win or loss together, having either reached the target amount of prestige, just failed it, or done really badly and not advanced prestige much at all; but the prestige counter resets to zero, while the story and adventure continues. There are no negative consequences from a loss, just maybe some ideas how you could do better next time. The soft win/loss system of Lands of Galzyr fits the story-driven adventure gameplay much better than the hard system of Destinies. I'm really looking forward to play Lands of Galzyr, even if I still need to wait at least a year to be able to play it.
P.S. There are still 27 days left to participate in the Lands of Galzyr crowdfunding, and the game is already 182% funded.
Labels: Board Games