Casting Call for Beta Testers

Hello every one!

This is a very exciting time for us here at The Faux-Operative, because we are just about ready to roll open the gates for our first closed Faux-Operative beta test.  If you are admitted to the beta test, we will send you a full print and play version of the game in its current incarnation. 

If you would like to be a part of the beta test, please sign up for an account on our forums and reply to the 'Beta Tester Starter Guide' Thread.


I want to thank every one involved in this project for their support so far, we won't stop working until the final game is in your hands.

Them, Theme, Theme... and Traitors

This is the fourth article in a series about designing 'Faux Operative', our competitive/co-operative traitor board game.


Article 1: http://fauxop.com/board-games/71-welcome

Article 2: http://www.fauxop.com/board-games/75-genesis-the-traitor-question

Article 3: http://www.fauxop.com/board-games/76-first-prototype

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It was around the time that I began identifying these issues with the traitor game genre that I began working with my friend Baron Zaytsev more closely. He quickly became entrenched in the project to the same degree I was, and we began to discuss these various issues. We knew that the core mechanic of our game was to be this traitor system, and that we had to avoid certain pitfalls we had identified in other games.

The primary issue we identified was that the players should not, like in other traitor games be required to gag themselves from discussing information openly about hands/intentions by a fuzzy rule like the one in Shadows Over Camelot. Instead, they should feel like it is strategically unwise to reveal their intentions or plans because the game mechanics themselves will punish them.

We also know that we need to 'force' players to make decisions that might harm the team.  That way, the traitor can do those same things without seeming overly suspicious.

After some discussion, we decided that the game should probably be more of a free for all.  Players MUST work together or they will all lose, and they can win as a team; but they can also try to win by themselves.  In essence, every player would be a bit of a traitor, with a valid reason to be selfish.  Additionally, you would never want other players to know what is in your hand or what your intentions are because they may take advantage of that to take the lead and win by themselves.

This was our basic skeleton of design, but before we fleshed it out further we needed a theme, and it had to make sense in context. Theme is important, and in a traitor game it is doubly so.  This game is about player interaction and social dynamics, almost like a tabletop role playing game. The backdrop to all of this gamesmanship needs to set a believable stage for the players to 'play' in.

Yesterday I played a board game called 'Oh no, Zombies!' (http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/63901/oh-no-zombies.) It is one of those small print, generic board games you see in the store for budget prices.  The kind of thing intended to sucker in impulse buyers through it's theme.  People know a friend likes zombies and board games, want a thoughtful gift, and pick games like this up for their friends. The game itself is terrible, with a mish-mash of poorly thought out game mechanics that involve no thought or decision making on the part of the players. It is just a random circle jerk of plastic zombies, dice, and cardboard chits and then LET'S SEE WHAT HAPPENS.

Any way, I don't mention the game to rag on its piss-poor mechanics or design, that is really to be expected from a game like this. I mention the game to rag on its THEME which is the ONLY thing a game like this can possibly do right. In 'Oh no, Zombies', players are attempting to locate the batteries so that they can bring them back to the shack and activate their 'CB' radio.  Okay, that makes sense, I can believe this so far... except... the players are COMPETING WITH EACH OTHER.

That's right, four dumbasses running off in different directions around the board avoid zombies, trying to to be the first one to get back to the shack with the batteries... the player to turn on the CB radio... wins?  What? God dammit this is such lazy design it actually makes me angry.  Why are these assholes competing with each other to turn on the CB radio? Shouldn't they ALL want to turn on the CB radio? Shouldn't they all be working together? There is no theme here.  Even if I don't care about game mechanics at all, and just want to play pretend zombies and drink with my friends I can't even do that.  If the theme of your game is this poorly implemented then the core contrivance of your game has failed, it is useless to any one now; even the most casual player.

We ended up deciding that there was a selfish high school cheerleader waiting in the shack who had offhandedly remarked that she wanted to 'listen to her shows' on the radio.  A bunch of dumbass friendzoned losers go running off in to the night, braving the zombie apocalypse to be the one to get home with the batteries, turn on her shows for her, and 'win her love.' Of course, one dies, the other gets lost out in the night, but one actually does make it back. Cindy exclaims, 'Thanks for the batt-ries' and gives him a kiss on the cheek. He cries in to his pillow and then falls asleep, before they are both eaten by the encroaching zombie horde. The end.

So yeah, we had a great time calling the characters 'dumbasses' and gloating when one was eaten, and even had a good laugh at Cindys expense... but we will never play this awful fucking board game again.

On to theme, let' not make the same mistake that they did, and for our game, it is a bit more complicated because our theme needs to explain a lot now.  The players need to be on the same team, capable of winning together, and capable of winning by themselves. Also, one of them may be a traitor... that's a lot to cover.

After a lot of thought it hit me like a lightning bolt. My first game design epiphany, and it was to become our games theme:

Corporate Espionage. The players are each loyal to a different corporation, but are working together in a joint task force. They have an overall team goal that will satisfy all the corporations if it is completed, but any one corporation will be more than happy to welcome their agent back if he has enough tech to provide them with a big enough advantage over their competitors. If a player becomes the traitor, then he/she has simply been ordered to 'take out' the competitors agents by his corporation.


That would eventually become just a bit more fleshed out:


In a post-apocalyptic world wracked by the lingering effects of a world-shaking mass detonation of Element 4 (Not Beryllium.) the world has developed in to a system of interconnected corporate-nation states. These corporations are constantly at odds with one another, conducting clandestine missions within each others organizations, planting moles, and even engaging in outright armed conflict on the open deserts that now cover most the earth. The most sought after prize in the escalating arms race is the same devastating chemical compound that ended the world in the first place; Element 4, and there is only one place to find it.

Deep in the bowels of the earth, lies a subterranean research base that has been there since before the war. This is the last vestige of a humanity untouched by the ravage of element poisoning, and the military struggle constantly waged above ground. The researchers there have harnessed the true power of Element 4, using it to render themselves nearly immortal, and so the researchers, security, and staff have stood constant vigil for the last 175 years further developing their technology... hoping that some day their work will allow them to undo the damage that has been done, and restore the earth to its former natural bounty.

Although its location has been known for 10 years, the research base has remained untouched so far. No corporation would dare assaulting it directly. To do so would invite the interference of every other corporations espionage division; it would be an almost guaranteed disaster.

However, Commander Nathaniel Hannibal convinces the corporations to convene for a special meeting, and convinces them that it will be worth it to send a joint task force. He explains how every corporation will gain tremendous rewards from this joint venture, if they can only work together. A temporary truce is reached, and a deal struck.  Every corporation will send their most famous and respected agent on the mission. These men and women will be leaders at the forefront of their fields, skilled soldiers, brilliant scientists... losing any would be a devastating blow to their corporate masters. That way, all involved will all have a stake in the success of this mission... to keep them... honest.

The team is mutually agreed upon by all corporations, then assembled, briefed, geared and prepared. They are given orders by the assembled council of corporations to give their overall mission success the highest priority, and to ignore orders from even their own corporation which say otherwise.

Giddy with excitement over the new theme... we needed our first two agents. Of course, there could be no better way to start:

Dutch Kilgore - Dutch comes from Predator, and Kilgore is from Full Metal Jacket. Put them together and you have a bad-ass military commando with the finely tuned fighting instincts and acting skills of celebrity body builder and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. he focuses on raw combat and attack power, dispatching enemy unit more consistently and effectively than any one else.

IG-1-76 - Yeah, that's a reference too... he's an android, so he should be equally good at every thing... with an attention to detail.

Here we go:

 

Genesis: The Traitor Question

This is the second article in a series about designing 'Faux Operative', our competitive/co-operative traitor board game.


Article 1: http://fauxop.com/board-games/71-welcome

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My inspiration to begin working on this game started after reading a very interesting article on game design written by David Sirlin, article available here: ( http://www.sirlin.net/blog/2011/11/9/flash-duel-betrayal-at-raid-on-deathstrike-dragon.html?currentPage=2)

 

To summarize the article: Many newer co-operative board games contain a mechanic wherein a player can be secretly designated as the traitor. Other players will not be aware of this designation, forcing that player to work in secret towards some 'other' goal that no longer includes his former teammates. The crux of the entire system relies on the traitor being able to pretend he is still helping every one else, when in reality he is secretly working towards some other goal. In most board games, open information among players is a necessity, even just to guarantee that every one is even following the rules correctly, so it's easy to imagine how this can cause some problems.

Another problem that Sirlin details in his article is that it is generally very easy for the 'non-traitor' players to simply agree at the beginning of the game to share ALL information. After all, if YOU are not the traitor,why shouldn't you tell me every piece of information you have; we are all in this together. Once any player begins to attempt to hide ANY information at all, it becomes obvious who the traitor is. This forces most traitor games to have a 'fuzzy rule' which disallows players from discussing their options in specific detail.

For instance, in the traitor game 'Shadows Over Camelot', players may discuss the content of their hands, but not specifically. It's okay to say, "I have a good card", but not okay to say "I have a five."

...

WHAT!? That's like having a rule in Chess where you can move your pawn three spaces but only if you "REALLY need to."

After reading that article, and doing some research, I decided that a truly competitive traitor game 'should' exist and that I should be the one to make it. I now had my first, and primary, design goal.

Design goals so far:

1) A traitor system which does not require any fuzzy/unclear rules to function. A system where every player can try their best, and share information if they want, without breaking the game.

 

The First Prototype

This is the third article in a series about designing 'Faux Operative', our competitive/co-operative traitor board game.


Article 1: http://fauxop.com/board-games/71-welcome
Article 2: http://www.fauxop.com/board-games/75-genesis-the-traitor-question

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This is when I learned that one of the hardest things about game design is... well, starting. I knew I wanted the game to be a traitor game, and I knew I wanted to have a competitive mind set throughout the design. Beyond that, I had nothing, no theme, or any other design concepts.

I spent the next few days watching 'traitor' game reviews on Tom Vasels youtube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/thedicetower) looking for one that had similar mechanics to what I was looking for. Eventually I found a very interesting one called 'Panic Station' (http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/69552/panic-station)

This game had a lot of things going for it

1) Variety; the board is randomly generated, it's different every time, and players can explore in any direction to uncover new areas.

I really like this system for a traitor game since players have the option to distance themselves from each other and go more solo, which can appear to be suspicious or innocent depending on context. I found myself thinking, what if players had hidden information that they didn't want to reveal that played in to that evaluation.

2) Traitor reveal system; players are forced to search rooms whenever possible (forcing them to possibly obtain the traitor card.) and if they end their turn in the same room as another player they MUST switch an item with them. As noted, the 'traitor' card in this game IS an item, so a player can literally BECOME a traitor right in front of the other players with no one the wiser. Or maybe he will wince at that moment, revealing himself AND the player who infected him to an observant third party.

COOL!

3) NPC enemies that all players had to fight; All players, traitor included, have to contend with third party NPCs that roam the board and attack them. The Traitor can kill these enemies to save another players life, making him appear friendly. This allows for some good posturing and bartering. The enemies in this game also randomly moved around the board which is also something I thought seemed like a good idea.

So I went on to board game geek and looked at how people felt about this game, and the reviews were mixed. It turns out the game had some niggling issues too:

1) Difficulty; In short, it was too low. Players found that without the presence of a traitor the game became painfully easy. If the traitor dies early, the only threat is other players who have no reason to kill you if they are aware that the traitor is already dead. The game REQUIRES the traitor to function in a balanced way because the basic enemies do not really threaten skilled players. WHOOPS, that's no good.

2) Gamesmanship; If it is a four player game, experienced players soon discovered a very serious loophole in the system. If each player agrees at the very beginning to move in a different cardinal direction, and explains that they will attack any one that follows them, there IS literally enough room in the base for every one. Now, since all players are completely separated, the have no reason to even interact with each other unless they are the traitor. The 'real' traitor game will never start because smart players will never be near each other. WHOOPS, that's no good either.

3) Theme; Players in this game are android secret agents sent to destroy an insidious chestbursting alien infection. Why is it then... that they have only 2 bullets and have to find more inside the base. Why wouldn't they have just brought assault rifles or grenades or... or... Well, any way, it don't make a lot of sense. WHOOPS, That is also no good.

So I liked this game, I respected what they were trying to do... and it seemed... so close to what a traitor game in this vein should really be. But it was still wrong, and I thought I could make it better.

After looking at Panic Station and some other notable examples of the genre I realized that a good traitor mechanic for this kind of game had a lot of very tough requirements.

1) The game system needs to be HARD, hard enough that skilled players are ALWAYS in danger of losing, even if the traitor is doing a bad job, or if he is already dead. Players need to feel like they have no choice but to stick together or the board will kill them. That way they need to work together, which means they ALWAYS have the thought in the back of their mind that this person, sitting across from them and assuring them that he is on their side is really going to blow them away when he gets the chance.

Of course, it can't be TOO HARD. The game needs to be winnable for the non-traitors even if the traitor is playing well. Even if the players get a bit unlucky. They still should have a chance. That's tough, the traitor is a player too, he has all of the same abilities, and the advantage of surprise, plus a human intelligence that, by its nature, is going to outpace the challenge offered by the board game itself.

Wow, that sounds like a difficult sweet spot to target, no wonder most board games don't get it right. But that's not so bad... I am sure we can figure it out... except...

2) The game system needs to allow for secrecy. Players in Panic Station can put themselves in a situation where the traitor is easy to spot. "If he is walking towards me, he is a traitor." Okay, that's no good. So that means that we need to give the traitor opportunities to openly harm the team without revealing himself. And THAT means that we need to give non-traitor players good reasons to hurt the team. Well, it turns out that is pretty tricky too.

How can you get players, in a co-operative game to WANT to do things that harm their teammates? How can you get the other players at the table to say "okay, even though you did that bad thing to us, we still do not think you are the traitor. Not only that, but we are still willing to work together with you at a later time."

Okay... that sounds pretty tricky too, most board games get that wrong... But that whole problem is made more difficult to solve because...

3) The game system needs to allow for deduction. A good player, watching carefully, should be able to look at a player and say "I think he is the traitor because X or Y or Z", and I think he is not the traitor because "A and B and C."

It turns out this is REALLY important too. In early builds of our game, it was difficult to impossible to 'figure out' who the traitor was. He would just reveal himself at one point and start blasting people. That's no fun, the whole point of a traitor game is that players get to try to figure out who the bad guy is based on the actions that player takes in game. If players are unable to gather enough information to make accurate guesses, then the entire game design falls apart.

So now we need players to be able to hide that they are the traitor, and also to figure out that someone else is the traitor too... what?

4) The game system needs to include a strong theme. There is a reason that block puzzle games don't have traitors... what would that mean? We need a solid theme reason WHY these players are where they are, WHY they are doing what they are doing, and WHY one of them is secretly working against them. If players only have two bullets in their gun, we will need to explain why. Traitor games are about immersion and social interaction, if the theme doesn't work, the game won't work.

5) The game system needs to encourage variety. This is something panic station did right. Traitor games can really only work if the situation is different every time. The rooms, their arrangement, and the situations players find themselves in need to be unique enough that they haven't seen them before or else it will be easy to deduce who the traitor is, and it will also be less exciting in general.

I began working on, and discussing the game with other friends and through those discussions determined that most new board game players complain about two things more than any thing else.

Game length: "Risk takes 7 hours, I don't want to play."

Game Complexity: "It's too fucking complicated and I don't understand."

We knew we wanted the game to be accessible, so we wanted to avoid those issues too. We also really liked how Panic Station allowed the traitor to be determined at (almost) any time. And I also knew, from my own experience, that many gamers have limited table space so we wanted the components to be sleek and easy to set up.

With all of these disparate and conflicting design goals... no wonder nobody has gotten this quite right so far.

Design Goals So Far:

1) Have a good traitor system; that means...

a) Force players to harm each other whether they want to or not. Or at least make them want to harm each other even if they are not the traitor.
b) Allow for the presence of hidden information.
c) carefully monitor the difficulty and challenge that the traitor system adds or removes to keep the system balanced either way.
d) allow players to do suspicious things , and to make reasonably accurate deductions about the intention behind other players actions.
e) allow the traitor to be determined at any time in the game, when the game starts there MIGHT be a traitor... or maybe someone will become the traitor later... or maybe not at all. (this one is more about preference and theme than necessity though.)

2) Include a large amount of variety in game play.

3) Push a strong theme that explains not only the game mechanics themselves but the purpose of the traitor as well.

4) Have an average game length of 1.5 hours or less

5) Have an easy setup; five minutes or less if possible and let's not force players to wrangle heavy or unwieldy pieces that require a lot of table space.

6) It should be simple too. (And we would learn quickly that things get very complicated very fast.)

Faux-Operative

This is the first article in a series about designing 'Faux Operative', our competitive/co-operative traitor board game.
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Hello friends, I am Charles Webb.

You don't need to know too much about me, except that I have have spent the last several months, working with Daniel Crockenberg, to create a competitive co-operative board game called "Faux-Operative." We have made nine separate builds of the game, which is completely playable, although still unfinished and probably in 'alpha' stages.

This will serve as a blog detailing the design process of our game, from start to finish in as much detail as possible. We are doing this for two reasons.  Firstly, we want to have a record of our design process to reference during development.  Secondly, we want to use it as a platform to invite constructive criticism and collaboration from the board game community.

If you are here, chances are you are pretty serious about board games. We want to make something that people will really appreciate.  We invite you to help us make this game the best it can be by offering suggestions and input over the course of this article series.

Game Summary

In Faux-Operative, you play as a specially trained secret operative assaulting a highly sophisticated underground research base.  Choose from one of eight different characters, each representing a different corporation; We wanted to cover every Hollywood cliche, and you may notice some hidden references in the character names (and the rest of the game.) as well.

Dutch Kilgore - The Commando

Commander Hannibal - The Tactician

Akira Faustus - The Bio-Chemist

Baron Zaytsev - The Marksman

Tex Roland - The Gunslinger

Mr. Grey - The Infiltrator

IG-I-176 - The Android

Gyver Sinclair - The Engineer

Each Operative has their own unique abilities, and can make use of disposable items and unique permanent 'augments' (examples include; a katana, rocket boots, and nano-bots.) to help them conquer the obstacles in the research base. An objective can be any thing from avoiding other Operatives, to defeating an enemy, to hacking a computer terminal etc...  Operatives have to work together to overcome the enemies and obstacles in their way, but must always watch carefully, in the end, any one of them will always be loyal to their corporation before any one else.


Players may decide to work together and attempt to achieve a team victory, or any individual player may also decide to see if they can escape the base with enough data and technology to satisfy their corporate masters by themselves. And just to make things tougher, one operative may secretly be a full blown traitor, just waiting for the perfect moment to turn on his allies and claim victory through their destruction.

I am going to start at the beginning, and detail every aspect of the design process from beginning to end.

I will also be uploading assets from the board game, and I am also considering uploading our actual game resources to allow readers to download and play a print/play version of the game if there is interest.  I don't think there is any thing that would make me happier than to receive a PM with the simple request "can I try it?"


So, without further ado, I present "Faux-Operative."

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