The Fundamental Building Blocks of Games

Every game is built on the foundation of resources, victory conditions, and player interaction.  I discussed the principles behind these here, but today I want to go into some more specific examples and categories of each.   Mix and match these systems (or add your own) to create an endless variety of games.

 Resources

Types of Resources

Scaling

 

Scaling resources start off small at the beginning of the game and get more plentiful as the game progresses. These resources replenish every turn regardless of whether they are used or not.1 Examples of scaling resources include playing 1 land per turn in Magic, or gaining one energy per turn in Hearthstone.  Pretty much every RPG has a scaling resource represented in new and improved abilities gained while leveling up.

Scaling resources have the advantage of creating a sense of progression throughout the game. Small effects are relevant in the early game, with bigger effects showing up later. This sense of progress is psychologically rewarding and the tension of choosing to focus on late game vs. early game often creates a depth of strategy.

Fixed

 

Fixed resources don’t change throughout the game. If a fixed resource is not spent, it is lost and reset the following turn. Solforge allows players to play two cards per turn. Most miniatures games have figures in play who all get to move and act once each turn.

Fixed resources have the advantage of being simple and easy to understand. When using fixed resources, however, you need to find other ways to create a sense of progression.

Accumulating

 

Accumulating resources are those that store up from turn to turn if you don’t spend them. Any card game where you draw a fixed number of cards each turn has an accumulating resource. The accumulating elixir in Supercell’s Clash Royale and gold in World of Warcraft are other examples of accumulating resources.

Since accumulating resources are not lost if unspent, there is less pressure on each turn to spend them. Player decisions involving accumulating resources tend to be very complicated, as players must evaluate spending a resource not just in the context of this turn, but also for all possible future turns.

One way to combat the complexity of an accumulating resource is to put a restriction on how many resources can be kept from turn to turn (e.g. a maximum hand limit or mana limit).  The smaller the maximum relative to the resources accumulated each turn, the closer this gets to a fixed resource.

customerinteraction

Types of Interaction

Shared Resource

 

A shared resource is any limited resource that multiple players have access to.  In my deckbuilding game Ascension, most of the interaction takes place in the center row of cards.  Players try to get the best cards for themselves, while denying key cards to their opponents. In the real time strategy game Starcraft, key resources are located around the map that players battle to control.

I find it useful to further subdivide Shared Resources into “Hot” and “Cold” shared resources.

Hot shared resources are those that make it very clear when a player takes something from another player. This is prevalent in territory control games like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride. Hot shared resources create more tension and excitement, but can also lead to anxiety and hostility when players visibly lose out on a resource they really wanted.

Cold Shared resources are more subtle. Players drafting cards from hidden packs and then passing them to other players are still taking resources from each other, but the hidden nature of the selection removes some of the tension and emotional charge from the decision.  Even as small a distinction as shifting from taking spaces on a map to taking from a shared pool of cards can have a dramatic impact on the feeling of the game, even if the abstract mechanics are the same.

Direct Attack

 

Direct attacking games are those where players attempt to attack or destroy opposing players’ resources. Examples of this are attacking a player’s life total in magic, attacking creatures directly in Hearthstone, or capturing pieces in a game of chess.

Direct attacking makes a game feel very interactive. The biggest challenge to look out for is a runaway leader advantage if the resource being attacked is critical to playing the game. Attacking a player’s life total in magic doesn’t have this problem (typically) because life total is not used to play the game. Attacking another player’s creatures or cards in hand, however, does tend to create this kind of negative tension.

Deduction

 

Deduction games require you to assess the other players for some key piece of information.  Examples of this include Apples to Apples, Poker, and Pictionary.

Deduction games interact on a psychological level, where getting to know the other players is key to playing well.  They have the advantage of triggering our need to understand other people (who are incredibly complex) and thus can create deep gameplay without a lot of complex rules.  The key to setting up good deduction interactions is to structure the game so each player reveals bits and pieces of information over time, thus forcing the other players to “fill in the gaps” and get to the information they want.

victory

Types of Victory Conditions

Player Elimination

 

The most obvious of victory conditions is the simple removal of all other players from the game. This is simple and easy to understand and a solid choice for any two player game. In multiplayer games, however, be careful of eliminating players too early as forcing people to sit around and watch other’s play can be a drag. Games like Magic the Gathering and Warhammer utilize this type of victory condition.

Time Limit

 

The game lasts a certain amount of time based on either an explicit timer or an implicit depleting resource. At the end of the allotted time, whoever has done the best according to some key metric is then declared the winner. Games like Bejeweled, Ascension and Ra utilize this type of victory condition.  Time limit games are often at their best when you get a sense that time is running short, but you don’t exactly know when the game will end.

Goal Achieving

 

The game lasts until a player achieves some specific goal. This gives players a clear direction in the game, but can often constrain your design space down the road.  Citadels, Settlers of Catan, and most single player games use this type of victory conditions.  It is often useful to hide information about how close players are to achieving their goal until the very end.  This helps maintain tension and excitement even if one player is far ahead.

 

Hopefully the above items help better illustrate how you can answer questions during your game’s core engine design.  Games can use multiple systems from each of the above categories and there are endless permutations.  Have fun experimenting and laying the groundwork for your next design!

We’ll be back with the next phase of design- Core Engine Development!

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