The Hunt – A Frankenstein-Inspired Asymmetric Card Game

Picture this: you’re being chased down by a superhuman abomination who’s out for blood. It’s stalking you, tracking your movements, trying to find the right time to strike. You must either arm yourself and prepare to defeat it, or you will die. There is no permanent escape. It will keep chasing.

Sounds stressful and scary, right? It’s what’s going on in the novel Frankenstein, and it’s the emotion and state of being that we were trying to capture in the form of a game. Obviously, a slow, turn-based card game with no stakes is a tough sell to accomplish that goal. Why not a horror video game? Why not a movie, where there’s more immersion? Because we like card games. It is a challenging medium, but an accessible, portable, shareable medium, and with enough creativity and work, a card game can become just as engaging as any of the more traditional forms of media.

So we had our idea. An asymmetric card game. One person would play as the monster, and everyone else would play as the villagers.

The main source of inspiration for the design of the gameplay came from Stronghold Games’ Not Alone, a tabletop game released in 2016. The game has a premise comparable to what we were aiming for in our Frankenstein game: there are survivors stranded on a hostile planet being hunted by an aggressive alien, and their goal is to elude the alien until help arrives. The game wonderfully captures the feeling of being pitted against the opponents at the table. It is stressful. It is nerve-wracking. It is not a good game for people dealing with anxiety. And that was what we wanted.

Of course, just copying another game and slapping new words and labels on everything was not our goal nor our aim. While we wanted to maintain that same stressful, tense feeling that Not Alone captures excellently, we also needed a game that felt more Frankenstein-y and tied in better with the original plot of the novel. So we kept a few things – the asymmetric structure, and a few types of cards from Not Alone which were given different names in our rendition: location cards (Place cards in NA), monster cards (Hunt cards), and villager cards (Survival cards). Everything else, including the names and even technical function of those cards, was changed. They only existed in the same capacity.

The first major decision we made was to divide the game up into two phases instead of just one. The first phase – meant to be a buildup to the action, an opportunity for new players to learn how the game worked with lower stakes, and a means of selecting who would be playing the monster – was to feature Dr. Frankenstein creating the monster. It was designed to be quick and straightforward, with the villagers trying and rarely succeeding in stopping the doctor from creating that which could not be controlled. Even the “simple” phase had its fair share of issues. Quick, easy, and lopsided were the goals, but it was very easy for those to blend into a pointless, time-wasting formality. We iterated on both the cards and the win conditions in the first phase more than any other portion of the game, but eventually arrived at a place where it felt fun. The interactive selection of who will perform the role of the monster is an enjoyable feature of the game, and though the doctor accomplishes their goal fourteen times out of fifteen, that fifteenth time is hilarious.

With the first phase out of the way, the bulk of the game came in the second phase. Meant to really be the meat of the game and the moment in which the suspense and anxiety is captured, the monster chases the villagers, who have a limited number of places to run. Getting caught by the monster once or twice can lead to a snowball effect where a villager runs out of options, and thus the monster can continue to predict their next few movements. When it happens, it really captures the futility of being up against a superhuman creation acting as a force of evil. There’s nothing you can do but sit there and feel bad for letting the rest of the village down. But the village can also get out to an early lead, gain access to new locations, and run the monster in circles. The monster can feel the chances of victory slipping away, but the game is never over until it is over – comeback mechanics (monster cards) and the streakiness of the gameplay can lead to some unpredictable results when it seems as if nothing can lead to a victory.

Then we had to test. The first edition of the game featured scraps of paper, a standard deck of playing cards, and a lot of trying to remember what cards had what effects. To our surprise, it was fun. It was supposed to be fun, but it was genuinely encouraging to have the initial draft of our card game be so enjoyable that our playtesters (roommates and hallmates) wanted to keep playing, even in its original, very rough, an-ace-means-you-pick-up-two-cards-and-a-four-means-you-pick-up-all-of-them form. One of the biggest strengths of the game, even in its original form, was that it was very easy to learn as the game went along. Those who knew how to play could teach those who didn’t in a simple, straightforward manner. The rules were detailed, but the details could just be brought up as they became relevant. It’s probably why the game worked.

But there were tweaks to be made. The monster wasn’t getting enough monster cards. Then the monster was getting too many monster cards. It was too hard for the monster to win.

A: “This is too hard!”
B: “No, you’re just bad at being the monster!”

A: “Ok, you play!”
B: “Ok, this is too hard.”

A: “I told you so!”

Then it was too easy for the monster to win. It was hard to make an asymmetric game feel fair, even if the end result was nearly 50/50. Some monster and villager cards felt worthless. Others felt way too powerful.

Game balance is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Even when you agree on the problem (which isn’t a given), there may not be an obvious solution. But we worked until we had a product that felt fun and fair to play. Point totals were changed, card effects were changed, locations were re-done, and it reached a point where nothing felt egregious, too strong, or too weak.

One trip to FedEx later, we had a game. A fun game. A game one of our roommates took home over Thanksgiving Break to play with family because it was just that good. Long after the project was finished, we were still tweaking and updating the game because we actually just kept playing it.


While the rules and cards are not the most exciting in digital form, you can find them here:

Rules

Location Cards

Doctor/Villager/Monster Cards

And last but not least, some actual gameplay:

  • Cole Bowden and Youjia Wang

Taking the Video Out of the Game

Looking through the historical progression of games, there seems to be a fairly smooth path that points towards video games being the current end point. This makes sense considering that video games and VR are the peak of gaming technology, but what about the games that go back in time? As an avid board game player, I wanted to take a look at some of the great video games that have expanded their reach into the realm of tabletop play. Are the games any good and why are they made?

Let’s start off with what is arguably the most popular video game-board game transition, which is Dark Souls The Board Game. Initially a Kickstarter project, the game hit its target in 3 minutes and ultimately raised over $4,000,000. For those of you who don’t know much about Dark Souls (the actual video game) it was released in 2011 to much critical acclaim and commercial success. While it could be frustratingly difficult for players, there is an intricate lore, great mechanics, and an open world platform that allows for so many different strategic maneuvers. Turning back to the board game, it actually held up pretty well against the original video game. There were interestingly layered game mechanics, high end design, and of course mercilessly unforgiving combat.

dark souls memeWhere things get interesting is how this game helps Dark Souls make the transition from spiteful multiplayer video game to a collaborative and hopefully fun for all video game. In the video game the player-relationship is complex as everyone has similar common goals, but they can also take over another player’s human form by killing them. By changing the board game to be completely collaborative Dark Souls developers FromSoftware are potentially trying to take away some of the negative impressions players are left with after playing Dark Souls. The board game serves as an avenue to build a stronger community around Dark Souls, which would ultimately lead to more players and game play.

dark souls board gameWhile it’s nice to think about a lot of the community and “for the sake of the game” aspects of expansion into board games, the bottomline is of course going to be money. Particularly with games that achieve massive success, a board game is a quick way to make some easy cash. For this we turn to the lamest of all video game iterations, the Monopoly edition. Don’t take this as a sign of me bashing Monopoly, it’s probably the first game I really loved playing and I still playing with some regularity even today. The point I am trying to make is that some game companies simply opt to get lazy when making the transition to board games and that’s not at all exciting for fans of the game. Just to name a few there is Zelda Monopoly, Fallout Monopoly, and Mass Effect Monopoly. While I am sure that these all sold a few copies, none brought another dimension to the original video game, doing little if anything to make the experience worthwhile for fans of the original game.

blur-board-game-cards-776654

At the end of the day it’s easy to tell, which game companies are really looking to provide something new and exciting for their fan base. Some video games such as BioShock, Assassin’s Creed, and Dark Souls have provided an opportunity to expand upon gameplay and grow the fandom and community. On the other hand countless video game makers have come out with board games that provide little other than funding, or just simply aren’t good games. So before making that transition from the screen to your kitchen table be sure to do a little bit of research as a great video game doesn’t always translate to a great board game.

  • Sam Grossman

Nightmare Chess and the Hall of Heroes

Though I think of myself as a ‘gamer,’ I have never played very many arcade games. My experience is limited to the Space Invaders machine at the Dave & Busters back home, and one highly unsuccessful attempt to save my cities while playing Missile Command. On the other hand, I have lots of experience with board games. From Monopoly to Nightmare Chess to backgammon to the War of the Ring, board games have been a part of my life since I was very young. And equally present there is another, very different type of game: the online games, those notorious MMOs that so many love to play to the exclusion of all else.

While both are enjoyable, they present very different experiences to their players. The first, obviously, is the real life interaction present in any board game. When you play a game of chess, or Monopoly, or any other traditional board game, you sit across the table from your opponent (s) and interact with them directly–you speak to them, watch them roll dice, and unnerve them when you study the cards you’re holding.  In addition, the vast majority of board games pit players head to head–they are competing directly against one another to win the game. In gamer vocabulary, board games are purely PvP–player versus player.

In contrast, an online game presents no inherent direct interaction. You can’t physically see anyone else who’s playing, or talk to them (with the advent of applications like TeamSpeak and Ventrilo this has changed, though). Players instead interact through their avatars–the characters they create to play in the game. Though the character represents the player in the game’s world and can interact with other avatars and the game’s environment, the avatar is not real and does not compare equally to the face-to-face interaction present in board games. Lastly, online games in general do not force players to play against each other. Even in World of Warcraft, where the conflict between the Horde and Alliance is central to both the world and storyline, players can opt not to fight other players. Most MMOs present head-to-head competition as an option through PvP servers and arenas; however players can instead choose to fight the challenges presented by the game designers in the game (and indeed must if they wish to truly experience the full game, eg. leveling up and completing endgame content). Players are also encouraged to work together through the forming of groups, guilds, and friendships to beat the game. Thus, online games are not primarily PvP focused; instead they present both PvE (player versus environment) and PvP as options for their players, with most of their content being PvE.

Furthermore, board games are almost always rules-based emergence games, where no ‘heavy’ fiction is presented to the player . Board games sometimes provide a ‘light’ fiction along with their rules, like the tycoon fantasy of Monopoly or the battle for Middle Earth presented in War of the Ring, but these are thin veneers and nowhere is the player of a board game subject to the same ‘heavy’ fiction found in online games. Board games focus instead on simple rules that nevertheless provide variations in every game played. Thus, they are emergence games. There is nothing fixed about a board game except the rules–any twists and turns, and especially the outcome of the game, are determined by the players themselves.

Online games are almost the opposite. They rely heavily on fiction, though rules are important as well, and are generally progression based. The fiction of an online game is almost certainly its most important component. The player must suspend at least some disbelief, and enter the world created by the game designers. In this world, there are quests to do, villages to save, mythical swords to forge, and worlds to conquer. But, in any online game you’ll find that there’s a certain order to these many tasks. Before you can conquer the world, you have to forge the sword, but to do that you’ll have to save the village, but before you can save the village you’ll have to do some errands for the townspeople to gain their trust. Online games present a story, a predetermined path for you to walk, and are therefore strongly fiction and progression based. You can only do the quests they allow you to do, and deviating from the storyline isn’t really possible–should the hero die halfway through, he’ll be resurrected.  If he fails the final boss fight and doesn’t destroy the evil wizard, he can always try again.  There is no emergence aspect to the PvE side of the game. The final outcome doesn’t depend on your actions or the actions of your opponent, like it does in a board game. In an online game, the story always ends the same way.

But, like a board game, an online game could not function without rules. Not only are there rules governing how a player moves about, interacts with objects, and communicates, online games restrict a player’s actions in-game. For example, in Star Wars Galaxies you cannot kill Darth Vader, and in LOTRO Gandalf is equally immortal. Killing either character would drastically change the story each game tells–and so, you cannot attack them. In both types of game, rules play an important part–for indeed, what is a game without rules?

The only real emergence aspect of an online game is its PvP side. In an arena, players learn a set of rules (eg. Movement, special attacks, etc) and play against each other. There’s no story, and though the fiction is heavier than any board game’s, it’s still lighter than the PvE aspect of the game. This is where board games and online games ‘intersect’–in the PvP arena. Here, players of both games have a similar experience in many ways, as some of the trademark characteristics of board games described above display themselves in the virtual world of the online game.

While both the board game and the online game are very different in many ways, they are both fun and enjoyable for the many players who take up their challenges. Their differences merely help to make the world of gaming the dynamic and multifaceted place it is.

So, anyone up for a game of Nightmare Chess? If not, we can always head out to the Hall of Heroes.

Dacia

PS: I totally forgot to post this on time with the math test and everything today….forgive me!! >.< I had it ready yesterday and everything. Oh well, that’s life…

Bored of the Board?

One vivid memory I have of my childhood is spending countless hours playing Star Fox 64 or Super Mario 64 on my Nintendo 64 game console, which was the first console I ever owned. That’s not to say I was a video game fanatic, however. Often times when I would invite friends over, I would suggest a game of checkers or chess, though I would often be met with the same answer of, “No, let’s play Nintendo; chess (or checkers) is boring!”

Oh how crestfallen my grade-school self would be! After spending so much time practicing against my dad on board games to try and get “good” at them (whatever that term means for a young kid), rarely would I get the chance to match my wits against my friends’ in those arenas. Looking back with the knowledge I have now, the obvious reason of video games being the hip, new thing still resounds. However, I now also see the difference in the mechanics of both styles of games, and therefore why the video games were so appealing: The idea of a progressive story line rather than just thinking of how to manipulate, work around, or work against rules was a huge pull on young kids who are in a prime age for absorbing all sorts of new stories in fantastical realms.

All games have rules, regardless of the impact the rules have on the game. In some games, like chess, the rules are just as important to defeat as your opponent is in that your skill at navigating through or around the rules usually dictates your success. However with the more progressive (games based more on an evolutionary track of skills, story, or both) orientation, the rules may just be guidelines rather than direct opposition. For instance, in Final Fantasy games, there is no ability to jump, a seemingly effortless action compared to everything else going on. With this “rule” of no jumping, the player is limited in his or her movement. However, rarely deters someone who wants to play the game; the advancement in the game overcomes the restrictions set by the rules. In comparison, if a player is upset with the sole option of diagonal movement in checkers, he or she is much more likely to quit playing due to the larger role of the rules in the game’s core conflict.

I am a video game fan, and have been since my Nintendo 64. However, I will also always enjoy a good game of checkers or chess. To those people who think board games are boring due to their lesser depth or progression, I would simply tell them to rethink how you they view the rules. They are not just a constraint, but a challenge, obstacle, even an opponent. They are called “games” rather than “chores” or “puzzles” for a reason; they have conflict, they have invested interest from those playing, and losing is not any more fun or acceptable in their mediums. The next time anyone uses the term “gamer,” rethink – is the term really being used all inclusively?

-AlecSJ

A Board Game is Forever!

The Game of Life… the classic board game played from high school graduation to retirement. Throughout my youth, the game would sometimes give a sense of direction to where my real-life was heading. What usually brought me out of my fantasy world, was when I’d draw a card for my occupation and become a doctor, then I’d draw a card for my salary and its $20,000 a year. The idea of being able to play out my entire life in less then an hour was quite mindboggling for the average 9 year-old. There is absolutely no strategy or skills needed to play this game, except maybe knowing how to read and count. It’s pure luck based on the number you spin and even if you don’t retire first, there is always a chance you could still win if you ended up with more LIFE Tiles then everyone else.

LIFE brought out a new dimension of thinking for kids like me who grew up in the 90’s. With any board game I ever played, the real fun was being able to use my imagination as if I was on the board myself jumping from square to square. I imagined myself weaving through Candy Cane Forest in Candy Land, or getting thrown in Jail during Monopoly. I was fascinated by the idea of going to college, getting married, and having my first kid all in under 5 spins of the wheel. 

Now fast forward to the new millennium, technology is booming and kids like my younger brothers and sister could careless about using their imagination. Why would they want to when they have awesome graphics on their new console game that they play religiously every day after school? Their eyesight is becoming worse as they stare into the television set for hours; their thumbs are getting arthritis at a young age from using the controller for so long; their brains are being manipulated into thinking that violence, shooting, killing, and robbing people are all fun to play and watch.

I think it’s great that technology and multimedia have reached another level of success and improvements, but seeing a 7 year-old on her cell phone, and a 10 year-old with the lasted ipod touch, and a 13 year-old asking when he’s going to get his first car, only breaks my heart because children are no longer living like children in today’s society. Kids don’t enjoy playing board games anymore, rolling the dice, waiting their turn, reading the cards, moving from space to space all seems too time consuming. Their idea of a game is fast paced; each scene is pre-designed for them, and at the click of letter B on their controller, an entire village is destroyed–that is fun.

The Game of Life… the title alone brings out a whole new understanding of what life really is. The real life we live in is a game. There are rules, there are different paths you take, there are obstacles that might make you loose a turn, there are responsibilities like work, and family, and having a house. If kids like my younger brothers and sister understood that there is more too life than playing a console game through a first-person shooters perspective, they might see one day through their own eyes that life outside a game is just as fun. Technology is always on the rise and getting updated, every year or so you have to buy the new and latest equipment so that you can suitably function the new and latest console games. But the simplicity of a board game is forever, and once technology runs out of great ideas for you, creativity and imagination will always be there to keep you enjoying the real game of life.

~Adriana

Comparing Apples to Oranges: Board Games vs. Computer Games

Anna Dickens

Board games, for me, are steeped in nostalgia.

They evoke memories of Christmases past, when all my relatives and I would huddle around the fireplace to compete in a nonchalant game of Yahtzee or Balderdash, the sound of our deep-bellied laughs and friendly chatter drowning out the hushed Christmas carols that softly emanated from the stereo.

The games were, to a certain degree, competitive, each team pursuing victory with a sort of light-hearted vengeance. Winners would receive “bragging rights” for the remainder of the night, and the younger children in the bunch always found it terribly amusing to not-so-politely remind Uncle Bob or Uncle John for the seventeenth time that “they lost!” But it was, overall, a friendly competition. We would laugh at one another’s mistakes and clap at one another’s triumphs. Rules were altered, personalized, or simply ignored to suit our fancies. Frustration was fleeting, quickly remedied by a bite of a frosted red-and-green cookie.

In theory, yes, we were there to play a game. But the true joy of the experience derived not from the game itself, rather from what the game entailed—from the company of family members, from the enchantment of the sputtering fire, from the ethereal glow of the Christmas tree. The games allowed us to retreat into a “fictional world,” a fictional world that together—through our mutual efforts and our shared presence—we had created. Remove the throngs of relatives, the cheerful noise, and the cozy atmosphere, and what would we have been left with? Nothing but a cold, lifeless board game.

On the flip side, in my experience, playing computer games has been a wholly solitary endeavor. Like every other preteen inhabiting the early millennium, I was a serious fanatic of The Sims during my middle school days. In the depths of a darkened basement, slouched over a computer for hours on end, I would become so engrossed in the game that I grew oblivious to the living world pulsating all around me. A competitive edge would irrevocably overtake me. The computer game was fun, undoubtedly, but the joy of the experience was shrouded in a sensation not unlike addiction. I invested all my emotions into the silly game: my character’s triumphs elicited in me an exhilarating surge of joy, while my character’s failures left me feeling profoundly disappointed. I played and played and played repeatedly, not fully satisfied until I achieved the success I so craved.

What’s more, the fictional world provided by The Sims was of a completely different breed than that of, say, Balderdash. Thanks to a group of suited men huddled around an executive table in some nameless firm somewhere, the fiction had been already crafted for me: all I had to do was dive into the computer screen and explore it. The graphics, the animation, the set of rules to which I was inextricably bound—the juxtaposition of these elements created a fanciful, fantastical virtual experience, an alternate universe as real as our own.

So, the question remains: which are better—computer games or board games? The answer is purely a matter of personal preference. The two game forms are so different as to defy comparison; it’s analogous to trying to compare apples to oranges. As we have just explored, board games and computer games provide completely different forms of pleasure for the participant. While board games can offer the nostalgic joy of good company and lifelong memories, computer games provide an addicting, ready-made escape into a computerized world.