Mal Rempen
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I’m working on a coop dice worker placement game with a filmmaking theme and it’s fine right now, but it’s not deep enough. The trouble is, right now it’s too puzzle-y and not game-y enough. I’d like to create a deeper, more strategic experience (while still keeping it firmly in the casual/light gateway category), but I want to avoid just adding stuff to the game. I’d rather take what exists and either deepen it or, if I have to, replace it. But I don’t want to create depth through complicating it. I’m reading a lot and listening to a lot of podcasts and everyone talks about ensuring there are lots of “interesting decisions.” I totally get that, as a player I like that of course, and I want that for my game.

But how to add them? How do I make the choices more interesting without falling into the trap of piling on features and rules?

More details about the gameplay itself:

The game has blue custom dice that are your crew, each face with a symbol representing a different department like camera or producing, and there are three decks of cards: “shots” which you have to “shoot” to move into the Editing Room, “problems” which must be resolved with dice actions, and “ideas” that players take to their hands which, when played, help in various ways. The board has various worker action slots, some of which can be taken by any crew face and others that can only be taken by certain crew faces. Several are to mitigate dice rolls, usually for a price. The goal is to shoot 5 shots before running out of time and budget, both of which are tracked. Each Shot has a “recipe” or pattern of crew placement that must be arranged using the dice in order to shoot it and move it to the Editing Room. This is done in the middle of the board where there’s a grid (“on Set”). However you can only place Crew dice on blue squares, and since the grid only has one blue square by default, you have to buy “set pieces” to arrange in various ways to achieve the pattern on the Shot cards. These are tiles in various unique Tetris-y shapes. There’s also a “crew mood” dice which determines if Problems or Ideas come up each turn. Finally, the shots have “quality” effects which are essentially VP, which when arranged in different ways in the Editing Room create various point combos.

On paper I think there’s a unique dice placement mixed with spacial pattern arrangement mechanic, and the Problem / Idea balance should provide a good amount of grief and relief, but in reality there’s a lot going on and actually not much depth once you get it. You roll, resolve the crew mood effects (problems or ideas), roll the dice and place them on Set if you can, somewhere else if you can’t, and that’s pretty much it. Even though there’s plenty of dice mitigation, it FEELS quite random, and I’m guessing that’s because there aren’t that many interesting or difficult decisions to make.

I feel like the elements are all there, but somehow it’s just not THAT engaging. For a younger audience it might be perfect, but then they might also find the plethora of components and mechanics too much. I’d much rather aim for “all ages” than “kids”.

Maybe I’ve put in too much and need to reveal the complexity more over game time, or maybe I haven’t leveraged properly what does work about the game (playtesters like the Set mechanic and creating a story in the editing room quite a lot). Not sure!

What are your thoughts?
 
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marc lecours
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It sounds like you have a very interesting idea and an interesting "thinky" puzzle to solve with a fun spatial element.

The two dimensional space puzzle is a great way to make a game deeper and it sounds like you are already doing it.

The main other way to make a game deeper is with player interaction.

In your description it sounds like each player rolls their own dice (that is not much player interaction.) You can increase player interaction by having more dice and they are rolled in common for everyone. Now when players take dice they have to consider their own shot as well as taking dice that other players need. There is a race for each type of worker. But beware of blocking a player completely since that is no fun either.

You could have a system that on your turn you get to make two actions. For example you can take 2 blue dice. Or you can have an unlimited supply of each type of worker (maybe on cardboard chits) that costs 2 actions each. So there is a race to get the cheap blue dice or if you're stuck you can always take the expensive workers.

Best is if there are all sorts of things that the players are racing for. You can't have everything so you have to prioritize. You have to decide what you are going to use your precious actions for. This is essentially a worker placement solution to player interaction.

It is not clear if there is only one board for everyone or players have to share a studio. There is a lot of geographical interaction if the board (studio) is shared. There can be another race to claim the best spots for sets. Again the problem is not to shut players out completely. Maybe it takes one action to tear down an existing set that has already shot its scene. So everyone is rushing to get the best spot OR you can spend the extra action to tear down an unused existing set.

Maybe existing props can be used instead of making new ones, so when you you tear down a set you get to use one of the existing props.

Maybe you can have better cinema release dates, so whoever finishes their movie first gets first choice. This makes it a choice, do you make cut corners and get the best release date or do you make a better movie and take whatever release date is left.

etc.

Your ideas sound interesting.
Good luck with your project.
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Chris Talmadge
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Competition for public goals or scoring cards.
 
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Jay Klitz
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To make a game deeper without adding much complexity I would have my early game decisions tie into my later choices. Maybe unlock something to be used later or setup an opponent into helping me out and not just themselves.
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Brian Franzman
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The things that make games interesting to me are when there are agonizing decisions to make, when there's rarely an obvious best choice. Say you roll your dice and the faces that come up have obvious places where they should go. What fun is that? Let's do more things with those dice! What if you could "spend" one of those dice to do something special? Say, discard one die to "bump" another die that has already been placed, or discard one die to reroll all other dice. Which die would you bump? Do you reroll, if you might end up with an even worse set of faces? I also like it when you can mitigate bad rolling, but make it painful and the decision to use that power becomes painful as well. Choose a face to use on any one die by discarding all remaining dice (minimum of three or whatever number works). Do you need that one face badly enough to blow the rest of your turn?

I also agree that the more interaction between players, the more enjoyable it can be. Perhaps dice swapping or negotiation can come into it. Maybe there are player roles to choose that give that player a special power or an extra die of their type, or to place as an extra in their specific zone on the grid: director, writer, producer, set designer, costume designer, cinematographer, etc.
 
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mmrempen wrote:
it’s too puzzle-y and not game-y enough.

To me, it sounds like that you don't have enough interaction, hidden information and randomness; instead, your game needs more direct competition / cooperation.

* draft for Shoots of varying complexity (i.e. worker slots & durations)
* bid for Cast and Crew of various types, both permanent and temp
* bid for production and release slots as they become available

and so on.

Now, there's a lot more going on where players can do things.

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Jeff Warrender
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This will seem like an unhelpful answer, but the truth is that there isn't really a recipe to make a game deep. Depth, I would argue, is not something you impose on a game, but rather something you discover about a game. Thus, if you've found your game isn't very deep, you have ... discovered that your game isn't very deep. There isn't necessarily a quick fix for that.

Rather, the solution is to know what you're looking for, so that as you iterate over various permutations you can identify when the game is trending in the right direction.

Depth is strongly correlated with heuristics, and specifically, its presence is felt when players continue to develop new heuristics with increasing exposure to the game and when they find that those heuristics have to be modified, adapted, combined, or prioritized relative to each other. These are the qualities of a deep game: that there's always more to learn about the game and your approach to it with repeat plays.

If players aren't finding themselves growing into the game more and more with repeat plays, it's probably due to one of two things. Either the game is too shallow, in which case simple heuristics are perfectly adequate to perform well. Or it's too chaotic, in which case any heuristics are superseded by the random or interactive factors of the game, rendering attempts to study the game unfruitful. Of course it's possible for a game to exhibit both of these qualities. And of course, there are games that are highly chaotic but that do nevertheless have heuristic guiding principles that influence how one performs in the aggregate. For example, Poker. Each hand is heavily luck dependent and yet skillful play is possible over many hands and good players tend to perform well in the long run.
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Thinking about this, I would redesign the game entirely:

* Each player is a Producer, and starts with $100M in pocket.
* The game iterates quarter by quarter, over 3 years (short) or 5, 7 years (long).

There is a tarot-sized deck of Scripts, each with a number of slots and a duration related to complexity. Scripts are drafted, each Producer keeping 2 with a 3rd going out to bid. There are decks of Actors and Services that are revealed at the start for bidding, each with an initial Hire and quarterly upkeep.

At the start of each quarter, there is a negotiation phase where Producers can bid on the open Scripts, or start a Shoot for a projected Release quarter (only so many Movies can release each quarter, and there is seasonal +/-). A Shoot reveals a Script, and allows a Producer to assign workers. Producers can cross-hire and so forth.

Once the workers are placed, players can play Event cards out of hand, either on themselves (extra funding! great reviews!), on others (actor injured! production delay!), or as defensive reactions (bodyguard! backup extras!). Delays are brutal, because they risk the release window, and burn extra upkeep money.

Some Actors / Crew produce bigger Box Office results, so you can hire an A-lister on a BIG Script for a summer blockbuster, and if you've teamed, have a better chance to defend it from mishaps (cooperation).

At the end of the production window, there you score Millions of Profit.
 
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Mike Frantz
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One thing that I constantly look for are opportunities within the game to link things up. The choice you make in one aspect has to have multiple ramifications. If things are too sequential (and what you described as the gameplay "You roll, resolve the crew mood effects (problems or ideas), roll the dice and place them on Set if you can, somewhere else if you can’t, and that’s pretty much it" seems very sequential) it becomes rote. Some folks have suggested introducing interaction (usually blocking or racing for scarce resources) and others have suggested a random element. Both are worth considering, but I would suggest looking for ways to make a particular choice impact your ability or the consequences of taking a different choice later in the sequence. I always think of Terra Mystica or a Lacerda game would I envision this. When you take a worker off your board in TM it exposes something underneath. There is a game design term for this, but I'm totally blanking on it right now, but "interrelatedness" kinda gets at it.

It's hard to make suggestions based on limited description, but thought this might help spark some thoughts.
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Mal Rempen
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This is some top notch feedback and ideas! Thanks everyone. It’s giving me a lot to chew on.

One thing I’d like to point out is that the game is cooperative. It’s important to me to highlight the collaborative nature of filmmaking in this game. So in the game, both players (currently it’s 1-2) are working towards completing the same production.

I do have an idea for a 3+ player variant in which one player would be the director, and the others the producers. Currently shot cards are just drawn from the deck, but maybe a director player could be choosing them based on “vision” and somehow restricted in communicating that vision to the producers, who don’t care about vision but budget and schedule, and actually have to make the shots the director chooses work. Of course you need a strong vision AND an under budget production to win. Could be fun and allow for a bit of a deeper experience through player interaction.
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OK, I get your game vision. The problem is that your solo / 2-player puzzle is, by its very nature, not nearly as engaging or interesting as the co-competitive 3-4 player game that I cooked up on the fly.

Your "game" reads like a task management budgeting & scheduling puzzle, something that I'd enter and track in Microsoft Project. "Winning" means that I made the director happy as the best nameless flunky overshadowed by Martin Scorsese / James Cameron.

In contrast, in my game, I'm angling to come out as the next Harvey Weinstein / Orson Welles / Kevin Feige, with the biggest box office draws over a 3-5 year period.

If you ask prospective players who they would rather be, I think my version would generally be more compelling.


OTOH, if you're simulating a production team, then your design should be a 4-player "command team" game with a Director, Producer, etc. etc. each working together to finish the movie on time. I'd start by reskinning Robinson Crusoe, and the tweaking things to be more movie-flavored.
 
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marc lecours
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When I first read your initial post, I missed the word co-op. Oops. So my whole previous reply about player interaction was worthless. So sorry.

Or as Gilda Radner would say: "never mind".
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marc lecours
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How to make a co-op game deeper is a bigger challenge.

First off, you have to decide if the game will be a solo game (with several players making group decisions) or a co-op game (with each player making decisions that are hard for others to influence).

The main problem with puzzle like co-op games tends to be that one player (often the most experienced player) will end up making the decisions for the group.

The three main solutions used in co-op games are:

1. Reduce the amount of communication between players, that way all players are involved in making decisions and can barely be influenced by a single leader. This is often combined with giving each player information that the other players don't have.

2. Have a large amount of random events in the game (ex: in Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island) that prevent any perfect plan given by the alpha player (the most experienced player).

3. Make the game real time and give so much to do that each player is too busy with their own tasks that they can't help the others.

In your game, the first solution is probably the way to go. Have limited communication and secret information.


Some suggestions:
1. I think having specific roles is really neat: Producer, director, set designer (and some other role). The problem is to have each role be fun. An alternative is to have the roles rotate from player to player (this may be best to make sure everyone has fun).

2. Each player needs secret information on which they have to make an independent decisions. This is best accomplished by cards but dice rolled with a cup and kept hidden from the other players works also.

3. I would organize the game so that all the player take their turn at the same time. This keeps everyone busy and out of each other player's hair.

How to make it more engaging:

A good puzzle is already pretty deep. Making it more complex is not going to make it more fun. Players are going to zone out except for the best puzzle solver. What you should aim at is not making it deeper but more engaging.

Random thoughts on making game more engaging:
1. Time limits can make the game more engaging. Each turn you have to theoretically pay your crew more money. So each turn costs lets say 1,000,000$. So the longer you take to complete the movie the more it costs. At the end, you could release the movie to see how much it makes at the box office. If it makes less than double its cost, the players lose.

You would need a really good system for determining the box office take. You could have chits to pull from a cup. During the game for each good actor, script, perfect scene, special effect you put in the movie, you get to add a chit in the cup. The chits might have numbers like 8 (for 8,000,000$) or 2 or 7 etc. The chit you get to put in the cup depends on what you did. But there are also a bunch of negative chits for bad things you do (like -4). There are also a lot of base chits initially in the cup that are mostly zeros or close to zeros. When you release your movie you draw let's say always 10 chits (out of maybe 20 to 30 in the cup) and total the numbers up to see if your movie is a hit or not.

2. The low communication model that I mentioned in the first part of this reply would also make the game more engaging.

3. Having an opponent makes the game more engaging. The opponent can be some aspect of the game. For example in Pandemic the opponents are the 4 diseases. The humans are fighting the diseases. In Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island the opponent is nature. You are fighting for survival against each new event that occurs.

You would need to come up with some negative events to surmount. For example: It could be a couple of imaginary other films competing with your film for the resources of the studio. This could be handled by a deck. One of the other films takes your best actor for a while, or it is taking too long filming a scene on a set that you need. Now that I think about it, this idea probably would not work since it is not dramatic enough. There might not be an thematic way to have "the game" be an opponent with your game subject.
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Mal Rempen
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Interesting thoughts, thank you. I haven't played Robinson Crusoe, that's just bumped to the top of my to-do list.

I did actually originally have different players using different crew roles with different abilities, but it was cumbersome so I scrapped it. Now the crew roles are on the dice faces. I'm intrigued by the idea of having players rotate through roles, though, I've never heard of that being done before. I wonder if there's a way to do it without just saying "ok now rotate roles" for no apparent reason. I'll think about that...

The problem I've run into with secret communication in co-op games is that since players are working together, they don't WANT to hide information from each other. Secret information makes sense in a competitive game but in a co-op game you're incentivized to share information, not hide it. So I have tried a few variants of that but it always feels unfun. Not saying it's not a possible solution, just that I haven't hit it yet there. I also toyed with a real time version (I'm a big fan of Kitchen Rush, where that mechanic works really well) but again haven't really made it work yet. So I actually wonder if making more randomness might be the solution here. Do you have other examples of games that use that to mitigate alpha player problem?

As for engagement, there are the "problem" cards that sort of serve as opponents, since they have to be resolved using dice (workers), but you can choose to not resolve them and risk the effects snowballing. There are also schedule/budget trackers that tick down every turn/every shot respectively (although I might combine that into one budget tracker that, as you say, simply goes down each turn in addition to other costs).
 
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Mike Frantz
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There is no way around the fact that coop games are simply puzzles. A huge part of designing them is hiding that as much as possible.

Random elements and complexity are really your primary tools for hiding the underlying puzzle. That doesn't really even address the issue of coop vs solo (why even play coop..which is where roles come in).

What is the "clock" in your game? Usually that's the way coop games introduce tension, which can be a proxy for "depth" since what you seem to be looking for is how to make the decisions more interesting.
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Rotate roles means you should go back to Solo play. The point of a multi-player Co-op is to have distinct roles for each player to play. If they just get shuffled around, then the players are redundant.

Honestly, what you describe is a Solo game, so you probably do better with that in mind and refocus accordingly, whether the player should be the Director of individual shoots, or the Producer of the movie as a whole.
 
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MPtW: Multiple Paths to Victory

Record the strategy that won in each playtest. Nerf dominant strategies, boost weakest strategies, until playtest wins are evenly distributed among a half-dozen qualitatively different strategies. Game depth really flows from that, I feel.
 
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Charles Ward
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I like designing games that, without being rules heavy, have different elements of the game interact with each other. For example, if you take a certain action it makes the timer in the game tick along faster. Or if you hold on to a certain number of cards, you might the target of an attack by the AI. Or how increasing your technology improves some actions but reduces your income at the end of the round.
 
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There was a recent paper titled Depth in Strategic Games that may provide some fundamental insights. (There's some math, but the general concepts should be understandable to any serious designer.)

The underlying problem is that there's no way not to increase complexity by adding elements or choices. But it's a wiggly thing. MTG may be the most complex game played by humans, with a rulebook pushing 200 pages, but collectible card games handle the staggering array of mechanics by putting the rules on the cards themselves.

I notice that budget is a factor in your game, so you might think about an "advanced" version that adds a financing layer--locking in bankable stars to secure pre-sales of distribution rights and so forth. Dealing with the bond company stooges and insurance costs related to the lifestyles of various stars.

Also, even though it's cooperative, you could utilize different "deals" for different players in terms of how big a piece of the action they have. Create "dillemas" to effect this.
 
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DukeZhou wrote:
MTG may be the most complex game played by humans, with a rulebook pushing 200 pages,

but collectible card games handle the staggering array of mechanics by putting the rules on the cards themselves.

There are multiple games with rulebooks with more pages - Star Fleet Battles has a rulebook that's 460 pages long, not including scenarios, annexes, SSDs, counters, maps, or ship descriptions.

Magic has high potential complexity because of the number of potential interactions from various cards, of which there are 1,000s.

I'd note that Kingdom Death: Monster is no slouch in the rules complexity / rules on cards business; however, I think it does an outstandingly good job of providing depth without miring the player in complexity. It's complex, but very clean for the amount of depth that it provides.
 
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Elizabeth Hargrave
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Is there any arc to your game, or are players doing the same thing at the same level throughout? Are there ways to make players get better at the core things of the game throughout, at the same time that the AI makes their lives harder? So that by the end they feel like they're taking really clever, impressive turns?

Do the resources they're using have multiple possible uses, so that they have to make tough decisions about what to do with them?

 
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Quote:
How do you make a game deeper without necessarily making it more complex?

If adding depth is adding complexity, you can remove complexity (the type that doesn't add depth) elsewhere. For example choices that never get taken or that encourage players to gamble on big-reward/big-loss situations that negate most of what they did earlier in the game either way.
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