hollandazed-thoughts-ideas-and-miscellany

ACCELERATION (by Tom Russell)

Mary Russell

One of the games that we're prepping for publication in early-ish 2020 is Streets of Shadows, a multiplayer game designed by Joseph Miranda and Roger Mason about occupied Paris. Players aren't taking on the roles of brave resistance fighters, nor of cowardly collaborators. Rather, they're something more cynical and insidious, playing both sides so as to ensure that however the conflict is resolved, they come out on top.

Driving all these is a series of three event decks, called Shadows cards. One of these is drawn each turn. They might provide a short-term goal and reward for the turn: control a particular type of area, and you gain more agents or Francs. They might provide an opportunity to throw in one's lot with either the Resistance or the Gestapo, or to make formal alliances with other player factions. Those specific events end the turn immediately, before it's even really gotten started - no income, no recruiting, no actions. That bit's important for later, so hold onto it for a moment.

The other things the cards do is move the marker forward or backward on something called the Allied Liberation Track. This track is divided into three segments - one corresponding for each deck of Shadows cards. If the marker reaches the end of the track, Paris is liberated: loyalty to the Resistance is rewarded, and the Gestapo, penalized. If the last deck runs out before that can happen, it's reversed. Obviously, different players will have different opinions about whether or not Paris should be liberated, and several of the events will give a player who exerts control over certain areas on the map a choice as to whether the track should be advanced, stay still, or move backwards. In this way, to a degree, the players have some say over how the thing turns out.

But only to a degree. Remember that bit I told you to hold onto for later, about how some of the events end the turn immediately? In the "A" deck with which you begin the game, there are only a few of these. Only half the cards in the deck will advance the marker. This means the early game is relatively stable, and conducive to planning and carrying out operations with minimal external interference.

It might be several turns before the game shifts to the mid-war part of the track, the "B" deck. That deck has more cards that will end the turn immediately - usually advancing the track when they do so. As a result, this second phase of the game moves a bit quicker, and gives the players a little less control over their destinies. Sooner than you'd like, you're in the game's final phase, and at the mercy of the "C" deck.

Half of these cards end the turn immediately, and most of the cards in the deck will either advance the marker or allow a player to decide whether the marker moves forward, stagnates, or reverses. Again, this choice is given to a player who meets certain criteria - but with fewer full turns, it's harder to position yourself to be the one to make that decision. Events are moving too fast for the players to exert control, and in this dizzying environment, even a small tactical gain feels like an achievement.

One of the things that first drew us to this game was this sense of acceleration. Because the first deck is so stable, it might take a while for things to kick over to the middle deck, but once it does, it's heading very quickly toward the final deck, and then it's a whirlwind race to the finish as things spiral out of control.

 

It reminded me slightly of one of my favorite aspects of one of my own designs, Blood in the Fog. That game starts with a dense fog that favors the Russian player and disadvantages the British. Early on, it seems like that fog will last forever - certainly the Russians hope it will! But eventually, a chit will be drawn which will see the fog start to lift. Once it does so, the number of chit draws per turn increases, making it more likely that the fog will continue to dissipate, which will in turn make it more likely, et cetera: once the fog finally starts to lift, it lifts more and more rapidly, swinging the pendulum from the Russians to their foes.

Acceleration can be a very useful hammer in the designer's tool box, especially when modeling a loss of control or primacy. Key to making it work is that early "stable" period - that's what makes it feel like everything is slipping through their fingers later in the game. It lends the proceedings an overarching narrative structure that will generally be repeated each time you play the game. There's a pitfall to that, of course: if you're going to be telling the same basic story each time, there needs to be enough variation within that to not only make it interesting for the players, but to give them enough agency to effect the outcome. They might not have much control by the end, but they have to have enough over the course of the game that their actions mattered.


2 comments

  • Both, and also that diminishing ability to personally dictate the flow of events within Paris.

    Tom Russell

  • Sounds intriguing! Is the acceleration intended to reflect the actual pace of historical events towards the end of the Occupation, or is it mainly to enhance gameplay?

    Seth McCormick

Leave a Comment