Game Design

Best of 2017: Gamasutra's top games, devs, events and trends

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 22 December 2017 - 1:02am

We bid farewell to the year that was with this celebration of the top game developers, trends, events, and games that defined 2017 and stand poised to shape the industry for years to come. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Design Flow: Removing A Good Rule

Gnome Stew - 22 December 2017 - 1:00am

Often we think of playtesting for rooting out bad rules—things that are broken, don’t work, or are not clear. But sometimes in playtesting we find a perfectly good rule that by itself is excellent, but in the greater whole of the game does not work. Recently I found such a rule. One that I liked so much that its removal came with great hesitation. But sometimes a good rule has to be excised for the greater good of the game. Or, to put it as Spock said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.”

Sweat For Effect

Last year, at Dreamation I ran a playtest of Hydro Hacker Operatives, and game designer Jason Pitre (@genesisoflegend) played in the game.

A bit of context—In H2O there is a mechanic for sweating. During some moves, you sweat, and in doing so you consume an internal resource of water, which in turn forces you to drink more water. As an aside, Drink Water is a move in the game that has some consequences because you have a bad reaction to any water you drink.

Jason suggested that there should be a way for a character to sweat to gain a +1 to their roll. In effect an internal Help mechanic that was keyed off of your hydration (that internal resource). I liked the idea instantly, and created:

Sweating It Out

When you push yourself harder to try to do better, Sweat (in addition to any Sweat the move required). You gain a +1 to your current roll. People can see you sweat. This can only be done once per roll.

In addition, the game already had a Help move, where your friends can provide assistance,  which was based on your relationships with other characters. That move also granted a +1.


In general, when I run a game, I am a pretty easy GM, as in I don’t crush players when I play.  If you are playing a one-shot run by me, it’s going to be challenging, but you are going to have a great time triumphing over me. One of the things I love about PbtA games, is that the players roll all the dice and the GM only acts when the dice direct, which is when the total result is six or less (we will get to that below), known as the GM Moves (also known as Hard and Soft moves).

Over a number of playtests, I noticed that I was not making a lot of moves during the game and that players were succeeding most of the time. At first, I chalked that up to my style, but then I remembered that the dice drive my moves, and I was making less GM moves in the game. Also, the game was supposed to have a gritty tone, and it felt that the tone was a bit off, with players succeeding so often.

The other thing I noticed is that the game is highly collaborative. Players are working together against an oppressive regime, so they often work together or in small groups. This means that they often make moves with their strong stats and not their weaker ones.

I needed to dig in and see what was going on.

The Problem

For those that are not familiar with Powered by the Apocalypse games, here is a crash course. The crux of the mechanics are in a form of what is called a move, and a move has a basic structure like this:


When you want to do stuff, Roll + STAT.

On a 10+ you get what you want, and some more.

On a 7-9 you get what you want, but at a cost.

On a 6- the GM will decide what you get.

Now stats range from -1 to +2, and the dice you roll are 2d6. We said before that Help or Sweating It Out both can add +1, and together would add a +2. So with all this knowledge you can go to and figure out the distributions of the three different types of rolls: the 6-, 7-9, and the 10+. What we get is the following:

So we can see a few things. When we look at rolling with no help (the first table) that the GM can make a move between 17% to 58% of the time.  That range drops to 8% to 42% of the time when you add in one form of assistance (second table), and then drops again to 3% and 28% when you add in two forms of assistance (third table).

But in H2O it’s actually worse than that. Remember that players are working together, so they tend to make rolls that favor their strong stats (+1 and +2). So if we look at those distributions then without assistance they are getting a 6- between 17% and 28% of the time, with one form of assistance that goes to between 8% and 17%, and with both forms of assistance, it goes to between 3% and 8% of rolls. So the observation is right . . . players are failing a lot less, and GM’s get fewer moves.

A Hard Look

So what was clear to me was that having two forms of assistance was problematic. In fact, as far as I know, no other PbtA game has two. Many have one form granting a +1. So H2O was going to need just one. The decision was which one would have to go.

Keeping Sweating It Out would tie strongly to the idea of sweating in the game, and it pushes the hydration resource and economy. Keeping Help sticks with what is normally done in PbtA games, but it also reinforces the idea of working together.

 One of the design goals of the game was to foster collaboration. Working as a team is important for the game.  One of the design goals of the game was to foster collaboration. Working as a team is important for the game. So if we drop Help, then there is little mechanical incentive to work together, but if we drop Sweating It Out then in order to get assistance you have to work together.

So the decision was clear, I needed to drop Sweating It Out from the Basic Moves (the moves that are accessible to all players).

Mostly Gone

I still like the Sweating It Out mechanic, and I could not totally let it go. So while it has been removed from the Basic Moves from the game I wanted to keep it somewhere, and that place is the Hacker. The Hacker was designed to be a bit of a loner. They have more difficult relationship mechanics, and due to the nature of how they work, they can be left alone in a cyber cafe working while the team is out in the field.

So the Hacker is going to get the move Sweating It Out as a playbook move, that they can unlock with an advancement.

Wrapping It Up

We have talked before about killing our darlings, and this was definitely the case. Sometimes a good rule still can break things in the overall game. I also learned that it’s important to trust your instincts and then dig into the numeric mechanics when something goes wrong. Finally, a discarded rule does not mean that it is gone forever. Many times a rule can be found a new home, elsewhere in the game or even in another game. So now it’s time to update the Basic Moves and make some adjustments to the Hacker playbook. Until next time.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to fellow Gnome, Matt Neagly, our resident Statistician who was kind enough to check my math, and provide me a few suggestions as I was putting this together. Thanks Matt. 

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Idol of Cthulu Adventure for Call of Cthulhu Up On Kickstarter

Tabletop Gaming News - 21 December 2017 - 3:00pm
The Idol of Cthulhu Kickstarter is for more than just an adventure in a book or pdf. They’ve got every angle covered, with ambiance music, props, and more. If you’re in charge of a Call of Cthulhu game, you’d do right by your players to go check out the Kickstarter campaign. From the campaign: THE […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Firelock Games Previews Native American Starter For Blood & Plunder

Tabletop Gaming News - 21 December 2017 - 2:00pm
Firelock Games had a great 2017 and is looking to follow that up with a great 2018. They’ve bringing the Native American faction to Blood & Plunder, and they’ve posted up a quick, preview image of what you can expect coming in the starter set for it. Have a look. From the post: A preview […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Ubisoft releases open-source code for World in Conflict servers

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 21 December 2017 - 1:26pm

Ubisoft has released the source code Massgate, the server that powers the online multiplayer of World in Conflict, which itself lost official support in 2015. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

AntiMatter Games Posts Carangaform Preview

Tabletop Gaming News - 21 December 2017 - 1:00pm
The ocean is full of wonders… and horrors. And, I mean, I can’t say for certain that there aren’t swarms of mechanized piranha fish, ready to rip the flesh from your bones in seconds, I can’t rule it out, either. So, if you ask me, I’ll keep my deep-sea diving to the tabletop with DeepWars, […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Privateer Press Posts New Hordes Previews

Tabletop Gaming News - 21 December 2017 - 12:00pm
Winter isn’t coming… Winter’s here! … Y’know, solstice and all. And with winter comes winter trolls. Privateer Press has posted up a preview of new kits of some Northkin troll warbeasts. There’s also a look at the upcoming issue of No Quarter Prime for you to check out. Wielding enormous maces made from salvaged scrap […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Thursday Terrain Corner

Tabletop Gaming News - 21 December 2017 - 11:00am
The work week continues on. I hope yours is going well. It’s certainly busy over here, but such is the end of the year. Lots of exciting products coming out next year to work on. But it’s not only future things, but things available now. In fact, let’s make sure your gaming tables look good […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Now out of Early Access, Battlegrounds crosses 30M players

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 21 December 2017 - 10:47am

Bluehole subsidiary PUBG Corp. has kept true to the company's earlier promise that PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds would exit Early Access before the end of 2017. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Tickets on Sale For Tabletop Gaming Live 2018

Tabletop Gaming News - 21 December 2017 - 10:00am
The new year will bring many opportunities for gaming. That includes all sorts of gaming conventions. It’s good to get tickets for those early and plan your trips accordingly. So, if you’ll be available September 29th and 30th, and can find your way to London, you can head to Tabletop Gaming Live. Tickets are available […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

At GDC 2018 see how King tried Pixar's 'Brain Trust' model - and why it went awry

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 21 December 2017 - 9:34am

As part of the GDC 2018 Mobile Summit, King's Stephen Jarrett and Rob Woodburn will be presenting an earnest talk about "Implementing Pixar's Brain Trust Model at King, and How It All Went Wrong." ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Battlefront Posts Last Update of the Year

Tabletop Gaming News - 21 December 2017 - 9:00am
We’re getting to the time of year where many people head on vacation. That includes many gaming companies, so they’re posting up their last updates of the year. One such company that’s going on holiday for the holidays is Battlefront. But they’re not just heading out without giving us something to look at first. They […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: Everything Is Connected Now Available From IDW Games

Tabletop Gaming News - 21 December 2017 - 8:00am
It would seem as though IDW is trying to give Cryptozoic a run for their money in the realm of “long game title.” In this case, IDW has now released Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: Everything Is Connected, their new social storytelling game where players take on the role of detectives trying to plead their […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Fantasy Flight Games Announces General Veers Expansion for Star Wars: Legion

Tabletop Gaming News - 21 December 2017 - 7:00am
As I mentioned in the other Legion preview post, the Battle of Hoth is my favorite part in any Star Wars movie. And, honestly, my favorite character in the movies is General Veers. He’s the one truly competent Imperial officer you see, and he’s obviously sure of his abilities. And soon, you’ll be able to […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design

The Painful Art of Cutting - by Jon Ingold Blogs - 21 December 2017 - 6:51am
Writing game narrative is hard; cutting it is harder. But good, brutal editing is crucial to both managing your scope and delivering a tight story.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

How to get a job in the (Dutch) game industry - part 2 - by Eline Muijres Blogs - 21 December 2017 - 6:51am
If you're looking for a job or internship in the Dutch game industry, there are several ways to increase your chances of success. In this article, Eline Muijres provides you with some tips and advice to help you on your way.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Making a press kit on your site - by Megan Carriker Blogs - 21 December 2017 - 6:51am
Do your future self a favor and make it easier for media outlets to cover your upcoming games and company updates by having a press kit on your site.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

A DETAILED LOOK INTO PYRE - by Cherish Socro Blogs - 21 December 2017 - 6:50am
Supergiant Games recently released a title that many were not expecting. Let’s deconstruct the unique gaming experience that is Pyre, and the company’s development principles that shone through Pyre and made the stars align.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

How we raised funds without any game released - by Léonard Bertos Blogs - 21 December 2017 - 6:50am
You have a great game idea, but you'll need funds. You don't know where to star. Nothing is done yet. Well, this story could show you the way.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

December Infinity Releases Now Available From Corvus Belli

Tabletop Gaming News - 21 December 2017 - 6:00am
We’re getting into the last bit of December. And with it, comes the end of the year, itself. But there’s still plenty of things to be excited about. Case in point: Corvus Belli has their latest Infinity releases available now over in their webshop. Still time to run out to the LGS and get these […]
Categories: Game Theory & Design


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