The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Swords and Potions & Thoughts of Real Games

Yes, its stupid. But its addictive. (I’ve spent the last several days trying to trade for the 2k carpenter improvement points I need to upgrade my force).

But what it reminds me is that many games don’t deal with NPC market motivations, beyond a macro level. If someone comes in and wants to buy X and makes an offer, you can accept, haggle or suggest. Even in the game, this is simplified (and seriously, computers can handle complexity). But let’s look at a real world idea.

A knight comes in wanting a sword. They may:

  • Want a sword only, or want to be able to kill efficiently (don’t care too much about weapon) or may want to impress other knights (so they’d buy anything, as long as it improved their status).
  • They may have lots of money or not. If they don’t have lots of money, they may be embarrassed by that fact. If they have lots of money, they may be open to spending some of it as insurance (“Never have too many potions of healing.”) or for arbitrage situations (“Lots of bows & arrows for sale here, but the next village over has no carpenter or fletcher…”)

I mean, just look at the game purchasing and trading on BGG. It’s wildly complicated (Did I really want Cashflow 101 as a game? No. But I got it in a math trade because I can flip it for a reasonable amount of cash). Some people want to churn to try new games, so will only trade if they get a good chunk of value back.

The only boardgame I can think of that captures anything like an individual motivation for NPCs is Divine Right’s kings.

Part of the issue is that it would be cumbersome to do. But imagine a game where each major buyer had a public statement (“I want to buy a sword, I have so much cash.”) but also had a number of other cards. “I secretly have 20% less cash.”, “I’m flexible on items a bit” (which in this case means, “Any sword-like weapon will do.”).

These could be pretty complicated, and the game focuses on the players spending resources to discover some/all of the client’s desires, then making offers. At some point, the hidden motivations are revealed and the guy buys stuff.

The real problem is that it’s more interesting if you don’t know exactly how the system works (which sadly, Swords and Potions seems to be failing at). But if it gets complicated you have to handle that.

One way that games can handle this is by making the PCs represent different parties in a negotiation/conflict and given them hidden objectives. (Business schools often have detailed scenarios as part of classes on negotiation. (Which reminds me … Negotiate with Chad is a great blog on the subject by a fellow gamer). I’ve often thought that a hidden objective system could make for an interesting game on complex political subjects (Imagine diplomacy where each territory scored a different amount of points for each power, or even more complicated).

So, there’s an underdeveloped area of board gaming. Complex negotiations with opaque motivations. Oh, and if you play S&P, I could use a nice low-level guild..


Written by taogaming

September 3, 2011 at 10:59 am

Posted in Ramblings

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  1. I always thought a hidden objectve negotitaion game would make a great simulation of the six party talks. And if Kim Jong Ils onjective change regulary we have a great simulation of a mad leader… 🙂


    September 3, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    • KJI’s objective is to be ress ronery.


      September 4, 2011 at 12:55 am

    • At business school I played in a very detailed 6 player hidden objective game. The premise was constructing a new factory on the outskirts of a depressed logging town. Players were the mayor, union rep, location environmental board head, etc. There were 5 or 6 positions that were being negotiated simultaneously, each with 3 or 4 possible states. Each player had a score chart that listed their score (+ and -) for each of the end states. Very much like Time Agent.

      It was very fun, and very hard. I was the mayor and had points at stake on every issue…but most importantly, I had a huge penalty if the deal didn’t go through. You needed 5 of 6 votes prior to the deadline (on any package of states) for the deal to pass, or 4 of 6 at the deadline. A couple players were neutral or biased against the deal, so they needed to be identified, and then either strongly incentivized or thrown out.

      I ended up running the meeting, got the factory built, and came in second. Sadly we only did it once.

      Lou W

      September 4, 2011 at 9:06 am

  2. I once played in a Diplomacy game like this. Two of the players’ (revealed) goal seemed to be nothing more than to break as many deals as they could. After eight hours, almost nothing had changed on the board (no player eliminations), and they didn’t understand why the rest of us didn’t want to play any more. (There was one *very* good player in the game who offered them advice and generally kept them alive, fearing (probably correctly) that if the other players organized against the crazies they would go after him next. I do not recommend this gaming experience.

    On trading though, I think it’s kind of sad that the state of computer games has barely advanced beyond “this city/port/planet make it cheap; that place pays a lot”.


    September 3, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    • Was your dip game supposed to have goals? I was just using that as a thought-example, I don’t think Diplomacy itself would be great with them.

      To be fair, economic historians have found that there were arbitrage systems in pre-modern times (coastal goods get more expensive as you moved inland, etc). I do think computer games should be more advanced, of course. But you get what you pay for (nothing, in this case).


      September 4, 2011 at 12:54 am

      • The dip game was normal as far as I knew, but I’m pretty sure the crazies were playing for the first time. It was an event where most of the players didn’t know each other.

        That’s a fair point about economics – plenty of trading companies have earned their money historically. I’m a probably a little cranky because I’ve pulled a couple of android apps that look promising, but turn out to be: uncover the map; survive the loosely themed random events; move back and forth a whole bunch; win. Free? Sure, but still a loss of time.

        I remember back in the day, the first Railroad Tycoon actually had a model that made the cities served by railroad grow faster. It was probably pretty simple, but it was (I thought) a decent start.


        September 4, 2011 at 7:54 pm

  3. Seems like it’d be a lot easier to implement non-player goals in a computer game. In a board game, the problem is, how do you act on the hidden goals without revealing all the info to everyone? You’d have to resolve each NPC only once, have a game master, or do something like have a deck for each NPC with varying card composition.

    Frederic Bush

    September 4, 2011 at 11:27 am

    • Earlier today I was thinking of once buying lemons in Egypt. I wanted one or two lemons. He wanted as much money as possible. We started haggling at $0.50 and when I finally asked him how many lemons I could have for $0.20 he took my money and started giving me dozens of lemons. I gave all but 4 back.

      It was a very good lesson for me in motivation and negotiation (as well as morality, charity, and dignity).

      Another time I went to buy spices. Just mundane ones like pepper. The shop owner really wanted to sell me saffron and kept throwing it into the negotiations.


      September 6, 2011 at 10:56 am

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