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..