Pull the Chit (Together)

This post is going to be quite wayward, so let me plot a course for everyone.

  1. I'm going to explain what chit pulling is.
  2. I'm going to explain my obsession with chit pulling.
  3. I'm going to give you a bit of insight into the direction of my new co-op game.
  4. I'm going to explain where chit pulling factors in.

One: What is chit pulling?

While Googling for an image, I found this very succinct and clear explanation of Chit Pulling. You should read it. The gist is this -- typically, when you would otherwise roll a die or draw a card to resolve an action or determine an event in a game, you instead pull a chit (basically, a game token of some sort) out of a bag or box. This provides game information or tells you what you need to do. The best thing about chit pulling is that, unlike dice rolls, they have "memory." If you put 10 chits in a bag and pull them out, each one is permanently pulled, so you  as a designer can craft an arc and guaranteed things to occur.

Two: So, what's with the chit pull obsession?

Now, let's go over why this is something I obsess over. Back at GenCon I met Chevee Dodd, friend, Twitter user, and designer of Scallywags. You should know that Scallywags is almost entirely a chit pull game (very clever mechanic). Chevee sat with me while I tested Empire in the first exposure playtest hall. He noticed how I bristled when someone complained about the random turn order mechanic I had then and still have in the game.

 

Chevee is what is known as a troll on the Internet. He latches onto human sadness, pulls out a stick, and pokes. Then pokes again.

The reason I bristled at the suggestion is that random turn order was the result of about 6 other mechanics and, unlike every other mechanic I tried, it fixed problems and improved the game. Random turn order did two things for Empire:

  1. Greatly simplified the rules. Random turn order is about 8 words to explain.
  2. Greatly encouraged the player behavior I desired, which was calculated risk taking, low analysis paralysis, and no camping/turtling.

What I've observed is that some people hate random turn order. Before they try it, after they try it, no matter what, they hate the implementation. When I explained the reason for the random turn order based on playtest data and my design goals and the tester still said "Yeah, well, I don't like random," Chevee latched onto this and began poking me. His recommendation was that I create an elaborate chit pulling system where players fill a bag with tokens that are pulled to determine turn order over time. This blew my mind!

It was way complicated, unnecessary, and was now just an overly complicated form of random. Chevee knew this, but he kept aggravating me. This has become an inside joke and now we frequently discuss chit pull constantly.

Three: What's the new co-op game? 

Something that greatly interests me is the notion of building things. Building, by its very nature, is a more nurturing action (as opposed to conflict and destruction) and I think this fits naturally within a cooperative game environment.

I'm also a lover of science fiction. It's a territory I haven't explored yet (at least not seriously) and it provides a lot of advantages for me as a designer. Firstly, science fiction lets me create my own universe and world that is both believable and unique. If you develop a game based on reality or history, you are constrained by that.  This even hinders fantasy fictions as fantasy is essentially medieval concepts merged with magic and creatures. Science fiction also gives me a hall pass to create fun technology and gadgets.

So many co-ops seem to revolve around you surviving a disaster or solving a problem before disaster strikes.

  • Pandemic challenges you to save the planet from disease.
  • Flash Point challenges you to save a family before their home burns.
  • Red November challenges you to keep a submarine afloat until rescue arrives.

Keeping in line with my desire to focus on creation, I'm going to lean more towards "accomplish a goal before time runs out." Less about dying from the disaster, more about doing what you need to do by a deadline. We'll see if I'm just splitting semantic hairs here.

The idea for my game is that you and your friends are one of hundreds of elite teams being dispatched to prepare alien worlds for incoming mass colonization. You are survey teams, scientists, engineers, and more. Instead of using the class-based mechanic seen in games like Pandemic, players will pick a Trait and Equipment at the start of the game. I may be a Clumsy guy with a Comm Setup. This equipment will snap into the robots, vehicles, and cool hi-tech equipment you'd expect a team like this to use.

Why "hundreds of elite teams?" This is my fictional reasoning to explain how, when you fail and lose a game, the world isn't over! After all, you're just one of hundreds. I aim to create worlds with unique qualities so that you can survive on Arrakis, or Pandora, or Hoth, or Endor, and many of our favorite planets from fiction. I don't want to make military style conflict a focus of the game. I don't want humanoid aliens to factor in, though there will certainly be alien flora and fauna. But, there should be danger and there will be conflict. I just see this as a universe primarily filled with humans and their robots. Think Dune instead of Star Trek.

I see players working together to build up their bases, splitting up to explore and accomplish distant goals, and coming together to solve disasters. I hope some games begin with a calm landing, or a crash landing, or a hot drop from an orbiting ship.

Four: How will this game use chit pulling? 

Cooperative games tend to be highly random with spiking difficulty. My favorite cooperative game, Pandemic, does a good job of having random draws that are predictable. If you're paying attention, you can make good decisions against the probability. However, games like the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game have dramatically unfair card draws. You may have to draw four creatures and all four of them are massive, nigh invulnerable dragons. There isn't a way to mitigate or predict this.

Flash Point spreads the fires based on dice rolls. Again, based on what's on the board, you can make decisions about what you need to do based on what could happen. I prefer predictability and managing probability. This is why I intend to do a chit pulling system that is very similar to Pandemic.

I'm still trying to figure out how I'm going to do this, but the current thinking is that every player has his own chit bag. There might also be a central Mission chit bag, i.e. the world. At the beginning of the game, you'll add chits to your bag based on your Traits and Equipment. Chits will be added based on the scenario goals (if I have scenarios) and the planet will add chits. Chits will be pulled over time as you explore. Chits will be pulled as you take actions. Chits will be added as you build things, then removed as you use these things. Some chits will be good, some bad, some disastrous. You'll ultimately know what's in the bag, so you'll know what could happen.

This is all hypothetical. I have no concrete examples yet, no prototype, no rules. I just know I like the idea of you building a world and solving problems as you go.

As a final note, you'll notice I said very little about player synergy, which is so core for a good co-op. I'm juggling designs for player synergy, player actions, and the game system against which the players struggle. This is my first co-op, so trust that I'll do some stupid things as I stumble through this.

Thoughts, questions, feedback?

Comments

Every few weeks I think of something that turns out to be already done. I had this grand idea for playing out a family in a small town through several generations. Then, a few weeks later The Village appeared on my radar. "Oh...crap."

I think your design for Do sounds wonderful. It's a beautiful abstraction of what you're going for. I'm hoping to do something very simple, as you did, in that you pull tokens that are Good, Bad, DISASTROUS, etc. and you just reference that outcome per the situation or task. Hopefully it's more flexible and easier to tune against that way. We'll see. Are the Do rules shared online? I'd love to read them more thoroughly.

Thanks Brian. I need to see if I can pull it off now. There are a LOT of good games that use it already.

Great post Grant. Good food for thought on the chit pulling mechanic... something pretty new to me...

Ha! I had no idea chit-pull was a named game mechanic already. When I did stone-drawing in Do, I thought the "memory" of the bag was a new idea. Pff. Should've really known better. In my case, the "memory" was an effective metaphor for Karma, each decision affecting everyone else's options later in the game. I don't know if you've read/played Do, but here's how that system works in a very loose sense:

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SETUP: Put an equal number of black and white stones in a bag (usually 20 each). Each session has a list of goal words.

GOAL: Your goal is to cross off all the goal words from the session's list before one player collects 8 stones.

PLAY: On your turn, draw three stones and keep one color. Put the unchosen stones back in the bag. Each possible result (0-3 stones) determines how many goal words you can cross off that session's list. Generally, a result that lets you cross off more words also means you get in TROUBLE. If you begin your next turn in TROUBLE, you cannot cross off any goal words regardless of your result. Fortunately, other players can get you out of trouble before that happens, but that act may also land *them* in TROUBLE. Thus, a cycle of trouble perpetuates (and sometimes multiplies) across the whole group.

ENDGAME: The game ends when one player collects eight stones or crosses off the last word in the list. The color of stones kept colors that character's ultimate destiny. More black means one thing, more white means another thing, a tie means something special. (Thus, though color doesn't matter in the short-term, it affects long-term decisions.)

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I can easily see a more mechanical approach to this system. Perhaps a victory condition based on the color of stones kept + the number of objectives achieved? Who knows!

I think chit pull for turn order is fine, but it isn't right at all for Empire. There are a few reasons:

I want the game to focus on battles. As a result, my battle mechanic can be somewhat inaccessible with 4 unique factions. Therefore, I made the decision to streamline everywhere possible to allow battles to remain the focus. If I didn't streamline, I would compromise my overall accessibility and game length (60 minutes) goals, which I consider inflexible.

Creating complex turn order systems for a game with only 6 rounds seemed like a place to streamline. Plus, there are ways to mitigate going at a less than ideal time. Plus, sometimes it's ideal to go first, others last, sometimes in the middle. I found it very difficult to design a system more complex than random single pull when you don't know what players tend to want.

Overall, I'm very pleased with random turn order in Empire. My players are overwhelmingly pleased with it. Even ones who are leery at first, except the absolute die hards, come around after a play or two and say "Yeah, I like what you did here."

This was a really good case, for me, of knowing what's important and what's not. Random turn order turned out to be both the simplest and best solution.

The likeness is quite flattering. Thank you. :-)

You know, I can think of one game that did random turn order well - Lost World: Jurassic Park. That game was kind of a roll-and-move fox-and-geese game. One of the dice you rolled would determine whether you get to go again or have to stop and let the other player go. The neat thing about that method in a fox-and-geese (okay, dinosaurs-and-humans) chase game is that you might take a chance dodging across an open space for cover, hoping you get to move twice a row but risking the dinosaurs getting to move before you make it to the next building. (I will add that LW:JP has play balance issues and is not recommended as a game.)

That example aside, I would think that chit-pull (or card-draw) would be a perfectly reasonable method for randomizing turn order, since if your opponent gets a run of consecutive turns, the remaining chits are disproportionately in your favor.

I think this is a really cool idea. I was actually thinking of having primarily generic chits (Bonus, Bad, Disastrous) with some unique ones based on your trait or equipment. But, I haven't gotten that far. I think this is a neat idea and maybe you're like "I'm going to pull a crit from the bag!" knowing it's a limited and shared thing.

Thanks for the idea, I'll play around with it!

1.) You pull them, they do a thing. It won't be more random (as I've found random + random is bad). One thought I had was that you'll do something like climb a cliff using your jetpack equipment. You pull a generic disaster chit, so your guy falls down the cliff from under a rock slide. This permanently affects the world/game state.

2.) I joked the other day that I'm not going to tackle the centuries old problem of assholes, and I somewhat stand by it. I've played a lot of co-op games and this has never been a problem. Why? I don't play with assholes. I've never really seen a game create mechanics that really solve this problem. If you have a jerk, it won't be fun.

That being said, I'm thinking many players will be teaming up in smaller groups or going off individually to solve things. They may be out of contact. Perhaps you'll have to make a solo decision based on your gear and traits that's unique to you. I don't really know. But, my primary concern is to create a game that provides a fun challenge and is fun to play with friends. If I find ways to optimize this issue, sure, I'll work them in. But I just don't think it's solvable.

I like the chit pull mechanism and you've done an excellent job explaining it. Thanks.
The Mission 'bag' reminds me of FATE point pools and other similar pools in many rpgs. All players can pull from this resource when needed. And that gave me this idea for your game. A Resources bag with things the players will need for their mission. The bag is build based on scenario and the players will know what is there and what goes away as resources are used/needed. The difference, I think, from some of the other bags is that all the chits here are positive. The one thing I'm running into with this is that point pools are generic. Whereas these resources, as I currently envision them, would not be.
Thoughts.
Tom

I just had a few thoughts from the first read through:

1.) Will the chits pulled from the bag have an immediate effect or will they be cumulative in order to build something greater (or both?). I ask because this kind of thing was my main pet pet peeve in Quarriors (i.e. - draft something, put it in a bag, hope to draft the right combination of things out of the bag AND roll the right side of the die).

2.) I know you've touched on this on Twitter, but what mechanisms are you considering in chit-pulling to minimize the ability of one player going into "asshole leader" mode? Or is this being taken care of through other methods?