Pull the Chit (Together)
This post is going to be quite wayward, so let me plot a course for everyone.
- I'm going to explain what chit pulling is.
- I'm going to explain my obsession with chit pulling.
- I'm going to give you a bit of insight into the direction of my new co-op game.
- 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:
- Greatly simplified the rules. Random turn order is about 8 words to explain.
- 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?