Design Diary #6 Is a Real Time Game an Option?
Let me set some context first. Board games are naturally turn based activities. You sit around in a circle with your friends and take turns moving your pieces, rolling dice, and playing cards. This has been the case since the oldest board games were first invented like Chess and Go. In almost every rule book you will (at some point or another) run into the words “players take turns”. And there is nothing wrong with that. Honestly it’s a great thing.
Board games are designed to be thoughtful. They are created to challenge your way of thinking. And that takes time. So when a designer introduces a real time to their game it seems unnatural. Having players thinking against a clock, or having to play their actions in real time is a stresser outside the norm of gaming. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing to do. It is just a hard thing to justify.
VHS board games are games that would be played paired to a VHS tape. In a game like Nightmare players would press play on the video and begin the game. The VHS tape would then interrupt play at certain points. The video would have players face certain events, move their pawns to different spots on the board, or need to answer questions.
The problem these real time games had was that the events didn’t add anything to the game play. They were almost always bad. So it simply gave players unfair penalties just because it was their turn at that point in time. It was random, unfair, and simply hurt players. There seemed to be no real thought to it besides adding a cool VHS tape to the game. Or pasting a theme on a licensed game.
But it can be done, right? Well I am going to try.
Is a Real Time Game an Option?
How do I create a mechanic to have players event cards “played” by the possessed that can scale with player count.
In the Exorcism at the House of Monkton Falls players are trying to exorcise a demon out of a possessed member of the Monkton family. While the players are trying to do this via a set collection mechanic, the demon is fighting back through a deck of event cards. Each event has an immediate and secondary effect if the players do not complete the event.
For example the active player reveals a Projectile Vomit card which deals a point of damage to them. The player must clean themselves off by spending 2 resources. If they do no, they take a further point of damage.
I had tried doing this by tying the Event cards to the turn/round game structure. At the beginning of each round an event card was revealed. Players then had 3 rounds to complete an event (which went onto an event track) otherwise they would suffer the further penalty. The problem was that at 4 players the events were easy to complete. So there was almost never an event card on the track at the end of a round. Let alone one lasting three rounds.
The result was event cards that had little effect on the game. My attempts to make the event cards harder to complete mad them only frustrating to my play testers. When I tried the opposite making less impactful events show up more often, players complained that the events came up too much. Making them an annoyance to keep addressing.
So for a while I was stumped. But then something hit me. I was listening to an old episode of the podcast Flip the Table. The episode was Party Mania where they played Party Mania. If you don’t know Party Mania was a real time game using a VHS tape. Players were trying to complete a series of chores which they are dealt at the beginning of the game in order to go to a party (aka when the time runs out). Throughout the game, the tape would cause events to happen, give the players additional chores, help them complete their chores, and give additional tasks. While the game had a lot of faults. It gave me an idea around using the tape to give players tasks to complete.
I thought what if I bypassed having to link event cards to the turn/round structure which broke down depending on player number. What if instead the encounter cards were linked to a timer which would force players to play cards at a random time within a set interval?
I jerry-rigged a web app so that I could have a timer randomly go off at a time within a set interval. I have to test the interval, but I am testing right now having an alarm go off randomly once every 1 to 2.5 minutes with no visible countdown.
Players will hit the timer button and begin play as normal. When the time goes off they immediately stop what they are doing and reveal the top card of the event deck. They resolve the card and place it face up on the table if it has an additional effect, or discard it. They then have until the next time the alarm goes off to complete that card before a new one is revealed, the secondary effect of the first card resolves, and is discarded.
Once there are no more cards in the event deck the players lose the game.
In theory this sounds like it could be a workable solution. Pair the app with some spooky music, horror sound effects, and I think you have a pretty thematic real time mechanic. Well it will take some time and testing to see how it works out, but I am hopeful.
Thanks for reading, and just f-ing play games!