Every game has its own combination of tricky bits to get right, and one of the most important things to do as a designer is work out what these are as early as possible so you get more time to focus on them.
For Mars Attacks I think that the biggest challenge is balance. I’m not talking about balance between Martians and Humans (though that has to happen as well). I’m referring to the balance between skill and luck.
Every game is a balance between these two opposing elements. However, for most of my games luck is a subsidiary element and is often only there to provide a randomness for the outcomes. This residual luck (as it were) is easy to design with as it’s not even really seen as luck by many players. It’s just how you resolve stuff.
For Mars Attacks we need a different balance point – one that’s shifted more towards randomness. Why? Well the background dictates it. As I discussed before, the comic style background cries out for a different approach. Mars Attacks really needs the weird, wacky, larger than life melodrama to really do it justice. Unfortunately, this sort of event tends towards potent as well as random and so can easily tip things too far. Personally I don’t tend to play games that are primarily driven by randomness, and though Mars Attacks has the benefit of being quick to play (so randomness is less of a problem), I still don’t want it to feel unskilled. It has to be a game where the more skilled player wins every, or nearly every time. Exceptionally poor or good luck might tip the balance once in a while, but it should be unusual enough to be noted as such.
So the weird and dramatic story elements like rampaging robots and falling cars need to be balanced by opportunities for player skill. Finding the right balance point here is the challenge.
Actually, I know what I want. I want a skill based game with lots of story. This means that any skill I sacrifice for randomness needs to be greatly rewarded with extra fun story elements.
The main way I’m doing this is by keeping the core rules very much like a normal skirmish game. Strip everything back and this is what you end up with: a simple, but fairly traditional, skirmish game. There is luck and randomness used to resolve actions, but nothing more. The main additional random element comes in the card draws. This is more dramatic than, say, DreadBall, simply because of the types of things that are on the cards. However, they are major story elements and so their presence is required and any lost skill is worth it.
As you’ll see if you try out the beta rules, some of these events can be very potent, perhaps a bit too potent as they stand. I may need to rein a few of them in, and when more are added they also need to be carefully watched for the balance between luck and wackiness.
Overall I think it’s working pretty well so far. There’s plenty more playtesting to be done, and you guys are more than welcome to join in.
See you in the ruins 😉