Posts Tagged ‘corona’

Corona V4 design notes

A few bullet points to bring folks up to speed on the newest (re)incarnation of Corona:

  • The character creation and autarchy creation systems are largely untouched, since they were consistently the most popular features during playtests. One notable change is that the initial deal of cards generates a wider array of strategic assets which are not limited to just locations. This has the side effect of making an agent’s position less important.
  • Dice! I’ve decided to implement a small amount of randomization. This serves several functions. First, it reduces the dependence on huge resource pools in Corona, which was always a sticking point for some playtesters. Second, the inclusion of a die roll possibly lets me include the narrative-control function from Delve into the game. Third, agent rank now means something different – it serves as a bottleneck for access to resources, not the primary determiner of success/failure in dealing with assets.
  • The options for agents and the Void have been codified as moves a la Apocalypse World and its derivatives. The playbook mechanic is not being implemented, though, and agents will have access to what is currently a sizable sheet of options. I’m working on streamlining the options to make for easier entry into the game.


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Corona playtest on Saturday, October 22

I’ll be running an open playtest of Corona on Saturday, October 22, using Google Hangouts. The link to the event is here so you can RSVP to the event. No familiarity required: I’ll be walking everyone through character creation (which takes just minutes), shared world-building of the autarchy, and the first few turns of the game. Come join me!

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Corona returns to Metatopia

After several iterations of the rules text have been built up and torn down again, the current incarnation of Corona will be on the slate for playtesting from 9am-11am on Saturday, November 8, 2014 at Metatopia (see the full convention schedule here). If you’re going to be there, I’ll be looking for intrepid players willing to get into some sci-fi political intrigue. See you in Morristown!

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New design solutions, new writing problems

Hello, dear readers! I haven’t forgotten about you, but my day job has been taking up a lot of time and energy, so all the design work I’ve been doing has been in my head. Admittedly, it’s a bit hard to read there, isn’t it? Corona continues to be a difficult game to translate from the ideal in my head to a published and playable state, so I’ve been pouring the majority of my efforts into finally getting it to a finished version so I can rest!

A long-standing problem with Corona has been capturing the essential elements of both immersive political roleplaying and strategic maneuvering in a way that mesh intuitively together, without too much bookkeeping involved. The prior drafts got close, but there was still a lot of number-crunching going on, particularly for the Void, and that was causing huge disruptions in the flow of play at the end of every span.

A far more elegant solution finally emerged earlier this week (just before sleep, as some of the best ideas often do), but with it came a new problem: Corona would have to be gutted and rewritten for a fourth time, because the new solution completely obsolesces the basic resolution system. It also moves further away from the most board-game-like aspects of the game, which is probably welcome news to some players but a sad loss for others. Corona is very much in the vein of “new Braunsteins” currently popping up all over the indie tabletop game scene, and this new form of intrigue development/resolution removes some of the appealing strategic crunch. I’ll see about restoring some of that style of play – it’s something that I consider crucial to the essence of what Corona is – but it will be tricky to accomplish without seeming “bolted on”. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share a new version with playtesters very soon; I’m also aiming to have a draft to take to Metatopia, which is just over two months away.

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Fiddling with codifying conflict

One of the central gears in the machine that is Corona is that the agents are (ostensibly) facing off against a threat that destabilizes their autarchy. The exact mechanism for dealing with that has continued to evolve throughout the playtesting and redesign process, but it’s one of the most ludic aspects of the experience, to the point that it defines agents’ actions – everything they do that is not strictly interpersonal (agent vs. agent) is in terms of how it affects the overshadowing threat, and it’s possible to win the game, either as a loyalist by dismantling that threat and any complications that spin off from it, or as a traitor by evading detection while escalating it until the state collapses.

So far, the systems I’ve implemented have all worked, but not satisfyingly so with regard to one of my design goals, which is offer at least a taste of really complicated diplomatic and political maneuvering. I want to give players the feeling that they are the upper echelons of governance of a solar-system-wide state perched at the twilight end of a millennium, with all the attendant stress of managing the fine line between peace and disaster.

The most recent incarnation placed three defined threat elements into an interconnected matrix, where actions taken to affect one element ripple out to raise or lower their others. It was an idea that literally happened overnight at Gen Con between two days of playtesting; it serviced, but inelegantly. Ideas for replacing it haven’t really been forthcoming, though, until a brainstorm today. There are four types of threat, corresponding to the four ministries to which agents belong, so perhaps a graph. A crisis point is established at the beginning of the game, and agent actions move this point around the plane in different directions, putting new spins on the situation as it evolves. What starts out as a relatively simple problem can turn into a more nuanced crisis in the wake of the repercussions of agents’ interference for good or ill. The axes (or quadrants, perhaps) correspond to those ministries and provide players with a narrative background against which to frame what’s happening.

To test it out, I ran a dry simulation of how it might work, starting with the simplest possible starting condition. One card was drawn from a deck of playing cards to determine the nature and severity of the crisis point: 10 of Clubs means a comparatively serious issue in the Church of the Autarch. I assumed four players, none of whom were acting overtly treasonous (yet), because I need to see how this plays when things are relatively quiet before worrying about the really heated plots that will come up later. Let’s say a 10 Hearts and 3 Spades are among the cards played: the net change vertically is 7 spaces up toward Hearts. Three other cards move the crisis horizontally: none of the hypothetical players have decided to tip their hands by increasing the crisis at this time, but they all play mid- to low-level Diamonds (2, 4, and 5) for a net shift of 11 points toward Diamonds.

corona crisis graph example start

Players would decide exactly what the narrative dimension of that problem is, which we’ll leave aside for now. Agents play their actions as cards from hand, and as I picture it now, those cards move the crisis point. The specific procedure may take a little bit of tinkering, but in the example span I tried out,

corona crisis graph example move

As you can see, the problem is already pretty migratory. A blatant traitor or very powerful individual actions in any direction can make the crisis pretty swingy. I want volatile crises, but not quite this much. What started as a Church affair is now a Bloodline crisis (Hearts) with a slight Economic component (Diamonds). Also, it occurs to me that without further elaboration, there’s only one way each card will send the crisis, and I’d like there to be an option for e.g. a loyalist to play Clubs to decrease the crisis. Agents are currently required to write down action reports that reveal their real activities for a span as distinct from what they say they’re doing, but streamlining that process seems desirable.

Ultimately, the process is still fiddly. Not all brainstorms yield immediate success: I think there’s still merit in some application of this procedure, but it doesn’t quite solve the problem either. Even though tracking a game state on a Cartesian graph may in some ways evoke the aesthetic of deep political analysis I want, it doesn’t do so in a way that feels like the players are engaging in super-competent high-stakes duels of wits on the fly. The best solution in my opinion is the one that gets players doing this kind of analysis (or feeling like they are) in their heads.

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I’ve been buckling down and doing a lot of writing, and in between juggling a lot of ideas (some old, some new), I hadn’t really popped in to discuss what’s going on. So here’s what’s going on!

  • As I rewrite Corona, it occurs to me that I might want to not release it ahead of some of the other spin-off games I have in mind for it: rather, it might be served to put the weird hybrid-style game out after the IP has had a chance to get some traction in other forms. What those other forms are remains nebulous, but I think there may be a good game set among the nomads on the causeways, outside the reach of the autarchies and subject to their own interesting cultural dynamics. (Out there, there’s much less shell-hopping, so people are more attached to their bodies of origin, moreso when you consider that they’re subject to time dilation for so much of their existence that a nomad who looks young might be much older than they appear. Also, despite the perception by autarchy dwellers that nomads are bumpkins, they’re likely to be quite cosmopolitan, since they come into contact with so many distinct ‘bubble cultures’ in their travels.)
  • I’m planning a rather significant Delve supplement in the mega-dungeon vein, while being aware that the underlying premise of the mega-dungeon kind of flies in the face of what Delve is about. 🙂 My intention is to provide an example of what the Delve equivalent of a mega-dungeon would look like, as well as framework rules for how to devise your own.
  • I think the mini-games I did in October will be released as pay-what-you-want when I have them cleaned up and suitable for showing.
  • Ghosts of Atlantis hasn’t come out of its fallow period yet. I think I may cannibalize an idea or two from it for another idea that’s burgeoning – ironically, a revisit of the idea behind Daisho, from which I took a mechanical idea or two for Atlantis in the first place.
  • The horror game is out for playtesting, and I’m waiting to hear back. (And, as the sages tell us, the waiting is the hardest part.)

So that’s what’s up, apart from one or two things that are so sketchy at this point that they’re not even worth blogging about yet. Stay tuned.

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Checking in

So how have you been?

I’ve been away for a bit due to illness, and while I’m happy to report that I’m feeling better, I haven’t been able to do a lot of work lately other than scribbling in my notebook to revisit later. Sadly, as a result, I missed the deadline for NGDM completion with a half-completed Yūgen set that never got to see playtesting. The game will still be completed, because initial focus group response was highly positive, but I apologize for not getting it out the door sooner.

The other main iron in the fire is the still-untitled horror game, which is getting some flesh on the bones in the form of guidelines and optional rules for emulating specific horror sub-genres like slasher films or the Cthulhu Mythos. A bevy of “dashboards” will be provided in the deluxe version game for those who want to customize their play experience, while the basic rules will be available as a stand-alone unit. Essentially, you can get the bare-bones version and do the tinkering themselves, or pay a little more and get a lot of that work done for you already.

Corona and Ghosts of Atlantis will probably lay fallow until those other projects are out of the way, and I have the mental space to revisit them. Corona in particular may be resurrected in a significantly different form due to some feedback; players are at least as interested in the IP itself as in the game I created as a vehicle for it, which is both unexpected and welcome.

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