Games Design - [Shipwreck] First thoughts and vague meanderings

Posted by: Malcolm Craig On: Apr 24th 2010 edited

Shipwreck is a game that has been gestating for a while now, never anything more than a vague idea and some notions about throwing bits of paper in the air to simulate the wreck. As the text says, it's "'Shipwreck' is a collaborative, but competitive, game where you and a small group of friends create a story of disaster, adversity, and (maybe) survival."

At the moment, the situation creation mechanics are fairly well fleshed out. That part has been tested a couple of times and seems to provide fun play, at least to a certain extent. What is less clear is how the game progresses from there. Being less game-mechanically adept that, for example, Gregor and Joe, I'm floundering in deep water, attempting to make sense of the game as it stands.

There's also the problem that, as it stands, the resolution and flow of the game is something of a mishmash of Contenders, Geiger Counter, and a few other games. Good influences all, but it's somewhat lacking in cohesion.

So, I have some questions:

  1. Integrating the concept of survival: This is handled in some fashion by the Conditions, which mean that some characters will die. However, how many characters should survive (up to an including 'none'). Should there be a mechanism for explicitly stating how well the castaways are surviving? I think there should be, but I'm struggling with the implementation.

  2. The threat: At the moment, it's pretty much the threat escalation from Geiger Counter, tweaked a little. Workable? Or not? Is the threat even needed? I think it is, but maybe the internal tension within the survivors is enough?

  3. Any other mechanical issues: if you can make sense of the vague meanderings and you have other points you'd like make, then that would also be great!

Text as it stands attached.


The text attached below will be replaced within the next 24 hours with an updated version!

Posted by: Joshua A.C. Newman On: Apr 24th 2010

Re: 1) I think I'd knick something from Vincent's Dragon Killer: When your character's three conditions (location, state, direction) is "Land of the Dead, Dead, Land of the Dead", then the character is well and truly dead.

So, for instance, you can be in the land of the dead, visiting, heading further into the land of the dead to get your lost love, but until you're dead, you can leave (though that might be difficult).

In this game, there's obviously no Western Land, but you might want to have conditions like: Body, Will, and, I dunno, something else. Resolution revolves around changing those conditions.

Posted by: Sebastian Hickey On: Apr 24th 2010

Hi Malcolm,

  1. I like it when games have deadlines. And epilogues. I would like to see you play around with a system for tracking success, perhaps something that includes Conditions as the economy. For example, x number of Conditions must be used up (applied to the collective group of characters) before the game can end. This number could vary depending on the number of players, so as to ensure a few deaths ([Number of players - 1] x 3). Once this Condition bucket is empty, you get the epilogue (or maybe the Threat gets one last opportunity). The result would mean that x amount of tragedy must happen to the group before anyone survives. Useful? Maybe. Too predictable? Probably. Not in the specifics, but certainly in the generics (someone always goes mad, a few people always die, everyone gets wounded, etc.).

Alternatively, you could track success by the acquisition of Possessions and Locations. Perhaps every game starts with X number of Key Possessions (significant items that can be used to craft an escape, marked in some way to differentiate them from normal Possessions). Since the Possessions are filtered by the floaty/upside-down distribution method, they probably won't ALL begin in play (or you could ensure that by putting them aside). That way, players will need to win conflicts to acquire the Key Possessions. You might require that any player, or group of players working together, can make an escape if they have X Key Possessions (an amount that requires players to have more than one each, and which will force players to ostracise, collaborate and betray [for example, Escape requires 2 Key Possessions per Escapee +1, so 2 characters could escape with 5 Key Possessions]).

Something similar could be done with Locations (to make the map more important). Perhaps players draw dotted lines that connect from one location to another, eventually leading to some sort of survival zone.

You could even run these systems in tandem, allowing cliques to aim for different kinds of victory. But in that case you'd want a pretty nasty countdown going on in the background.

  1. Which is where your Threat system comes in. It's vital, I think, to force the clock. If there's an impending, escalating mechanical motive to force you to earn new advantages and new Possessions just to stay alive, you're going to be more aggressive in attacking the other players. Or at least, you're going to be more mechanically driven to win inter-personal conflicts.

  2. What did you have in mind for the Locations on the map? How did you see these interacting with the scene framing, characters, threat or mechanics? Also, the game looks all out antagonistic right now. Offering some kind of trust based partnership (with room for betrayal, of course) might give the game more diversity. That's where I was going with the meandering (Key Possessions thing) above. Furthermore, could you elaborate as to which characters can be in a scene? I read that you must choose a character other than your own for a scene. Is that right? Also, who gets to apply the Threat? Does it cycle? If not, does the first-player role in a round cycle (that is, if I'm the first player this round, I won't be next round, sort of thing)?

Posted by: Malcolm Craig On: Apr 25th 2010

Thanks for the input so far! I'll respond to the issues raised later today. Meanwhile, my good friend Simon Carryer in New Zealand sent some feedback via email, which I thought I'd add to the discussion:
"I think the challenge for your design will be to find a way to have the specific nature of those possessions and advantages matter to play, such that we care about not just the mechanics of play, but also the specifics of how we describe the characters' actions. One way of doing this could be to have how much bonus you get from possessions and advantages (and whether they're retained) depend on the answers to a few simple questions. Something like:

For possessions:
Is the item consumed in use? - you discard it after getting the bonus
Is the item ideal for the purpose? - you get an extra bonus
Is the item shoddy, broken, or improvised? - you get a reduced bonus
Is the item dangerous or deadly? - loser takes an extra condition

For advantages:
Is the advantage ideally suited to this action? - you get an extra bonus
Is the advantage unexpected or surprising? - you get an extra bonus
Is the advantage temporary or fleeting? - discard after use

or something like that."_

Posted by: Matt On: Apr 26th 2010

Have you been watching LOST? It's probably the current media touchstone for such things.

It'd be interesting if the traits of an item shifted as the fictional stuff grows. Maybe those important documents start out innocuous, but grow to be dangerous and desired in some way... Could be a neat way for tension and so on to build.

If characters die, what do players do once they aren't involved...

Posted by: Malcolm Craig On: Apr 26th 2010

Thanks again for all the feedback. I've been working on the text for a couple of hours this afternoon, and will likely upload a v1.1 version of Shipwreck sometime tomorrow (Monday). Many of the changes have been made directly as a response to the feedback given.

An important change is that the Threat has been junked and subsumed into a broader mechanic of 'Tension'. Tension can be used by scene setters to gain extra cards BUT when Tension reaches a certain point, a character will die in the next scene. I'm not sure how this will function in play, so we'll need to see.

Here's the current text about Tension:

_"When a scene is set, the scene setter must add one to the current Tension count. The tension count represents both the external struggles of the characters the and the internal difficulties of a group of people placed in a trying situation.

Tension will always start at 0.

The scene setting participant can also choose to add cards to their hand to give them a better chance of succeeding. They can choose between one and three cards, but how ever many cards they choose, Tension must increase by this amount.

They must also describe what is happening to cause this.

Examples: To Be Added

But here's another important scene. If, in any scene, the tension count hits ten or above, in the next scene a character will die at the hands of another character. This could be a character or another survivour. Once this happens, the tension will reset. But this time, it starts at four."_
Joshua: That's interesting stuff and something I'll need to think about a little more. I've narrowed the Conditions down a fair bit, so that they are simply:


Your third condition will always be dead BUT (and this is a change from the original version) you can take the same condition twice prior to this. So, you might get Wounded. Then in another scene, your wound might lead to an infection or illness, giving another Wounded condition.

Sebastian: I love the idea of key possessions, that's great! What I've done at the moment is that all possessions start normally and their key nature (taking on board what Matt said) is revealed in play. It's in the fallout from confrontations that possessions are defined as key or not. We'll see how that works.

As far as locations and the map go, yes, they do need to have a stronger tie into what is going on. Another addition to the text goes like this: The scene setter has absolute authority over who appears in the scene (and, to be clear, the scene must take place in a location currently defined on the map). UNLESS it takes place in a location where a currently who has not been framed into the scene has previously had a confrontation. In this case, the player of that character can 'force' the character into the scene in order to help or hinder a given side.

I think your other questions might/will be answered when I put the revised text up.
Matt:** Ah, the 'Lost' question was bound to come up. I've seen a couple of episodes, didn't like what I saw, so I think the answer is 'no', it's not an influence on the game.

When characters die, I was thinking that they could pick on of the other people surviving the shipwreck and start to play them, picking an advantage from the remaining pile (and incurring a debt, which could relate to stuff that has happened since the shipwreck. I think this could work out well, and maybe the debt NEEDS to be something that has happened after the wreck.


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