In a previous blog post I mentioned that we will be using Machinations in designing the game mechanics for Political Animals. Just to summarize, everything in the game, from the districts, staffs, and events can be considered as a resource, and that the game facilitates the interaction of these resources with each other. I also described a basic node: Resource Pools, and two different types of connections: Resource connections and State connections. If you would like to learn this in detail check out the book Mechanics: Advanced Game Design by Ernest W. Adamsand Joris Dormans
In this post I will be going over the core game-play of Party Animals using Machinations while introducing new nodes: converters and end conditions. Also, this is not a step by step tutorial on how to use Machinations, because the authors already did an excellent job right here. What this post hopes to achieve is to show you how to think about game design using Machinations by using Party Animals as an example.
One thing important to know, Machinations is not only a tool for modelling game mechanics, but also a framework for describing game design on different levels( high to low level). I'll start by showing the game from a high level point of view, then describe mechanics in detail in succeeding blog posts.
The Whole is the Sum of its Parts
Party Animals is a 'territory acquisition' game at its core. The main objective of the player in the game is to get more reputation than his opponent before the election, and he does this through various means like campaigning, bribing, and participating in game events. Look at the diagram below:
More often than not, actions that give the player reputation also require that the player spend campaign resources. There are two important campaign resources in the game: gold and command points. I will not explain the specifics here but for the purpose of showing mechanics I reduced both resources into the resource Funds(see B in the diagram).
Another thing of note is that the player can also spend funds on various actions like rallying(raise voter concern on district issues), and gifting patrons(improve patron relationship) which improves the efficiency of his campaign. By efficiency I mean getting more reputation for the same(or less) amount of funds.
Now let's take a look at the different elements shown in the diagram:
A. Fund Production - The triangle with an asterisk(A) is a source node. The source node produces funds and the resource connection(arrow connecting node A to node B) stores the funds into the players Fund pool(node B).
B. Fund Pool - The circles in the diagram are called pools and they store resources, in this case funds.
C. 'Get Reputation' Converter - The sideways triangle is called a converter. Converters take in resources as input and transform them into other resources. If you take a look at the diagram you can see that there are two resource connections leading to C , 1) [B toC] , and 2) [D to C] . What this means is that in order to get Candidate Reputation(node E), the player needs to convert funds and District Reputation(node D). Without funds or available District Reputation then the player can't 'mine' reputation.
E. Candidate Reputation - Also a pool node, getting as much candidate reputation by converting district reputation and funds is the goal of the player in the game.
F,G. Campaign Investments - As stated above, the player can spend funds to improve the efficiency of his campaign so that he gets more reputation by expending less resources. Node F is a converter node which represents all actions in the game which can help the player gain reputation.
As an example, a candidate can give gifts(spend gold) to a patron to get bonus reputation when campaigning in the patron's district.
When the candidate 'invests in his campaign' by spendingfunds, an investment resource is produced from node F and stored in node G. As shown in the diagram, node G is connected to resource connections [C to E] and [D to C] by state connections( dashes). This means that whenever an 'investment resource' is stored in node G, [C to E] and [D to C ]increases by 1 which in turn means that the player can mine an additional reputation resource.
H. End Game Condition - This node determines how the game ends. The state connection [D to H] shows that the game will end when District Concern( node D) is depleted (less than or equal to 0). Note that this end condition is used only for the purpose of this article.
As stated at the beginning of the post, the diagram shows the game-play from a high level point of view, thus a lot of the game mechanics which will make the game more interesting are missing. But it does show the following:
1) The player has funds to spend.
2) The player spends funds to acquire reputation.
3) The player can invest in his campaign in order to maximize the use of his funds. Which is what the player will be doing throughout most of the game. Now it's only a matter of breakingthese three down or elaborating on them to make the game more interesting.
Key Concepts to Understand
Some of the skills I think is important when designing games using Machinations are:
In the diagram, I've grouped together several game mechanics and reduced them to a single node. For example, the Campaign Investment node groups together mechanics in the game which the player can spend funds on to improve the amount of reputation he can 'mine'. Learning how to 'see' similarities in mechanics and how they can be grouped will be useful when trying to model game mechanics in machinations.
2) Learn to think in terms of relationships
Game mechanics in machinations are represented by nodes, resource and state connections. It's important to understand how mechanics in your games are related to each other. When designing games using machinations think about how the different mechanics in your game work together.
3) Learn to see and use abstract resources
In Mechanics: Advanced Game Design, the authors distinguished between concrete and abstract resources. Basically concrete resources are the ones you normally see in the game, and abstract resources are the ones that you don't but are there. Some example of abstract resources that I regularly use are strategic advantage and player skill. An example of advantage as a resource is information in a game with hidden information as a mechanic. Certainly getting information that your opponents do not have increases your likelihood of winning the game.
In this article I've shown you how we use the machinations tool in modelling our game mechanics, as well as given a few tips which will help you learn the machinations tool. In the next blog post I'll be talking about abstracting and elaborating mechanics as well as show some of the Party Animals game mechanics I mentioned earlier.
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