Diary #28 – Action Loop

Master of Olympus and Dawn of Gnome each contain strong and weak action cards. In both games I expected optimising those action cards to be crucial, but this is not how it worked out. I’m going to attempt to explain why, with some help from Captain America.

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Jumping off was the easy part…

Individual actions, it turns out, are not important: the games are all about Action Loops. Every turn, a player uses an action card, causing their stock of available action cards to diminish. Eventually, they will scoop them all back into their hand and start over. Here’s the catch: those action cards become weaker, and more limited, as the loop progresses. The long-term decisions made at the start of the loop are therefore crucial.

If you’re feeling confused, Captain America is here to help, escaping from a ship in a scene from Marvel’s Civil War (by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven). Our hero has a choice to make, which will involve several actions:

Jump off the ship OR

Steal a plane

THEN

THEN

Deflect the bullets

Clear the runway

THEN

THEN

Land safely

Take off

Despite all those possible actions, there was only one meaningful choice to make (no one jumps off a ship and steals a plane, right?) That initial decision determined the optimum way for Captain America to use his remaining actions, and so it is with the action loop.

But isn’t more choice a good thing? Absolutely not: too much leads to analysis paralysis, which saps the fun out of games for all but the keenest problem solvers. If it weren’t for the Action Loop, each turn in Olympus and Gnome would take ages.

I’m also trying to work out if Gnome is a eurogame – a challenge, since I don’t really know what a eurogame is. For me, the archetype is Agricolaif a worker is placed on a space, then the player claims the resources. This has led me to the following defintion:

In a eurogame, optimisation of resource-based if-then statements is the path to victory.

A player’s strategy is therefore independent of the behaviour of the other players (the phrase “I’m not attacking my friend this game, I know she bears a grudge” has no place in Agricola.) This lack of player interaction would exclude Gnome, since it contains a player-versus-player combat system.

Or does it? This is the last conundrum I’d like to talk about today: despite having cities, swords and tanks, Gnome lacks self-contained rules governing the outcome of combat. This outcome is pre-determined before the attack action takes place, and cannot be influenced by attacker or defender. So perhaps I’ve made a eurogame which only appears to feature combat.

Phew. I’m sure that analysis made little sense to readers who didn’t design both games, so thank you for sticking with it. I’m approaching the end of an Action Loop of my own, one that begins every year on the 31st of May and involves evaluation and target setting. No, Mum, I’m not referring to my birthday: it’s the UK Games Expo!

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