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Make it So Challenge #1: Obstacles and Opportunities

by Charlie Plaine, Make it So Host

8th November 2013

Dilemmas are one of the most popular card types in all of First Edition. Even in expansions themed around very specific themes or affiliations (such as The Next Generation or Emissary, the dilemmas can find a home in decks of all shapes and sizes. Dilemmas represent one of the fundamental forms of interaction in the game and will always be a key card type. But designing a dilemma isn't as easy as combining two halves into a whole. It can be very difficult to craft an interesting effect with just three lines of text. Dilemmas also have a wide swath of design space available in terms of the effects they can have, and it can be easy to push them in a direction they shouldn't go. There are some fundamental guidelines about dilemmas that all designers should keep in mind:

Q

1. Dilemmas affect the personnel in the mission attempt.
This might seem obvious, but it's surprisingly easy to forget. In the first Lesson article, we talked about respecting the nature of the card types. The point of the dilemma card type is to interfere with mission attempts. Thus, your dilemmas should affect the crew or Away Team that is attempting the mission when the dilemma is encountered. There are some exceptions, such as self-controlling dilemmas, but they should be rare.

Of course, just because the dilemma affects a crew or Away Team doesn't mean it can't do something else. This is called an auxiliary effect, and it's a great way to add layers to a dilemma. The rules for these auxiliary effects are looser and can be more broad, but only should be so if the primary effect of the dilemma is against the crew or Away Team. For example, a dilemma that stops someone and goes on the mission to reduce attributes would be a good use of an auxiliary effect. A dilemma that lets the opponent draw a card and goes to a different mission would be very peculiar.

2. Don’t punish things that players are expected to do.
The core game play of First Edition is that of playing personnel in order to fly ships, attempt mission and overcoming dilemmas. It's important that the cards in the game, especially the dilemmas, aren't overzealous in discouraging or punishing these expected behaviors. The worst feeling for a player is to be punished for doing something they are supposed to do, especially when the entire game is based around those things. This doesn't mean that dilemmas shouldn't interfere with mission attempts or address abuses or loopholes, such as micro-teaming and mega-teaming mission attempts. These are usually outside the boundaries of "fair play" and are more apt to be punishable with your dilemma. It's not a hard and fast rule, but giving players challenges will result in better play than punishing them for playing.

3. Dilemma requirements should be reasonable. Internally, there is a lot of debate about what exactly "reasonable" means for a set of dilemma requirements. However, mathematics and the law of averages can be a guide. Keep in mind that this is all about averages: [Fed] decks will generally have more INTEGRITY than [Car] decks, while [Kli] decks will have better STRENGTH than most. But when crafting dilemma requirements, think about the average number of skills and average attributes on the playable personnel in the game, and then craft your dilemmas so their requirements are not be out of reach of those goals.

As an example of an unreasonable requirement, take a look at Q; 2 Leadership and INTEGRITY>60 is a fairly steep requirement for crews or Away Teams of any affiliation. With an average INTEGRITY of a little more than 5, and very few ways to boost INTEGRITY, you’d need between ten (10) and twelve (12) personnel to overcome the dilemma. That many personnel is usually outside the bounds of expected behavior (see above) and thus, in most cases, this dilemma has requirements that can not be passed. A dilemma with requirements that stiff might as well not have them at all.

Another key factor to consider is skill rarity. OFFICER is one of the most common skills in the game, with more than a quarter of the personnel having the skill. Law is a much rarer skill, with only about 5% of the personnel having the skill. Thus a dilemma that requires OFFICER is easier than one that requires Law. It’s difficult because there are no hard and fast rules about this; there are no charts that cost skills differently. A lot of trial and error are required, especially in a game that is constantly evolving. This is just something that should always be considered when designing dilemmas.

Denevan Neural Parasites

4. Dilemma effects should be reasonable.
It’s just as important for your dilemma to have reasonable effects as it is for your dilemma to have reasonable requirements. Again, there are no hard and fast rules for this, but you there are precedents and examples for you to leverage. A good rule of thumb is to make the requirements and effects inversely proportional: the easier the dilemma is to pass, the stronger the effect can be.

Of course, the different types of dilemmas (filters vs. walls) have different rules. It’s okay for a wall to stop all of your personnel (as long as the requirements are “reasonable”), but how many of your personnel should a filter stop? In general, a good filter can “stop” 50% of the personnel in a mission attempt, and should otherwise remove (kill, bounce) no more than 25% of the personnel. Killing half of your Away Team (e.g. Denevan Neural Parasites) is something that is too strong. But again, these are all just guidelines and not hard and fast rules.

The last thing to consider is who is making the choices asked for by the dilemma. In general, an opponent’s choice is more powerful than a random selection, which is more powerful than your own choice. You can affect more people of the owner’s choice than you can of the opponent’s choice.

Hopefully you're realizing just how difficult the design of an elegant dilemma can be. In the space of just a few dozen words over just three (3) lines, you have to balance the requirements with the effects and their scale. It’s a tall order, but that's the challenge for the first week of Make it So!

Challenge #1: Obstacles and Opportunities
Your challenge this week is to design a dilemma. The judges will be looking for a dilemma that embraces both the philosophies of overall First Edition design and the guidelines for dilemma function. Design currently goes out of our way to avoid breaking the template (3-lines of lore, 3-lines of text), but will do so if the dilemma is interesting enough and there are no other options.

The judges will be rating your dilemmas on their demonstration of the purpose and function of a dilemma. In addition, we will be looking for elegance of implementation, respect of precedent, creativity and understanding of the state of the game. Hopefully the community will use this challenge's discussion thread to let you know what they're looking for too, but beware: it's impossible to please everyone!

Your dilemmas are due by MIDNIGHT server time (Eastern Standard) on Wednesday, November 13, 2013. Entries must be sent via PM to MidnightLich on the forums and not posted anywhere else. Voting and judging will be done anonymously so you may not talk about your dilemmas during the judging period. You will have the opportunity to discuss them after voting is complete. Late entries may be accepted, at a penalty, at the discretion of the judges.

Good luck, and may all your dilemmas be worth a seed slot.


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