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Make it So Challenge #3: Storytelling

by Charlie Plaine, Make it So Host

6th December 2013

In general, "verbs" in First Edition are the most variable of card types. Creating such cards can be fun and rewarding, but it also can be perilous and frustrating. After all, the majority of the flavor and power of the game comes not from the personnel and ships, but from events, incidents and objectives. These types of cards also give designers great flexibility in representing story moments, and these characteristics will both meet into this week's challenge: creating a story Objective. For more information on verbs and top down design, check out Make it So Advice #2. Here are some guidelines about Objective design:

Stop First Contact

1. Objectives represent goals.
With so many different kinds of "verb" cards, it's important that each one has a distinct mechanical and/or a distinct creative identity. For example, a Doorway is mechanically distinct from an incident because it always play for free; an Event can be prevented or destroyed where an Incident can not. The biggest difference between Objectives and the other "verb" card types is creative. An Objective should represent just that: a goal that you are trying to accomplish. This is probably best represented in the Borg mechanics.

Think of an objective like a side quest in a video game, or like a miniature mission. Bringing the objective into play should give players a clear goal, with means to accomplish that goal. This doesn't mean that the card has to provide everything a player will need for that goal. For example, an objective that assigns a goal of having a specific set of personnel on a planet doesn't need to download those personnel or that planet. Some of the responsibility of meeting the objective is on the players.

However, it should enable the player to accomplish the goal. A card like The Emperor's New Cloak that requires you to get aboard an opponent's ship should either provide a way to get aboard such a ship, or provide alternative benefits. (Note that while TENC technically does this, it's quite weak. This is something that has to be carefully managed when designing story based objectives.)

2. Objectives provide rewards.
In order for an objective to be worth playing, it must provide a reward to the player. Since an objective should set a goal, the best way to provide a reward is upon completion of the goal. This is a great way to increase the power of the reward (in a way that's proportional to the difficulty of achieving the goal) and to limit its use (by having it trigger upon completion.) However, this isn't the only way to provide a reward. Perhaps playing the objective itself gives you a small benefit, and a larger one when you complete the goal. Perhaps you get a benefit and a drawback, and you can eliminate the drawback by completing the goal.

A quick note about drawbacks: these are very, very, very dangerous. A drawback is some sort of penality or obstacle provided to a player in exchange for some other benefit. For example: the ability to draw an extra card each turn, in exchange for only using a specific subset of personnel. Players in general dislike drawback mechanics and will often avoid them. However there is a type of player that will build a deck to minimize the drawback and maximize the benefit - this is a very dangerous area. Done well, a drawback can be a great tool, but it is very difficult to do well. Proceed with caution.

There are many different kinds of rewards: you can score points, draw cards, enable access to resources, and more. There is a lot of freedom in both the setting of goals and rewards. As always, this kind of freedom for a designer can be both a blessing and a curse.

3. Objectives should be balanced.
Once an objective has a goal and a reward, the tricky part is balancing them, and the reward has to be big enough to justify going through the work of meeting the goal. On the surface of it, this seems simple; but, balance like this is tricky because you always have to remember that the player that is playing the objective is also building the deck that uses it. Asking players to bring specific personnel to a specific place is a good goal; finding the appropriate reward is the difficult part. The reward has to be worth the player's time and effort, but it can't be too good or the deck will become more about completing the objective instead of moving towards victory. This brings up a related point: rewards from objectives should generally help the player get towards victory. Points are a good way to do this, because they are part of the game's victory condition. However, there are other paths and these are fertile ground for objective design.

The Emperor's New CloakObjectives, like all verbs, come with a lot of design space. There are quite a few variations on scope, scale, and duration that can be applied to each of these card types, and they can serve many mechanical and creative masters. In order to give the Make it So contestants some direction, we're specifically tasking them in this challenge with creating a story based objective. Each contestant should choose a favorite story moment from any of the properties covered by the original license and recreate it as an objective.

Challenge #3: Storytelling

Your challenge this week is to design an objective that represents a story moment. The judges will be looking for a card that embraces both the philosophies of overall First Edition design, that captures the chosen story moment, and provides a fun and playable experience. The Objective template has seven (7) lines of game text and no lore, and is an unbreakable template. Design does not feel the need to "fill" the text box of these card types by adding text unless it is meaningful.

This challenge will be the first to feature a guest judge. David Runyon (superdave), the current First Edition Creative Manager, will be joining the panel of judges to help review this creatively inspired challenge. The judges will be rating your cards on both their representation of the chosen story moment and their playability. 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 entries are due by 11:59 PM server time (Eastern Standard) on Wednesday, December 11, 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 cards 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 objectives be worth completing.

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