Brutal Honesty

Playing more Coup with new players, I find that honesty is a surprisingly powerful and common strategy. I do not know if the people I was playing with were hesitant to bluff, but almost every loss of influence/death was caused by false challenging someone else’s claim. It was a game of self-inflicted injuries.

I am sure I have played with other groups that lied constantly. I wonder what the curve is: start with minimal bluffing, because you do not know the game well enough to lie believably; lie shamelessly now that you know the odds better; go back to honesty how that people are expecting you to lie shamelessly?

: Zubon

Server Issues and Disconnection Losses

a list of Town of Salem 'suicides' suggesting server problems I am still playing Town of Salem, and I have begun to suspect that issues I was complaining about may be with the game rather than the players. People do quit at all times for all reasons or none at all, but connection issues I periodically see suggest players are being awarded losses for disconnects outside their reasonable control. In the picture to the left, it is possible that half the players in the game decided to quit in the first minute before anything happened, but it seems more likely that it was a connection problem. In the same night I saw a game with 5 disconnects from initial load to first night, and then another game was won by what should have been the losing team after the mafia killing role disconnected but their departure was never recognized by the server (someone else grouped with them confirmed their Steam disconnected for 10 minutes with the character still in-game).

To set the tableau for that last game, there were three mafia members against one townie. That last townie was the Mayor, who gets 3 votes and could therefore lynch a mafia member every day. The mafia gets one kill per night, so you can see how they are not going to lose this … except that only one person has the “kill” button at a time, and that was the person who disconnected and happened to be the last person the Mayor chose to lynch. The Mayor even recognized the absurdity of the situation (without knowing exactly what happened) and avoided lynching every day to give the person time to get back. The game stretched an extra ten minutes with only one person able to make one decision every few minutes. I have had several games with disconnected/AFK mafia killing roles, which makes a joke of the game.

The game can fail to connect half the players while also failing to notice when players disconnect. This is bad.

: Zubon

Soliciting Entitlement

I am totally on board for scolding people for an exaggerated sense of entitlement, but many gaming companies are literally asking for it. MMOs have long solicited player participation in development, from requesting suggestions to testing implementation. In a Web 2.0 world, more developers started inviting players to participate. “Make your voice heard!” Games being Kickstarted frequently offer beta board access as a reward so that you the customer can help guide the development of the game.

I have seen good, implemented solutions come from the suggestions board, and I have seen games that really do have player-influenced or even -driven development. I have also seen a lot of companies decide that is good PR, set up a suggestions board, and maybe harvest a few ideas but mostly just do what they were going to do anyway and maybe point to a thread and say, “because you demanded it!” It is so much marketing BS, just as we recognize that people are not really “testing” the game in that open beta. Some suggestions may have merit, and maybe you have a new idea, but the designers are not waiting with bated breath for the next epiphany from the armchair designers.

I have trouble saying that the players have an unfair expectation that they should be listened to when the company says they are listening. Using the two senses of “expectation” from that link: as a realistic assessment of what the company is likely to do, one should not place high odds on the company being guided by your suggestions; as a normative assessment that people should follow through on their promises, one is completely fair in thinking that a company that says it is listening should listen. If you say you are listening to create customer buy-in, then do not particularly listen, you totally deserve it when those customers react badly to the realization.

If a company never claimed to be listening, you can maybe argue that it would be better if they did, but you do not get to claim a sense of personal betrayal.

: Zubon

Fluff and Metaphor

The game created as “Mafia” has been largely popularized as “Werewolf,” and that seems a better metaphor. Town of Salem’s colonial New England is an especially odd place for the Sicilian mafia. That metaphor also breaks down when you have a town of a dozen people and the Mafia plans to kill almost all of them. That is not what mafias do. The metaphor works better if you think of a town of a thousand people, with a leadership group of about a dozen and a criminal conspiracy trying to seize the reins there. Although few city councils hold daily lynchings.

Town of Salem was clearly thinking of a witch hunt metaphor at some point in its development. That is entirely appropriate for the daytime lynching, but fails for the nighttime unless we say the witchhunters were right and the witches really do murder people at night.

I have been wondering about other metaphors that would work well for Mafia. You can put all sorts of fluff on top of the same basic rules. Perhaps something with a less violent means of player elimination? We all seem so keen on killing people in our games. Despite the name, everyone survived Survivor as far as I know, which had a non-fatal elimination system. I suspect fewer people would play with a less violent metaphor; the sort of person excited about being a werewolf or serial killer is less likely to sign up for a game about the teddy bear picnic, where a group of cheaters is trying to sabotage others’ teddy bear collections. Maybe if they got to watch teddy bears go up in flames while the eliminated character cried…

: Zubon

MMO Questions

A while back, I put together the following set of questions for MMO developers. But when was the last MMO release that might have interested you enough to ask them? Still, for reference, things I want to know if you want me to play your new MMO:

  • What standard MMO elements are you using that will appeal to current MMO players?
  • What changes are you making to the standard MMO formula that will draw players from their current games?
  • What unique features will your game offer that are not available anywhere else?
  • How can I customize my character, at creation and over time?
  • What is your intended increment of gameplay? What can I do if I can log in for:
    • 15 minutes?
    • 2 hours?
    • 10 hours?
  • I have gained ten levels. How does my play experience differ other than going from “10 damage per attack against 50hp goblins” to “100 damage per attack against 500hp goblins”?
  • I have been playing for six months and my friend wants to start playing. How soon can we play together without my creating an alt? How do your systems support this?
  • I have been playing for six months. What goals am I pursuing? What am I doing that I could not do at the end of my first month?
  • What will happen:
    • in my first hour that will make me want to buy the game?
    • in my first month that will make me want to subscribe?
    • in my first year that will make me want to stay that long?/li>

: Zubon

Errors and Lies

Playing dumb is a viable strategy. In multi-player competitive games, players tend to coordinate against whoever is in the lead. If you look like you are stumbling while you move into a better position, you will be ready to strike while your opponents are looking elsewhere. This can become difficult in iterative games; my tabletop group knows me to be too good a strategist to buy too much of this, but they seem not to have caught on that I will complain about crummy randomization both when I get horrible luck and when I want to distract attention from how well I am doing.

In Town of Salem, I am rarely sure of who is an idiot and who is engaging in obfuscating stupidity. A standard villain strategy is to run out the clock by preventing useful discussion, because a town that cannot coordinate information cannot find the mafia. Idiot chatterboxes are more likely to be villains, but this is a F2P online game, so you have lots of idiot chatterboxes and trolls. Is this person sabotaging discussion or just legitimately useless?

Say some information gets through that. Then the town starts puzzling out how to deal with it. Few players know exactly how all the roles and rules work. If you know, you might mis-apply those rules in this circumstance. If you know, you might lie about how those rules apply if the truth would get you killed. Then you have incomplete or wrong information, because other players are taking secret actions and may not mention that your logic is valid but your premises are false. Sometimes players will guess the right answer despite having invalid logic, which is aesthetically displeasing, although sometimes players do have a valid deduction but are presenting an unsound argument intentionally because telling the real reasons would get them killed. And then the original “information” might not be true, due to error or lies.

Most people know at least one Raymond Smullyan puzzle of the format “one always tells the truth and one always lies.” More advanced puzzles introduce the complication that people can be wrong, so you have insane liars who always say true things because they believe false things. It is often unclear whether you are winning/losing by your own merits or are the beneficiary/victim of outrageous fortune.

: Zubon


I played a Trapsin in Diablo II. It was a fun class that turned the game into action tower defense. Drop traps, throw my pitiful attacks at the enemy, and kite them around traps until they fell down. I was particularly fond of the the exploding corpse trap and the cow level. Explosion damage scaled based on the enemy’s hit points, and cows were big tanks. Killing the first one took a while, then they fell like dominoes as high-damage corpses converted cows into more high-damage corpses.

This scaled nicely based on enemy hit points but not on group size. Enemy hit points scaled up with group size, but the trap’s damage was scaled on the enemy’s base hit points, not its scaled hit points. That is, the trap that was devastating on a solo map did less and less as the team size grew, because enemy hit points increased but trap damage did not. (Granted, neither did any other damage source, but there is a large difference between falling dominoes that take out a whole group and “kite, 1 dies and damages several, kite more, 1 dies and damages several, kite more…”)

With no allies, I could solo the map easily by knocking over dominoes. Every additional ally made me relatively weaker. One direct damage specialist was nice for knocking over the first cow, but past that, the game incentivized me to be alone with my exploding corpses.

There were definitely situations for which grouping was a better option, but it sapped my favorite activity in-game.

: Zubon

Bits Box Bleg

I am looking for a storage solution for my gaming accessories, mostly coins but also things like dice and meeples. I am considering tackle boxes and such, although I would need something with large enough spaces to hold small stacks of coins. I want compartments so I do not need to sift through things every time I use them.

Any recommendations or storage solutions you are using?

: Zubon


Under the original rules of Mafia, random lynching is necessary, viable, and a good investigative tool. It is the only option the non-mafia players have without adding investigative roles to the game. Pure chance gives the innocents good odds of finding the mafia before losing, and careful observation of discussion and voting often reveals the mafia. So when I see random lynches suggested in Town of Salem, I have mixed feelings; it should help, but given all the special roles, it seems unnecessarily risky and random in a way I find distasteful.

In a game of social deduction and bluffing, winning through random luck is aesthetically displeasing. It violates the Theory of Fun learning aspect of the game, and it feels a lot like the cheesy one-trick ponies who go for an easy win or a quick loss. Give those players a town killing role like Vigilante or Jailor, and they just go for it: soaking up praise if they kill a good target, shrugging if they kill a bad target. I generally do not trust people who exult in random violence.

I had a recent game where the town effectively lost on night 2 because we had two Vigilantes, both of whom shot randomly, both of whom killed fellow townies. For those who have not played Town of Salem, Vigilantes kill themselves the next night if they kill their fellow townies; in a game with 15 players and multiple teams, you can imagine how good your odds are after losing 4 teammates to friendly fire.

But if both Vigilantes had randomly killed mafia members, the town would have had an easy win and celebrated its brilliant heroes. We are happier to win through no virtue than to lose by our own fault.

: Zubon