Synergon, the BLARP From Hell

Synergon: “Where dreams come to die”

Synergon was conceived as a satire of office culture and corporate-speak, but expressed in the language of a D&D-style role playing game. What originally started as a joke among employees quickly expanded to include basic rules and longer lists of abilities and skills. Pretty soon it became apparent that it could be made into a fully playable table-top RPG.

Synergon is supposed to simulate BLARPing. LARPers (or Live Action Role Players) are a group of people who get together to act out roles, usually in a vaguely medieval or fantasy setting. You may know them as those-guys-that-hit-each-other-with-foam-swords. BLARPers, on the other hand, are Business Live Action Role Players, and they play make believe every day in the office.

The comparison between LARPers and business people quickly becomes apparent when considering how many people in the business world are just making things up as they go along.

Via BoingBoing.

I believe it’s time for the obligatory Dilbert reference. Let’s see … yes, this will do nicely:

Dilbert: You Stupid Coffee Cup!

Sons of Pong

Sons of Pong

In the beginning was Pong. And in the beginning it stood alone. But not for long ….

In September 1972, Atari’s Nolan Bushnell and Allan Alcorn installed the prototype Pong machine at Andy Capp’s Tavern in Sunnyvale, California. The idea was to make a computer game that was “so simple that any drunk in any bar could play.” And boy, did they ever.

… Atari didn’t have the patent on the technology and very quickly the vast majority in the machines eating quarters around the country were knock-offs. Of course, Pong itself was “inspired” by an electronic ping pong game that was in the Magnavox Odyssey home system. To keep up, Bushnell continued to innovate, as did everyone else. Call it a volley between King Pong and his brethren, while an invasion from space was on its way.

— From Everything You Know is Pong by R. Bennett and E. Horowitz

I’m very fond of Pong. Not that I spend a lot of time playing it; but I like the idea of Pong, I’m pleased that it exists.

The Art of Self-Balancing

Game BalanceStephen Harkleroad recently posted a thoughtful essay about designing gameplay balance using principles of self-balancing:

One of the trickier parts of designing a board game is balancing the game. You don’t want certain options that depend on luck to tip the game to the player who gets it; also, you want to make sure the costs and benefits are roughly even as to not make one strategy the overwhelming favorite. If one choice makes one player the front-runner for the remainder of the game regardless of all subsequent actions, it’s a bad game.

… Unfortunately, misrepresenting costs in decision-making is easy to do in board games. Until all of the factors and player personalities come into a real-life game, it is usually very, very difficult to put a static cost on anything and have it equal its benefit. (This is why playtesting is so important.) You don’t really know if pricing artillery at 10 gold is worth it when infantry is worth only 5 until the game gets going. Monuments might be worth one victory point or three. This is a particularly difficult concept to cover when designing asymmetrical games, where both sides are operating under different rules and options.

Thankfully, there are a few design components that will allow a game to “self-balance”–that is, you don’t have to put a cost on it; it naturally comes from the game itself. Note that I keep saying “cost,” since this is what a majority of board games actions represent, but it could be anything, such as turn order or victory conditions.

Stephen Harkleroad @ Crank Crank Revolution

Harkleroad articulates several self-balancing design components:

  • The Auction
  • Changing Attractiveness
  • Compensating Cost
  • Balance By Proxy

He’s writing about board games in particular, but I’m sure the principles will be useful to designers in a wide range of games.

Go read his post for the details.

I’m reminded of Balance — one of my favorite short films:

See Balance (film) @ Wikipedia