We’re back again this week with a post about something I struggled with for a good part of the early development of Pug Life – pug abilities. When I first began working on Pug Life (developmental name, Peach’s Game), my idea was players would need to earn points and the first person to earn those points would win the game. To add a little variety and flavor to the game, I decided to put in pug abilities, such that each player could choose one of 4 pugs (originally the Cute, Strong, Fast, and Smart pugs) and they would be able to activate their abilities. However, my first implementation fell pretty flat.
Originally, the player could activate their ability on every turn. The Smart Pug, for instance, was able to choose two cards, revealing one card with everyone else then decide to change to the other card if they wanted. There are of course a number of flaws with that concept, but the primary two issues I had with the system were balancing the mindshare of the ability (being able to activate it every turn was a lot), and the power (it’s crazy strong). After I realized the current system just wasn’t working, I tried to move away from having it activated every turn, but instead activated every four turns – this made it even more difficult to track, and short of implementing some sort of tracking tool would have made it impossible to know when you could activate your ability or when not to. I had to go back to once a round. The issue, then, became the player could simply activate the ability too often. There was a game where we finally played optimally and I ended up stealing one card from Savannah every single turn, and she about lost her mind. I needed to make the abilities weaker and force the players to actually make a decision, but there was nothing that was going to prevent the player from choosing to activate an ability every turn, unless it had a potential downside. I was at a point where I considered giving up on pug abilities as a whole, but then I had a moment of inspiration while perusing ideas that I could add to the game – treats. I originally had no idea what I wanted to do with treats, but when suddenly I found those two things colliding I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
The big results were these:
-Making them only activated by cards meant players didn’t have to learn a different mechanic or track something else while playing the game. All they had to do was decide what card they wanted to play.
-Heavily gating the ability usage through the cards meant I could pour more power into them. This allowed the cards to be more exciting because power is fun.
-Additionally, by significantly increasing the power budget it meant I could provide deeper decisions for a player to make while using the card. For instance, the Curious Pug ability has the ability to earn numerous points in no time at all, but could also fall flat on its face. The larger window meant I could make more variable cards.
-A theme was introduced into the game that made for even stronger thematic resonance – giving a treat to your pug should excite them and make them do something wild.
-I had control over what was happened, also known as a bunch of balancing levers. If the abilities were too strong, I could either cut down power on individual cards or reduce the number of cards in the game. If they were too weak, I could bump up power on cards or increase the number of cards in the game. I could make the game more or less crazy based on the number of treats in the game. Those levers were important for being able to get the feel just right for the game.
Finding a way to seamlessly integrate the mechanic was extremely important. It wasn’t until I had finally worked out this mechanic that I felt comfortable with the game as a whole. Seamless integration of this portion of the game was the thing that changed this game from meh to fun. Tell me about a game you’ve played where the mechanics flow together perfectly, or a time when you needed to adjust a mechanic so it would fit in better!