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Suppose I want to create a strategy game with global mutable state shared between all players (think game board). But unlike a board game, I don't want it to be real time action and/or turn-based. Instead, players should be able to log in at any time of the day and spend a fixed number of action points per day as they wish. As opposed to a few hours, game sessions would run over a few weeks.

This is meant to reward good strategy rather than time spent playing (as an alternative, hardcore players could always play multiple games in parallel instead) as well as all kind of issues related to live playing like disconnections and synchronization. The game should remain addictive still have a low time investment footprint for casual players.

So far so good, but this still leaves open the question of when to solve actions and when they should be visible. I want to avoid "ninja play" like doing all your moves just a few minutes before daily point reset to take other players by surprise, or people spamming F5 to place a well-timed action which would defeat the whole point of a non real-time game.

I thought of a couple of approaches to that :

  • Resolve all events in a single scheduled process running once a day. This basically means a "blind" gameplay where players can take actions but don't see their results immediately. The thing is, I played a similar browser game a few years ago and didn't like the fact that you feel disconnected and powerless until there's that deus ex machina telling you what really happened during all that time. You see the world evolve in large increments of one day, which often doesn't seem like seeing it evolve at all.

  • For actions that have an big impact on the game or on other players (attacks, big achievements), make them visible to everyone immediately but delay their effect by something like 24 hours. Opposing players could be notified when such an event happens, so that they can react to it.

Do you have any other ideas how I could go about solving this ? Are there any known approaches in similar existing games ?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think there's a better solution. Doing all your actions right before the scheduled process is double-edged, since you're doing everything at the end of one day, so you're at a small disadvantage too. \$\endgroup\$ – ashes999 May 31 '14 at 9:43
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You could take some inspiration from the game Neptune's Pride which sounds a lot like you want to do - a board game, browser based, played over weeks.

To address your question:

but this still leaves open the question of when to solve actions and when they should be visible

NP doesn't really 'delay' actions, but it makes them take a long time. For instance, moving spaceships between planets takes at least several hours. Some effects of the action of moving them are immediate: the spaceships stop defending the planet they departed from, and other players see your move, at the moment you play the action. Some effects take a long time: the ships attack the planet they move to, only hours after you did the action.

In addition, players are allowed to queue actions for their spaceships, so they don't have to log in every few hours to redirect them.

In the case of Neptune's Pride, this does not completely resolve the issue. Logging in regularly (every few hours) will have a clear advantage over logging in once a day. This might be partially unavoidable, but take a lesson from what NP did wrong in that regard: do not allow your players to upgrade the speed of their ships, or whatever the equivalent is in your game. Allowing players to circumvent the delay in any way may very well break the game again.

Note that NP does not have action points, but the idea is the same.

Conclusion: I'd advice you not to delay actions, but to simply make them take a long time (hours, days, up to you), during which other players can react.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the link, Neptune's Pride is very close to what I was looking for. It seems extremely well polished, actually makes me want to play it :) I also like the term "long-time strategy" from the Webgame of the Year article - perfectly describes what I want to do. And making particular actions look like they "last" for some time (reflected by a progress bar) indeed makes more sense in terms of game immersion than just telling the player "effect is delayed by 1 day, that's the rule". \$\endgroup\$ – guillaume31 Jun 3 '14 at 11:45
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Instead of completely refilling all players action points at a fixed time, you could instead give them a small amount of action points every few minutes and allow them to safe up action points up to one or a couple days worth of points.

A player who wants to do something big will have to safe their action points for about a day. Afterwards they will be unable to act again until their AP have refilled.

The web-based game Urban Dead, which simulates a zombie apocalypse with players playing both survivors and zombies, uses a mechanic like this. It does however miss the goal of being equally playable for both casual gamers and power gamers by offering certain actions which leave other characters in very vulnerable situations which can be resolved by the victim with minimal AP spending. This makes it useful for survivor-players to log in every few hours to check if the zombie players broke down the barricades of the building they are in (high AP investment for the zombies) and move to a different building (low AP investment for the survivor).

You could avoid this problem in your game by having player attacks cause damage to the victim, but not leave the victim more vulnerable to following actions by other players.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Nice system, though it doesn't really address the "ninja" part of my question since players would still be able to launch big actions without other players having time to counteract (by reinforcing their defenses, etc). I get your point about "actions that don't leave the victim more vulnerable", but this doesn't really fit in my game where actions are basically big attacks to complete a mission, every successful mission being a very important step towards victory. \$\endgroup\$ – guillaume31 Jun 3 '14 at 12:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @guillaume31 What about attacks happening and completely resolving instantaneous without giving the defender an opportunity to interact during the attack? That way all players would be equally catched by surprise, no matter how often they log in. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Jun 3 '14 at 12:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ I thought about that, but the whole game is about patient set-up of missions and spying and trying to hamper opponents' missions, not blitzkrieg ;) Attack and mission resolution is the climax of a long process, not a simple trivial fact. \$\endgroup\$ – guillaume31 Jun 3 '14 at 12:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @guillaume31 Then I am afraid your design goals might be mutually exclusive. You can not make knowledge about enemy plans an important gameplay aspect while not also punishing those players who don't have the time to constantly monitor their enemies actions. But note that just because attacks happen instantaneously doesn't mean that the preparation-steps happen instantaneously too. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Jun 3 '14 at 12:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ But introducing a delay between action trigger and action resolution would reduce that punishment on casual players, right ? Regarding preparation steps, I can't go into much detail here, but the game theme implies that they are instantaneous (like spending resources on something). \$\endgroup\$ – guillaume31 Jun 3 '14 at 12:51
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You might want to look at internet Diplomacy, which takes the simultaneous moves approach. Diplomacy assumes you will be discussing moves with other players, so you have some idea of what is going on even though you can't see actual moves (and other players may be lying to you about their plans).

I'm not sure whether this helps, but it's at least an example of a game that seems to work in a similar situation.

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Each turn will last about a day, unless all players complete their turns. If all players in the current game have completed their turns, the next turn starts (players AP pools are refilled). This not only ensures everyone has a equal chance to spend their points, it automatically adjusts for the times players usually login and allows for more hardcore players to play through a game more quickly if everyone is completing their turns quickly.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This could create bad feelings if some players want to go fast and even one other player is not doing so (or even just AFKs, guaranteeing one turn per day until they come back or get kicked out). \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Reid May 31 '14 at 15:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was going to suggest that too, but decided not to because of the flaw Kevin Reid pointed out. This is really going to cause conflict between those players who would like to play fast and those who would like to play at a lower pace. Or players in different timezones which would both like to play fast, but can't because they aren't online at the same time. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp May 31 '14 at 18:01
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The simplest answer:

  • Update game state at a fixed time

  • Let players make their moves at any time between updates, but do NOT show those moves until update occurs

Something you need to consider very strongly is that whatever model you choose must be very simple for players to understand. Anything that departs from the above isn't. A more complex rule set for moves would draw concentration to them at the expense of other parts of gameplay - so don't do that unless it is what you want.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I get your point but since I want to address casual players, the "fixed time" you're talking about shouldn't be more frequent than once a day. As I explained in my question, I had a bad precedent with a similarly paced game, it felt rigid, disconnected and not really immersive. I agree that I should avoid too complex rules but this has to be balanced with gaming experience IMO. Thanks for the advice anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – guillaume31 Jun 2 '14 at 13:09

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