Monday, January 12, 2015

Game Stories: Eminent Domain and Reinforcement

It's the clever game with a really weird name! In Eminent Domain, the players build empires across the stars, colonizing, waging war, and discovering new technologies that let them make their empire even stronger. The core of the game hinges around a fascinating combination of mechanics that gives your empire an incredibly strong character that adapts to your playstyle.

In Eminent Domain, players have six main things that they can do. They can Survey to find new planets for their empire. They can conduct Warfare to assert military control over the planet. They can Colonize the planet to acquire it more peacefully. They can Produce resources on planets and then Trade those resources for points. Finally, they can Research new technologies for their empire.

When a player chooses one of those roles, they get a card that corresponds to the role. Then, they can use any matching cards to perform it more effectively. The more Survey cards you have in your hand, the more effectively you can Survey, and so on. Not only can you use these cards when it's your turn, but you can also use them if other players take the corresponding role on their turn. As you play cards, you eventually reshuffle them into your personal deck, which means that the roles you take on your turn will change what cards you have available.

How This Changes Things
This particular mechanic creates a sort of positive feedback loop. Each time you perform a role on your turn, you get the card which matches that role. Because having more cards for a role makes that role stronger, this rewards you for consistently taking the same role. Each time you reshuffle the deck, it'll give you cards that are more skewed towards the actions you're already taking. In effect, the deck "learns" what you're trying to do because of the actions you take.

By the end of the game, players' decks often strongly diverge, because payers are pursuing different strategies. This mechanic doesn't just let players customize their decks: it customizes their deck as they play! The consequence of performing a role is that you make that role a stronger part of your strategy. This sort of reinforcement is a powerful tool in the game, because it helps you to put together your own narrative of what your empire is like.

If you're designing a game, make sure to look at reinforcement as a way to strengthen its narrative! When players take certain types of actions, what are the consequences of those actions? Can those consequences double as an incentive for them to keep taking consistent action?