Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Blind bidding and the Prisoner's Dilema as the basis for an RPG

The kingdom is at war and the king lies dying. A power struggle has begun between the rightful prince, the supreme general and the the resourceful bastard son of the king. One of them will rise to the throne but war might destroy the kingdom before them.

Make the King is a tiny RPG designed to be played with exactly three-players. It was part of the Free RPG Blog's 2013 24 Hour contest. What makes it interesting for me is that the mechanics use blind bidding and a variant on the prisoners' dilemma.

Each player starts off with two mugs, one full of black chips and the other full of white chips. Two empty mugs sit in the middle of the table, one for each color.

The players will take turns playing the king, calling the other two characters to the king's deathbed. The king will ask questions, asking the two of them of the wars going.

After they give their versions of the situation, which will probably be completely conflicting with each other, the two players bid on who's version of the truth is real.

Each player can bid up to half of either their remaining white or black chips. If they both been wanting to, the larger bid wins. The winner gets the losers bid and their bid goes into the mug on the table designated for white chips. Black chips always beat white chips and both bids going to the mugs on the table. If both players good with black chips, the higher bid wins with both bids going into the mugs on the table.

Well there are rules to make sure that everyone gets to play the king twice, the game ends when one of the mugs on the table is full. If the white mug is full, whoever has the most white chips left in their personal stock, they become the new king and describe how they win the war. But if the black mug is the one that is full, the kingdom has lost the war and been conquered. Everyone loses but whoever has the most white chips is the scapegoat.

On the one hand, the board gamer in me likes the simple but tight auction mechanic with the twist with the end. It's simple but it works from a mechanical standpoint. It reminds me a lot of games like Terra and High Society. It isn't a proper prisoners' dilemma but it reminds me of it.

On the other hand, what I don't like is that the role playing isn't really tied to the mechanics. It doesn't matter what you do in your interviews with the king or what kind of story you create. This is a game with a real winner and loser and that is solely determined by how well someone works the auctions. That really isn't a winning point for a role playing game for me.

I've seen mechanics that make more sense in board games used in RPGs before. Mars Colony and Dread come to mind. But in those cases, they were married to the story and helped drive it.

Still, to be fair, Make the King is an entry in 24 hour contest. It had some interesting ideas. I don't see myself every playing it but I did have fun reading it.

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