World Walkers Game System

World Walkers is an ambitious project intended to replicate the exploratory feel of some modern video games.  Many video games don’t include any instructions, or very few, and rely on the player to discover the rules of the game that they are playing through exploration and experimentation.  This is a feature that adds a sense of wonder, curiosity, and intrigue to video games that is hard to replicate in board games.

Video games have a few advantages in this type of scenario:

  1. A video game player does not need to know the rules that regulate actions and abilities because the game code manages that behind the scenes.  In board games the components of the game don’t have any inherent ‘intelligence’ and rely on the players to know what the pieces represent and what they can do.  This means a board game player has to know the rules of the game in order to effectively manipulate all the components.  Most board games present all this information before the game begins in the form of rule books.
  2. A video game assumes the player has some familiarity with how to interact with their virtual environment.  I remember years ago, Nintendo games had instructions that explained what the up, down, left, right, A, and B buttons did.  Today it’s assumed that everyone has a basic familiarity with the concept of pressing buttons maneuvering a player around their environment.  From there it’s a matter of experimentation to see what each button does.  Does A make you duck, or search?  Does B make you kick or punch?  Most video games give the player a relatively safe environment to try out these basic controls and see how they allow the player to interact with the world around them.  This ties in to point 1, in order to interact the game itself knows the rules.  In board games, there are fewer basic assumptions since components can be used in so many different ways.  E.g. dice are usually used as randomizers, but they can also be used as counters or workers.
  3. Video games are often story-driven, where both the goal of the game and the obstacles to completing that goal are revealed gradually throughout the game.  As a game progresses players are presented with more information, more difficult obstacles, and more choices.  Again, this is all controlled by the game itself.  These are difficult features to parallel in board games without having a dedicated game master player, however, more games are featuring this type of story growth lately.  Games like Descent or Arcadia Quest allow players to play in campaigns where their characters grow and strengthen while obstacles become more difficult from game to game.  Games like Pandemic: Legacy, TIME Stories, and Tragedy Looper provide a narrative environment where the game changes and adapts as the players learn more information (although Tragedy Looper uses a variant of the game master mechanic).  Pandemic Legacy provides a campaign-like story where each game played progresses the overall story further, adding in additional components and obstacles.  Time Stories is more of a game system where players can use familiar mechanisms to play different scenarios where they learn more and more about each particular scenario as they play.  However, both Pandemic: Legacy and TIME Stories have limited replayability – once a story or scenario is complete it is no longer as much fun to play anymore.  Many video games suffer from this as well, however, video games have the benefit of being able to add a much larger world that can be explored on subsequent visits to the game.  

I don’t know of any board games where players start the game with only a very basic knowledge of the game’s mechanics, can learn about the game while playing, have a sense of wonder and exploration, can have completely different scenarios available as expansions, and allows for the replayability of existing scenarios.  These are the hurdles I’d like to tackle through World Walkers.  

Legends of Andor comes close, but once you've learned the game new scenarios build on the past.  In World Walkers, I'd like each scenario to feature completely new situations and mechanics.

In World Walkers, each player will represent a powerful character, called a World Walker, which has been tasked, cursed, or gifted (depending on how you want to look at it) with the ability to move from world to world.  However, World Walkers cannot move between worlds on their own.  They must be summoned by Casters.  When summoned, they appear suddenly, thrust into the middle of a world they know nothing about.  When Casters summon these World Walkers they don’t know where the World Walker will appear, thus it is risky to summon a World Walker, but their power and the fact that they are required to do their Caster’s bidding makes them powerful allies (kind of like summoning djinn, but without the direct control).  The problem is, when World Casters arrive at a new world they don’t know where they are or why they are there (kind of like a Quantum Leap kind of thing).  They must learn about the world by exploring and find out why they are there by finding their Caster.

A basic set of rules will apply to all games; things like each player having some basic actions they can take on a turn – move, search, talk to someone, fight, etc.  There will be some basic rules that govern what happens when a payer takes those actions (e.g. move lets a player move to an adjacent space, search allows a player to draw a card from the Search deck or a specific card if they are on a space that indicates a specific card should be drawn).  There will also be some basic statistics for the character that will be managed in a fairly consistent way from game to game (e.g. health, knowledge, etc.) as well as some generic trackers that will be used to track other things during the game, to be revealed as the game progresses.

There will also be some general set up rules that allow a game to be set up without knowing what scenario is being played.  I imagine a modular board where the starting area is the same for each scenario, but as players explore more of the board is revealed by placing tiles that are unique to each scenario family.  E.g. one scenario family might be set in fantasy worlds and use the set of fantasy world tiles, other scenarios may be sci-fi and use tiles that represent ships or a space station, or ships in space.  Another scenario family may be set in a post-apocalyptic near-future world and show cities, etc.  

Each scenario family could be a separate expansion, similar to how TIME Stories is releasing scenario packs.  But, whereas in TIME Stories each pack is a single scenario that can pretty much be played only one time, a Scenario Family would contain 2-5 different scenarios and each scenario would be replayable even after it has been ‘discovered’ once.  Each scenario family would use a specific set of environment tiles and maybe some general common components.  Within that Scenario Family, there would be a few different scenarios, each with some scenario specific components.  However, players would not know which scenario they are playing until after the game has started.  This can be controlled by having a set of scenario cards that is shuffled prior to a game and then have some in-game mechanism reveal the scenario after the game has progressed to a certain point.  E.g. when a player discovers a village and talks to a merchant there.  Scenarios could be either cooperative or competitive.  Information presented throughout the game can be public or private (as indicated on the cards, tiles, etc. that are drawn).

As players take turns completing actions in the world they’ve been thrown into they’ll gradually explore the world.  They'll use their basic actions to explore and have various encounters and learn what that game is about.  As the game progresses it might become apparent that they are on opposing sides in a battle and must fight each other.  Or maybe there is a common enemy or goal that they must work together to accomplish before an end game condition is triggered.  Players can gain new skills that can allow the basic game mechanics to be changed or added to.  Items can be discovered that provide additional abilities.  Non-player characters can be encountered that can provide information or obstacles (e.g. merchants can sell items or knowledge, monsters can be fought, etc.).

As the players move through the game it can become more complex, utilizing components that are labeled in opaque plastic cases, unknown what scenario they are for or what they do until something in the game says to open that case.

Each scenario should be unique and provide an interesting gameplay experience for the first playthrough but should remain engaging even after a player has experienced that scenario.  They may be able to recognize the scenario earlier on in future plays and know what the end goal is, however, the nature of the game should still require that characters explore and grow throughout the game in order to collect everything they need before facing a final challenge.  Knowing the end game shouldn’t be enough to spoil the strategic aspects of winning.  In games like TIME Stories and Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, the fun of the game is in discovering the story and solving the mystery.  In most other games the fun is in knowing the end goal and getting there better or faster than your opponents or before the game defeats you.  World Walkers will merge the mystery of discovering the story with the gameplay of a game where the end goal is known ahead of time.  This will make the game still fun to play even after the story is already revealed.

I currently have rules written up for four different scenarios set in a fantasy setting:  Civil War (competitive area control and combat), Orc Invasion (cooperative tower-defense), Quest for the Amulet (competitive race/quest), and Merchants of the Realm (competitive - Resource Management/Worker Placement).

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