Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Game of Chips

Last night I dreamed about playing a semi-electronic roleplaying game. It's wildly impractical, like most of the games I wind up inventing and playing in my dreams, but it was interesting enough that I remembered it when I woke up.

There are two essential components to the game. The first component is a small electronic kiosk. These can be found at gaming shops, malls, conventions, and so forth. The kiosks have small, color, touch-screen displays, and slots for accepting and dispensing small plastic chips.

The chips are the second component. When you first start playing the game, you go to your gaming store and buy a starter pack which contains about thirty of these chips (a random assortment, naturally). Most of the chips are "effort" chips; these are printed with numbers indicating how much effort the player wishes to expend to win a game challenge. Each starter pack also contains one slightly larger "environment" chip, which designates an in-game challenge environment (such as "Elven Forest: Levels 1-5"). There is also a chance of finding a few special powers chips in your starter pack.

To play, you walk up to a kiosk and put your environment chip in a slot at the top of the screen. The game then randomly generates a series of challenges ("Defeat the Orcs", "Rescue the King", "Find the Lost Jewels", etc.). The kiosk screen lists these challenges, along with a numerical difficulty rating for each. The player selects a challenge and then inserts an effort token (or a power token) into the machine. The machine then randomly calculates whether you have defeated the challenge. The chip you deposited will increase your chance of victory: larger effort numbers provide a greater boost to your chances. An effort token with a small rating may be sufficient to win an easy challenge, but for a difficult challenge, the player would need a token with a higher effort rating. (I have no idea what the "special power" chips do.)

If you win a challenge, the game dispenses another chip (or more than one). More difficult challenges yield more powerful or more numerous chips. You can also receive in-game rewards, which are simply icons on the screen that represent bonuses or penalties that apply during your current game session. Sometimes you'll receive another environment chip as a reward, which allows you to play against new challenges and receive new types of chips.

The player's role, therefore, is to compare the challenges presented to the effort tokens the player is holding, and try to choose combinations of challenges and tokens that will yield the greatest rewards and chances of success. For instance, a high-value token will easily defeat a low-level challenge, but is that really a good use for such a valuable token? You might need that high-value token to have any chance at all at of defeating a high-risk challenge, but then again, a higher-risk challenge means a greater risk of losing that token and getting nothing in return.
The game session ends with a final, climactic challenge, which yields even more valuable rewards if you beat it. After this is an in-game shop, where you can trade your in-game electronic rewards for more plastic chips, or somehow apply them to future games in their electronic form (I have no idea how the kiosk identifies you or retains your electronic rewards from session to session ... maybe they're stored on your environment chip somehow).

Obviously this is, in essence, an incredibly complicated slot machine. For this to have any chance of being commercially successful, you'd have to lose enough challenges to keep you buying game packs. However, in the dream, it seemed as if players never really ended a game with less chips than they started with, in which case I have no idea where the revenue came from.

You can be assured that I have no immediate plans to start building some little kiosks and plastic chips, but there's always the possibility that I'll be able to pull a useful idea out of this in the future.