At my job, the Social Club is a group that works alongside HR to bring fun and entertaining activities to its members, like outings, contests, trivia days, raffles, etc. As one of its board members, I get to be part of the decision-making, so I took this opening to pitch and develop small "Office Games" that the whole studio could enjoy. One of them was "Race to The Throne".
"Race to the Throne" is a game where players take on the role of a medieval noble and compete to claim their seat on the throne by gambling power tokens as they move through the Kingdom's territories once a day.
When I designed this game I had several pointers in mind:
- Make it easy to understand. Complex rules get ignored or are deterrent for people to join the game, especially if they are busy with work.
- Make rules succinct. People don't like to read, especially emails.
- Be clear and transparent about caveats. Something I learned from the first office game I made is that people will find any reason to complain. So, protect yourself from it.
- Have simple player input. People are meant to be working so you don't want to reduce the work productivity by taking much of their time.
- Make it fair. Not everyone at the office has the same amount of free time, so it's better if the gameplay allows fairness for people with different availability.
In this post, I'm going to describe the game, its rules, any changes that happened in the process, and how people reacted to the game overall. If you decide that you like "Race to the Throne" and want to try it among your friends or co-workers please feel free to do so. If you have any questions about the game, you can contact me here.
After getting a green light to launch the game as a Social Club event, the first step was to create the map of the Kingdom; but to make the map I needed to know how many players were going to be participating. For this, a registration form that introduced the medieval narrative and the rules of the game was sent out to everyone in the studio.
Ding dong your Eminence is dead.
The previous ruler of Gëimluft has perished to a rare disease.
The realm has fallen into disarray. Hopes, wishes and happiness are but a thing of the past.
You could say the monarch had a bug that was not fixed, and theirs was not a Magic Kingdom.
With Gëimluft up for grabs, nobility has popped up here, there and everywhere, making everything just so complicated. So, the Royal Court - also known as The Social Club - has come to the agreement that the fate of all the people in the land would be decided over a cool fun strategy game, because why not?
In this game of thrones, you win a $50 dollar Amazon card or you die!
Please read the following instructions fully and carefully.
To participate in the "Race to the Throne" you have to sign up and submit your royal name and the name of your kingdom, examples:
"Baron Riccardo the III of Tootallham"
"His Highness James Fuller of Dennington"
"Iva Warrior Princess of Eich-Arr"
~ General ~
* The race will begin with all the nobility placed in an equal distance from the throne.
* Each noble will be given 10 power tokens to reach the throne.
* Each day, the nobility must move into a territory within the next circle.
* The noble that reaches the throne alive, wins!
~ Movement ~
* Movement only allows for two options, closest blue territory or closest red territory.
* With movement, nobles must choose the number of power tokens they want to spend. This amount can be 0.
*When two or more nobles step into the same territory, a battle ensues.
~ Combat ~
* The noble with the most power tokens spent wins.
* Nobles that lose in combat are slain and out of the race.
* Nobles that don't enter combat when moving still lose spent power tokens.
~ Tie Breakers ~
* When combat produces a tie, the winner of the tie will be decided by the colour of the territory.
* The noble that comes from a territory that has the same colour as the new territory, wins the tie.
~ Throne Tie Breakers ~
* If the final battle for the throne produces a tie, the winner will be decided by:
** Whoever was involved in more battles throughout the game.
*** If that ties, whoever changed territory colours the most, wins.
~ Example ~
The example shows the map of the realm. The example noble always has two choices of where to move each day.
Each day, the noble decided to move to a territory of the same colour of the territory they came from.
We will provide the final map of the Realm of Gëimluft after registrations are closed.
The final map will include the starter territories of all participating nobility.
Each day the game lasts, you will receive an email with instructions on how to submit your movement and the number of power tokens to be spent.
Whoever reaches the throne alive will win a $50 Amazon gift card.
However, there's a total of $100 in prizes, how to win the rest of the prizes will be revealed later.
Notice that the game has money prizes. I believe this to be a key motivator to encourage people to join and give the game a try. It also creates stakes that would make players feel more involved and would stop them from bailing mid-game, which could ruin the experience for others.
After the registrations ended, we had the final headcount of 20 players. With this information, I gathered with other board members that were helping me run the game to draw the final map and also figure out some edge cases. We knew the map had to have the following:
- 20 starting territories, 1 per each player.
- From starting territories, players should be able to reach the Throne in five moves, 1 per day.
- Each territory must connect out to two other territories, one blue and one red.
- Territory connections must be as fair as possible for everyone.
Race to the Throne map drawn first in a whiteboard
I wanted to control the number of people being eliminated each day so it would feel more climactic towards the end; also having more people involved in the first few days would make the game less exclusive. I thought it would be good to eliminate 1/4 of the players on the first and second day, and then half of the competitors in each of the following days. But since we got 20 people, it actually worked out well if we "divided" them into groups of 5 and decreased 1 territory per day until it was only 4 people one step away from the Throne.
Due to the number of players and territories available, there were some territories that would have the possibility of more than 2 people stepping into it. With this reason, I revisited the original rules and added a way to provide fair grounds to the map's asymmetry, an extra tie-breaker rule for territories, and an improvement to the feel of the power tokens. This is what changed:
- The total amount of power tokens are now 15. Has better, less restricted feel when it comes to token spending.
- $10 Amazon gift cards were added to territories outlined in yellow. This makes the riskier and "unfair" territories acceptable. It also allows for players to adopt different end-game strategies; like playing to reach the $10 and be satisfied with that, or go all the way to the Throne.
- A "Mustering Support" rule to break territory ties. In the unlikely event that a territory's colour doesn't solve a tie (especially in the riskier territories), a "Muster Support" campaign starts. Players and non-players get to vote for the person they'd like to win and the people involved in the tie are encouraged to rally support through "diplomacy".
After settling down all the final rules and deciding player positioning randomly, this is the map that I created for the game.
Final Race to the Throne Map. All players in their starting territories.
Each day I would send an email that had the numbered list of the players participating, as well as the updated map. Players that hadn't been slain could make the choice to move to the next Red or Blue territory and the number of power tokens they wished to spend.
The medieval narrative was something that I kept through the whole duration of the game; and when several interesting conversations about strategies, gameplay results and other funny situations started to arise, I took the narrative further by introducing the "Town Crier" section in the emails. This section would recount the real-life situations that happened in the office but with a "medieval storytelling" voice. For example, we had the following situations:
- One of the players spent quite a lot of points the two first days, which allowed him to come out victorious in fights that involved multiple people. After that, I created the tale of Harry the Bloody.
- One player that had many titles in his "noble name", similar to Daenerys Targaryen, had found an old-English grammar error in one of the emails. So I bestowed upon him one more title, the one of "Grammar Inquisitor"
- One player for the most part of the game was not aware that he was not the number he thought he was. So, the tale of Lord Henrique the Confused was born. Fun fact, the confused lord won the game at the end.
- Two players were using very similar noble names that were based on the name of another co-worker. When both of them were slain, I created a narrative where they were actually twins and their mother (the coworker whose name they took) was mourning for them.
- One area of the map had a lot of dead nobles. The only survivor was someone with "Butcher" in their name, so I declared him the serial murderer of the province. Funny enough, the next day the "butcher" got butchered by one of the Game Economy Designers. So I changed the narrative where the GED, new hero of that land, was imposing new tax reforms during the people's celebrations.
- Finally, there was a player that would always submit his move last and late in the day or the next morning. It seemed like he did not care about the game much or that he was just coasting through it. But it turned out to be that he was actually spending a lot of time thinking about his move and all possible scenarios. In the town crier's story, I called this "impish trickery", uncovered by the apparition of a slain noble's ghost (an eliminated player who talked about the other player's strategy).
The "Town Crier" was something I decided to do because I like to write fun, interesting narratives. Surprisingly enough, it got a lot of attention and turned the game into something more socially engaging that brought quite some laughs. Also, I later found out that even people that were not playing were following the progress of the game as observers; and when the first and only "Muster for Support" campaign happened on the fourth day, at least half the studio actively participated in the voting.
Race to the Throne has been one of the most engaging events in the studio
After the game was already a few days in, I realized that the final movement didn't really possess a decision-making factor for the players. The only option for whoever had made it that far, was to go towards the Throne with all the points they had. Fortunately, part of the intended design was that players couldn't see how many power tokens others spent or had left, so there was a lot of speculation going on. I decided to use this element of the gameplay to add a second choice to the final move:
Nobles racing to the throne were now able to choose to either:
- Put all your remaining Power Tokens towards the Throne for the chance to win a $50 Amazon Gift Card.
- Put all your remaining Power Tokens towards becoming the Hand of the next ruler for the chance to win a $10 Amazon Gift Card.
This was meant to insert doubt into the players' confidence. Make them reconsider if they thought they had enough power to defeat others to earn the Throne or if they should go for the lesser prize. My expectation was that players with 3 or fewer tokens would try to go for the Hand option instead, and I was interested to see if the players with the most power would break down and try to grab the Hand instead - which would have been a hilarious turn of events.
I was wrong though, all the players in the final round went for the Throne, leaving the Hand position vacant. I think the mentality was "I've made it this far, so I'm going all the way", basically a sunk cost fallacy.
Here's the map as the players advance through it. You can see how the last two frames add the Hand next to the Throne, which was when the alternative choice was added to the final move.
20 nobles Race to the Throne in 5 days. Click Here to see the full animated gif
After the game was finished, several co-workers, including ones that didn't get to play, were very excited to see how I would take the game further, how it would evolve. There were some very good suggestions, but for now, I know two things for certain:
- I don't want to add more complexity if the game is being played as an Office Game. This would only go against my statements at the beginning of this post.
- I want to design a way for eliminated players to keep playing and remain engaged until the game ends, while also following the statements at the beginning of this post.
Hopefully, I get the chance to work further on this game and see what direction it takes for round two.