Nice phrase, isn’t it? Player Agency. Sounds like a place to get players, like an adventurer’s guild or something. It’s not, and I think it’s even cooler than that.
Player agency is about giving players opportunity to make meaningful decisions in a game. (Okay, it can be about a great deal more than that, but this is the extent to which I’m using it.) In a très brief and oversimplified nutshell, as we move a game from the randomness end of the spectrum towards the decision-driven end, we increase player agency. As more aspects of play become player-decided instead of pre-set, again we increase player agency. And, so long as we avoid tediousness, repetition, and excess complexity, that can be a pretty good thing in game design. There’s a place for the pure randomness of Snakes and Ladders, but I think it’s been covered pretty thoroughly.
Estate of Confusion has been targeted, as friend and fellow game designer Corey Young has put it, in the mid-Atlantic zone, somewhere between the genres of Euro and American (“Ameritrash”) games. So we have reaction, random elements in the Room Card draws and the location-availability of valuable Claims, and hand-management, strategic-decision elements in the Action Cards. The actual mechanics of the game being quite simple (move, react to Room events, grab a claim, trip up a competitor, etc), the game is quick to learn and easy to grasp. Feedback from players is strongly positive, which is of course *awesome* to receive! However, suggestions for tweaks are not always in the same direction, and modifications require analysis and more playtesting to see how they work out. Additionally, changes that improve the game in some players’ eyes make it less fun to others.
This is where we are currently with a question of player agency. There are a couple of ideas on the table for consideration regarding player differentiation (i.e. making the selection of player character a more meaningful and strategic decision) and movement (from pre-set to a variable, perhaps economic one). I’m going to go ahead with the former, at least for the next rounds of playtesting/demos. The latter is more in question because it would increase the number of decisions each player has to weigh every round, thereby slowing the game down. Slower is okay if everyone’s busy at the same time and having fun, not so much when it’s downtime. Waiting for someone else to decide where they’re going to move is pretty solidly downtime.
So that’s where things are at present – making play-affecting changes to the player profiles, and more thinking about changing the movement mechanic. Oh, and planning our launch, of course! 😉