SPIR608 Political Simulations and Gaming/2011/Clash Of The Titans
Russian-speaking students (aka "First-Class Students") designed this game for the Political Simulations and Gaming module (SPIR608)
Plot & description
For the first time in history a position of the world president is open. In one week, humanity will have its living secular God. In the run-up to elections, candidates take extra care safeguarding their reputation while jumping at every opportunity to tar that of their rivals. International media have already dubbed this struggle ‘Clash of the Titans’. Five candidates will come face to face as they struggle for power and world domination. Mr Lukashenko (Belarus), Mr Putin (Russia), Mr Chavez (Venezuela), Mr Berlusconi (Italy) and Mr Sarkozy (France) have only seven days to prove that one of them is the best candidate for the job.
Each night, a candidate launches negative public relations campaign (black PR) against one of his rivals. The following morning a victim of black PR is announced. Candidates begin to debate, defend and accuse as they seek to identify the client. At the end of each day, players vote for candidates they suspect to be behind media headlines. Careful! Vote incorrectly and your reputation will plummet; vote correctly and it will rise. At the end of seventh day, a winner is announced. Candidate with the best reputation gets the job.
- Candidates represent five personalities competing for the job: Lukashenko, Putin, Chavez, Berlusconi and Sarkozy. Each candidate is dealt two cards in the beginning of the game: a personality card and a special conditions card (see Cards section for more details). At the end of the week, a candidate with the best reputation wins the election and becomes the world’s president.
- Client is a candidate who launches black PR campaign against one of his rivals. At night, client needs to choose a victim and make his choice known to narrator. During the day, a client should defend his innocence, least he becomes a suspect.
- Suspect is a candidate who receives the most votes at the end of each day.
- Victim is a target of black PR. A candidate accused of corruption, for example, becomes a victim of black PR. Victim receives (-1) to his reputation in the beginning of each day.
- Narrator is a person leading the game. Narrator announces the beginning of night and day cycles, deals cards to players and keeps track of reputation points.
The game features seven events that correspond to different days of the week. Headlines were chosen on the basis of their association with a particular candidate (see table for more information). Events are there to amuse players as they move from one day to another and do not imply connection between a headline and a victim.
Day and Night Cycles
Players go through day and night cycles (seven in total) as the game progresses. When night falls, narrator asks candidates to ‘go to sleep’ by closing their eyes and tilting their heads downward. It is important that all players comply with this request to avoid peeking and cheating. Further, narrator asks Client to ‘wake up’ and choose a victim. Client is determined by a chance card that says “You are The Client.” Finally, client is asked to ‘go back to sleep.’
Tension builds up as game moves from night to day. Day cycle commences when narrator asks players to ‘wake up’. Narrator announces a victim of black PR and moderates an ensuing debate about a potential suspect. After a suspect is voted, narrator summarizes reputation points of each candidate and deals chance cards to determine a client of the next night.
Each player receives a personality and special conditions card in the beginning of the game. Personality card will determine the player’s candidate (Lukashenko, Putin, Chavez, Berlusconi, or Sarkozy) and reputation conditionality e.g. Berlusconi > Sarkozy. Special conditions card outlines two further requirements for candidates to earn (+5) points at the end of seventh day. In addition to personality and special conditions cards, players will get to draw a chance card prior to commencement of night cycle. Chance card determines a client and it is drawn randomly each time.
‘Clash of the Titans’ uses a points system that operates the logic of ‘carrot and stick'. Players are rewarded when they make right choices and vice versa. A rundown of points distribution is detailed below.
All candidates start with (+5) reputation points in the beginning of the game.
Candidates, if after voting a client is exposed, receive (+1) if they voted correctly and (-1) if they voted incorrectly. The same distribution of points holds true when client escapes suspicion.
Client receives (+2) if he escapes suspicion and (-2) if he is found guilty.
Suspect receives (-1) when client is not exposed.
Victim receives (-1) point as soon as the news are announced each day. If victim votes for a suspect that later turns out to be guilty (client), victim receives (+2) points. If victim votes for an innocent suspect, yet a client is exposed, victim still receives (+1) to make up for the lost reputation. Conversely, if client avoids suspicion, victim receives (+1) if it voted for him and (-1) if it voted for someone else.
A tie occurs when:
- a) two candidates receive two votes each after voting and when
- b) two candidates share the same number of reputation points at the end of the game.
In the first case, narrator resolves a tie by asking a player, who voted for neither of two candidates, to recast his vote. In the second case, narrator asks contestants “why do you think you are the best for this job?” and lets the team decide the winner.
This add-on is optional and its value-added needs to be further game-tested. The idea of secret mail is to let candidates communicate with their rivals via secret messages. In these messages, candidates are encouraged to ask favours e.g. not to vote for them on certain days, or to vote together against the strongest candidate on the next day in order to fulfil requirements outlined in special conditions cards. Candidates can reciprocate and ‘promise’ to return a favour. Of course, these agreements are not compulsory and are not binding. Promises are made to be broken, especially if doing so serves your interests. Before night falls, all candidates are offered to write no more than two secret messages to any two candidates and leave them on the table face down. At night, narrator collects and delivers secret messages to recipients face up before calling a client to ‘wake up.’ If client received a message, he can decide whether to take it into account when choosing a victim. When day starts, the rest will be able to read their messages and act accordingly. Secret mail aims to bring a sense of clandestine negotiations to the table. If anything, it is designed to confuse, alienate and encourage players to think in zero-sum terms.
It is difficult to acknowledge just one game that influenced ‘Clash of the Titans.’ Three most prominent ones that immediately come to mind are ‘ Mafia’ ‘Origins of World War II’ and ‘Vietnam 1955.’ People who are familiar with ‘ Mafia’ or ‘Werewolf’ will immediately notice similar engine used in ‘Clash of the Titans’ especially with regard to ‘day and night’ cycle. However, unlike ‘ Mafia’ where each round two players are eliminated, ‘Clash of the Titans’ keeps the same number of players by substituting elimination with punishment. This way, players participate in the game from start to finish without fear of elimination in the first few rounds. In addition, political factors used in ‘Origins of World War II’ were transformed into reputation points in ‘Clash of the Titans’ as well as the use of special conditions to gain extra reputation points. Finally, ‘Vietnam 1955’ showed that with real-life scenarios it is possible to enliven the game so that everyone can enjoy it. Agreeing with Shakespeare that ‘life is a stage and we are the actors,’ a role-playing game is supposed to uncover our hidden passions for acting.
‘Clash of the Titans’ is an imperfect information game that features an informed minority and a uniformed majority. While some information is communal e.g. reputation conditionality, some is individual e.g. one’s role as a client, or special conditions for additional reputation points. Because of information imbalance, ‘Clash of the Titans’ uses the following game mechanics: voting, acting, role-playing, memory and variable player powers to narrow the information gap between an informed minority and a uniformed majority. Voting is used by players to identify a client of black PR whereas acting is used during the day to defend their innocence and avoid suspicion. Memory is necessary to remember conditions for extra reputation points and reputation conditionality. Variable player powers are used in the game to create tension and provide different means to achieve victory. For example, client has an information advantage and an incentive to remain uncovered. Victim, suspect and other candidates do not enjoy the same information advantage as client yet they are united by a desire to avoid suspicion. Role-playing is at the heart of ‘Clash of the Titans’ because players are assigned roles throughout the game be it a candidate, a client, a victim, a suspect or a president.
Improvement after play-testing
The prototype saw few changes after the first play-testing, mainly:
- An improved table to record players’ identities, roles, votes and points
- A reputation pentagram to model rivalry and create tension
- Separate condition cards to avoid repetition when new game is played
- Special tablets to give players a 3-D feel of their reputation (similar to political factors in ‘Origins of World War II’)
‘Clash of the Titans’ is still a work-in-progress. Reputation point system requires further play-testing, especially with regards to points given and taken when client is/not exposed. Another under-tested area is reputation conditionality. It may prove difficult for players to meet all conditions to gain extra reputation points and hence a reduction to two requirements may be necessary. Likewise, ‘secret mail’ option needs to be game-tested several times before a verdict on its usefulness can be reached. When all aspects of the game are streamlined, it can potentially lend itself to becoming a commercially viable product.