Thursday, June 10, 2004

Paranoia will Annoy Ya

Last night we took a trip into the paranoiac and utterly nonsensical world of Corn-22, Easy’s homebrew board game based on (now defunct) West End Games’ “Paranoia” RPG universe.

The Computer is Your Friend. Traitors are Everywhere. The Computer Wants Corn.

As a revamp of Easy’s earlier foray into board game design, Corn-22 featured a much slimmed down game board and a more limited equipment set. The stated object, to collect priceless “Old World” substances like corn, beer, cat food and soup, is paired with the necessity of rooting out traitors (and not being pegged as a traitor yourself). Of course, touching or carrying “Old World” items would acknowledge the very existence of the “Old World” which is, predictably, traitorous.

Assigning a rank, a secret society rank and a fighting skill as well as a “role” (Zoologist, Security, Intelligence Officer, Robotics Engineer or Schmoe) each player is sent into the contained area to root for goodies, avoid being turned into a mushy paste by the various nasty beasties, robots and traps that roam the area. The roles permit certain abilities, such as moving creatures around, getting extra points for catching traitors in the act or, in the case of the schmoe, being able to pass the buck.

The game uses an interestingly different point based movement system which permits players to take a number of moves and then reserve points, letting other players go before they go again. Unfortunately, this can lead to multiple circuits of the table in each turn, as players sit and wait to see what happens. Still, the system is different and has some interesting possibilities.

Also somewhat novel is the fickle nature of the computer’s desire. Although the computer starts off wanting Corn, its preferences can change, modified by the fulfillment of secret society missions, which are doled out based on the character’s secret society rank.

Thankfully, given the many terrors of the contained zone, players have an unlimited number of clones, though death carries a penalty in points and the necessity to drop all carried gear.

The game ends with the return of all the currently desired “Old World” product, or a set number of turns. If the second limit is reached, all players are killed by irradiation, in which case the player with the least number of points wins.

Playtesting proceeded a bit more slowly than Easy had expected, possibly due to unfamiliarity, and possibly due to the way that the movement system worked. Unusual situations like one player being effectively trapped and trying to decide on the most strategic way to kill himself highlighted the unpredictable and funny gameplay atmosphere. Two players quickly worked out the drawbacks of having a lower than average fighting skill. In the end, it became clear that we were all going to be microwaved, and having recently suffered a major loss of goods when Easy sicked a big honking robot on me, I proceeded to off myself twice in consecutive rounds in dramatic ways, divesting myself of all points and obtaining the lowest score.

The playtesting yielded many constructive details which I’m sure Easy will put into Corn-22’s next incarnation.

If not, the Computer will not be Happy.

Warping from a comedic Utopian future into renaissance Italy, we broke out Princes of Florence for the second half of the night. A perennial favourite, the game had a very different feel with only three players in attendance. We quickly learned that with less competition for desired items and improvements, we had to be very cagey about what we bought in order to absolutely maximize our WVs. Gameplay was close and see-saw even until the very last scoring round, with Shemp out in front by 4 PPs ahead of Easy and I, who were tied. Then, we both pulled out prestige cards, one giving me 7 PPs, the other giving Easy 8 PP. We were startled by the fact that had Shemp chosen two larger buildings for his final two builds, he might have denied Easy the 8 extra points, which earned him a one-point margin win. A well played and very close session.


  1. Well, I must say that the game sounds much better when Kozure describes it than it really was. Still, I think it has potential and I will keep toying with it.

    Things that worked (for me):
    1. The Wheel of Corn, as an idea, I really like. It needs to turn more, though.
    2. Despite the slowdown potential, I think the action splitting element has the potential to introduce a nifty "tip your hand" or wait element.
    3. I think there is good potential in the "Mission leader" aspect of the game. If I could elaborate on that system and reduce the equipment/ bot/ creature element I would be happy.

    Many things didn't work. The biggest problem is that I wanted it to be more of a "Screw your neighbour" kind of game than it is. Bluffing, working together against a third player, laying traps, etc.
    Further simplification is needed, and a bit of a speed boost would help. Bugs in the rules were quickly discovered. Also, the rule stating that the last place player wins in the event that time runs out is obviously broken since it was meant to encourage that player to hinder other characters... not kill himself as often as possible.

    I think that one big change which might improve things would be to get rid of the turns entirely. Have th emission leader title be initially unassigned and then stolen from one player to the next in a simialr fashion to the wheel of corn movement. Counting down actions would be less important if the rule was simply that you can do "any two things and move up to 4", for example.

    Also, colour coded pieces would make it much easier to see what is where on the board. Since it's important to know where the bots are as opposed to the creatures, it owuld be much less frustrating if you could identify them at a glance.

    Anyway, Kozure mercifully didn't rate it, and I personally would assign it a "NA/ Playtest" rating for now.

    Remember: Just because you are paranoid doesn't mean someone isn't following you...

  2. You know, I was shocked (SHOCKED, I tell you!) at how differently Princes of Florence played with 3 players, compared to with 4 or 5. Not any better or worse, but strategy is VASTLY different. The resources that one needs to bid on are much less scarce, allowing one to plan one's future turns out to a much greater extent. Actually, planning one's turns out becomes much more necessary. I think that Bonus Cards are much more valuable in a 3 player game than with more, and perhaps the Prestige Cards as well. The finish was wild, but if Kozure hadn't had more money on hand than I did when bidding on a recruiting card in the last round of bidding, I am confident that I would have prevailed.

    ~We will meet again!~

  3. Right, and on the Corn-22 front, I think it does have potential - a lot more then it did in it's first iteration. I agree that the "player in last place wins if the goal is not achieved" mechanic is broken. I would say, dump it. I would also consider ONLY having the game end when the primary goal is fulfilled, w/ the following small tweak: the game ends whenever ONE TYPE of canned good is entirely cleared from the play area. Maybe whichever good is cleared results in the player clearing it getting to move the Wheel - Of - Corn! one click. (I agree also that the Wheel - Of - Corn! needs to move more often - maybe moving the Wheel one click counts as two or three moves? - somthing to consider, anyhow) (actually, why not get rid of Mission Leader altogether, and just allow any player to order any other one, at a cost of, say, 4 or 5 moves?)

    One more thing that we discussed as we played, but I would like to get on the record, is that the Secret Society goals need revamping - some more variety, at least. I think there is also a possibility that they are too easy to achieve, but that won't really be able to be assessed until the "Loser can win" mechanic is adressed.

    It was fun; I would play this again, with modifications; score is N/A, playtesting.