I’ll give a general description of GOPS before continuing; if you’re familiar with the game, feel free to skip this paragraph. GOPS is best played by two players. The game pieces are three sets of tokens with value markings on them. Usually tokens are marked with values that start at 1 and increase in a regular fashion (it’d be interesting to have token values increase according to a power law or some other distribution—I haven’t experimented with it before). Each set of tokens is identical to the others. Each player claims a set of tokens, leaving one set left over. The left over set constitute a stock that will be contested by the two players through a simple bidding process. Bidding proceeds by a token being selected out of the stock at random, then both players play a token (simultaneously) of the value they wish to bid. Whoever bids higher claims the contested token. The tokens that the players bid are discarded. Play continues thus, with players bidding on each token in succession and the higher bidder claiming the contested token, until the stock is exhausted. Once the stock is exhausted (the players’ tokens will be exhausted at this point, as well), each player totals the values of the tokens they have won. The player with the highest total wins the game.
If my description doesn’t make sense, feel free to check out the Wikipedia article. Or this.
Several months ago, Mot and I had a series of discussions about fitting GOPS as a combat system for an MMO. I think it’d be great for melee combat, and with some modification it may also work for magic and ranged combat (I’ll cover ranged/magic in a later post).
No random numbers need apply. The system would be relatively simple, as well. Show the combatants the tokens they’re bidding on and give them a time limit within which they must select the token they wish to bid. Better melee characters can receive bonuses for winning certain kinds of tokens. There could be special tokens as well that could be injected into the contested slot (the player would press a hotkey to queue abilities into the contested slot in place of whatever token would otherwise have appeared) by either player in an attempt to perform a special attack.
Combat would be constituted of contests which are organized into rounds. Bidding on one contested token is one contest. Each contest would have a time limit of 5-10 seconds. Sets of 5 contests constitute a round of combat. Whoever wins the round (whoever has the higher total value of tokens won) deals damage to the opponent and performs whichever of their own abilities they had won during the round. A one-on-one combat may take 5-8 rounds depending on who is fighting. This would be slower-paced than most MMOs, but this is not a problem because I aim to emphasize tactical decision-making and not rely on twitch mechanics to keep the players aware.
Why have combat of pure strategy?
- It reduces the role of chance to a bare minimum.
- It gives players a good reason to pay attention to combat.
- It is non-trivial to win a combat.
- It is entirely based on the strategic thinking of the players—you lose because you make mistakes or misjudgments, not because the dice weren’t in your favor.
- It creates micro-level tactical and psychological contests that are missing from most MMORPGs. It’s very satisfying to read your opponent’s bids and expend as few resources as possible to beat them.
- Combat may become too long.
- Players don’t necessarily want to have to pay attention to combat on a second-by-second basis.
- The first round or two is a feeling-out period where the results may be not strongly correlated to skill (the players are still figuring out what the other’s strategy might be). If players don’t fight one another often enough or if players switch targets rapidly, the draw of the GOPS system is severely weakened.
I think it’s at least worth prototyping a pure strategy combat system. I see a tremendous upside and a lot of appeal for players who enjoy skillful play but still want an RPG-like experience.