Designer’s Notes #4 – Network play

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Designer’s Notes #4 – Network play

Introduction

Network play is one of the most exciting features of the mobile version of Brass. It is the main reason why we started this project. We wanted the ability to play Brass remotely on our mobile devices and, most importantly, at times that are convenient for us.

Network game

Playing Brass face-to-face is kind of hard as it requires at least 2 hours of uninterrupted time. The online game makes it much easier to play because it is asynchronous. You use the same 2 hours total, but in smaller intervals, perhaps lasting over an entire week. You can play your turn whenever you have a few minutes of free time. When you finish, the next player will get a notification that his turn has begun.

Some people want to play a fast game and others prefer to play slower. That is why we have a few different game duration settings that we can choose when creating a network game. This means that you can choose to play a Brass game that lasts over a month or a game that is almost real time.

Challenges

The freedom we get from network play is enormous. Unfortunately this is also its weakness. There were a few problems we had to tackle when designing the network game.

The first problem is a player abandoning the game. We had a few ideas how to handle this:

  • An AI player takes over the abandoned position
  • The player automatically passes until the end of the game
  • Sell all the player’s industries and make room for the remaining players
  • End the game immediately as is often done in traditional board games

With this list we went and talked to Brass players. 100% of them said that it is pointless to continue the game after one player leaves. The impact on the game is just too big to handle it gracefully. We were a bit disappointed with that answer but with a heavy heart we listened. We end the game immediately when one player leaves it.

The second problem is player inactivity. Each online game has a time limit that can be set when the game is created. Each player has some amount of time to complete all his actions in the game. If the player fails to do so in time, then we consider it the same as the player abandoning the game, thus ending it immediately.

The final and the hardest is player total bankruptcy. As you know, bankruptcy happens in Brass when a player has a negative amount of money at the beginning of his turn. In this situation, the player has to sell some of his industries to repay the debt. This is ok. The problem is in a situation when the player is bankrupt and has no industries (or not enough industries) to repay the debt. The game rules do not specify what should happen in that situation, probably because this is a very unlikely situation. However, in a software version, we need to handle all possible situations, no matter how strange. Therefore, after brief consultation with Martin Wallace, we decided to end the game immediately. This applies to both online and offline games.

Summary

In short, we decided to end the game immediately in all situations when a player is out of the game. The specific reason does not matter very much, as the effect on the other players is identical in all three situations. A player can leave, timeout, or totally bankrupt, and all of these situations will destroy the game for the remaining players. We acknowledge that and handle it as expected.