The Essence of Survival
Preview the Competitive and Cooperative Aspects of Discover with Designer Corey Konieczka
Discover: Lands Unknown is a game unlike any other. Not only is it a Unique Game where every copy is different from every other, the game’s survival setting offers a mix of cooperative and competitive gameplay. Working with other players is essential to survival, but when resources are low, who can you really trust? This mix is a delicate balance and part of what makes Discover a truly unique experience.
Today, journey with us as we take a look at Discover: Lands Unknown with designer Corey Konieczka as he highlights the competitive and cooperative aspects of the game, and how they came about during design.
Continue on for Corey’s thoughts on the survival aspect of the game, and remember to pick up Discover: Lands Unknown when it releases on October 25!
Corey Konieczka on Survival in Discover: Lands Unknown
When I first came up with the pitch for Discover: Lands Unknown, there were three main elements that formed the foundation of the experience:
- Exploring the Unknown
- Resource Gathering / Crafting
- Surviving the Elements
For this preview, I’d like to focus on survival, the struggle to make it fun, and how this led us to the game’s victory condition!
The Last Can of Beans Scenario
Throughout development, I often talked about “The Last Can of Beans Scenario.” Imagine that you were stranded on an island with three strangers and no food. While exploring, you find a single can of beans. Do you keep it for yourself, or do you give it to the person most in need? (For the sake of argument, let’s imagine that it cannot be split between multiple people.)
In a game, the “correct” answer to this question obviously depends on the game's victory conditions. Through testing, we found that the most interesting scenario is the one in which players share food when it's plentiful, but are more selfish when resources are low. To make this work, we had to evaluate how you win and lose the game.
I Don’t Lose if You Win
Since Discover’s announcement, the most common question I’ve been asked has been: “Is this game cooperative or competitive?” The answer is neither.
In both cooperative and competitive games, my victory is tied directly to the performance of other players:
- Pure competition: If you win, I lose
- Pure cooperation: If you win, I win
Throughout the course of development, we tried both of these options, but neither felt right.
Pure competition didn’t make any sense for the setting. Unless I’m criminally insane, why would I want other players to perish?
Pure cooperative made more sense, but it caused players to only care about the group, not their own character. This didn't feel accurate to real life either. In a real-world situation, people would probably help each other, but only to a point (see the Last Can of Beans Scenario above).
This led us to a third option:
- Real Life: If you win, I could win or lose based on my own performance
In this situation, each player wins or loses on their own, but they can work together if it suits their needs. There is no reason to actively work against other players, but there is reason to sometimes be selfish. Players can share supplies and assist each other if they choose to, and each player that survives to the end of the game wins. Everyone that doesn’t survive is eliminated from the game and loses!
But Wait? Isn’t Player Elimination Bad?
In modern boardgaming, player elimination is often considered poor design. The main argument is that you’ve all come together to play a game, sometimes rearranging your schedule to participate in this social event. Eliminating a player from this experience is unnecessarily negative and punitive. You don’t want to sit out for an hour while your friends are having fun, right?
I would argue, however, that many modern games have “soft” player elimination. That is to say, a player may be so far behind that they cannot possibly win. This can be just as unfun, and it can lead to kingmaking (the act of one player intentionally making poor strategic decisions to help someone else win the game).
I suggest that player elimination, if done correctly, can solve kingmaking and craft a social experience like no other. If you’re about to lose the game by starving to death, you will have an emotional attachment to the last can of beans. You’ll feel different, act different, and an interesting social game emerges. The ever-present threat of elimination also makes players more invested in their characters and feel real responsibility for their actions.
To avoid the main downside of player elimination, it's important that eliminated players don’t sit out of the game for too long. This can either be solved by having a short game length (15-20 minutes), or by making sure players aren't eliminated until the game is close to its conclusion. We chose the latter. As long as a player is collecting food and water, they should survive for the majority of every game of Discover.
A Different Game for Different Groups
While testing the game with these victory conditions, I made an interesting observation: the game felt very different with different groups of people.
Players that were used to playing co-op games (especially families) would treat the game very much like a full co-op. They would help each other survive, even if it did not benefit themselves, and sometimes make heroic sacrifices to save others. These games were full of shared gasps, smiles, and high fives. I’d like to think that many people in a real-world survival situation would act this way.
Then there were the cutthroat groups. These people wouldn’t give a single can of beans to an old lady unless she gave them two water skins in return. These games had a very different sense of tension. Winning and losing these games was based on your personal skill and ability to negotiate. Some players liked competing so much, that we created one purely competitive scenario just for them.
I’ve played with both types of groups, and though different, they were both a lot of fun. I especially enjoyed games with a mix of player types, some from group A and some from group B. Navigating the social pecking order while trying to stay alive required two very different skill sets, and it led to many dramatic moments.
I hope that you enjoyed this look behind the scenes, and that it gave you a better understanding of the social games you’ll see unfolding in Discover: Lands Unknown—no matter what exactly is in your copy of the game. How far are you willing to go to survive?
Find the will to survive in Discover: Lands Unknown (DSC01), available now for pre-order from your local retailer or our website!
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