Power & Control

“relating some to area control in games”

To make a game “effectively” using the “Power & Control” as a design concept you will need to understand the relationships and differences between power & control and also what types of force can be used to affect (or influence) those two concepts. “The power to force control onto the power and control forces.” The factors of power, control, and force are central to the idea of area control and many other aspects of game design.

For you as a board game designer, another main factor in this mix is player motivation. Keep in mind that these concepts will be presented only briefly in this article. You may have to go out and spend some real time researching, if you want to fully comprehend, the web that connects these concepts.

This gives us four main concepts that if understood will help to build a good foundation for how to use power & control in games:

  • Power
  • Force
  • Control
  • Motivation

Types of Power

On this subject you should really do some external reading on the research done by John French and Bertram Raven in the early 1960’s, or the thoughts of Tom Atlee’s on his transformational thinkpad.

John French and Bertram Raven
Atlee’s transformational thinkpad

For the purpose of this article the types of power are (in my own words):

  • The power your mom has to tells you what to do when you are youg and she has candy
  • The power your dad has to tell you what to do when you are 10 years old and 65 lbs soaking wet
  • The power a cop has to tell you what not to do (no matter how old you are)
  • The power a good sports coach (or other mentor) has to guide you to be a better person
  • The power a college level professor has to shape the way you think about things
  • The power the person you are romantically interested in has over you
  • The power cookies have
  • The power a friend has when they know whether or not someone you are romantically interested in is interested in you or not (and you don’t know)

Understanding what type of power one player might have over another or what type is given to a player by the game rules will help you to establish part of what is needed for good area control mechanic. Also, because it is a game, you can make up other types of power that are external to the players. In a game with “divine forces” at work you could have a random deck of cards that drastically changes the course of the game or subtlety influences events along the way. The main point of all of this is to get you thinking about the issues involved with how power affects the ability to control an “area” of life, a game board, a resource or… well anything!

Types of Force

Military officials often utilize the PMESII-PT acronym when discussing the factors (or forces) that must be accounted for when planning operations. I think we can steal them from the military as this also works as a part of board game design theory.

These types of force are normally used directly by players to control or influence the game or they are controlled or influenced by player actions.

  • Political
  • Military
  • Economic
  • Social
  • Information
  • Infrastructure
  • Physical Environment
  • Time

Rather than list all of the ways each of these can be used in games let’s just look at two of them and how they are different. Then go back over the rest and think about how you might use in your designs.

Informational power/force is used in games in many ways and almost never do you think about it as part of area control (even though it can be a major part). If one player knows something that the others don’t they gain a powerful advantage. In the context of area control mechanics the hidden knowledge can “inform” player motivations about the areas in need of control. Allowing a player to “peak” into the “worth” of one location on the game board, before they have to commit forces to gain control over it, will shape the choice they make. But it also gives the player the information that can then be used as a force to influence other players. This means in your game design you can use the concept of informational power to create an informational force (resource) that can be use by players in the gameplay and at the same time shape all the player’s motivations.

Time as a force on the other hand is used quite differently in game design. Unfortunately, many times it is also used poorly or is not used at all when it could have been useful. Most often, “Time” takes the form of a “sand timer” that limits the amount of “real time” a player can spend on a task or turn in the game. It can also be a “numbered track” and a “counter” that moves on the track based on events in the game to limit an amount of in-game time or set a maximum amount of total turns. Normally, it is used to add external tention to the action of the game as the focus is on limiting the resource of time itself. But for what we are talking about in area control, we need to think about ways to give players the resource of time to use as a force. For instance if all players in a game have 5 action points per turn, you need to think of it as a time force/resource that can now be controlled or influenced by the other players. The game “time track” can also be considered a resource pool for player manipulation. We will talk more about the issues involved in building/designing area control mechanics later on in this series of articles.

All of the types of force and what level of control each player has to influence or use those forces can be describe in your rules based on the type of controls you are going for.

The idea of Control

This might in some ways, be both the most important aspect of area control, and the hardest to understand. (that is why this is the shortest part of the article) The standard definition of control is:

“The power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events.”

I submit for you that this definition is flawed. The reason I have talked about power and force before talking about control is to point out this flaw. After looking at the types of power you can clearly see that control is not a type of power. Here is a new definition of control for your consideration:

“The act of demonstrating power through the use of force to gain influence over or determine people’s behavior or the outcome of events.”

One more phrase to think about is, “The outcome of having the power to use a force is control over whatever that force can affect.”

You as a designer need to keep in mind that one end goal of a “competitive” area control mechanic is to grant a player only temporary control of an area with the hope of lasting control. This is subjective based on the game you want to make, but can be a great start. What I mean is, if you give players the true power to take full control of an area there might not be much more to it.

Player Motivation

If you did the suggested reading on power you might have noticed that I slipped in an extra type or form of power. Normally depending on who makes the list there are maybe 7 or less types of power. Ask yourself, “What power do cookies have?”. When you read the list of power types in this above, I bet that one did not seem completely out of place in the list (maybe just comical). The power of the cookie rests in your internal motivation (or desire to eat it) that can compel you to take an action.

Simply put: “Motivation is the reason behind why you want the power to use the force to gain control.” (sounds almost like something Yoda might say *wink*)

Understanding why a player wants to do one action over another will help to form a picture of how to write the rules to control how gameplay will flow.

The hidden truth in all of this, is that YOU as the game designer are the one with the control over every aspect of the game. While ultimately players can do whatever they want with your game, through the rules you write, you have the “Power” over what happens in the game. The control you gain from this power is sometimes best used to influence player motivations through the game’s design. Keeping player motivations in your focus when making design choices or even making your design choices based on established player motivations is a good idea.

Other More Random Thoughts in Closing

You might also want to add some other thoughts or ideas to the way you implement power & control in your games.

A way to take control or remove control over an area
A way to try and stop others from taking control away
Think outside the normal “Attack and Defense” ideas
Ways to increase/decrease a player’s force
Having hidden aspects of how much force or what type of control a player might have
Whether deterministic or random forces will be included
What sort of power curves to implement to manage force gain/loss
The area to be controlled can be an idea or resource not found on the board
What types of power and force are used to gain or grant control in the game
So, what are the philosophical ramifications of all of this information on how you will design area control into a game? Think through these mostly famous quotes (Some are just my thoughts):

“Power is shooting an arrow. Control is hitting the target.”
“Why shoot the arrow in the first place?”
“What happens if I shoot the arrow?”
“What do I get if I hit the target?”
“The Power to destroy a thing is the power to control a thing.”
“If someone else can take away something you have. You don’t control it.”
“The only thing in life we truly control are the choices we make. Unless someone has the power to force you to choose something you did not otherwise want to choose.”

Think through that last one… while it is a dark thought about the potential for the abuse of power… it can also be far less overt and sinister. This is the case think about it in advertising. Before you saw an advertisement you may have had no intention (or motivation) to buying X item. What powers/forces, and control mechanics did the advertiser use to make you change your mind and motivate you to buy their product?

I am not yet sure what else I will add to this topic at this time… but I am sure there is more to come.

This is intended only as “Food for Thought”. Please let me know what you think, I am by no means the authority on this subject so any input from other designers is greatly appreciated.

Always remember to think outside the box so your games will fit inside!



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