Single Path to Victory
I play a lot of board games. One I enjoy is a game called Acquire. The game mimics the stock market, and there is a single path to victory: get more money than anybody else. The game can be a lot of fun, but there is a big flaw. The game lasts about two hours, and you can tell about 20 minutes in if you have not chance of winning. If you’ve had a bit of bad luck, or if you made a mistake, you will never catch up. You spend the next 90 minutes going through the motions. There is a single path to victory, and it’s easy to tell when you’re not on that path.
Compare that to a game called Secret Hitler. In this game, two teams have multiple paths to victory. The game is brilliant in the sense that game itself self-balances while playing. If one team gets ahead, it becomes much harder for them to stay ahead. There is no single path to victory, rather multiple strategies can be employed. And if the opposing team is playing one way, it makes other aspects of the game more powerful. The game required nuance, subtlety, and the ability to react to an ever-changing situation.
For me, this is the single biggest potential I see for Ingress. There are multiple ways to play the game, but only a single path to "victory": fielding. Because we measure MUs, and have checkpoints and cycles, other aspects of the game are lost. If one side puts up a massive field, that’s often it. Game over. The score isn’t even close. A single path to victory, a lopsided score, and activity under the field plummets. A group of one-trick ponies can game the system and discourage other players to stop.
What if there were multiple paths to victory? What if MUs were only one aspect that gave you a "victory points?" Or better yet, what if a faction that focused all their energy into fielding and obtaining MUs, encouraged other players to become active in other areas? In other words, a self-balancing game?
Suddenly the game becomes more subtle. Difficult decisions must be made. You can’t do your one trick and sit on your laurels. Instead, you must watch and react and adjust to all aspects of the game. Players who love to hike and have BGANs would add just as much to their faction as those who enjoy completing missions, or holding onto portals near their home, capturing unique portals. The game could self-balance so that other aspects of the game were encouraged, especially if one aspect of the game is abused.
What exactly does that look like? While I enjoy playing games, I’ve never designed them. Any time you mess with the balance of a game, you can break it. You must do it with care. Playtest, simulate, revise. But just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Here is a single idea that I believe could be implemented in many ways, provide multiple paths to victory, and re-energize the game.
Allow players to earn "victory points" under a field. MUs are a type of victory point, but other victory points can be earned, even under a field. The larger the field, and the longer it’s been up, the more victory points can be earned, but there is a slight advantage to the opposing team.
So, let’s say Green lays down a big field. That’s awesome, and they should be rewarded with many victory points, via their MUs. Every time a green player captures a portal or goes on a mission under that field, they earn additional victory points for their faction. But because they are under a green field, they get slightly less. And the bigger the field, the fewer points they get. Blue players, on the other hand, will also get victory points for playing under the green field, but they’ll get slightly more points. The bigger the field, the more points. And the longer the field is up, the more points are earned. At some point, the field must be dropped because it’s hurting your team, not helping them.
Think of the subtle decisions and gameplay this would evoke. How big of a field do you put up? Where do you put it up? When do you put it up? How active are players under that field? If I put up a big field and get a lot of points, but suddenly the opposing faction is flocking to play under it, do I drop it? If I see a blue field with active blue players, dropping that field, or playing under it, become more of a priority.
The game design should encourage and rewards playing all aspects of the game, and if a faction dominates in one aspect, then that encourages, rather than discourages, the other faction to join in.
This is simply one idea from a non-game designer. There are many more ideas that could be tried. And I’m sure the idea above opens all sorts of problems, issues, and concerns that would need to be solved. But I think if you solved them, and kept the game in balance, it would lead to a richer, more complex game, that still keeps what makes the game fun today.
I want to say that I'm new to this game, and have fallen in love with it. I see so much potential, and am excited to see what Niantic can do with the game and community.