Motobushido: A New Conflict Conundrum

I’m now facing a design conundrum with Motobushido and I’m hoping I can get some outside input. It regards the core conflict mechanic, the Duel. Currently and pretty much since the shift to playing cards way back when, the mechanic has been a one-to-three-stage procession of escalating violence and intensity, winner take all. The first stage, called “the Confrontation,” is just positioning, intimidation, showmanship, insults, and so on. The conflict can easily end at this stage, and if so, the consequences are small and simple, and not realy long-lasting.

At any point, one side can escalate to actual violence and enter stage two, “The Struggle.” Weapons are drawn, wounds are made, and both sides are actively trying to beat the other down. Should the duel end in this stage, the consequences must be more severe, and can include permanent wounds, marred legacies, and other such long-lasting changes.

Again, either contestant can then choose to escalate to the third and final stage, “The Finishing Blow.” This involves actives attempts to murder each other. Consequences of loss here can and should include death or serious crippling injury, destruction of legacy, and so on.

As previously stated, until this point the mechanic is a winner-take-all (well, most) setup. The victor gets to decide consequences appropriate to the stage in which they won, no higher, no lower. The loser gets to state one concession, provided they still had a card in their hand at the time of their concession.

All of this has now come into question after this last week’s playtest session. Until then, I had not put much serious work into defining the greater full-group “battle” mechanics, for use when a one-on-one or two-on-two duel just wouldn’t be enough. In the new Battle mechanics (Which I also call Pack Warfare), the flow involves creating and controlling “battle fronts” in a similar flow. During each “Stage” of the Battle, the two sides create and then war over up to three different Battle Fronts, which are basically locations where battle is happening. In our test battle, the fronts were The Yard, The Porch, and The Back Scrapyard (all outside features of a house they were besieging). Had the battle moved inside in a second stage, the new Fronts might have been Front Hall, Parlor, and Stairwell.

By winning a front, you win a point. The stage ends when no one can play anymore, and the Fronts are scored. Battle can continue to the next stage if the side with fewer points wants to keep going, but the victor names the first new front. The basic flow worked pretty well, with a few bits needing clarification or smoothing out.

Anyway, this now has me reconidering the original dueling mechanic. Instead of a winner-take-all approach, what if I applied points to each stage of the duel? Winnning the Confrontation gets you one point, winning the Struggle gets you two, and winning the Final Blow gets you three. Your final point value at the end determines the consequences you can apply, much in the same way they previously did, only this time there’s a good chance that both sides can apply consequences to each other.

Say, to kill a guy outright, you need 4 or more points. To kill him without any setback, of course, you need 6. At 3, both sides would e tied, and thus both sides would get some victory and yet some concession.

Still thinking this one over. Could use some input, folks.

5 thoughts on “Motobushido: A New Conflict Conundrum

  1. I have one concern with your listed point values.

    Not knowing what resources are expended or how much control players have, this is (obviously) limited and may not be helpful.

    I want to kill Bob. To do so, I have to win two stages.

    To avoid being killed, Bob only has to win one stage – the third one.

    In other words: Advantage Bob. He can spend zero (or nearly zero) resources on Stages 1 and 2. Instead, he just throws everything he has at Stage 3. Because it’s the only one that really matters, due to the point costs involved.

    What if, instead, you had a Press mechanic of some sort – the loser of Stage 1 has a choice: accept the loss or escalate.

    If the loser chooses to accept the loss, then the winner may escalate – but at a loss of face.

    If the winner accepts their victory, then they gain face/honor/glory/renown and the loser suffers loss of same.

    If the loser escalates, they will have some sort of penalty for the next stage – not an overwhelming penalty, mind you, but enough that foolishly charging ahead is … well … foolish.

    The same thing after Stage 2: Loser has first shot at escalating or letting it go. Only with higher consequences.

    Only the last winner is the *actual* winner. But if I win Stage 3, but you won Stages 1 or 2 (or both), then I’m going to suffer some setbacks.

    If it ends after Stage 1, then a margin of success determines setbacks.

    That way, it’s still (to a great extent) winner-takes-all, but the Confrontation and the Struggle both still matter. As opposed to your point-based mechanic above, where the defender can basically ignore the first two and jump straight into the last one.

    • Thanks for the reply! What you suggest is more or less how it is already done. You can accept the loss at the current stage (“Concede”), or “Escalate” to the next one. Escalation has no inherent dishonor, though, because that kind of action is acceptable and expected in the samurai culture: go for the kill. However one can gain “stains” by playing outside what is called the “Strike Range” – a number of variables go into this that would take a while to explain out of play context. But the short version is that while escalating itself isn’t inherently dangerous, there are possible drawbacks to it due to parallel considerations.

      Currently the only real inherent drawback to taking it all the way is the chance that you might actually lose anyway and suffer suitable consequences. There are no unbeatable cards in this game. Even the mighty Ace can still be defeated by a lowly Two. Your suggestion differs from the current default in that there is not currently any final consideration for who won any of the previous stages. as all that matters is who won and in what stage that victory was achieved.

      I hadn’t actually considered taking note of who won the prior stages. Your suggestion is pretty solid. I’m going to have to try that out in some solo hands tonight, and see how it works. As it stands, now I’m looking at going to PAX and showcase-testing the game with three possible dueling alternatives in my head. Crazy! =)

  2. While “going for the kill” tends to be expected, there is also no honor in further humiliating an already-defeated enemy. You have already proven your superiority – further efforts spent reinforcing this only make you look as though you lack true confidence.

    I’m glad at least part of my suggestion is helpful to you, however. I look forward to your eventual Kickstarter and the finished product.

    And I wish I could go to PAX, but this is my first FREE weekend post-GenCon, and I am going to revel in it.

  3. The way it currently is, on your turn, you can do one of the following: Counter (beat their last card with a higher one), Block (beat their last card with the same card), Concede (admit defeat), or Escalate (take it to the next stage). Each has different results when played against the other, and I am going to lay them out in a nice grid sheet for printing up and table reference.

    Escalate played after a Counter, a Block, or an Escalate is not inherently dishonorable unless you play your escalating card outside your strike range. But escalating against a Concede is most definitely dishonorable.

    So that “humiliating an already-defeated enemy” is definitely there already, trust me. I want people to be able to kill whenever they way to, but should you do it too soon, or against someone who has already submitted, it will definitely be more risky.

    Translating this into a potential point-buy setup, I’m thinking 4 is the minimum score required to outright kill your opponent without getting killed yourself. To get four points, you must win either the first or the second stage, and the third as well. So if you win the first, lose the second, and win the third, you will have exactly four points. This means you can kill, but your opponent scored two points against you, which means there is definitely some repercussion against you (injury, dishonor, loss of stuff, etc).

    There would be an option to kill with a score of exactly three, but that is a big If: both players must be willing to both die and kill for this duel. If both sides get three (side A wins stages 1 and 2, side B wins stage 3), then both must verbally agree to a completely mutual kill in order for either side to kill. Both or nothing.

    I need to get the ladyfriend to play these out with me before PAX =)

  4. I think it is a good call to consider a system that isn’t winner-take-all since it generally leads to people playing over conservatively due to risk.

    Is there any sort of turn-about mechanic to give losing side an edge, like when one side has a 5 or 6 point advantage? Something that puts players on their toes helps liven things up past the climax.

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