I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for a while now, and starting to get the hang of it. This group of friends are, shall we say, very tactics-focused. If you’re a D&D player, you should know what I mean. D&D is a tabletop role playing game, and we just happen to focus on the “tabletop” and “game” part. Nothing wrong with that, and it’s still fun.
Now, these friends are very tactics-focused (I think I said that…), and being the new kid on the block, I want to decide on my moves fast, so that gameplay moves on smoothly for the whole group. The moment my turn ends, I think of what I want to do when my turn comes again.
At first, it was easy. There were few enemies. We were a small group at first (4 players including me and the DM). We were playing low level characters, so we had few powers to select from.
Then we decided to play the higher levels (paragon tier, if you happen to know D&D). And a couple of other players wanted to join. The game was starting to get complex, with a lot of paperwork going on. More players, more powers to choose from, more deadly monsters (the DM had to delegate initiative tracking to another player because he was too busy tracking monster hit points and powers).
There were these power cards that I had, together with the character sheet. Basically, they contained the essential information that power has, such as how to determine hits, damage, and any special effects. At the higher levels, I was holding maybe 30 cards.
This became a problem, because of analysis paralysis. “What do I do now?” was a difficult question to answer. One of my friends gave an amusing solution. He said he’d shuffle the cards in his hands, and then a “I will use this one!”, and randomly picked a card out of the stack.
As we played together, I got used to the tactics used by them. We had teamwork. Yay. Which still didn’t completely solve the problem “What do I do now?” when it’s my turn. I would pick, based on the positions of the enemies and my allies, a power to use that was most advantageous. Which changed, the moment an enemy moved out of my reach, or an ally moved into my planned spot of devastation, or an enemy came after me and practically killed me.
Whatever plans I had was only static when it’s my turn. Which might make all that pre-planning useless. There was this game session where I saw a bunch of monsters grouped together (3, which was a lot, considering the sparsity of monsters in most encounters), and I planned a deadly spell to unleash on the lot of them.
I waited for my turn, keeping track of what my allies were doing, and what the monsters were doing (particularly those 3). And when it was just before my turn, a friend before me teleported right smack into the area I was going to blast. I had to make a quick decision, and ran through my stack of cards to see what else I could do.
He made his attack and was done with his turn. Fortunately, I found something that hurt 2 monsters, thus leaving him unhurt (as well as the lucky third monster). It wasn’t the best choice, but I’d rather not set him ablaze.
With all the available choices and moves of the enemies and allies, it’s hard to foresee how the battle was going, and how I was going to respond. Everything was fairly unpredictable.
The worst thing was, I played the only character with special effects, such as blinding, dazing or moving the enemies. The others had marginal similar effects, but they were mainly the damage dealers. I could best contribute by making the battles harder for the enemies, and easier for my friends. So I was searching for a combination of ok damage, and debilitating effects on my cards. It’s hard.
All this is a long winded way of saying, if you’re designing a user interface, make it as unambiguous as possible. The user do not want choice. You, do not want unpredictable next moves from the user. Unless you planned it, of course.