I love this quote from The Mountain Witch: “All conflict is a form of combat.” For Justin Nichols’ Kinfolk, the issue is that he’s got a big whole-game arc of whether the invading industrials can be successfully repelled or otherwise stopped by the fey folk … and sure, you can make a chapter structure, and sure, you can think of points that accumulate through lower-scale actions and fights … and you can think about long-term consequences to your characters as they reach into deadlier aspects of themselves and transform into sinister haunts …
… but none of that can overcome the fact that “roll, get a success, say ‘ooh!’ and narrate whatever I want” is quite boring, because the actual stated actions were irrelevant if all we want to know is whether we get one of those long-term points or not. (I can name several games that look like this but are not boring, and if you want to know the difference, review my presentations on playing Primetime Adventures vs. playing some abomination that they told you was Primetime Adventures. But my point is that many of them are.)
… and I can name several games that dive heavily into micro-actions and micro-movements but also seem strangely boring in terms of long-term outcomes. So merely going “every action needs a quantity and a mechanic” isn’t going to do it either.
We’re talking about actions during combat (which could be any conflict!) and their contingent effects upon the outcomes, and let’s permit the big picture of the big game take care of itself for a while. Justin and I are embarking on an intensive application of “what we all know,” but which for some reason game design often doesn’t – when & how are fights fun, and when & how do their immediate effects and long-term consequences matter?
Previous discussion of Kinfolk is threaded throughout our previous dialogues in Seminar, the Design Curriculum series.