Thursday, 10 April 2014

Bandit Country: Networks

When I first envisioned Bandit Country I was watching Proof of Life. Here I saw a film that had a protagonist who was not a super hero and who did not have a Future Box*. I saw the first inkling of the Big Picture, the Risk - Consequence - Opportunity loop. As I refined that loop I realised that it was missing an element and the Network module was affixed at the centre.
I watched Proof of Life again and I began to notice just how central Network is to the Risk Management resolution scheme of Bandit Country.
Terry Thorne played by Russel Crowe is a Consultant who is engaged to arrange the release of an American engineer who has been kidnapped for ransom. If you are interested in my mindset and the storytelling that I want to emulate, watch the film. The good news is that you can skip any scene that doesn't include Terry.
From the moment that Terry meets Alice and Janice by the pool at the Bowman compound he begins recruiting. He is studied, deliberate and follows basic risk management strategies in everything he does. My early appreciation of the film as a pillar for writing a modern espionage game that is not a Bourne/ Bond clone or a conspiracy game was based on his Risk Management behaviours. In later viewings I began to appreciate that he builds and surrounds himself with a Network and that he arranges and prepares this network to execute his objectives.
To avoid the Bond/Bourne heroic action genre Bandit Country needs to present player goals in terms that they cannot achieve on their own. Even a team of players cannot achieve them with nothing more than their own or specific dedicated resources. The Players will have to recruit the locals to complete their objectives. 
The first part of addressing this design goal is that the Players have to define their key tasks in terms of a Risk Management cycle. Even before they perform the task they have assessed it in terms of the risks and the resources they have to apply. This is inherently anti-heroic because heroes are all about doing as they will and adapting to the consequences whereas RM is all about minimising them. RM places the consequences ahead of the benefits and that is a good place to be for some gritty espionage gaming.
Secondly, Recruiting should be fun and achievable. The one thing that all Bandit Country Characters have in common is that they are great recruiters. It is the key ingredient of a consultant. It is also the reason why there is no `Recruit' Specialty. It is automatically assumed that every Consultant is an Elite recruiter. Recruiting has its risks but the Consultant is equipped to manage that because a goal of play is for them to build a Network.
Once they have a Network the real fun begins. Running a Network is a mini-game within the game. I have messed around with it a fair bit and have to playtest more to see where it goes next. Originally I modelled Network building on crafting in video games. If each Recruit is categorised by their Asset (Specialty), connecting them in specific ways builds a structure that is great for a specific role. If I recruit a Fireteam Asset and an Infil:Exfil Asset and a Intrusion Asset, I can link them to make a team that has mobility and can breach security to perform extractions. I could call that a Mobile Extraction Team. This is attractive because it addresses player uncertainty and essentially gives them a menu or shopping list to recruit to. The problem with this approach is to either have to create a long list of combo's or leave it to the GM who is busy enough. Secondly, I really want to see emergent play arise from Networks and defining the structure limits that.
I am currently leaning more in the direction of a boardgame style design (not that it will be played as a boardgame) where each Asset has certain applications (think chess pieces) and can be combined however the recruiter wants. The resulting combination should then be like a machine that performs the task it was designed for (and hopefully succeeds).
One of the core emotional jags that I want to arise through Network play is that the Consultant is using these people. He might convincing them that he is advancing their agenda but his actual interest is in advancing his own. It is quite likely that things will not end well for many of these recruits and that is part of the experience of playing Bandit Country.

*A Future Box is stuffed full of technology and allows for things to be done and discovered without a direct chain of human intervention. We see Future Boxes all the time in film, Jason Bourne consistently befuddles anyone who attempts to use one to engage him. The antihero in the upcoming Watchdogs video games has a cell phone Future Box. The US President and co watched the SEALs kill Bin Laden in one. 
Future Boxes are anathema to Bandit Country. The only way to really know what happened is to find out who was there and the only way to do that is to recruit someone to find them. If a consultant wants to have access to the tools of the First World's military and espionage communities, a stupendously risky thing to want, they will have to recruit someone to get that access. Bandit Country makes a story out of the hard road and will never give a Consultant the keys to a Future Box.