Designer Blog – Into the Black
One way to add a sense of urgency and suspense to a game is to remove the concept of a set number of turns and move to a random outcome by use of what is often called a Doom Track.
What is a Doom Track? Essentially a Doom Track is a simple bit of “bookkeeping” in a game that tracks turns. “But wait, you said there are no turns, I’m confused!” That’s right, I did, didn’t I? The difference between having a set number of turns and a Doom Track is that the Track can progress up and down based not necessarily on how many turns you’ve played but also on certain events and player actions taken in the game. When the doom track hits a certain number, the game is over.
Example: Joe decides he wants to take on an enemy on the board. To do so, he knows he’s going to need to use a powerful weapon instead of being quiet about it. Making noise increases the Doom Track by one however, so Joe takes a look to see how far up the track they’ve gone. They’re pretty low on the track so he makes the call and uses that weapon.
Often times, doom tracks are increased one for each turned played and then again for any variety of other actions players can take depending on the theme. This can be using items that make noise, running out of food cards, losing a combat and so on. The possibilities are endless. You can also introduce ways to reduce the doom track, though rare. Some games that include a Doom Track are Cthulhu Wars, Arkham Horror, Elder Signs and Runebound.
Our original concept was to have a set 20 turn limit for Into the Black. This seemed reasonable at the time and all play testing showed that the players would get to the finale before turn 20, but sometimes without enough turns left to actually complete their objectives. The problem we were finding was that the game turned into simply a race to the end with no suspense involved. Just get to the bridge as fast as possible and take it over. That, as it turns out, is not so fun in the end!
Enter the Doom Track! What would Space Pirates not want to happen while plundering a federal star ship? Well, they would definitely not want the authorities to arrive, that’s for sure! So now we have a Doom Track (or in this case, an Apprehension track) to show the players just how close they are to the end of the game and probable apprehension by the Federal Authorities.
But wait, there’s more! We also realized that pirates thrive on the morale of the crew. If the crew loses morale, they will get the heck out of dodge. Enter the Morale Track as well!
Now we have a double whammy of looming doom and loss of the game adding a sense of suspense and in some cases urgency to the players experience. Now there are tough choices to make along the way. Now there is a clear-cut way for any potential Traitor to sabotage the game!
Thank you Doom Track!
What are your thoughts on Doom Tracks and random game turn limits?
James J Campbell is the Lead Game Designer at I Will Never Grow Up Gaming and is the creator of several projects such as
TechMage Sci-Fantasy RPG, Into the Black and Conflict & Chaos: Vietnam 1965.