Monday, April 09, 2012

Gridiron Solitaire: Gameplay (Offense)

So how do you play this game, exactly?

Once you choose your team (team names and colors are fully customizable), you'll be taken to the Team Hub screen:

Once the season is in progress, you'll be able to access all the information about your league from this screen, including standings, schedule, and statistics.

There is an option on the hub screen to simulate your next game, but let's say you want to play your next game. Here's what you'll see:

Yes, that is absolutely an homage to TV Sports: Football. More importantly, though, you need to pay attention to the text. That will give you important information on how your ratings compare to the opposing team. If you have a strong advantage in one area, it can (should) influence your playcalling.

To streamline the playing experience, the home team always wins the coin toss, and there are no kickoffs, so play begins at the 30-yard line. Since you're the home team in this game, you'll start on offense.

One of my priorities with Gridiron Solitaire was to introduce strategic decisions that actually mattered. One of the ways I do that is to have the human player call plays versus the CP AI.

On offense, you can choose either Run or Pass. The CPU calls Defend Run or Defend Pass.

Why does this matter? If you outsmart the CPU, you'll have seven card slots, like this:

If the CPU matched your play called, though, there won't be seven card slots. There will be six.

The CPU AI is very solid, too. So let's say you have third down and long. Normally, you'd call a pass play, but the CPU knows this. So do you call a run instead, hoping to get that seventh card slot?

Also, why would you care if you called a run or pass? Well, because they award yards gained differently. It takes 30 yards (not 10) to get a first down. When you match two cards on a running play, you gain 3 yards for the match.

On a passing play, you gain 6 yards per match, BUT you don't get any yards until your third match. It takes five matched cards for the pass to be considered completed, so on that third match (each match counts as two cards, in case I'm confusing you), you get 3 yards for that sixth card, then 6 yards for each match after that.

Basically, once you hit the third match, you're gaining yards at double the rate of a running play.

So why wouldn't you just call passes every time? For one, you get nothing until that third match, and that can be very costly. Also, if the CPU calls Defend Pass, you lose that seventh card slot.

So you have decisions to make, and those decisions matter. And I've done everything I could to make those decisions model real football decisions. The more yards you need in real-life football, the more likely you are to call a passing play. That's true in Gridiron Solitaire as well.

If you're wondering about the rules for making a match, they're very simple: within one rank and opposite color. So a "red three" matches a "black four" or "black two."

Let's say that you played all the matches you can, and you're out of options. See the "Big Play" button in the lower right-hand corner of the previous screenshot? You can press that. When you press the Big Play button on offense, several things can happen:
--another card can be dealt (in a new card slot)
--the play ends (no harm--it was going to end anyway)
--there can be a turnover
--very rarely, the offense can score a touchdown

Basically, you either get another card or an event is triggered. And those events are usually not in your favor.

The chances of an event are set up so that every time you press the Big Play button on a single play, the chances of triggering an event go up. It gets increasingly risky. Plus, the team ratings have a bonus effect on the chances of events being triggered (so that every game plays out differently).

When you do trigger an event, a little text box drops down from the scoreboard and describes what's happening. There are thousands of possible messages, depending on the situation, and they read like something a play-by-play announcer would say.

So how often do you need to press the Big Play button? Well, you don't have to press it all, but you also can't win that way. Deciding when to take a risk and press the button is a fundamental part of playing the game, and there's no single answer for how often it is needed.

An example: if it's the third quarter and you're ahead by 21 points, you might not press it at all. There's no way to have a turnover on offense by just playing cards--they can only happen when the Big Play button is pressed, although they don't happen often--so you might decide that the risk just isn't worth it.

If you're in the third quarter and you're behind by 21 points, though, you're going to need that Big Play button to have a chance to rally. You'll need the extra cards that a Big Play press might give you.

Plus, the cards are going to run hot for you at times, and at other times they'll be ice cold. That's just the nature of a deck of cards. So luck is also going to affect your level of need.

This is already running long, so I'm going to leave playing defense until next week's discussion. It's a different gameplay mechanic, though, so that you can't use the same strategy that you did on offense.

One note on the development front. I rewrote the sound effects engine last week to make the sound effects more dynamic. I created a spreadsheet with 700+ combinations of score/time remaining/field position, and the volume of a sound effect now responds appropriately in all those situations. I want you to feel like you're playing a football game as well as a card game, and the crowd sounds make the environment feel much more alive.

Thanks for reading and we'll talk about defense next week.

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