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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Learning Points from The Wonderful 1237's Mechanics & Dynamics

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - These learning points are along the lines of “about the American political nomination system” than “about game design”, but...

Last week for Wonderful Wednesday — the article series where I try every week to write something about KoopaTV's free, fun, and browser-based game The Wonderful 1237 — I discussed how the Aesthetics of The Wonderful 1237 provided learning points about how the presidential primary process in the United States is treated as a horse race, and how detrimental that is to America.

This week, let's look at what the game's inner mechanics, and the dynamics (how the player interacts with it), can teach us. And by us, I mean you. Though I myself learned quite a bit about the subject matter through making this light-hearted “simulation”. Game development for learning!

I guess I should start by listing some of the mechanics and dynamics from The Wonderful 1237 and talk about each from there:
  • Resource Management:
    • Money Management (increased by fundraising)
    • Delegate Management (increased by endorsements, performing in elections)
      • Endorsement minigames (seventeen in number)
  • Rallies (increase your stats)
  • Negative Ads (decrease stats of your opponents)
  • Toggle internal polling (see where you stand versus your opponents)
Those are all legitimate activities done in real campaigning, of course. Money is used to fund being able to hold rallies, air negative ads, and lease internal polls. Those help you get higher poll numbers, which directly result in you being able to win more delegates with every election.

With more delegates, you're able to convince donors you're more popular. Then they'll be willing to donate more money.

The Wonderful 1237 delegates money cycle
Alternatively, it's a chicken-and-egg problem.

Contrary to Bravura Blaze's opinion, Sergei Goldwitz maintains that the starting point is money, not delegates. He's correct within the context of The Wonderful 1237, but in real life, the starting point is influence and name recognition.

Candidate Donald Trump may have been a billionaire, but his starting point was that he had 100% name recognition as a celebrity. Meanwhile, in real life, JEB! Bush also had strong name recognition and influence, and used that to raise a lot of money among the donor class. Unfortunately for him, that name recognition is all negative, but he WAS leading in the polls before he was deemed low-energy.

Rich people see donations as an investment. People want to invest in winners, or else it's a waste of money. If you don't have any performance or prospects, then no one's going to give you money. Without money, your campaign just is not going to get very far, even if you're smart and substantive. See: Bobby Jindal's 2016 presidential campaign. He had to drop out.

Which brings me to my biggest issue, perhaps, of how the Republican contest went: There were 17 candidates (18 in The Wonderful 1237) and the contest delegates were split proportionally. If no one ever dropped out, it'd basically be impossible to have a winner. It's stupid. It obviously wasn't built for more than two candidates running. That said, with proportional voting, you can win by just getting second place every time. Is that right?

It's still better than whatever the RIGGED system that the Democrats had with SUPERDELEGATES. There aren't any superdelegates in The Wonderful 1237. It's all transparent: You win your percentage of the vote, and every state has an equal amount of delegates. (Which is something real life doesn't have. The differences between real life and The Wonderful 1237 are all mostly-explained.)

The Wonderful 1237 proportional allocation of delegates dialogue
Actually, Sergei doesn't give a real answer to this question.

How to win in The Wonderful 1237, then? Endorsement minigames! Endorsements are a big part of primary elections, though they don't quite work in real life the way they do in The Wonderful 1237. Dropped-out candidates do endorse candidates still remaining, but their delegates are “released” and free to vote for whom they want. In The Wonderful 1237, how many delegates you win from a dropped-out candidate depends on how well you do in their minigame, and THEN the delegates remaining if your score isn't perfect are free to side with other candidates. (Which always happens to be an equal distribution.) If you don't seek a particular candidate's endorsement, other remaining candidates will try to siphon off their free-standing delegates.

Since real life DOESN'T work that way, then the teaching is that real life is clearly flawed. It's just mathematically not happening.

In The Wonderful 1237, the performance of the candidates depends on the five Super Contest stats: Beauty, Cool, Cute, Smart, and Tough. Like in Pocket Card Jockey, there is a cycle of actions you can take to influence your candidate's growth, and then an event happens (election or race), and that influences what happens in the next cycle in a path-dependent mannerism. The choice about whether or not it's wise to boost your own stats or take down your opponent's is a constant one throughout the game. You can win without doing one or the other, though. It's all about your personality. (Statistically, there's optimal choices, but you don't need to make those if you don't want.) The way stat-raising works is that they are transferable between states, so that encapsulates real life's different voting blocks/interest groups and momentum.

There are all sorts of ways to run campaigns, and they can all be successful... at the opportune time. However, unless you play through the game multiple times (like you would with Pocket Card Jockey over several generations of horses), I would like to think that The Wonderful 1237's mechanics aren't immediately obvious that you'll know what the optimal decisions are. Part of it being luck-based helps that, but otherwise, the whole game runs off of a few relatively simple formulas.

I'm not gonna reveal those outright, but in the coming months, you'll at least know the growth rates for the other candidates. They're not staying still as you're progressing!

The world that KoopaTV can comment on isn't staying still as Ludwig is progressing through Wonderful Wednesday topics. He'll probably start actual strategy guides next, which should be fun for everyone. If there are very important things he'll need to cover, then he'll cover them for that Wednesday. If you do have any questions about The Wonderful 1237's mechanics, let Ludwig know in the comments and he'll be happy to discuss it. He wants to make it seem like he knows the Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics (MDA) framework for discussing game design, but he actually doesn't and he's only a pseudo-intellectual.

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