Planting peas with Genotype
Supply, demand, and Mendelian genetics
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Last week we looked at how to modify simple push your luck mechanisms in Trash Pandas. This week we are sticking with mechanisms, and looking at pea plants and upgrade costs in Genotype!
Let’s check it out!
In Genotype: A Mendelian Genetics Game (Coveyou, et al., 2021) you are selectively breeding pea plants:
Gregor Mendel is the 19th Century Augustinian Friar credited with the discovery of modern genetics. In Genotype, you play as his assistants, competing to collect experimental data on pea plants by trying to control how the plants inherit key Traits from their parents: seed shape, flower color, stem color, and plant height. The observable Traits of a Pea Plant (its Phenotype) are determined by its genetic makeup (its Genotype). The relationship between Genotype and Phenotype and the nature of genetic inheritance are at the heart of Genotype: A Mendelian Genetics Game.
The game lasts just five rounds, each with three phases:
Working Phase: Place action markers to get more plant cards, change genes, gather tools, or harvest completed plants.
Plant Breeding Phase: Roll and draft the Offspring Dice to validate traits on your plants.
Research Upgrade Phase: Use coins to purchase permanent upgrades such as new plots, additional dice slots, action markers, and assistants.
The Plant Breeding Phase is really interesting, using actual Punnett Squares! The dice get sorted onto the board based on the squares and drafted.
What really caught my attention on a recent play, however, is the upgrade system. I think it’s a very simple example of an interesting mechanism!
During the Research Upgrade Phase players can purchase multiple permanent upgrades:
New Plot: Allows you to have more pea plant cards in play.
Dice Slot: Allows you to draft more Offspring Dice.
Action Marker: Gives you more actions per round.
Hire Assistant: Gain a (usually powerful) ability.
It’s a tight economy in Genotype and coins are hard to acquire. The cost of each upgrade is shown on an abacus, with glass beads showing the current value. For example, new plots start at 2 coins and action markers are 3 coins each.
The upgrades are drafted in reverse turn order, so the person who went last in the first phases gets to pick their upgrade first. This is a significant advantage! Each time someone purchases an upgrade, the cost of that upgrade increases by one. The abacus bead is pushed one spot to the right.
In a game with four players, the New Plot cost might increase from 1 to 4 by the time the last player is able to make a purchase!
Purchases continue until everyone decides to pass and/or can’t make another purchase.
During the End of Round Reset, all abacus markers are moved one spot to the left, reducing all costs by one.
Supply & Demand Markets
Here’s how BGG defines a market:
Players may buy from or sell resources to Markets, where prices and quantities can vary.
It goes on to say what is not a market:
Many games use a "market" to price cards, tiles, etc. available for permanent purchase by players, but this is a type of Open Drafting and should be classified as such.
Markets show up in many board games, such as Power Grid (Friese, 2004) and Clans of Caledonia (Al-JouJou, 2017). As demand for a resource goes up or supply drops, the price goes up. Conversely, if the supply of a resource increases the price will drop.
Genotype’s cost mechanism (i.e. the abacus) is interesting because it’s not used with a resource such as coal, iron, cheese, or whiskey. It’s the upgrades themselves that are in demand. The quantity purchased can’t vary, so BGG would consider this Open Drafting vs. a Market.
Regardless, it still has the feel of a market to me! So I’ll refer to it as that for now.
Markets in other game types?
I wonder if a market or open drafting mechanic could be used in roleplaying games:
A magic system where spell costs increase with each use, but decrease if left unused
Tactical combat action selection where popular attacks become more costly while unused ones because less expensive
Luck or re-roll mechanisms where it becomes increasingly expensive to use, but might become cheaper otherwise.
As with any TTRPG mechanism, I think care must be taken to make sure it doesn’t become too disruptive and pull players out of the immersion of the game. Still, it seems like something that could add some interesting choices to a system!
Some things to think about:
Markets vs. Open Drafting: Technically, markets are where both prices and quantities vary while open drafting is when players are selecting from a pool. These ideas are blended in Genotype’s upgrades.
Player turn order matters: In tight games, turn order can be immensely impactful. Genotype attempts to handle this by reversing order for some phases. Other games provide benefits to certain positions. I’m not sure how to handle it during design other than large amounts of actual playtesting.
Mechanisms in a different game type: Over at Exeunt Omnes, I’ve mentioned both stealing ideas from board games for TTRPGs and taking video game boss fight ideas for tabletop games. As you play games, it might be worth pondering how a mechanism can be translated to a different type of game!
What are your favorite market or drafting cost mechanisms in games? Have you seen this used in TTRPGs?
See you next week!
— E.P. 💀
P.S. Exeunt Press will have a booth at Save Against Fear this week!
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