What is *balance* in a single-player game?

Fallen London is a single-player game. That’s how it’s built. You can’t sell items to other players, and, with a few exceptions, can’t give or take. You can’t boast your stuff, except from a Mantelpiece. Again, you more or less can’t fight other people, certainly can’t grief them to any significant extent, so the question of who has better equipment or higher &quotstats&quot is irrelevant. And the focus of the game is on immersive storytelling. Yet some people manage to bring notions of grinding and power concerns here, as if this is World of Warcraft or (grunt) EVE Online. They won’t have any new features unless they have been &quottested&quot to the last conceivable consequence. Is the Overgoat quite effective enough for its price, or should it give another +1 to Watchful? Do Shadowy Dealings consume too many Incunabulae? Fix, fixate, fear!

Well to my mind, the only kind of balance important in a game like this is between fun and not-fun. Anything that makes gameplay more exciting, diverse and works against grinding habits is a good idea. What’s wrong with grinding, if you have to ask? It’s demeaning, that’s what. It puts people in a rut. Some may like being in a rut, it makes them feel wise and safe, but it becomes a problem if bold ideas are sacrificed for grinders’ comfort. I realize that there are numbers beneath words. But so long as changes and features don’t reduce rewards (of every kind) so much as to frustrate effort, fairness to players is not an issue in a game like this. Within these very broad limits anything exciting should, I believe, get a go-ahead. You just don’t want players to feel that they’ve wasted a fortune or hundreds of Actions on something that will now make no difference; that’s sheer frustration, which is always not-fun. Few changes could have this effect, and most of these would be seen coming from a long way off. So let’s stop pitting new ideas against a Big Pharma-level of doubt, testing and trial.

Goodness, there are some games you enjoy and there are some games you don’t. Some of us enjoy this game. If you don’t, then go find one you do.

Off the top of my head, I’d add two caveats to your analysis, both pacing-related. One, any game that’s too fast-paced risks leaving players without any sense of progression or weight, and preventing the impact of the story from sinking in. Second, FL isn’t a complete game - it’s still being updated - and, while we players have shown we’re happy to wait for new content, if the game plays so quickly that there’s nothing to do during the static periods, it’s easier for the game to drop off the radar.

Re: fun vs. not fun. That’s not the only axis to consider. There’s also “meaningful”, “impactful”, “emotional” and other axes that the authors of a game experience may decide are important to that experience. It’s easiest to see the example of “axes other than fun” in the horror genre. Design decisions there aren’t made to maximize fun, but rather tension, paranoia, the payoff, relief, etc.

To say that everything should be weighted solely against an objective aspect of fun cheapens the depth of a game and the art form itself.

One definition of &quotbalance&quot I heard a game designer use once was &quotBalance is longevity.&quot Now, granted, he was talking specifically about a multiplayer environment, but the notion maps easily to single-player as well. Every balanced option you add to a game adds to the variety, potentially increasing the amount of time a player will find it interesting. Unbalanced options will tend to either have no effect or will harm variety, as new options that are less rewarding for effort invested will tend to be ignored and new options that are too rewarding will be pursued to the exclusion of previously existing ones.

Consider the case of the pool of players who have reached content barriers in nearly every section of the game and have not much to do other than grind echoes for goats/cider. Despite the variety of carousels and subsystems available at that stage, players will by and large default to grinding the Boxful of Intrigue. It is more rewarding than other reliable grinds such as the Foreign Office or Velocipede Squad, and has the advantage of flexibility and safety compared to risky, variable grinds like heists, Polythreme, and the Fidgeting Writer. Arguably, it would be easier to keep these players engaged with the game between content updates if the grinds were better balanced, allowing players to switch between them when one becomes too repetitive without feeling like they are setting themselves back on whatever expensive goal they are pursuing (realistically, Failbetter Games has better priorities than tweaking endgame carousels, but I think it serves as an example).

This is, of course, granting Theus’s position that there are a multitude of axes on which options can be evaluated and balanced. In some cases, narrative meaning or emotional impact might serve to balance options that are numerically dissimilar.

FL is absolutely a multiplayer game; it’s just one that has relatively little direct, targeted interaction between players. There are plenty of multiplayer games in which players have zero ability to directly trade or affect each other; footraces, darts and some Eurogames without a fluid central market come to mind. Heck, MMOs like World of Warcraft have trended in recent years towards reducing and optionalizing direct interaction as well (ability to solo to highest level, abundance of soulbound items leaving pockets of tradeable goods in the economy, all PVP is opt-in).

On top of that, grinding is certainly an element of fun for many players (myself included) even if it’s element that can easily tip into tedium; Kaigen’s right that variety of grinds does affect this pleasure even if it’s not as high a priority as producing more content. The problem with that, however, is that &quotreliable grinds&quot tend to be the least interesting over time by definition, but are also the lowest-common denominator that people gravitate towards due to loss aversion psychology. An average grindy player is not oriented (yet) towards managing their own psychological endurance and risk tolerance, so feel &quotforced to do something boring,&quot making balancing of multiple grinds quite difficult, etc.
edited by metasynthie on 7/10/2015

You are too early in the game content to be grinding anything.
You should be exploring the millions of words of content that are still out there.
There are still plenty of things you can enjoy before you need to &quotgrind&quot for anything.

I am reasonably sure that developers of FL have no desire to balance Overgoat stats. They want to write interactive stories and we want to read interactive stories. I would bet a dollar that the writers cringe whenever a thread about new content devolves into discussion of PPA and an inevitable comparison to the Affair of the Box is made. So you are preaching to the choir here (And I swear the box must be what Hitler is for the rest of internet as far as Godwin’s law is concerned).
Also saying a game is not fun, therefore it has bad balance does not sound like a logical argument, even if the game in question is single player. Oh, and you must have missed the Overgoat thread. And all the other threads where people boast about what they did in the game.

As to why grinding and balance exist. Actions must have weight. You can choose to do A, or you can choose to do B. Or you can maybe pursue both options but that would double time taken and you would still choose between doing A now or B now. If time taken is zero, then there would be no balance because anything but doing AB is obviously suboptimal. You would maybe enjoy AB, but other people would find it boring. Or they would do AB and stop playing. Balance must exist if we want to continue playing.

I don’t think that’s what he is complaining about…?

Here’s what I think, as a very casual player who doesn’t really think about game designs much.

You are a pickpocket that can steal 5 Rostygold per action, and 50 is enough to let you buy a house.

The accumulation of resources needed to progress helps create a sense of wealth. Kinda.[i]

You are a Master-Thief that can steal 500 Diamonds per action, so you can buy a mansion. You also have 1000 Rostygold saved from your pickpocketing days. A bigger house let you meet more different people, brag to others, and pick the pocket of your rich guests…[/i]
The growing speed of acquiring resources helps build a sense of power. Kinda?

The grinding is really there to pad the book, er, game, and build anticipation as its primary purpose, giving players a bit of time to chew on the words. And getting through these padding is kind of like unwrapping a gift.

There are the occasional flop like the Trade in Faces (proceed by drawing many factions cards!), where the pacing is utterly ruined if you are unlucky. I got stuck on one step for a week because I couldn’t draw the relevant cards for several times!

The Cheesemonger story is probably a much, much better use of padding - you have a decent variety of cards of different factions, showing the work you are doing with the Cheesemonger and chance for some roleplaying by letting you resign, and when it comes to the climax you don’t have to click a button 13 times to make your decision. I do dislike how resigning will make all these useless cards reappear to probe you back into going back to the story, but that’s off topic.

Of course, too much grinding will utterly ruins things like &quotmeaningful&quot, &quotimpactful&quot, &quotemotional&quot and &quotcarpal tunnel&quot.
The Silver Tree and The Last Court have pretty similar systems, but the amount AND process of grinding affects the experience massively.
Actually, you might want to take a look at these two games because they really, really highlight how a FBG game can be enjoyable (or not, in The Silver Tree’s case) when given a proper ratio of grind-to-content.

@Von Prabik, I don’t mean this to come across the wrong way but Snotra has a good point. Most of the forum posts I’ve see you make are about suggested changes to the game, when you’ve been about for what - three weeks?
Fallen London is what it is, and from what little I’ve seen of you on the forums it feels like you’ve showing up wanting to bend the world to your vision of what you think it should be. Maybe you have been playing a lot longer than 3 weeks - that’s fine too. But regardless, there are a lot of folks who are enjoying what Failbetter Games is doing & how they’re doing it, and would like to see Failbetter continue doing their thing in their own way.

If you’re not enjoying Fallen London or the style of game/writing/whatever, that’s okay - different strokes for different folks, and all that.
To quote a line from Welcome To Night Vale: “No pet is perfect. It becomes perfect when you learn to accept it for what it is.”

(If that’s not a viable option for you, try this link. The tools are there for you to create your own game instead… quickref. = here.)

On one hand, Von, I’d really don’t mind seeing that story writing system you posted in a actual Storynexus game. And you sometimes do forget that since Failbetter is making a living from this game, they can’t really make changes willy-nilly when inspiration strikes or something, especially when they already have an established story, a gigantic database stuffed full of user accounts and things.

To quote a line from Welcome To Night Vale: “No pet is perfect. It becomes perfect when you learn to accept it for what it is.”

On the other hand, Kitten…

I dare you approach the Silver Meatgrinder!
(I kid, I kid. But there are also people who enjoy the writing and not the grinding - especially if you look at, say, forums that is not dedicated to Fallen London and are likely to contain people that like but not love the game.

And everyone hates the Artist. I will stab you if you disagree.)
edited by Estelle Knoht on 7/10/2015

Why not encourage advanced players to change their approach to the game rather than try to tie them down to a role they’ve more or less played through? You can’t just keep giving the aristocrats (see the movie) überer and überer rewards - that’s like feeding a capricious baby more and more sweets until it vomits. And it distracts the designers from adding broader, more varied and original content. This vertical axis tops off nowhere, so what’s the point of climbing it? The easiest answer is &quotsome players are like that,&quot but players will change their habits if the gameplay itself encourages it. A story-oriented game such as this starts off by disclaiming munchkinism and grinds, implicitly but clearly, so it should be consistent. And how exactly is a card that gives me 30 Glim as a reward is better than a card that gives 5 Extraordinary Implications as a reward? Sure, the Implications can be sold for more, but in the absence of a living market like in (grunt) EVE Online money has no meaning. FL is a sandbox, every player is in a private universe. Just who are people competing against in their races?

To be more direct about what I suggest for advanced players, let’s take the same example: a 30 Glim card. No-no, we can’t give them a 30 Glim card. Yes, let’s give them a 30 Glim card. If they enjoy this setting, its characters, if they haven’t done it before and if the action is interesting enough, they’ll play it. Don’t they want to turn on imagination, transport themselves inside the story? If FL has any claim to being decent fiction, and if they remember why they chose it instead of WoW in the first place, then they’ll want to stick around even if they don’t get to swim in riches. And if the setting is old news to them, if they’re so jaded they just log on to grind, then maybe this is not the part of the audience worth retaining. Let them go! Let them discover other games and be happy. It’s not like Failbetter will go broke unless they cater to a small band of power players; the list of those with an Overgoat somewhere here on the forums isn’t so long. But it’s better to try and invent new ways of engaging these people, holding on to the promise of the game.

Why do I care? Because my character, although fairly new, is getting to the point of becoming a Person of Some Importance, and I can already see where things are going. Power, munchkinism. My own ship etc. And then - the Foreign Office, what have you. Alas, alas for street adventures and helping urchins. &quotThis urchin gang is doing a roaring trade stealing handkerchiefs…&quot Remember that? If it evokes a nostalgic tear, it shouldn’t: that’s actual adventuring, story-driven, quick and without a shadow of obsession. Unfortunately, everything indicates that this sort of thing will be less and less common as I &quotprogress.&quot With my highest stat, Persuasive, I’m in the Shuttered Palace, and it’s already boring like hell. I like the game well enough for all its… I won’t say flaws, more like shortcomings. But lack of a good social, grinds and a general vacillation between being a book and being WoW is already detracting from my fun.

Speaking of which…

All of these things fall under the category of fun, or if you prefer another word, enjoyment. This is a deep and iridescent concept, and it serves unfailingly as a guiding light when deciding what to do and what to avoid. Will this feature or that feature make a player say &quotWow, that was great!&quot or spit? Or shrug? Anything that leads to the former is fun, anything to the latter two is non-fun. True, you can have tension and paranoia and satire and literary heights without real enjoyment (witness Joyce, Swift); but such things, if carefully considered, will always turn out to be rehashed, or overstated, or heavy-hearted and spiteful, or driven by some narrow obsessive interest, or abstrusely intellectual, or extravagant and empty, or satirical. Never softly humorous, gentle, forgiving, conciliatory, selfless or truly inventive.

I’ll say something else about why balance obsession and grinding are wrong. By looking ahead into some stories, and trusting my nose, I’ve realized some time ago that Failbetters are working on an imperfect model. I’ve written about this elsewhere at length, but to recap: they started out from two premises: 1) this city, Fallen London, with its factions, characters and ways; 2) building a storyline on mysteries. The game is an attempt, as I’ve said on the Sunless Sea board, to see if it’s possible to construct a world on questions rather than answers. Fine. Problems begin when these two principles begin to diverge - when the very real, solid, tangible and likeable City fades in favor of delving into mysteries. Mirrors, Hell, the government - I can already see that as you get deeper into the &quotworkings&quot of these, the setting descends into unreality. The heights of power and knowledge, given the &quotquestions not answers&quot premise, turn out to be a kind of accelerating delusion here, a mounting of empty prose. This is an inherent problem given the basic assumptions. So after the simple joys (shroom-hopping…) are gone, writing deteriorates - because it’s not really interesting to write at length about mirror snakes. It’s just not. Still, players must be entertained somehow, so power rewards, grinding reign where at first they had no place.
edited by Von Prabik on 7/10/2015

@Von Prabik: I’m going to say this as gently as I can… but may I suggest that you actually play the mid- and end- game before you critique it? If you’re not yet a POSI, there is an insane amount of content that you have not yet seen. Seriously.

I’ve been playing FL for nearly two years, which isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things. I’ve actually played the content that you’re criticising sight unseen and - well, let us say that if I thought your assessment was correct, I wouldn’t still be here. I don’t play FL because I feel obliged to, or because of loyalty to FBG - I play because I like it. It’s fun. I enjoy it.

I may be misunderstanding you, but I don’t find grinding ‘demeaning’. Nobody makes me do it. Nobody makes me do anything, come to that - it’s a game. You don’t need an overgoat, or a top tier item, or 15 Notability or a kick-ass wedding, but if you want them, they’re there, and if you want them, you put the effort in to get them. If you don’t want to grind, then … don’t.

I have had conversations with other players who are baffled that I don’t have particular gear, or don’t use particular high-EPA avenues. I’ve been playing for ages, they reason, and have capped stats - surely I should know better? But … I don’t care. The whole game is laid out before me and I can choose what to do. Yesterday I finally got my Ubergoat, which was a bit of a grind, but at other times, whole days go by when all I do is RP via social action.

Some people enjoy the stats, the analysis, the planning. If you don’t, it is supremely easy to ignore (as I am daily, living proof).

Some people like chasing their goals - and there are as many goals as there are players.

Some people spend three weeks doing a group RP in a Googledoc that runs to 40 pages by the time they’ve finished. (No, really.)

Some people, as a perceptive man once observed, juggle geese.

I don’t care what others do and certainly don’t see why the game should alter to stop people playing in a particular way or make them play in another. By definition, they can’t affect anyone else’s experience of the story, or enjoyment of the game. Do the stuff you want to do. Leave the stuff you don’t. It works for me.

This is disingenuous. Hesperidean Cider has been in the game for years (possibly since launch), as has the Overgoat. The Übergoat and Heptagoat have a total of three storylets between them that can’t be seen any other way, and those are only the ones for actually obtaining them. Meanwhile, in the last few months alone, we’ve had at least four paid stories that are all suitable for players with NO stats at all:

  • The Blemmigan Affair
  • The Haunting at the Marsh-House
  • The Court of Cats
  • Lost in Reflections

The idea that having prestige rewards prevents Failbetter from creating content for new players is simply wrong. And your analogy about the place of Cider and Goats is wrong; the grind is done for its own sake, it’s done for the prize at the end. More accurate would be having a child who walks to and from school every day, then telling them that you’ll give them a present for finishing a marathon. Few will be interested enough to begin. Far fewer still will finish. The rest of the world will spin on either way.

As Estelle wrote:

But beyond that, your character has to undertake truly gargantuan efforts to uncover many of the deeper mysteries of the Neath, or to do certain things. Reforming the Velocipede Squad is an order of magnitude than hanging out with the Fisher-Kings for a lark. Killing the Vake is an order more difficult again. Acquiring the resources and importance to afford Cider? Nigh impossible. The mechanics reflect the game world.

You can’t write something faster than it can be read, you can’t compose faster than it can be heard, you can’t design faster than it can be played. You can do it at that speed, in the case of improv, but London is not an improv work.

[quote]Speaking of which…

All of these things fall under the category of fun, or if you prefer another word, enjoyment.[/quote]
No, they don’t. When &quotfun&quot is determined to be the be-all, end-all of meaning, impact, and emotionality, what happens? &quotPress F to Pay Respects&quot. Cars 2. Jurassic World. We get done-by-committee works that are stunted and devoid of real challenge or intent; and if we refuse to challenge the world, or our perspectives on it, we might as well all go sign up for the VHEM right now, because insatiable curiosity, and bullheaded persistence in the service thereof, are the most human traits one can have.

Perhaps at this point you will try to frame me as a hypocrite for defending against a &quotchallenge&quot to the status quo around here. Well, as it happens, Fallen London is not the status quo, but a very extreme outlier in the spaces of both IF and gaming at large, and your posts in this thread come off as an attack on the qualities that make it unique.

Is War and Peace &quotfun&quot? Is Kafka &quotfun&quot? Is 1984 &quotfun&quot? King Lear? Hamlet? Nietzsche? Debord? Is a work being &quotheavy-hearted&quot or &quotintellectual&quot a reason to discount it? Should art exclusively reflect the world as we might wish it to be, and never criticize or engage with the world as it is?

Even Pixar films are not &quotfun&quot all the way through. Finding Nemo opens with Marlin losing his wife and nearly all his children. Inside Out enumerates in its first five minutes the uses of Fear, Anger, and Disgust, and then spends the movie demonstrating that Sadness is important too. &quotFun&quot from start to finish means a lighthearted romp; there are no stakes by definition and therefore nothing to engage with.
edited by Jeremy Avalon on 7/10/2015[/li][li]
edited by Jeremy Avalon on 7/10/2015

[color=rgb(0, 153, 0)]It actually isn’t. I wanted to construct a world where every mystery has an answer, if you dig deep enough.[/color]

[color=rgb(0, 153, 0)]It actually is! - I like writing it! Or if you mean it’s not fun to read, a lot of people had a lot of fun with this month’s mirror-snakes-themed EF story. Not you, but that’s okay, different tastes.[/color]
[color=rgb(0, 153, 0)]
[color=rgb(0, 153, 0)]Von P, yo[/color][color=rgb(0, 153, 0)]u obviously put a lot of effort into your posts. T[/color][color=rgb(0, 153, 0)]hink about what you want to achieve here, because whatever it is, I don’t think you’ll get there like this. [/color][color=rgb(0, 153, 0)]i[/color][color=rgb(0, 153, 0)]f you want Fallen London to be a different kind of game than the one we wanted to make - you can’t make that happen with sheer power of word count. If you’re here to tell everyone that we’re all wrong, maybe there’s a better use of your energies. Please take a deep breath and have a think about that before the next epic post :-)[/color]

In a manner not dissimilar to many long-distance runners, I’d say the answer is both &quotother people running the same race (even though you can’t trip or trade with them)&quot and &quotthemselves, as runners.&quot

What’s the point of climbing anything? There’s usually nothing at the top but thin air and a view. There’s also a view when you sip from a firkin of Hesperidian Cider, it just consists of different things than an alpine vista. I suppose the designers of the Himalayas ought to have placed a lengthy novel full of wonders at the peak so that it would feel more satisfying.

If by &quotvomits&quot you mean &quotgoes north, because a reckoning is not to be postponed indefinitely,&quot then I do think that’s a big part of the point, actually. (Though curently on hiatus.

I think if you take a look at some of the more recent content – in players’ journals or on the wiki even if you can’t access it yourself – you’ll see that there are quite a few &quot30 Glim cards.&quot Take the exploration of July’s garret in the recent Exceptional Story; poking around gives you a lot of tangible, material, lived-in flavor, and 0.1 Echoes of goods each time. I’m certain there are similar examples in recently added non-Exceptional areas too. A single action, a brushstroke of writing, a slight token to take away: and highly acclaimed.

Of course players will play a 30 Glim card if it has more of Fallen London’s settings, chararacters – and if they haven’t read it before. An unread piece of writing in Fallen London is a terrifically valuable thing, but one can only read something for the first time once. Some people enjoy spending an action to read a passage again if they enjoyed it; others enjoy re-experiencing such a thing as an act of role-playing; and others still would only play a card multiple times if it made sense in their economic strategy. I don’t see any reason to look down on any of those feelings and I’m not sure if you’re suggesting &quota 30 Glim card that would be played repeatedly because of its story value&quot – but I’m not sure that would work out for most players. Besides, the journal exists so you can preserve and re-read what you enjoyed reading, and I’ve long thought it a lovely feature for these reasons.

I think some others in this thread may be right, and you might be better off playing a different game rather than demanding that this game be different. I play Fallen London precisely because of the unique way in which it oscillates between being a book and being WoW. Telling people who like to ((chew slowly on repeated actions before tonguing and swallowing an amuse bouche of story)) that they have a sort of jaded, worn-out false consciousness is at best a rudeness of the &quotI’m cold, why aren’t you wearing a sweater&quot variety. I think you have some pre-conceptions about what makes a game good, what kind of activities are fun, and what good design is as a result – but you may want to consider that such notions may be far from universal.

There are many great books in the world (some are even Victorian horror) and a fair number of decent WoW-like games (far fewer, but they tend to while away more time than reading any single book). There are very, very few interesting works that intersect a book and a MMO economy, and that’s something I find rather precious and special about Fallen London. If it’s not to your taste, then by all means: declare that it’s not to your taste! However, it’s not nice to fiercely advocate abolishing the unusual qualities that other people enjoy; these things are hard to find, and took a long time for Failbetter to experiment with and make.

Speaking of which…

Have you read much of Spacemarine9’s tumblr, http://saint-arthur.tumblr.com/ ? He catalogs an awful lot of the substance and internal consistency behind the fragmentary storytelling that you’re assuming is empty prose. Or perhaps you just don’t like surrealist fantasy dreamscapes, in which case you may want to just avoid Parabola and the Iron Republic; there are plenty of more tangible, grounded, facets to Fallen London. You might enjoy running a newspaper, or dealing with the practical politics of the Carnelian Coast.

Thanks for writing all these thoughts, though – I’ve been taking notes for several months now on reasons why some players find Sunless Sea and Fallen London &quotall wrong,&quot and yours follow and support the general pattern of predictable tastes.

Well, it’s good conversation, if nothing else – and thanks to other people who gave their thoughts, as well. (scribbles some more notes about grinding)

Mirror snakes are the best. Nothing said.

I suspect this is also something of a problem with the engine itself. A lot of the less reliable/more interesting grinds rely on the opportunity card mechanic, which places several constraints upon the player. You’re generally cut off from the London deck and frequently in a place where you cannot perform social actions, among other things. I spent a week and a half in Polythreme last month and I found it entertaining, but the fact that I could not engage in social activities or even collect my weekly earnings while I was there put the kibosh on my plans to stay longer. Even the ability to participate in a few friendly exchanges with other travelers might have made a longer sojourn more palatable. (One encounters similar problems with the Port Carnelian content, though at least you only have to zail across one sea to engage in that.)

I’ve been contemplating this a lot lately as I’m really averse to &quotreliable grinds&quot and tend to avoid them in favor of opportunistic or gambly grinds instead, but the very fact that they’re tricky makes them a little inaccessible too. Still, there are so many structural patterns in FL that could be taken advantage of – Failbetter does a lot of experimentation in form, and hasn’t gotten around to doing much reuse of patterns, or parts of patterns, that work well. (Carousels are an exception.) Polythreme stands out as a significant &quotinteresting grind&quot because it’s potentially a very high profit and open to strategy, but it’s good enough that it’s also placed at quite a remove from the rest of the game, as you point out. If London were to get some more unpredictable-grinds in the 1.5 EPA range, some systems that could be reused include:

[ul][li]&quotA Quick Trip to A Different Area&quot a la Heists, Pickpocket’s Promenade, and Polite Invitations. These are essentially limited-turn minigames with their own opportunity decks, kind of like Polythreme at home (and consequentially less profitable). They’re all a little different – Heists take some advance preparation (and Invitations perhaps a little bit), Invitations are a random draw and require some repeated grinding, and the Promenade seems much more widlly gambly. But the basic structure is kind of nice – you embark on something for a dozen turns or so, then you’re back out in the rest of the game, and you have a variable sacrifice in how much of your deck you’ve chewed through. I suspect these are mostly not popular because they’re not terribly profitable and only offer up certain kinds of rewards. Like Polythreme, they also favor higher-level lodgings. Which is fine for endgame players, but it might be interesting to have an expensive consumable that worked like a mood and temporarily expanded your hand size. (Purchsable from Nikolas or for Fate?) They’re also most enjoyable when you have a full deck, which is a bit vexing.

[/li][li]&quotSpend & Grind for a Surprise&quot a la Expeditions. This setup – where you build cautiously or aggressively up to a random loot drop – is actually pretty popular, although I feel like expeditions (where there’s really no reason not to go aggressive once you can pass the stat checks) are a less polished version of zailing’s boldly/prudently mechanic, where cards are more interesting as well.

[/li][li]&quotLimited Time Deal&quot a la the Portly Sommelier’s card, and in a more gambly / less profitable way the buyable-pet cards and &quotthe tiniest of classified advertisements&quot on the Reminder of Brighter Days card. These cards give an alternate upgrade path for item conversions that’s usually (or if lucky on a gamble) better than ordinary item-conversion. I find these interesting in that you need to have the materials ready to take advantage of the card, or have the card fill your hand while you get the stuff together. The Portly Sommelier is the best of these, IMHO, since many of the choices require heavy amounts of stuff and are predictable but sometimes costly in turns – which makes sense for something that’s already drawn unpredictably. These may not seem like a &quotgrind&quot because they’re random draws, but just like waiting for a Tomb-Colonies card to trade in a Collection of Curiosities, they create a pattern that’s part grind, part luck-of-draw.

[/li][li]&quotNew Cards Pop Up Anywhere&quot – a partial pattern in some repeatable stories, where gaining a quality causes some cards to enter your deck, drawable anywhere in London, so that you can pursue the story further. This gets used a lot in non-repeating stories (Dashing Smuggler, Cheesemonger, your Aunt, Mahogany Hall pt. 1) but not as much in repeating ones. I think the exceptions are several phases of the newspaper, and even though that’s hampered by the cost of going into Doubt Street I think there’s a strategy where you start the presses, then leave until you draw cards that let you earn copy. That’s quite interesting to me, since it interleaves a location-bound story with the ability to wander around and do other things. A couple moments in the Wilmot’s End carousel have this potential too, as do the rival-hindering cards for Expeditions, but the potential’s barely tapped. I suppose Counting the Days would be another example of this interleaving, though if you know where to go for the storylets, storylets tend to supercede cards simply due to availability. I keep wondering why there aren’t more &quotstart a process up, then wait to see what cards pop up around London&quot structures – Affair of the Box seems like it may have had this in mind, but the Boxful choices on the connection conflict cards are mechanically dominated by the Spite storylets unless you make the mistake of Turncoating.

[/li][li]&quotAlternate Build-Up Quality&quot a la cards like A new piece in the game, the tomb-colonist’s dogs, etc that are only drawn between 81-118 in an attribute. These give superior amounts of CP to qualities like Seeking, Investigating, The Hunt is On, etc but they’re cards. I think &quota new piece in the game&quot can get you a rather outsized 1.79 EPA until you pass beyond the point where a Talkative Rattus Faber can allow you to draw it, but the real thing I find interesting is the ability to seize opportunities to advance a grind elsewhere, even though it makes no sense. It’s a shame that these cards stop at 118, and it’d be nice to see some endgame-balanced versions that were competitive with more boring grinds. (The fact that &quotA new piece in the game&quot and &quotTea with the inspector&quot overlap in complicated, messy ways is pretty interesting too…)[/li][/ul]
This may make it fairly clear that I think the opportunity deck is probably the best leverage FL currently has to explore a space between &quottoo predictable&quot (Affair of the Box) and &quottoo purely chance&quot (Fidgeting Writer) – and that maybe the trick is to have some more opportunity-driven schemes available in London rather than overzees where they take you away from the heart of the game. Intersecting, layered activities is where it’s at.
Come to think of it, something like Fidgeting Writer would probably feel a lot less frustrating to people if it was a location or carousel that upon entry required (but didn’t take away) 50 Tales of Terror, 40 Correspondence Plaques, 30 Vision of the Surface, 30 Brilliant Souls, 6 Extraordinary Implications, etc. and only completed upon the player quitting or cashing out. Kind of like deciding on a stake before you sit down at the roulette table.