Article #12: What makes a game good? (Moderator Guide)
- written by Frozen Angel
As someone who loves to moderate a lot and who has spent a lot of time on balancing and designing setups and new concepts for mafia games on different communities with different type of people and traditions/customs when playing this game, I can think about some few shared principles which every moderator must follow when designing a setup and running the game, to make it a fun one:
1 – Don’t ever make your players suffer
Never make anyone angry by including annoying extra restrictions without a logical explanation. Before including any events or mechanics in your game think about how your players will think about them. A game is for fun and there is no need to make your players suffer for any reason you can think about. You have to check your setup again and again to make sure your game is designed to not make any player hate your game. No one expects anyone to make everyone happy, but everyone expects you to not "try" to make them angry.
This, however, has no conflict with the level of complexity in games. Even the most complex mechanics can get reasonably modified to exclude annoying parts or to make them reasonable and meaningful and fun to play from another point of view.
2 – Make sure that the town always has enough tools to figure out the game
Town shouldn’t ever lose the ability to figure out the game. Setups that give so much utility to mafia that will remove the town's deduction power (for example by silencing or night skipping) are naturally scum sided. A game of mafia is a competitive game where town must be allowed to make the correct decisions in order to win. Making unlynchable scum or punishing town for finding scum are highly demotivating and should not be used a lot.
Bastard setups that have highly sensitive moderator lies are not generally loved. Players who like bastard setups like to be able to have the ability to deduce the lies behind the setups.
3 – Don’t let town win the game mechanically
Mafia is a game of social interactions. To let a faction win only by using mechanics will make your game less mafia and more a text version RPG and based on my experience, it will be less enjoyable for people who signed up to play a mafia game. The reasons night actions exist in the first place is that they will provide low-level information that give the discussions a direction. They are not made to replace the actual game entirely. TLDR; always make a game that will let the best day player win, and try to make a night action mess.
4 – Be creative
People love new, innovative, fair and fun mechanics. Try to see yourself as the player who wants to use the new ability/concept/mechanic or who is going to play your events and think about what they will think/how they will feel and their concerns while experiencing what you designed. Start telling yourself stories about the experience they will have when the actual game is happening.
To make sure your new mechanics are not broken on their own you must evaluate every single scenario that could happen. If you can’t do that, your mechanic is probably too complex to be included in a game of mafia unless your game is designed to be highly complex. In such games you need to focus on how other players will feel about the mechanics more than how they will react and check if the abilities will break the game in any manner.
A mechanic is broken in two scenarios:
A) If the mechanic causes a huge effect on balance on its own and/or concludes the game or a part of it on its own. A game of mafia must have a decent and reasonable timeline which is designed so the uninformed majority (Town) can have the enough resources to figure the game out. Letting a single mechanic potentially conclude your game as a whole or conclude a decent part of it without an introduction or a journey, is to break your game.
B) If the mechanic makes the game discussions pointless. If a mechanic is changing the discussion-based game to an action fiesta that removes the point of day chat, your mechanic is broken and a fun killer.
There are people who love to play a game of actions instead of discussion and that's a fair point, but be aware that heavy action-based mechanics determine the chances of winning for different factions in a distinct way and will force the game to be less based on social abilities and makes players feel like they've been playing an unfair game in most scenarios as their destiny was written by their actions and by the RNG which gave them their role.
5 – Have fun
A setup must make you feel good. Never force yourself to run something you don't like. If you don't “love” what you're creating no one will.
6 – Let players decide their fate
Imagine you join a game with a theme you like and someone kill you during night 0. That’s not cool, yeah? Same applies to all other mechanics that will decide the game instead of players. Random death, forcing random events and etc. make people hate some aspects of the game. Even though you might be forced to enforce a thing or two, try to reduce those stuff as people will prefer to experience a game where they have the power to decide instead of the game designer (or at least that's how they should feel).
7 – Your setup must be logical and consistent
What you define in the Role PM's is what your players will know of their abilities. What you define as win conditions is what they will consider as their way of winning the game. Being ambiguous on these things or telling lies about them is not fun. Note that I'm not saying bastard games are not fun; I’m saying bastard games that have no consistency or logical relationships between elements (i.e. stuff in your setup that no ability/event can explain) are not fun.
Look at a mafia setup as a big puzzle. Every piece of this puzzle must have a way to be attached to other pieces. Don’t make a game that doesn’t have any type of consistency in relationships between the roles. One might say that way the game is "anticipate-able" and you can guess what the mod was thinking when they designed the game. That depends on you and that if you are following a very specific pattern when designing your games or that if you are not letting players to play the game in the same level you designed your game. For example, when a mod designs an open setup, reading the mod's design pattern can't do anything. The same applies to closed setups that "opening" them will not conclude the game. (So always check your games as if a mass claim is about to happen day 1 or later if you're designing a closed setup)
Having unknown win conditions in your games is not fun. Never lie to your players about how they can use their abilities unless you provided a way for them to see that coming. As I said before, look at your game setup like a big puzzle that your players must solve and design it to be one.
8 – Have time
Don’t design a game that will require more time from you than the time you have for moderating it. Moderating a game is accepting a responsibility to provide a service to some other people and you have to spend enough time on your games like you’re getting paid for it (even if you’re not!). No one forced you to moderate a game. It’s a fun thing to do and a great experience and I love it - and I know some others who do as well. To me it’s pure art and creation and something I value so much. What makes your game a good one and makes your setups more fun is the amount of responsibility you feel and show when moderating them.
9 – Be clear and precise
A good setup design happens when players know how to interact with stuff that are in the game and when they don’t need to ask the moderator about them during the game. Always try to include all necessary information in the Role PM's and the game start post. Try to post full Role PM's (with some redactions of course) when a player dies, and make sure that they explain how the role functions.
Never have gray areas in your setups. That includes how an ability/event operates and the order which actions are going to take place in. Make sure there is no interaction between roles that will need you to assume something that other players can’t. A good setup is clear and precise in its logic level.
10 – Don’t punish hard
There is no need to punish harder than what is needed. Don’t ever modkill unless you have no other way to deal with something. Silencing is lame and makes the game not fun for the punished player. Make sure to give warning(s) if possible to an offender. Try to communicate with people that break a game rule/site rule and inform a site moderator about those cases.
Never conclude the game prematurely if there is a way to allow the game to continue by giving a specific punishment. For example, if a mafia player gives away his whole faction the game is broken and can’t go forward, but when a mafia player only outs himself and their Role PM you can continue the game by just modkilling them.
Never include names on Role PM's. Include a list of partners and names in separate messages or in factional chats.
Never forget that you need to be present and manage your game. Your decisions are what tell others if you’re a good moderator or not.
11 – Replace before events/phase shifts
If you replace a player during or after an event or a phase shift, you are confirming that the slot was empty during that event or the phase shift. Pause the game if you have to but avoid bringing unrelated information to the game.
12 – Be honest
Admit if you ever made an error. You don’t need to explain in details while the game is ongoing but you have to let your players know something is not right and that they must pay more attention to the results. Please note that you have to do this no matter how small your mistake was. Even the smallest mistakes might change the game flow and your players might end up being angry about it after the game.
13 – Design what you want
There is no need to copy how others think. All the 12 preceding principles can bend for this one as what makes your game special is what “you” want. Your friends want to play what’s in your mind. Design your own universe, however complex you want it to be, however tricky you want it to be, however annoying you want it to be, however traditional you want it to be, however flavorful you want to be, however you want it to be transparent for others and however you want it to have magnificent mechanics. Be clear with yourself about what you want to do before designing your game and don’t change your goal while you're designing it. Let your players know what are they signing up for and be there to advertise your game before it happens.
A flavor and a story can make the game more interactive and alive. Players love to experience adventure in a themed game and most flavors have the capacity to attach to the logic behind the setup and they can even help to ensure its consistency. The only point to consider is that no matter if you’re making a game with an original theme or if you want to make your game based on an existing theme, make sure your game is not predictable based on your theme, but if you're making a themed game stay loyal to it. Players hate a game that is designed to follow a certain theme and then doesn't represent that theme the way it must.
Moderating games is a fun practice but not as easy as it seems. Being a perfect mod is impossible as there is no perfect in this business. I admit - that I've had several issues with moderating my recent games and usually real life pressure can affect perfect games and moderation in unpredictable ways, but we all can try to be better mods and players and to have fun together with Mafia games.
- Design what you want and what you will have fun with when moderating it
- Make sure the game is not breakable in any faction's favor
- Make sure your players will like and feel good about your new mechanics/events/etc.
- Have a precise and clear game logic without any grey areas
- Be there for your game and pay attention to it
- If you're using flavor, 1) make sure it won't explain too much about the game, and 2) stay loyal to it