Paranoia: High Programmers is a simple game to play rules wise, but terribly complex as mechanics start to pile on each other. Before I write an article on the thought process behind adding extra complications, I wanted to firstly list the different mechanics that currently make the game complicated.
The following list is of mechanics that cause complications when I run Paranoia, with a brief description, justification, and whether I consider it to be a Mandatory complication (something the player will have to interact with) or optional (not core to the experience, but may be leveraged later). New players generally come to grip with the mandatory items in their first couple of games, and slowly add the optional items into their repertoire of tools.
The following are mechanics that motivate players, giving them goals to work towards (or sometimes avoid).
ACCESS (Mandatory): The biggest motivation. ACCESS is the currency of the game, and abstraction of the character’s cash reserves, Computer support, blackmail, and contacts. Almost everything uses ACCESS, most rewards are in ACCESS, and players will trade ACCESS fairly frequently for favours. Everything requires a spending of ACCESS, either directly or indirectly.
Treason (Mandatory): Friend Computer monitors the characters for treasonous behaviour. Too much treason and ZAP, time for a new clone (at a hefty ACCESS cost). Getting things done, however, may require treasonous behaviour. Secret society favours, sabotaging others to complete directives, stealing things for own projects, not being a team player, falsely accusing another High Programmer, getting accused of treason (even false accusations cast suspicion on you), not being happy, the list goes on.
Commendations (Optional): The opposite of treason. Commendations are earned taking credit for excellent deeds: defeating the commies, increasing efficiency, uncovering a traitorous high clearance citizen, increasing happiness, etc. A good deed, recognised by the computer, will mitigate the effects of treason, and often earn monetary rewards. Of course, taking credit for a situation may have repercussions if the situation goes downhill later, and you have taken responsibility for it…
The Crisis[es] (Mandatory): The High Programmers have been called together for a reason: a problem has arisen and it’s up to them to solve it. Friend Computer also believes efficiency is fun, so will task the High Programmers with solving multiple crisises. A crisis ranges from “happiness is down” to “we’re under attack” to “decide on whether this proposal should be implemented”.
Directives (Mandatory): Each session, every player will have a minimum of one Directive (usually more). Directives are the service groups requesting specific outcomes from the Programmer (more power, more sales, stop this project, etc), reward a large amount of ACCESS on success, and subtract just as much ACCESS on failure. This carrot and stick approach gives players direction and drives plot. However, one player’s directives will almost always conflict with at least one other person’s at the table, often multiple others in addition to conflicting with their own.
Secret Society Missions (Optional): Each session, every player will have a selection of secret society missions. Each mission rewards a moderate amount of ACCESS on completion, are treasonous, but do not subtract ACCESS on failure. In addition, some missions aren’t feasibly possible to complete, but instead give hints as to the current situation.
Personal Projects (Optional): While relying on Directives and Society Missions can be a good income to keep you safe, some players like to supplement their arsenal with their own projects. Spies in other HP’s circles, PLC subsidiaries, private armies, taking over the complex, building a giant themepark, secret bases… it’s all possible, and some players want it all.
Public Standing (Optional): By default, characters are unknown to citizens less than BLUE clearance. Some characters however, adore the fame that comes with ULTRAVIOLET status. If a character has good public standing, it adds to their ACCESS. The public is fickle, however, and an incompetent High Programmer can quickly earn the audience’s ire.
No matter how motivated, you still need some way to get ahead in life. Here’s a list of all the tools that can help a player get there.
Service Group Bidding (Mandatory): Each session, every player bids against everyone else for Service Group ownership. Having control of a service group brings rewards: an ACCESS bonus for each group, access to their minions, and (generally) the ability to pass difficult directives onto others. Each group has their own skillset, meaning players regularly compete for prestigious service groups.
Public Pool (Mandatory): Each session, Friend Computer adds ACCESS to a public pool. If a player asks for ACCESS from the pool, and a majority agree, then that player takes the ACCESS.
Minions (Mandatory): Minions are the tools a High Programmer uses to get things done. Each service group will have a list of around fifteen minions, each with a unique combination of clearance, skills, and cost. Once a minion is paid for, it remains active, and having a large stock of minions gives a player lots of opportunities to profit.
Secret Society Minions (Optional): Each player has a select number of minions provided by their secret society. These minions are free, competent (very unlikely to fail), but are treasonous to use.
Personal Minions (Optional): Sometimes, through previous hard work, a player may have a loyal minion at their call. They’re free, but can be stolen/destroyed by others if a player isn’t careful.
Mutation (Optional): Most characters have a mutation, from telepathy to radio jamming to bureaucratic intuition. It’s not a certainty, and it’s rather treasonous, but it may just be the ace in the hole someone needs.
Cbay (Optional): while added as a joke originally, having a weird items for sale for (generally) cheap may give players creative ideas for the current crises at hand.
Service Group Indicies (Optional): At the end of each session, ACCESS is spent on service groups is paid back to the player. However, it is modified by the indicies of the service groups, which rise when a group does well and falls when a group does poorly (directives are a large modifier of this). Additionally, it is a zero-sum game. If one group does well, all the others drop, and vice versa.
There are a few items which just give the players information. This information isn’t immediately useful, but might be turned to a player’s advantage.
Sector Indicies (Mandatory): In online games, a live output of the sector’s current calculated happiness, security, loyalty, and compliance are constantly relayed to the players. High numbers mean stealing credit for good work, low numbers mean blaming the problem on others.
News (Optional): Each session, each player has a list of current news items. Most are just for laughs/white noise, but some hint as to the current situation.
Of course, none of these would be that much of a complication without other players in the picture. It is a slightly more complicated prisoner’s dilemma: players, working together, could solve all the problems, and all profit in a (very) small way. However, there’s always at least one greedy person at the table, who sees how much ACCESS they could make by throwing someone else under the figurative transbot.
Additionally, bare survival relies on having large ACCESS reserves. Without ACCESS, a player must rely on public pool payouts to get the minions required to complete directives. If a player can’t complete directives, they lose ACCESS. If they die, they get a new clone and lose a lot of ACCESS. When throwing another player into the proverbial food vats will net you a lot of ACCESS, it quickly looks tempting.
Once again, High Programmers can be a very complicated game, but not without reason. Soon, I will explain my reasoning for the extra additions, and why the optional layers of complications are good.