Scoundrels of Skullport and the Tragedy of the Commons

Rainforest Flower

The new Scoundrels of Skullport expansion for Lords of Waterdeep has a fascinating resource management mechanic that I'd love to explore a bit further.

The basic game of Lords of Waterdeep is a standard worker placement game: Place a dude on a space, get whatever resource that space says you get. In Skullport, there are spaces from which you get far more resources than you do from the basic spaces, but you must also take a corruption counter in doing so. There are a finite number of corruption counters, placed along a track shown below.

When one space on the track is emptied, that is the new penalty you will incur for each corruption counter you have in your possession by the end of the game. In the example above, each corruption counter is worth -8 points at the end of the game.

There are other action cards which allow you to return a corruption counter to the track and some "good deed" quests allow you to return up to three counters. So really, the game isn't about just avoiding corruption, it's about taking corruption early and then trying to find ways to absolve yourself. Very scoundrel.

In short, this is a Tragedy of the Commons. That's a scenario where a group shares a communal resource, but acting as "rational" individuals pursuing their own well-being, those in the group deplete that communal resource, even if they realize that the resource's depletion will ultimately harm the long-term welfare of the group as a whole. (Whoa, that's a long sentence.)

And that, in turn, got me thinking about Dr. Remedy Grove. I've had two posts so far, but the gist is that it's a resource acquisition game where the resources can become extinct if they're over-used. The theme is that you are a village doctor trying to cure people with by combining particular plants and herbs. In exchange, the villagers will lend you their services, which in turn makes your job a bit easier.

So, imagine a game where all the resource acquisition was done through a Skullport-style corruption track.

These three tracks each represent a different plant. On your turn, you may take all the cubes from one circle in the lowest space of the board. Then you may spend cubes to cure one of your patients. To end your turn, place cube of your choice in your possession back onto the track. (There would be other actions available, like getting patients in the first place, but for now I'm focusing on the resource economy.)

As soon as all three circles in a space are depleted, the penalty for owning each of that resource at the end of the game grows much more severe. On the other hand, you get much greater quantities of that resource. If you recall my previous blog post about triangular numbers, you'll notice that the quantities rise at a linear rate but the penalty rises at a triangular rate.

I imagine a lot of the engine-building of this game would be curing particular villagers who will allow you to sustainably harvest cubes from the track, perhaps taking a certain number instead of a whole set. Or perhaps villagers that allow you to return some cubes to the track instead of simply spending them while curing another patient.

In any case, it's an interesting idea and I'm really eager to see it explored further. Similar themes and mechanics can be found in the Catan: Oil Springs and CO2. Check those out for more ideas.
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.