In this case, I reminisced about a game I got the pleasure of playing as a kid. It was during a workshop day and was run by an environmental science teacher, trying to more or less teach about the cycle of life. The basic structure of the game was rock-paper-scissors meets tag:
There was, at the start, a single predator.
The rest of kids were evenly divided between 'resource' and 'prey'.
Prey had a choice between 2-4 (let's say 3) different things they would need. (As in, there were--let's say 3--possible things they could need; they would choose one as the thing they needed.)
After this, on go, resources would then choose what they were and announce it while the prey tried to dash towards a matching resource, while the predator attempted to tag the prey.
If the prey got to a matching resource, they claimed that resource and lived to be prey next round.
If the predator caught a prey, they lived and would remain a predator next round.
If a prey got tagged by a predator, then next round, they would become a predator themselves.
If prey made it to the other side but failed to claim a resource, they would die, becoming a resource themselves next round.
If a predator failed to tag prey, they would die, becoming a resource next round.
If a resource got claimed by prey, then the resource would become prey themselves next round.
In live play, this was pretty balanced, which was the whole point. When there were fewer prey, predators died out and resources were more plentiful. When there were more prey, predators had better luck and thus more predators would exist. When there were more prey yet not enough predators to thin the herd, resources got eaten up and left the prey to die next time.
Explicitly built into the game was the potential for there to be a round with zero resources, though I don't know what the countermeasures were to prevent there from being zero prey or zero predators (since a lack of predators means no game; a lack of prey also means no game).
Still, I loved the game when I played it even if I don't quite remember the specifics, and today I brainstormed how it'd be able to be converted into a forum game based environment. I managed to come up with this system and named the game.
Minimum players: 5, plus a game moderator/host. (You need at least two prey and two resources to begin, along with one predator.)
There is no maximum number of players allowed.
Each round, resources will message the game host declaring themselves to be one of three resources: Water, Food, and Shelter. (The latter two I know 100% were in the original game I played and I figured water was another one which even if not originally present made a whole lot of sense.)
Each round, prey will message the game host, declaring themselves to be seeking one of three resources: Water, Food, and Shelter.
Then, the prey will message the game host, declaring an order they will seek resource players out in.
E.g. Players A and B are resources; Player C is prey. Player C will declare "I am seeking Water, and I will seek it in the order of A-->B". They are thus prioritized in that order. (If A has the resource, C gets A; if A doesn't yet B does and C has B before any other prey, C gets B, and so on.)
Each round, predators will message the game host, selecting one prey to hunt as their primary target.
They will attempt to guess the prey's target pathway.
E.g. if Player D is the predator and is hunting Player C with Players A and B as resources, then Player D will guess:
"Player C will go to Player A".
If the predator's first guess is correct, then the predator will automatically catch the prey.
The predator is allowed ten guesses total; each guess down the line is 10% less likely to be successful.
For instance, Predator A is chasing Prey B.
There is resources C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, and O.
If Predator A selected B-->C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, then:
If Prey B went to resource C first, predator A catches B guaranteed.
If Prey B went to resource D first, predator A has a 90% chance of catching B.
If Prey B went to resource E first, predator A has an 80% chance of catching B.
If Prey B went to resource F first, predator A has a 70% chance of catching B.
If Prey B went to resource G first, predator A has a 60% chance of catching B.
If Prey B went to resource H first, predator A has a 50% chance of catching B.
If Prey B went to resource I first, predator A has a 40% chance of catching B.
If Prey B went to resource J first, predator A has a 30% chance of catching B.
If Prey B went to resource K first, predator A has a 20% chance of catching B.
If Prey B went to resource L first, predator A has a 10% chance of catching B.
If Prey B went to resources M or O first, predator A has a default 0% chance of catching B.
There is, however, a modifier in play:
Each attempt to find a resource and failing to succeed adds a 5% chance to a prey being caught.
Prey B submits the resource D first, but fails to get it.
Prey B submits the resource E second, but fails to get it. During this second attempt, Prey B has a 5% extra chance of being caught.
Prey B submits the resource F third, but fails to get it. During this third attempt, Prey B has a 10% extra chance of being caught.
Prey B submits the resource G fourth, but fails to get it. During this fourth attempt, Prey B has a 15% extra chance of being caught.
You can think of it as this way: the predator hunts certain grounds first, expecting to find prey. The longer they look, the more chances prey has of getting away...but the longer prey are out looking for things, the more vulnerable they are to being caught.
The predator is also allowed to submit secondary prey.
These are prey targets which, if the predator fails to catch their primary prey, they will attempt to hunt. They are only allowed to name one resource player that the secondary prey will visit.
Secondary prey can only be caught if the predator correctly guesses the prey's first to-be-successful resource.
The predator is allowed to submit ten names as secondary prey, and has a chance of catching them as follows.
IF: Secondary prey visits the resource the predator guessed they would, THEN:
-The first secondary prey submitted this method is automatically caught.
-The second secondary prey submitted by this method has a 90% chance of being caught.
-The third secondary prey submitted by this method has an 80% chance of being caught.
...And so on and so forth.
IF: Secondary prey does not visit the resource the predator guessed they would, THEN:
The prey gets away.
Here's a full chart of how this may play out.
Predator is A.
Prey are players B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, and L.
Resources are players M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W.
Predator A chooses B-->M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V.
B chooses O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, M, N.
B does not get O or P, but can get Q.
Predator A has a 60% base chance of getting B.
Because B failed twice, this is increased to 70%.
In spite of the increased chance, B manages to safely reach Q. B will remain a prey, and Q will become prey.
Predator A selected secondary prey as follows:
D, E, F, H, J, K, and L will all successfully grab the resources guessed if not caught; C, G, and I for whatever reason will not grab the guessed resources successfully (either because the resources were claimed before they could get there, they are incompatible with the resource and thus don't stay, or they claim a resource before they'd visit the resource the predator guessed).
The chances for the predator to catch the prey are as follows:
C has a 0% chance of being caught.
D has a 90% chance of being caught.
E has an 80% chance of being caught.
F has a 70% chance of being caught.
G has a 0% chance of being caught.
H has a 50% chance of being caught.
I has a 0% chance of being caught.
J has a 30% chance of being caught.
And so on and so forth.
Predators stop hunting once they've caught one prey. (Note that the game is deliberately designed such that predators have a high chance of catching prey when prey outnumber predators.)
When there are more than one predators hunting the same prey, the first tiebreaker is obvious. Primary prey > secondary prey.
If both have the prey as primary, then accuracy is determined by which predator had the more accurate guess.
If both have the prey as secondary, then accuracy is determined by which predator had the prey higher up on their hunting list.
When ties still exist, the winner will be determined by coinflip/dice roll/whatever randomization method you use.
When there are more than one prey vying for the same resource, the tiebreaker is which player had the resource higher up on their preference list.
For instance, Prey B and Prey C are both candidates for resource H.
Prey B submitted resources C-->D-->H; Prey C submitted resources D-->H; Prey C has priority.
If both have the resource at exactly the same, the winner will be determined by coinflip/dice roll/whatever randomization method you use.
Note that the most complex part of the game is calculating the interactions between predators and prey, in that you have to check if a predator successfully catches a prey before assigning that prey to a resource, and yet you also have to check if a prey cannot use a resource because another prey got there first, because this can influence the success rate of a predator hunting.
However, if I've done my job explaining the game mechanics right, the resolutions should be simple and easy enough to understand. Predators kill off prey before they get to their resource. If prey make it through, then they have to compete with one another. If prey fail to get to their target resource immediately, they become increasingly vulnerable to being picked off by predators.
There is however one game mechanic that must be addressed.
There must ALWAYS be at least one predator and at least two prey.
If you ever drop below two prey (be it zero or one), then the necessary number is drawn from whichever has more players between resources/predators. (The players selected to be prey are randomly chosen.)
If you ever drop to zero predators, then one prey is randomly selected to become a predator.
One thing I also lack in the game is...well. It has no win condition.
The goal of prey is to not be eaten by predators and to not die from a lack of their target resource.
The goal of predators is to not die of starvation by failing to catch prey.
Resources are designed to not have much of a goal, but have a minor preference to not being destroyed via being claimed.
Yet I don't really have incentives for players to actually do those things.
I was thinking potentially the answer could be a points system:
For every round where you meet the above, you gain a point.
When you are finally converted into a different type, your score as the type you were is recorded and your total score is updated to reflect how many times you've succeeded. (For instance, a resource going three times unclaimed has a score of three, when claimed by prey that score of three is recorded and their total score is five; as prey they claim a resource but then die of starvation; their score as prey is a high of one and their total score is four; as a resource, they then remain unclaimed twice; their resource score remains a high of 3 but their total score is now six. Potentially, the game host could offer to further break it down and record total number of points scored as a specific type, but that seems like extra work.)
But I'm not sold on this, especially for a game which feels like it'd be designed such that players could come and leave as they wished.
If I did go with the points system mentioned above, I'd also need a special clause for when zero-predator/zero-prey situations arise: the player randomly converted would not have their score lost, such that the next time they become the type they were forcefully converted from, they resume from that point. (E.g. a resource with a score of three being forcefully converted into prey, then starving off in two rounds to become a resource would start from three, rather than zero.)
That's more or less the outline for the game I developed.
I believe I have everything I'd need to actually run the game, it's just a matter of whether there'd be interest IN it.