This is the start of what will ideally be a weekly series, with a new game design walkthrough at the start of each week. Each Monday, I’ll go off of the Boardgamizer game parameters. Take 3 sets of parameters, and pick whichever caught my imagination best for that week’s design. I’ll always apply the constraints, because I personally believe the best game designs come from working within a bounded framework of some kind or another.
The Unused Parameters
The first one I got. Some kind of lite RPG, maybe like a pencil-and-paper version of CounterStrike, but with a physical movement component tied to something like Coup or The Revolution bluffing/role mechanics.
I ultimately passed on this one because I just wasn’t feeling up for designing an RPG today, but this one definitely might be one to revisit in the future.
Gotta love that theme. This I’d see as a space/scifi game where you’re trying to manage a vampiric bloodline over aeons, and trying to have the most lucrative unbroken line as wars and strife and the rise and fall of empires come and go.
Passed on this one as well, because while it could be a cool concept (and the idea of an unbroken line of inheritance echoes another game I’m currently working on), this has heavy 4-hour eurogame written all over it, and I wanted a lighter design today.
The Winning Parameters
Time travel and Whovian shenanigans? I’d never turn down the chance to do a time-travel game. Deck building? Another category I love the idea of and want to take advantage of.
But dat constraint. Trying to build a deckbuilding game with only 15 cards is delicious, simply delicious. Time to get into the designing.
The Brainstorm: Mechanics
First-off, we need to squeeze as much utility as we can out of these cards. I’m going to say this is currently hard-capped at a 2-player game, so we maximize how many cards comprise of a deck, and make each card be split in half with information on the top and bottom, so the card rotates 180 degrees to serve a different function. Each player starts with 1 card in their deck, and there’s a single card that stays in play for the conclusion and as a rule reminder.
Something kinda like this, but with maybe the art shifted to the top/bottom, and the rules in the middle with a clear divider between orientations
This needs to be quick and dirty, so let’s go with Love Letter-style draw 1, play 1 for the deck, with the standard shuffle-and-redraw when the deck runs dry. The idea of preventing a bad event is good, but we need conflict, so let’s make one player the “good” player (TimeCop, for a stand-in name) and the other is the “bad” player (TimeVillain, for another name). The target can be worked out later, or just left ambiguous. For the card deck, each half of the card is themed light or dark, with various high/low power values on each.
For gameplay, let’s go with a simple trump system; there are 3 “phases” of the day, and whoever plays the highest-valued single card (be it good or evil) tilts the phase in their favor. Cards are played facedown, one at a time, until both players have exhausted their draw decks, and then flip up all of the cards to reveal them. Whoever wins the majority of the phases kills/saves the unnamed victim, and scores a point. The scored point is one of the cards they played, picked by their opponent, and placed aside face-down. First player to 3 points wins and secures the timestream.
The deck will draw two cards faceup on either side and available for purchase, orienting the good/evil sides towards the respective players. For purchasing cards, each card will indicate you need to discard a card with value X to purchase it; players start with a value 1 card, and discard it to get a value 2, discard a 2 to get a 3, etc. For a kicker, let’s make cheaper and easier-to-get good cards on the same card as the more powerful and expensive bad cards, so you can cheaply buy a crappy card to mess up an opponent’s options for purchasing. This set of 1-4, 2-3, 3-2, and 4-1 linked cards will be duplicated, making up 8 of the remaining 12 cards.
For the last 4 cards, let’s do 4 of a “Look at a played facedown phase card” on one side, and “Discard a played facedown phase card” on the other. Swap the good/evil sides for 2 of them, making it so both players have 2 available cards of each of the 2 special types they can use. That will round out our card list nicely, and if we make it so they can’t be used to purchase other cards, it gives them a nice extra flavor of risk to acquire.
Lastly, we need a way for a player to balance out getting dicked over for card draws. Let’s have any purchased card required to be played immediately, with one exception: you can discard any value card (including the starting value-1 card) to blindly acquire whatever card is on the top of the deck, but it immediately goes into your discards. That way players can push their luck and maybe get something really nice, but they can’t utilize it that turn as a cost for acquiring it for the next deck recycle.
As a side note, the reason I’m doing mechanics here before story is solely down to personal preference, and I’m sure that in other games (or if I had used the Psychic Vampires-themed parameter set above) the story will be designed or at least loosely sketched out before design begins in earnest.
The Brainstorm: Story
This is honestly quite open, and could be tailored to fit a lot of different settings/themes/etc, much in the way Love Letter has everything from Adventure Time to Batman rethemes, while keeping the base mechanics intact. For now, let’s go with it being a time-travelling PI, trying to outwit a gruesome serial killer, and the scenes and interjections are either clues and tools the PI uses, or weapons and misdirects on the part of the killer. This gives us cards like “DNA Analysis – 1” for the PI, on the same card as “Barrel of Acid – 4” for the killer, and as a reverse, “Nanosecond Predictor – 4” for the PI vs “Burner Phone – 1” for the killer.
Lastly, a name. Part of me wanted to call this “Schroedinger’s Moving Violation” when I was tumbling around the idea of the murder being due to a caused car accident, but I think we can go with something a bit simpler.
“Recurring Cases: The Killer”
Leaves room for future expansions/reworks to be stuff like “The Thief” or “The [Insert Criminal Noun]”.
The Brainstorm: Elevator Pitch
Recurring Cases: The Killer is a quick, portable two-player deckbuilding game. In it, player attempt to build their repertoire of skills and abilities, outmaneuvering their opponent to save or doom the victim by trumping their cards in play or removing them outright. Plan your moves carefully, as you repeat the timestream and ensure that the fate of this one individual remains exactly as you want it in order to secure victory.
So thus concludes our first game design brainstorm! Thanks for listening in, and be sure to leave your ideas/thoughts in the comments/reblogs for other ideas and directions you could take this game idea. Cheers!