So I had a chance to play Camel Up last night, and enjoyed it a lot! Coup was also played, during which I tried the infinite Ambassador strategy after making a crucial and damaging error early-on and lost terribly while having a grand time.
However, as I attempted to demonstrate the core ship-building aspect of Boatbuilders, a crucial problem emerged: The table was a laquered smooth wood, and there was a gentle but steady AC vent overhead that was providing an almost-unnoticed breeze.
It was impossible to even get the base set up, let alone anything else.
This is a problem; while I knew breezes and smooth surfaces would be an issue, I hadn’t realized just how bad they could be compared to my relatively-controlled test environment at home. I think the game can be rescued by including 2-4 card clips in the set, and let players adjust how many they used depending on desired difficulty, but the problem is that will immediately bring us outside the scope for the limitations of the cards-only design Button Shy had asked for. So, while I am definitely wanting to hold onto Boatbuilders as a fun, light “pouch”* game, we’ll need to do a redesign asap for a new cards-only wallet game.
*In the vein of games such as Love Letter, Lost Legacy, and Cypher. Mostly just 18ish cards, and maybe a half-dozen small unobtrusive components.
The designing will begin under the cut!
Brainstorm: The Mechanics
So, looking over the prompt for the Wallet game, it indicates we can use a scoring pad and a pencil/pen as well as the cards and rules. There’s not other restrictions on the game, so I think I want to go with something a bit different: I want to create some sort of RPG or roleplay-involved game, something more like D&D than a basic card or trick-taking game.
Now, to be sure, I don’t want to create a straight open-ended RPG. While awesome and a doable challenge, I have repeatedly gotten the impression that people sort “board games” and “RPGs” into two distinct categories, and woe betide the game that seemingly attempts to do both (Hello there, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3e…). With games like Blood Rage and Gloomhaven that line has started to blur a little, but most games still fall heavily on the “game” side of the coin. Keeping this in mind, I’m going to be looking to include RPG/roleplay elements while still keeping the underlying aspects of the game solidly in the “board game” category.
So, with that said, there’s a few important aspects of RPG design that I wanted to touch on:
- Narrative Source
- Component Complexity
- Default Cooperation
The Narrative Source is simply whoever or whatever is providing the control of the story. Generally, it breaks down into somewhere on this poorly-drawn and completely-arbitrary/opinionated graph:
For 100% single-narrative-source games, I think the best examples would be:
- Entirely Mechanics-based: This would be a computer simulation, or an analog equivalent. No human input, just random number generation and result lookup.
- Entirely Player-based: Pass-the-stick style storytelling.
- Entirely GM-based: Single author of a story.
While thinking of how I would rate some of these various RPGs, I noted that while we have games that have Mechanics and Player-based stories and no GM, there’s no other iteration of the two-of-one, none-of-the-third games. This is likely because a Player and GM-only game would again be more like pass-the-stick collaborative storytelling, only with one player providing prompts and having a different or larger degree of narrative control. Meanwhile, a GM and Mechanics-only game would basically be a solo RPG experience, or a player-vs-the-game type scenario. Neither of these are bad, but I think they’re definitely not as compelling for the typical player group.
I’m not sure exactly where on the scale we’ll want to land with this, but I strongly think that GM-less gameplay tends to work better for pickup games, and increases player investment in the game and other player’s choices and actions. Mechanics-wise we’ll want to go for something with a hint of depth, but not too much because we don’t have a ton of randomizer choices to work with since we can’t include dice; any randomization will have to come from the cards themselves.
Speaking of which, this leads us into our next topic…
I think for our game, as we only have 18 cards to work with, we’re going to want to try and maximize the amount of information we put on each card.
Now, something I think that might be valuable would be for us to use both sides of the cards. This does instantly impact the ability of us to have player-held hands, but if the game is more about tableau-building than about cards played from a hand, I think we’ll be doing ok.
One option here is to dedicate one card as a “topper,” basically making it have a blank or not-rules-important something on top, and stack the dual-sided cards beneath that so the topdeck card isn’t constantly revealed.
I think for card placement we can go with a setup where the top and bottom 0.5″ of the card contain values, and then a card is played perpendicular on top of them, with open spaces where the values fill in for vital statistics. Stats will need to be symbol-based so they can be read upside-down, and relatively small/simple so they can be easily interpreted.
As for the main body of the card, I’m thinking borderless art and a name, but no rules text other than identifiers reminders for the different stat symbols; Let’s use top symbols as the power/strengths, and the bottom as the weaknesses.
Now, for the back of the cards. I had initially considered just using it as more space for the border power/opponent central area, but now that I consider it I think it actually could be a great space for the more narrative/RPG part of it. Plus, making the two types of cards facings very distinct in both appearance and function would serve to possibly eliminate the card backsetup, and provide a great mechanic for recycling cards and trading off cards between players and a GM.
I do think a GM will be needed, but I think I’m going to have it on a rotating basis: each player makes a character, using the score pad to record stuff like health as well as a disposable playmat to play the cards and edge powers on to boost their character’s power. Players mat/scorepads will be something a bit like the decorative/functional skill trees in the game Divinity: Original Sin, so as to serve as being a bit more decorative and removing the focus of the character’s power and progression away from the cards themselves (unlike, say, the Pathfinder Card Game).
For the GM/story-focused side, I’m going to split it into two halves. Each gets a story blurb, a small bit of map, and an indication of what can be played next. I’ll divide it into Acts, 3 in all, and have cards with either Act 1/2, 2/3, or 1/3 on the halves. Overall, a GM ends up making a neat little 3-part story, and these cards will loosely influence how they can set up the obstacles for that Act of the story.
Normally, RPGs tend to be collaborative, completely-or-almost-completely-cooperative affairs. I’m going to shift this one a bit, and put it more as a semi-cooperative, something almost akin to Munchkin. Characters will be able to and often need to work together to overcome a tough foe or obstacle. Success will grant them some reward cards, which are used for endgame scoring. Game ends when the draw deck runs dry, so should be an interesting race for maximizing points and also going for a quick endgame.
In this, I’d like to encourage a bit of player-player dickery, so to speak. Basically, encourage players to make deals, promise items, tell them what they’ll be helping with and how much it will do. However, you must and can only show the cards and prove your intentions to every player except the one you just made a deal with. So then they can vouch for you.
Or not. Up to them, really.
Brainstorm: The Story
So this is an interesting bit: my game-design senses are screaming at me to make this a medieval generic RPG, so it’s easy to learn and pick up the expected tropes and such for the game.
However, I’ve also got design senses telling me to make it unique, to make it my own rather than a retread. I think I’m going to leave a pin in this, and tackle the setting/story with a random generator to shake myself out of my rut a little and get the creative juices flowing.
Overall, however, the game will be relatively-tightly focused. Rather than adding one each of a Dragon, an Orc, a Skeleton, a Vampire, a Goblin, etc, I’m going to make the general monsters and Acts centered around a smallish region. This lets me make it a bit more specific with monster lists, and for example could let me make a list with Goblin, Wolves, Wolf Rider, Orc, Troll, and War Drum to give it a specific feel and flavor. Hostile, non-violent but difficult NPCs and doors/traps might become a possibility too, depending on how the space and cards available in play pans out. Either way, I think this is a very solid start, with lots of room toe xpand and play around with later.
Oh, and we need a name: The Order of Artemis. That can be the overall series name, and we can name this “module” after figuring out more specifics. I’m leaning towards Sherlock Holmes case-style ostentatious and evocative names, like “The Dragonbrook Incident” or “Betrayal at Fire Pass,” that sort of thing.
Brainstorm: The Elevator Pitch
A quick adventuring and dungeon delve game, The Order of Artemis is a fast-paced game of tactical decisions, careful alliances, and devious scheming. Make allies with the other players as you fight past [insert monster examples here], but beware of falling behind and losing the glory and riches you seek to your newfound friends. Then, play as the devious [insert enemy overarching faction here] as you command the monsters and obstacles in the heroes’ paths, and strike them down to allow your own plots to reach maturation. The Order of Artemis has sounded the call for brave and cunning warriors: will you answer?
While having to redesign an entirely new game this relatively late is a pain, I think this already has a ton of potential, and I have almost a month to get iterating on it. There is the testing of Alien Ambassadors I’d like to get in early next week, but until then there’s lots of time for editing and making ToA a ready-to-use prototype.
So, what do you think of the new design? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments and reblogs below. Cheers!