December 29, 2011

Try Me! An Update on my Witch Trial Themed DBG

Last night's design/prototype efforts, brought to you by Crayola.
I've made some interesting progress on Try Me! lately, so I wanted to put my thoughts down to see if others had insight or thoughts to guide me further. I'm referring to Witch Trial as Try Me! because Witch Trial is already taken. Obviously, the name still needs work.

Initially, Try Me! was a deckbuilding game based on a witch trial in colonial Salem. It's a two player game with the players comprising the roles of the defense attorney and the prosecuting attorney. I love the deckbuilding game mechanic and the theme has been a huge hit with everyone who hears it, so the two seemed like a natural pairing. Plus, I've wanted to design a more focused two player experience.

There have been a few issues with this initial concept. For example, I didn't want to have a set of cards that players pick from then play, similar to Dominion or Ascension. These games already do this so incredibly well and I cannot compete with that. My thought was to shift it such that there are essentially three or four sets of cards:

  • Common Cards: These are the 2 or 3 decks in the center that are always accessible. These are the cards that drive the basic engine, like Mystics or Heavy Infantry in Ascension.
  • Judicial Cards: You obtain these cards via the Judge, who is an entity on the board. These cards would focus on player interaction abilities.
  • Witness Cards: You obtain these cards by interacting with Witnesses. These are a fluctuating board entity. These cards would focus on scoring points with the jury.
Ultimately, all cards feed into the Jury. By influencing the Jury, you gain points to win the game.

The problem is, how are these cards dealt out? Do you have to track certain cards with each Witness? That's downright fiddly. How many piles are there? Where are they? For a deckbuilding game, the table layout is incredibly important and my brainstorm wasn't lending itself to an intuitive setup.

Another problem was dealing with the deckbuilding standards. Drawing more cards, removing cards from your deck...I didn't want to just borrow these 10 cards. I wanted to try something new and tweak things a little bit. My solution was to create a "Court Proceedings" tableau with a handful of dice based actions. Players would roll 3 dice at the beginning of each turn, then assign any that fit to take advantage of a Court Proceeding. Things like "Draw More Cards" or "Get a Judicial Card." 

This idea felt good, but a bit slapped together. I firmly believe that a fundamental rule of good game design is that If you create a mechanic, you should use it throughout your game. Everything should feed into a few core mechanics. Proof of this is the removal of the paper money from Farmageddon. Now, every card uses Crops as the central currency, which has removed fiddly bits from the game, enhanced the strategy, and improved the overall experience.

So, I took the dice mechanic further. I removed two basic Court Proceedings from the tableau and added them to the Judge's card. I put two on the Witch, who is permanently in the Accused Stand. I then added one to each of the 8 Townspeople cards (Townspeople cards are each a character that comprises the Witnesses and Jurors). Each game, 3 Townspeople cards are dealt for the Jurors. These 3 Jurors provide 3 dice-based benefits you can access and deny your opponent of each turn. But, Witnesses can also be summoned to provide temporary dice-based benefits. Think of this, in a sense, as a shifting Alien Frontiers board. 

To summarize, dice are rolled at the beginning of each turn. You assign your dice and take the output. But, what about the cards?

A purely dice-roll based mechanic is frustrating. Alien Frontiers is so delightful because you obtain bonuses and Alien Tech cards that allow you to mitigate the randomness. The currency for Try Me! is Influence. It is used to score points with Jurors and Judge, modify Evidence (more on that shortly), and also to modify dice rolls. You spend Influence to add points to your dice rolls to create the straights, pairs, and high number rolls needed to take advantage of powerful Court Proceedings. The twist, however, is that Influence has a one-time use. If you spend it on a Juror or Judge, it stays on the board as points. If you spend it on a dice roll, it's  removed from the game. 

Let's summarize again: There are powerful dice-based Court Proceedings, which are abilities that further your interests. Some of these Court Proceedings exist in the game permanently, others may be temporary. You spend Influence to modify dice rolls or score with Jurors. Influence is spent permanently. There is a limited supply of Influence, but it is relatively easy to obtain. 

A photo from the Rodiek Family Christmas!
Let's discuss Evidence. Evidence has evolved quite a bit. Initially, Evidence was a set of cards similar to what you'd find in any DBG, or Action cards in a game like Farmageddon. Fitting Evidence into the game has been difficult. I thought of assigning players Evidence initially that they'd have to spend. But, that's very difficult to balance and prone to frustrating more strategy inclined players. I also felt that there was a need to classify certain types of Evidence, both for thematic and balance purposes.

The solution is still evolving, but here's what I have so far. There are three types of Evidence: Spiritual, Physical, and Circumstantial. Basically, religious stuff (don't worry, I won't be offensive), evidence from the "scene of the crime," and hearsay/rumors. These are represented by the colors red, green, and blue. The Townspeople (who comprise the Witnesses and Jury) each have one or two of these colors, which means they are more partial to a specific type of Evidence. For example, the Deacon is entirely Spiritual focused. The Farmer's Wife is split between Spiritual and Circumstantial. 

You obtain Evidence by calling Witnesses to the stand. You interact with the Witnesses using Influence (currency cards) and Court Proceedings (dice rolls) to gain Evidence of their type. For example, if you summon the Deacon as a Witness, you can obtain Spiritual Evidence to use with the Farmer's Wife, who is a Juror. Both players will be able to manipulate Witnesses to obtain Evidence, but each Juror will provide limited amounts of Evidence. 

Evidence will be incredibly powerful, one-time use cards. I intend many of them to be dual use (i.e. do X OR Y), though some may be "Do X OR Gain N Influence." I'm also trying to see if there's a clever, intuitive way to have color-based pairs for using the Evidence to score. For example, you can pair Red and Blue Evidence (like the Science cards in 7 Wonders) for a bonus. 

The game has changed a bit since I created this layout mock, but it's still somewhat accurate!
I still have a few questions to answer and problems to solve. 
  1. Do I want Evidence and Influence to be single-use? Might be strange in a DBG if you're spending everything. Perhaps Evidence is less powerful, but can be used multiple times. 
  2. I want the game to be more interactive than your typical DBG, but not a take-that haymaker fest. How do I design cards that are subtle and strategic, not face kickers?
  3. I definitely need to tighten the relationship between dice and cards. 
  4. I need to better define my scoring mechanic and try that. I've got too many variants upon variants at the moment. 
The engine is moving along. As it stands right now, I think I have a compelling theme and many mechanics that embrace the theme, like influencing juror or manipulating the witnesses and judge. I'm excited about the dice mechanic paired with a typical deckbuilding flow -- I feel this takes some well worn, beloved mechanics and re-positions them into something fresh. I need to finalize a scoring mechanic, answer some key questions on how cards are played, then design heaps of content. 

Thanks for reading! Did I explain this clearly enough? I realize I'm rambling a tinge as this is still a work in progress and anything but nailed down. As always, your thoughts, concerns, and insults are much appreciated!


Nolan said...

If you haven't yet, you should check out 1955: The War of Espionage. It uses a tug-of-war scoring mechanic as you try to influence different nations to your side. It came to mind as I was trying to imagine what exactly "influencing the Jury" meant.

1955 rulebook

I have to admit that the flow of your game isn't entirely clear to me, but it sounds interesting. The thought of adding another layer of randomness (dice rolls) on top of the first layer (deck draws) concerns me, but it might be that I'm just not seeing how it all flows together.

Grant said...

Nolan: I really appreciate your comments. I'm glad you made it through the rambling to grasp a little about the game. Your comment regarding double randomness (dice + card draw) is really spot on and you've put it into perspective for me.

I think I'm currently on the path to keeping this reasonable, but we'll see.

Currently, hitting the dice rolls can make a good hand better, but not hitting them shouldn't ruin the game for you. There should be several dice allocations to access at all times, plus you get to roll 3 dice. I hope the focus is on maximizing what you have, not slogging through some terrible randomness. It should enhance the choice, not be annoying.

I'll have to see. I'll check out 1955 now. Thanks!