Design for Untitled Bluffing Game

Invasion and Walsingham are both waiting on another playtest, so it’s time to bring an all-new game out of my notebooks and onto the table. This is a high-level view, of course, so everything is liable to change–both as I put it together, and after a play or two reveals if the game is actually fun in the way I want it to be.

I played Netrunner for a while after it came out. It’s a fantastic game that I enjoyed a lot. However, the living, customizable aspect means that playing the game requires an ongoing investment of time and energy, which I just didn’t have in me. I’m trying to capture my favorite element of Netrunner in its own non-customizable, play-out-of-the-box game. That element is the bluff and counter-bluff of choosing what servers to defend and attack. The Runner can successfully attack any target, but not every target. The Corp secretly chooses where to place its valuable targets and its ambushes, and where to place defenses. The obvious choice is to defend the most important targets most fiercely–but doing this naively signals to the Runner exactly where the valuable targets are!

Netrunner also has a big chunk of customization that delves into the details of how these attacks and defenses will be mustered–fast vs. slow, cautious vs. reckless, and so on; this is what I’m hoping to elide from my new game to focus it down to the bluffing, intelligence-gathering experience.

The tentative theme for this still-untitled game is that one player controls the despotic leadership of a small country, and the other player controls a religious fundamentalist insurgency that’s trying to infiltrate the government so it can be overthrown and replaced with a theocracy. Looked at in this jaundiced way, both players are “bad guys”, and the theme is dark, maybe darker than I would prefer since I would like the game to be accessible and fast. I have several directions I could take it, in rough order of grimmest to lightest:

  1. Theme the game after Syria, which was the inspiration for the theme. This is a bad idea.
  2. Theme the game after a fictional Middle East/Central Asian country, and a fictional religion, but keep the tone serious.
  3. Theme the game after a fictional country and religion, but make the tone dark humor (like, say, Junta or Illuminati) rather than serious. This is what I am currently leaning towards, and if I continue the name of the country and game is likely to be Badgerkastan.
  4. As above, but throw a fantasy or science fiction theme on to go one step further away from real events and say “this isn’t real”… or “I wish this weren’t real.” Red November does this. It’s a cooperative game about averting disaster on a submarine. But it’s not about people drowning horribly, because the characters are gnomes!
  5. Scrap the theme entirely and choose something else.

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