Towards a Holy Grail (Part 3)

Here, as promised, is a short rundown of the changes I am planning for the next playtest of Walsingham. Everything is subject to change, of course, even mid-game if it ends up not working out.

  • Theme: As I’ve been mentioning, the current title is now Walsingham, after Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster. Conceptually, the players are merchants buying and selling secrets to win favors from the Crown–but one is secretly a spy for the Spanish! I am relatively pleased with this theme and will probably stick with it if the game ends up being fun.
  • Graphics and Terminology: The resource that the Spy wants is now known as Intrigue. Intrigue is now no longer harmful to non-Spy players; in fact, players get a small reward for stopping the Spy from winning by collecting more Intrigue. Victory Points are still Victory Points. Both of them have their own icons, which I got from




  • Auction: The complicated simultaneous auction is replaced with a dollar auction in which non-winners pay half. The highest bidders get first choice of the rewards on offer each round. (This is the same mechanic as For Sale and similar to Steam.) This should speed the game significantly, since I think one of its largest weaknesses is likely to be an anticlimactic period in between when the Spy becomes obvious and the end of the game.
  • Secrets: Several rewards allow the players to draw 3 / keep 1 card from a Secret deck. This deck contains both VPs and Intrigue. This lets players accumulate Intrigue without it being obvious; of course, since there are plenty of VPs available, a player going for VPs could attract false suspicion. A few cards let you peek at the Secrets an opponent has collected.
  • Narrower Rewards: Previous iterations of the game featured a wide array of rewards. The only real rewards now available for bidding are VPs, Intrigue, and information. A few cards are worth extra VP or information in if you collect both cards of a set. Some of the reward chips do come in two different colors, and Loyalty cards reward players for collecting more of one than the other. This is to give the bidding some “texture” and cover for Spies to bid erratically.
  • Stinginess of Information: At the end of the game, starting with the player with the least (public) Intrigue, everyone gets to make an Accusation of the spy. An incorrect accusation carries no penalty. A correct accusation gives two rewards: first, a sizable VP award, and second, the Spy loses both VP and Intrigue. On one hand, sharing one’s information about the Spy can help everyone correctly accuse the Spy and stop the automatic win. On the other hand, being close-lipped–or lying outright–can help a player reap the successful-accusation reward alone. Since there is no penalty for being wrongly accused, players may even choose to deliberately act suspiciously to throw off rivals.

3 Responses to Towards a Holy Grail (Part 3)

  1. Is it possible for a revealed Spy to win? I would worry that a spy could play very well, but then lose on a random guess

    After reading part 2, I was reminded of trying to ‘shoot the moon’ in Hearts. For the first part of the round a player trying to shoot the moon is trying to play like a normal player (not spy) until they reach a tipping point and it becomes obvious what they are doing. At this point all of the other players are trying to stop them but may not be able to. I do not know if this is a dynamic you might want in Walsingham or how workable it would be if they game is not played in multiple rounds.

  2. Interesting question.

    First, no information ever gets publicly revealed. Even at the end of the game, every player makes their guess before anything is revealed. If you see a Spy card when you peek at a player’s Loyalty, you can call them out of course; but given that you might well choose to lie, the other players will not necessarily believe you.

    The Intrigue and VP penalties for each successful guess are modest and the intent is that a Spy who draws only one or two guesses still has a decent chance to win on Intrigue (probably) or even VP (if the other players have been sloppy or were fighting too hard for Intrigue to think about VP). If everyone has figured it out, though, the penalties should stack high enough that the Spy can’t win.

    In a five-player game in my current prototype, there are only 6 total “Peek” cards. Each player has two Loyalty cards (having one Spy makes you a Spy); the Peek card allows you to choose a player and randomly look at one of their cards; they don’t know which one you saw. So only 3/5 of the cards will ever be seen, and each player only has a small fraction of the available information.

    The intention is that if a Spy plays so bluntly that he or she is obviously the Spy, they can’t win, but short of that, any combination of total subtlety vs. confusion and misdirection is at least an option.

  3. As for shooting that moon, that’s a fascinating idea. My gut reaction is to say that it’s such a “big” effect that it needs to have the whole game built around it; whereas for Walsingham I want deduction and guesswork to be a factor from the beginning even if the Spy wants to play it subtle. However, if this Walsingham prototype ends up being a bust, I’ll definitely consider an effect like that for its successor.

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