I finally got Walsingham to the table again, following my last round of changes. Once again, the mood at the table was subdued as it ended… and then suddenly passionate about the different ways the endgame might have played out. I’m now a little bit worried and maybe unsure what to make of this? But I suppose that for now, I’ll just keep making the improvements that are in front of me. Points is points, as they say, and better is better.
A rundown of the changes made, how they went, and what further changes might be on deck:
- I tried a new auction mechanism, which was a little difficult to explain but completely satisfactory in execution. The new mechanism is this: You get two chances to bid. On your first bid, you can bid any unique amount. (So if Alice bids 4, and Bob bids 6, then Cindy can bid 0, 3, 5, 10… anything except for 4 or 6). On your second bid, you can either hold your previous bid or increase, but if you increase, you have to bid yourself up to first place. This keeps the auction fast and prevents people from weaseling into second, say. The last place bidder pays nothing (and gets a stipend). First place pays full price, and every other bidder pays half.
- We played with rebalanced endgame scoring: 5 VP for stopping the Spy. The player who won this award (me) didn’t win the game, but it was very close, and to some degree I was punished for bidding mistakes.
- The Spy felt… oppressed. It’s very difficult to subtly pick up Intrigue and not make it obvious to the other players. I don’t know how to deal with this. I could put more emphasis on the Spy’s chance for a VP victory (fine, but seems to take away from the drama of the game). I could give the Spy an easier time, for instance by making Accusations less punishing, but then the Spy has no incentive to play cautiously, again subtracting from the drama.
- The players generally felt that the Rewards and Secret cards both needed “something extra”. I’m cautious about including new mechanics just for fun, but I think I agree. A little more texture is called for.
- One of the improvements is that the money awards in the Rewards deck need to go. It makes no sense to bid money and then maybe get money back. I’ll probably adjust the last-bid stipend to compensate if more money needs to be injected back into the game.
- A card that reduces the sting of Accusations. Of course, buying this card is itself suspicious! Alternatively: a card that provides a VP incentive for being falsely Accused. You have a lot of Intrigue and buy it. Are you a Loyal player hoping to score cheap VP, or a brazen Spy?
- A card that is worth a lot of VP, but penalizes you if your Accusation is incorrect.
- The “Big Reveal” card that requires you to reveal your Loyalty cards led to an interesting auction (the Spy bailed to avoid getting stuck with it) but having a Loyal player reveal reduced the drama and mystery for everyone else. The card needs to either be removed or reworked, perhaps to reveal only one of your cards.
- A set of big-VP and big-Intrigue cards, but you can only score one of them. Some of these could even be Secret cards, which would add some more interest to that deck. Unless I have a better idea, I could theme this as “Political Marriage”.
- The card that lets one player spy on all of another player’s Secrets is definitely too powerful for 4p; it just adds too much information. It might be OK for 5p or it might need to be toned down or reworked.
- A card that blocks spying in some way. My brainstorm was: Block the next attempt to Peek at your Loyalty cards or Secrets. Both you and the blocked player gain $10.
- A card that allows you to either Peek or gain some kind of resource.
- Finally: Instead of money on cards, there could be some kind of intermediate currency or goal–having at least one, or having a certain amount, or having the most, could gain you a reward of some kind. That reward could be VP or Intrigue or one of the previously mentioned rewards–maybe the biggest Political Marriage?
Thanks to Ed, Josh, and Zach for playing and providing feedback!
At Jason’s request, here are the current rules to Walsingham. I’m a little nervous about writing these down because I don’t want to become too attached to them as they are; however, getting them written out will probably help me explain the game more smoothly the next time I explain it, so here you go. Everything here is 100% subject to change!
I finally made it back to my local design-and-playtest group night, BOGA DAP, for the first time in a while. Unfortunately, the only other person to make it was Philip Migas. Fortunately, he was willing to give the still-very-rough Badgerkastan a shot.
It was a very productive session because it confirmed that the core of the game, the bluffing and guessing, is fundamentally fun(good!). It also confirmed at this early point in the process that the game needs a total overhaul (inevitable, and obvious in retrospect) and gave me some good suggestions in the way of new directions to take the game (also good). Here is a summary of my notes:
- The game needs a negative feedback mechanism. Currently, if your cards are in a good place and you score, they stay in a good place, and then your opponent has to both dislodge you and try to gain ground somewhere else. Apropos of this, the tug-of-war VP tracker doesn’t work well currently and doesn’t make sense at all in a game with a negative feedback mechanism. It needs to be a race, possibly with some kind of alternate sudden-death victory condition.
- The fun part of the game is playing cards. You should get to play cards every turn and everything should spring out of that. Playing to each district should let you take the other actions right away. The districts can be balanced in that districts that are inherently valuable have less important actions.
- This does mean that the Despot probably needs to be rebalanced to have a deck large enough to draw from.
- There are probably too many districts right now. Five should be enough.
- Tricking your opponent into using their power to fall into a trap, or scare them away with an empty bluff, is awesome. Drawing only bluffs when what you need is power sucks. Careful design is needed. One idea is to make most of the cards that don’t inherently provide power into traps of some kind.
- The current “menu” of actions is too broad, adding confusion and providing new players with no idea of what to do. Associating actions with certain regions, which I like anyway, also helps mitigate this problem.
- It would be cool to have cards whose effect is greater/lesser/different depending on where they are deployed.
- Keeping track of where the game is on the your turn/my turn/whose turn to score is onerous and taxing, given the pace of the game. A tracker of some kind is needed.
- The current mechanism of escalation, Foreign Influence, doesn’t work at all. One possible idea would be to use the time tracker to also escalate the effects of Foreign Influence over time.
Thanks very much to Phil for putting up with a still-raw game and providing many excellent ideas!
One of the rules I tried out in the playtest was: If there is no Spy, the player with the most Intrigue is eliminated, rather than earning a bonus. This rule arose thematically and on the surface I like it: if it turns out there is no Spy, the person who’s been snooping around all those seedy alleys ends up looking like a conspirator, rather than a hero.
However, upon reflection, this rule is lousy for several reasons, and I’ll be ditching it.
- It’s an extra bit of complexity. Every rule that has to do with loyalty has to be taught and drilled in at the very beginning of the game, since you can’t ask clarifying questions midgame without giving everything away, so this rule is extra ripe for removal.
- It scares people away from taking Intrigue, creating confusion. I had hoped that it would create a little mini-mind-game of players maybe wanting to deliberately avoid Intrigue. However…
- Most importantly, it will never be relevant. To actually affect the outcome of the game, this rule would mean that one player would have to collect both the most VP (to otherwise win the game) and the most Intrigue (to lose instead). Given that VP and Intrigue do not usually appear together on cards, this is improbable to the point of impossibility, even in the face of soft or even inept opposition.
As a result, I’ll be ditching this rule entirely. If there is no Spy, there will be no bonus for having the most Intrigue (so gathering it was a waste) but there’s no overt penalty. I will also be removing the Secret cards that provided negative Intrigue and replace them with something else. I’m considering either a split VP/Intrigue card or a Secret card that provides a large Intrigue bonus (4 or so) if it is your only Intrigue-providing Secret.