Category Archives: Badgerkastan

Badgerkastan: Something there, needs an overhaul

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!

Invasion + Badgerkastan Playtest Report

Good news for the blog: I’m back from a week-long vacation to beautiful, relaxing western New York.
Bad news for the blog: My sabbatical from work is over, so my days of daily blogging about games are over. Twice a week is my tentative goal.

I got to playtest both Invasion and Badgerkastan tonight. Invasion went very well. The new anti-kingmaker-problem mechanism I wrote about before came up and worked well. The player who first exceeded the VP threshold went on to win, although the margin was small; the game was exciting throughout and the player in last kept struggling for his own score. The playtest also brought up a few wording changes that need to be made to Gadget cards, and I might need to examine the costs of a few of the Gadget cards, but so far they all seem to be usually desirable. So congratulations to Michelle, and thanks to both Ed and Michelle for trying it out.

Badgerkastan worked better, but not great. The Despot starts off very powerful. Part of the problem is probably that I let the Despot start with all cards in play. Probably the Despot needs to start with fewer cards in play and the Fundamentalist needs to have a prescribed starting hand. It’s also clear to me now that the game lacks an arc. The Foreign Influence mechanism, which I hoped would lead to an unbalanced-seesaw, isn’t anywhere near powerful enough to actually matter right now, and I don’t think that just multiplying its effect by 2 or 3 would make the game interesting. I need to find some way for the nature of the game to change midway through; perhaps this could be done by slowly or quickly granting a different selection of cards to one side or the other. I am also starting to have doubts about the quick-turn structure of the game. Each turn feels very small and if you can’t do much, you feel pretty stuck. I don’t know whether I need to make turns “bigger” by letting you do more, or placing each turn into a bigger context somehow, or something else. Thanks to Ed for giving it a shot.

Bluffing Game (now: Badgerkastan)

I got in a playtest of the previously-untitled bluffing game that I prototyped a few days ago last night. I’m pleased to find that the concept shows promise, although it clearly has a long way to go; enough promise that it’s worth talking about here.

First, I’m going to go with Badgerkastan for a working title. It lends itself well to the dark-humor tone I’ve got in mind now, and if I need to lighten the tone: well, anthropomorphic badgers are just as good as the go-to fantasy or SF tropes.

An overview of the game: The players are vying for control of seven ministries of Badgerkastan (the Ministry of Petroleum, the Secret Police, the Underworld, etc.) Each player plays cards face-down to their own side of the ministry. The Despot wins ministries by default when they are scored–more about that in a second–but the cards and actions they can take are different:

The Fundamentalist has a hand of cards and draws one for free from a 30-card deck every turn. This deck contains a bunch of Desperate Civilians (which are bluffs, and do nothing) but also Fanatic Infiltrators (which win the ministry), Sympathetic Innocents (which grant Foreign Influence if they are killed by the Despot), and Bombers (which prevent the ministry from scoring altogether, and grant the Fundamentalist bonus points if the important Despot characters were present). With an action, the Fundamentalist can draw extra cards or place three cards into any ministry. By spending cash (a secondary resource that is gained by spending an action or winning certain ministries), the Fundamentalist can draw and place in the same action, recall and redeploy many existing cards, or reveal Despot cards.

The Despot always has access to all their cards. The Despot controls a Popular Reformer (that cancels one Fanatic Infiltrator), a President’s Cousin (that cancels any number of them), and an Oil Executive, which grants Foreign Influence if it scores. With an action, the Despot can move two cards, reveal two Fundamentalist cards, or kill one Fundamentalist card. By spending cash, the Despot can kill or reveal all the Fundamentalist cards in a location.

A separate Scoring deck shows the ministries that will soon be scored; five scoring cards are laid out in a queue. The flow of the game is this: after every three half-turns, the player who’s about to play chooses a ministry to score. Choosing the first scoring card is free; you can also choose later from the queue (discarding everything that was skipped) for $1 per card. When a ministry is scored, all the cards in it are revealed, and the winner advances the score marker the appropriate amount towards their side. Scoring is a tug-of-war, but every Foreign Influence increases all your future score gains by 1, which should (hopefully) make the game end eventually.

After two games, we found that the Despot side is much too strong; the ability to win ties, plus the relative scarcity of Fanatic Infiltrators, means it’s too easy to secure safe ministries to score. Here are the changes I have ready for the next iteration. Hopefully these will even the scales, add another layer of guessing, and allow some mechanisms that didn’t quite work before to shine:

  • Choosing non-default scoring options was too easy, so the costs are adjusted. Choosing the default scoring now grants $1; choosing non-default now costs $1 plus $1 per card skipped.
  • Fundamentalist gets 5-6 new Angry Mob cards. Two Angry Mobs will allow the Fundamentalist to win a ministry if the Despot doesn’t have a defender present.
  • Fundamentalist gets 2-3 new Foreign Martyr cards that grant cash if the Despot kills them. (We felt that the Despot could use the ability to kill Fundamentalist cards with relative impunity, even with Sympathetic Innocents available.)
  • Fundamentalist gets 1-2 new cards, title unknown, that can win a ministry on their own if no Despot cards are present (even the bluffs).
  • Fundamentalist gets an additional free option: draw one card, play one card.
  • Fundamentalist will probably lose one Sympathetic Innocent.
  • Despot gains a new Riot Police card that cancels Angry Mobs. It also returns cards to hand when the ministry is scored, instead of leaving them revealed.
  • Despot gains a new War Profiteer card that grants cash if it is present when the Fundamentalistscores.
  • Despot’s paid action that examines a Fundamentalist card and can kill it can now optionally return it to hand as well.
  • Despot gets a new paid action to kill two cards in different locations.
  • Both Despot and Fundamentalist have action costs reduced to make prohibitively-expensive actions worth considering.
  • All ministries now score the same for both sides. I had thought some asymmetry here might be interesting–it turns out that in a two-player game, it’s not, and doubly so since the scoring is a tug-of-war.

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.