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.

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