Walsingham playtest report (optimism!)

Too many weeks after putting together the latest prototype, I finally got Walsingham playtested. I’ll confess that I had been procrastinating a little bit (pulling out Invasion instead, and so on) out of dread that it would fall as flat as last time. But I’m pleased that this playtest went well. I did a bit of tripping on the rules explanation, but I seem to have ripped out enough cruft that it flowed pretty well once we got rolling. The mood at the table seemed not super excited near the end, but, after it was over there was about 10 minutes of spontaneous discussion/arguing over who should have done what, who would have won, whether some elements weren’t worth enough points, etc.. That discussion was energetic, protracted, and not instigated by me (I was just taking notes) and it made me optimistic that at least the game was engaging and interesting. Here’s a rundown of my notes from both the game and follow discussion:

  • Both of the core mechanics–the auction and the secret agendas–were interesting, and they worked fairly well together.
  • The auction rule I used was the dollar auction from For Sale: you must bid higher than anyone else if you want to bid at all; you choose rewards in reverse order from drop order; non-winners pay only half of their bids, and lowest bidder pays nothing (and wins nothing but gets a $2 stipend instead). This worked well enough to be interesting but was very problematic when several players had enough for a bid but they were all edged out by one high bidder early in the turn order. Somehow, the bidding needs to allow players to enter a non-highest bid. I might end up choosing the system from Santiago that only goes once around the table, but you can make any non-duplicate bid.
  • The peeking mechanic (look at one of the target’s loyalty cards; the target doesn’t know which one was viewed) worked pretty well and there were an appropriate number of peeks in the deck to give interesting, but not complete, information.
  • The accusation mechanic (lowest showing Intrigue has to choose their accusation first) worked pretty well; I might need tokens for “successful accusation” to keep track of the points easier. The way it shook out in this game, one player went all-in and was pretty obviously the Spy (accused by everyone). I knew he was and vocally supported his accusations, and in the end, his Intrigue tied another player’s. Whew! I ruled that neither player had the most Intrigue, so neither the Spy’s auto-victory nor the VP bonus kicked in.
  • Apropos of this, I need to clarify all endgame ties, including who has to accuse first in case of tied Intrigue, which will probably happen a lot.
  • The cash allotment I went with was $15 at the beginning of the game, $10 after the first and second thirds of the game. The cash needs to be split up like this to prevent novices from blowing all their money early and being helpless the rest of the game. This kept the auctions interesting and nobody broke. It’s close enough, but I’ll need to recalibrate it if the number of rounds or the auction mechanism changes.
  • Speaking of the number of rounds, I actually only had the cards for a 4-player game. I had planned 12 rounds of 3 cards each, but went with 9 rounds of 4 cards each. (One player doesn’t get a card every round.) This duration actually seemed just right. I may be able to use the same number of cards for 4p, or maybe 9 rounds is the right length and I’ll just cut some of the cards out in 4p. (And add some more for 6p, which should work; I don’t think I’m going to try to shoehorn 3p in.)
  • The strongest disagreement in valuation was: how much VP should the player who prevents the Spy from winning get as a reward? It needs to be enough that this player has a chance to win and isn’t just “taking one for the team”; on the other hand, it needs to be small enough that you can’t win by ignoring VPs. I suspect the current value of 3 VP might not be enough. (The 2nd place player in this game had only 4 Intrigue, which was the same as the reckless Spy minus 4 accusations.) Brainstorm: This player gets 2/3 of their Intrigue as VP.
  • One of the minor mechanisms is that I have colored tiles with VPs and Intrigue on them that are part of the auctions; these colors tie into the Loyalty cards, and if your mix of tiles matches your mix of Loyalty cards, you get a VP bonus. The idea is to add some texture to the auctions and provide a little bit of information–is a player going for tiles that don’t seem to match their card you peeked at? Perhaps it’s a spy! The mechanism worked pretty well I think, but my explanation was very difficult, and because the cards are hidden, you can’t ask clarifying questions. I’m not sure what to do about this. One player suggested a cheat sheet/player aid. This seems reasonable, but I’ve still got my eye on the mechanic.
  • Minor notes: Find the colored meeples that I was planning to use for player/bid markers; indicate on the bidding track who pays what; assemble player aids.

Thanks to Nevin, Ed, Michelle, and Josh for playing my game!

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