Walsingham: further playtest report

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!

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