Prepare to weigh anchor, me hearties!

I've been making very slow progress lately, but at last, the Scurvy Crew is ready to sail.  More or less.

My lovely wife, S, volunteered to try the game out with me, making for a reasonably successful two-player experience, after which she gave me a list of feedback as long as my arm, but also a qualified thumbs-up, suggesting that the game is, at least, not awful.
Choose the right subject matter and it's great what artwork you can find in the public domain.  This is from an old edition of Treasure Island.
Some of S's thoughts were...
  • It is not obvious when it is best to switch between Acts.  (I'm bearing this in mind, but am not sure this is a big problem as it is a quick game and future plays should be more clued up.)
  • The optional actions in Act 3 (at sea) are a bit confusing at first.  (We agreed that a player aid card/sheet would make a big difference here.)
  • The number and balance of treasure cards doesn't seem quite right. (I agree and will be working on this later. We discussed possibly having some uncertainty as to the exact cards in the treasure deck, which sounds a good plan.)
  • Some cards have 3 icons on them, does this make those cards too good?  (My hunch is that it is probably OK to have some "better" cards -- apart from anything else, they are usually gained by a form of draft pick, which reduces the luck of the draw. I'll need to keep an eye on this though.)
  • The presentation of icons on the ship cards is confusing.  (I agree, I need to improve on that and have some ideas that shouldn't be too hard.)
  • The differentiation between Act 1 and Act 2 is not great.  Perhaps in Act 2 you should be able to, say, draw no cards but play 3 as an option.  (Maybe.  I'll definitely bear this in mind as a potential solution if this becomes a problem.)
The next step was to get the rules written up, and this is the part that has taken far too long.  As they stand, I think the written rules should work to get people started, but I'm not sure if they are structured in the best way, and there are bound to be details missing.

However, if you are interested, there are links below to PDF files on DropBox for the rules and print & play cards, so please help yourself.  If you have any comments, whether on playing the game or just a quick glance over the rules, my contact details are in the rules document, or you could comment on this post.

I'll leave this as a short update this time, but will list a few things that are on my immediate to-do list for the game...
  • Make player aid cards to remind what actions are available.
  • Make more ships, treasure and crew cards.
  • Playtest a lot with various player counts if possible.


My crew is getting scurvier

Wow, applying a reasonably coherent theme has made a huge difference.  Over the last couple of weeks my drafting game has mutated into something barely recognisable from its original form.  So, here are some of the key changes and an outline of how the game works now...
  • As I mentioned last time I wrote about the game, I have stopped using persona cards for scoring and instead, each player has a ship card which gives their objectives for the game.  Essentially, each ship has a set of requirements (icons -- which represent crew skills -- which must be collected in order to allow the ship to leave port), and possibly some other bonuses or abilities.  The ship card is initially kept face down and secret from other players.
  • Instead of my original idea of passing hands of cards around as a packet draft (like in 7 Wonders or Fairy Tale), crew are recruited from "taverns", which are rows of face-up card in the middle of the table.  If a player visits a tavern, only players with more "fighting" icons revealed can visit the same tavern, allowing a small degree of blocking.
    • The game runs in three phases -- I'm tempted to call them "acts":
      • Act 1 is recruiting the bulk of your crew (building a hand of cards and putting some of them into play).  In practice this means that you can draw two cards from a tavern and add one card from your hand to your tableau.
      • Act 2 is making ready to sail (mostly putting cards into play, but also still gaining a few new cards).  At this stage you can draw one card from a tavern each turn and play two to your tableau.  Entering Act 2 involves revealing your ship card, enabling its abilities, but also letting other players know what your objectives are.
      • Act 3 is setting sail and gaining treasure.  This partly involves drawing cards from a treasure deck, but can also involve attacking other pirates who are also at sea.
      • Players will probably enter the different acts at different times.
    • It is the gaining of treasure in act 3 that wins the game, so the first to set sail may be at an advantage, but anyone not too far behind may be able to catch up with attacks.
    Two players, both of them me, one of whom has just entered Act 2.  The beer, by the way, is Fuller's Bengal Lancer.  :)
    So, that is actually quite a big change to the game, from the mechanism for gaining cards to the treasure grab and potential take-that battle in Act 3.  I have in my mind that moving the game through three distinct stages should give the game a clear shape which could form some sort of a narrative arc and end with a bit of a climax.

    I can see a number of potential problems with this which I will have to address, including:
    • If one player hits Act 3 a long time before anyone else, they will just sit there picking up treasure for a few dull turns and nobody else will have a chance of catching them.
    • On the other hand, if Act 3 allows too much swing, then it could render the earlier part of the game irrelevant as everything is resolved by a take-that slugfest. 
    • Either way, though, getting the right level of activity in Act 3 may be a bit of a challenge.
    • I suspect we will see a significant first player advantage.  Only playtesting (a lot) will really tell if this is the case, or how much of a problem it is, but it is very likely I'll have to come up with some form of mitigation for this.
    As we stand right now I have a deck of cards for the game which will at least work, and have played a solo game against myself.  I only have partially written rules, but this test play has revealed that I hadn't really thought Act 3 through properly, so I have made a few notes about what needs to change.  The plan now is to get the rules as they stand written up and play a couple more times (ideally with someone else if I can persuade a victim/volunteer), revise the rules, and then post the current state online to see if anyone is interested in taking a look.


    A Scurvy Draft

    In an earlier post I talked about a game I had been working using a card drafting mechanic to build a point scoring tableau, but which was struggling to find a theme and name.  Well, the testing I have been able to do with the game has shown me that it needs quite a lot of work to get into a good shape and I have begun to think that I started from the wrong place.

    So, I thought, maybe if I strip the game back a bit and apply a different theme -- or any theme, really! -- I might start to make some progress.  I think that sometimes it is important to step back from an idea and be willing to either bin it or  make drastic changes that may involve dropping significant parts of what I was working on.

    Something I am beginning to learn is the importance of having a theme.  I am much more interested in games for their mechanics than their dressing, but if there is a setting and thematic idea for a game, it means that when you come to a decision point in the design, the theme can act as a guiding hand to help you choose which way to go.

    In this case, I decided that maybe the game could be about pirate captains trying to recruit a new crew for their ship.  Instead of collecting influence in different factions like in The City, players are now collecting crew skills like sailing, navigation and fighting.  Instead of having persona cards with different requirements, each player has a ship which has specific skill requirements in order to set sail (and this could be different for each player).  The aim of the game would then be to collect all the necessary skills and be the first to set sail.
    Thanks to a little nanDECK magic it is easy to throw together prototype cards.

    Of course, all that would be rather dry, so many cards will have effects that change things about.  Being a game about recruiting a pirate crew, having effects that involve punching other crew and doing other nasty tricks would be completely on-theme, so having a bit of a take-that aspect to play would seem to work out just fine.

    As an aside, for prototyping purposes there are an awful lot of pictures of pirates out on the Internet that are free to use (Project Gutenberg has some great ones in some of their books), so with very little expenditure of time and effort I can include some appropriate artwork on the cards.

    So, the situation now is that I am throwing together a bunch of prototype cards for the next run at testing.  I could probably have made a few modifications to my existing city cards, but I think it is worth reworking more-or-less from the ground up, and it gives me the excuse to play with pictures of pirates.