24 hours of assassins - and follies

This month's 24 hour game design contest had the requirement "assassin", which clearly had lots of people thinking in all sorts of different directions.

For my part, memories came back of a scene from one of the Inspector Clouseau films (it turns out that it was The Pink Panther Strikes Again) where Clouseau is bumbling his way through Oktoberfest in Munich looking for clues, while an international horde of assassins hunt him down because the now-insane Dreyfuss has convinced the entire world that only the death of Clouseau will prevent the use of a doomsday machine.  Or something like that.  Of course, the assassins are almost as incompetent as the Inspector, and only succeed in accidentally killing each other off one by one.  For a dose of Peter Sellers versus the world (and dubbed into German on this occasion, though there is little dialogue), you can look here.
An innocent bystander wanders closer to harm's way...

So I wanted to make a game inspired by that scene, but was acutely aware that I could fall into just reimplementing the very silly and fun Kill Doctor Lucky, so I needed a different angle.  I decided that what I would do would be to create an asymmetric two-player game, meaning that each player would have different objectives and, in fact, different ways to play the game. One player would play a team of assassins, hunting their target (and trying to avoid getting in each others' way), while the other player would control their hapless prey.

If you have tried designing this sort of thing before, you will know that asymmetry is hard.  You have to ensure that everyone has an interesting play experience and that everyone has a chance of winning.  To achieve this you either need to do a lot of modelling, followed by a lot of playtesting and tuning, or you need to just do a heck of a lot of guesswork and a ludicrous amount of playtesting.  All this before you really have a game that's even worth playing.  As with any of this game design racket, you can get better at it, developing your instincts and your toolbox of tricks, but this is still a hard class of game to challenge.

I then compounded my folly by deciding to move out of another design comfort zone.  Over the last couple of years I have really come to rely on cards in my designs, even in games that are not what you might call "card games", having some aspects handled with cards is really convenient.  You see it all around: a very large proportion of modern hobby boardgames include an aspect of card play.  So I decided I would avoid the use of cards this time.

Actually, this was a good decision, I think.  I have a stock of meeples, counters, tokens, etc. for prototyping use and I don't really get great use of them at the moment, so this was my moment.  Plus, instead of having to create several sheets of cards to print and cut out, I ended up with two pages of print and play components: one being a map/board, and the other being a player mat to track the actions of the assassins.  Everything else was just meeples and tokens.

I spent my first few hours on the game repeatedly playing partial games against myself on a hastily thrown together map board, each time revising the rules a little in order to improve on something that started extremely shoddy and half-arsed.  A few changes worked out, some didn't, and I ended up with something that mostly worked.

The next day I did a load of work at writing up the rules and creating materials suitable for submission to the contest, and when Miss B returned from school she helped me by playing through the game a couple of times.

By the time I submitted, I had made a last couple of minor changes, but it looks like the "prey" player has a definite advantage, and actually more interesting decisions to make than the assassin player.  The game is deeply flawed, but has provided a fascinating learning experience.  I don't know if I'll develop this game further, but I think I'll be taking another shot at an asymmetric two-player game again some time.

If you would like a look at the game, here are the download links...
Frank Must Die version 0.1 Rules on Dropbox
Frank Must Die version 0.1 PnP Materials on Dropbox

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