To step back a bit, some time ago I was thinking about the very enjoyable Sherlock Holmes the Card Game, which I used to play quite regularly and features a nice mechanism where each card specifies what types of card can follow it, allowing a pleasing (though occasionally silly) narrative to develop. So, while in the country, Holmes may find a clue, which leads to suspicion of one of the players, who has an alibi, after which Holmes is compelled to catch a train back to London. The rules can be explained quickly (though the end of round scoring can take some work!)
|Alone against the monster horde. Luckily this wandering mystic has come to my aid.|
I was trying to think of a way to play with this basic mechanism to come up with a game that built a narrative of a conflict between opposing forces, ideally where players are at least mostly on one side, but possibly with one (or more) of them taking the role of either an adversary or a traitor. This never really developed very far; I had a very basic attempt, which mostly worked, but wasn't really interesting enough and relied too much on the game that provided the inspiration.
Months passed and then this weekend, for some reason, I started thinking about the concept again. What got me moving again was some looking at the wonderful website, game-icons.net, which does pretty much what it says on the tin, and deciding that the card types could be labelled with icons representing different parts of the story (characters, events, actions and so on) and each could allow for a small number of other types of card (by icon) to be played next. So far this just changed the representation of a concept: text in Sherlock Holmes is turned into graphics in my game, which is no change at all, really, but sorting through some candidate icons the ideas started flowing.
The game would be about the players helping to defend a village from an invading army of monsters. I was trying to come up with victory conditions for a competitive game, but eventually thought that the setting lends itself to being cooperative, and that is a style of game that I haven't yet tried designing (or, for that matter, solitaire). Eventually I came to the idea of having a "threat level", which would be increased by some cards and reduced by others. This still didn't seem enough, so I also had a magical "power level", which could be increased to allow magical defences to come into play.
Usually I would rough out a prototype with pens and bits of card, but I was confident enough of the most basic functioning here that I turned to some very basic nanDeck coding plus the icon assets I had downloaded, worked out a basic selection of cards, and soon had printed out a small deck of 36 cards to play with.
By this point I had thought of a couple of ways for players to lose the game -- if the threat level reaches 10, or the deck of cards run out -- but I hadn't really figured out how to win. Never mind, start playing anyway...
By half the way through my first solitaire test, I had figured out the main win/lose conditions: if the threat reaches 10 you lose, as previously planned, but to win you need to work through the deck and then get the threat level to 0 with whatever cards are left over, otherwise you lose. Also, if you are unable to play a card you add a threat and draw an additional card.
This seemed to work. I lost my first three games in a row and found some frustrating points where there were no playable cards for some time, which was largely due to the icons on the cards not meshing with each other properly. A small change or two with a pen and I won a couple of games. Yeah, balancing this is going to be difficult, but at least there is the option of having selectable difficulty levels thanks to varying hand size, starting threat level, and so on.
Now the game is out of my head and in a tangible form that makes me think I might like to keep working on this. I definitely need to think through the card mix carefully if we're going to progress, and one problem I've noticed is that on many turns there are no real choices to make: you just have to play the card that fits. OK, so every few turns there can be really interesting decisions, but the rest can be scripted. That seriously needs to change.
Much still to do...