By-election, the card game I’m building for NaGaDeMon was playtested twice this week. Firstly with colleagues at work and secondly at the Newcastle Playtest group. There’s a mix of positive and negative feedback, but overall it seems that the game is workable with some insubstantial, and substantial changes.

As previously mentioned, the aim of the game is to complete campaigns. There are four types of campaigns (four suits). Campaigns begin with a “base” card which specifies the number of votes that the campaign will earn when completed. They are completed when two further cards are placed on top. These cards can be played by you or an opponent, modifying the result in some way. Modifications can increase or reduce the number of votes, or steal votes from a player.

The Card Design

I noticed that the design of the cards was causing some issues:

  • The suits are each assigned a colour. As the players are red, blue, yellow and purple; I opted for brown, orange, green and pink as the suit cards. Unfortunately under certain lighting conditions, the brown and orange were indistinguishable. See for yourself:
  • The text of how the two types of steal cards work was not clear.

Both of these issues caused players to play cards in an incorrect manner. However, these small issues are correctable.

Vote Economics

The biggest imbalance is that the number of votes that are earned when a campaign is complete is always a positive number. As an opponent you may steal some of a player’s campaign votes, but that helps them to complete that campaign and it will give them a bigger benefit than you. This gives players little incentive to finish opponent’s campaigns. Mal and Jack, from playtest 1, suggested some ways of improving this:

  • Reduce the stock amount of votes you earn by completing a campaign.
  • Make steal cards more ‘worth it’, by taking more votes.

This leads to an inevitable consequence, which is that a campaign completes and earns a player negative votes! I really like this idea (cheers, Gents!) and it fits well with the theme. There’s some additional thinking to be had around how the game balances. I’ll write more on this soon.

The “base card” for a campaign, which starts off a campaign and specifies the number of votes earned for completion.

A completed campaign, featuring a base card and two event cards, that modify the votes earned from this campaign.

Another observation is that if you get stuck with a hand you can’t do anything with, there’s little you can do, except wait for the right campaign to be played. To introduce more agency into the game, there needs to be a mechanism in which you can get rid of some of your hand. This could be in the form of:

  • Allowing a face-down trade with another player (this could have hilarious consequences if somebody lies about a trade)
  • Spending votes to burn a card and redraw it
  • Spend an entire turn to discard and redraw your entire hand.

Suggestions for the Back-burner

There were some larger, structural changes suggested at Newcastle Playtest:

  • Rather than each player running their own campaigns, have a central pool of campaigns that players worked to complete (or dominate the agenda on). The number of votes earned by completing a campaign is dependent upon the number of players who took part.
  • Get rid of suits entirely.

Both of these are interesting, but substantial, changes. I’m going to think about these some more, but in the meanwhile re-balance the votes earned from campaigns and introduce a trading and/or discard mechanic for prototype two.

Theme

Let’s finish on a positive note! Both playtest groups found that the theme of the game gels very well. Having the players wear rosettes is a bit of fun. In the second playtest group, I noticed that the players started to engage in some roleplaying (a secret design ambition of mine), so I’d like to encourage more of that. I can see that trading could serve this purpose. Both groups also found the content of the cards funny (who’da thunk it!), which I’m incredibly proud of!