Design Diary Monday: Let the Pirating Begin

After the design process for Summoner went badly, I wanted another shot at designing a Magic like game. I dropped the “design a card” mechanic and returned to cards with fixed powers and abilities. Then I introduced two new X-factors: the rock paper scissors combat that is broadside/evade/pursue, and pirates dice with special dice faces. By the time of this writing, I’ve thrown away and reused the majority of the card sleeves for later iterations of the game, so here’s just a tiny sample of how the game used to look like:

The players were pirates trying to control as much treasure (yellow cards) as possible by the end of the game. Each player controlled a hand of pirate crew (white cards) and several pirate ships (blue cards). In the beginning of each round, a set number of treasure was added to each location (green cards) on the board. Players took turns attacking locations by forming a ship and crew where the total rum use of the crew must not exceed the rum supply of the ship (the circled numbers). A ship loaded with treasure was considered sailing at sea and was open to other player’s attacks.

Combat mainly revolved around the broadside/evade/pursue strategy cards. Each player chose a strategy and revealed them at the same time, and the general resolution was broadside beat pursue, pursue beat evade, evade beat broadside. Several strategy combinations would require tossing dice equal to the strength numbers (numbers next to cannons and cutlass icons) to resolve, such as a broadside exchange. Almost all cards had special abilities attached: the crew, the ships, and even some treasures could modify some part of the game. Putting the ship and crew together made the game interesting, but ultimately it also made the game too difficult to track.

To be fair, this version of the game was great for two players, with reasonable downtime and a manageable amount of information to track. The game got too complex once it scaled up to three or more players, though, and I personally lost track of my crew abilities while testing a four player game. When that happened, I was convinced that some dramatic pruning of game mechanics was necessary to scale the game up to my goal of six total players.

In fact, the next version had so much change that it felt like the game took a wrecking ball in its face. Next week: what happened? Paper ships and cubes?

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