There are 3 games in development for TPO and they’re all undergoing testing to determine which will new card game will be produced. They’ve each had only a handful of playtests and so are still very alpha, one may be replaced entirely even before the final decision of which to keep, but I’ll introduce them here regardless so that you have some clue what I’m talking about when I refer to them in future weeks. So, contestant #1…
A trading game based around trying to get sets of instruments for the Orchestra. Each turn players describe one or more cards in their hand “I have a large membraphone” and other players can respond with descriptions of their own “I’ve a medium baroque instrment”. The initial player then chooses whether to trade with the second player or to ditch a card from their hand and draw from the deck. Whenever a player gets four instruments from different parts of the orchestra (wind, precussion etc.) they discard them and score a point. When the deck runs out the game is over.
The instrumentalist that I playtested this with had a pretty enjoyable time with it, I think that working out which instruments she was being offered from the vague descriptions really did something for her. The other testers had a less exciting experience, to an extent it felt random whether a trade or redraw did them any good. There’s also a systematic weakness in that a player who’s winning can refuse all trades and switch a card with the deck each turn to run the deck down, which might be effective but isn’t much fun.
Moving towards a trading game in which a specific musical knowledge is cool but not required could improve the game and it certainly seems that there’s room for something extra if it’s particularly strong. There was a lot of enthusiasm for an ability that lets players lie about what they’re trading in some fashion, it was intended that this would be implied by players deliberately picking misleading attributes to describe but in practice this didn’t work out so well. There was also some enthusiasm for allowing more free descriptions in which players are just given a picture and can describe it in whatever level of detail they fancy – but I’m not sure if that wouldn’t make just saying what it is a dominant strategy.
In any event there were things to like about it and there’s plenty of room for improvement.
The second game uses sheet music to generate the game. Players move a timing card along the sheet music and take an action each time it passes over a note. Nearby cards indicate the effects of hitting those notes and some cards that players might play will allow them to change these rules – hopefully taking advantage of whichever notes are coming up next.
The first playtest of this game went fairly well, though the players hadn’t seen sheet music up close before and I feel may have been somewhat impressed by the concept more than they enjoyed the game specifically. The second group didn’t really “get” the game and the relationship between the sheet music and the ability to play cards, making me wonder if the core mechanic generates more complexity than is ideal for a non-gaming audience (The playtesters had a good knowledge of computer games but little prior experience of hobby board games). Bearing in mind that I’m likely to design for gamers and accidentally alienate the core audience that the orchestra has it may be time to take a step back and ditch this idea.
I’ll run another playtest or two with some varied groups and see how it plays out but it may be necessary to replace this one even before making the “best of three” decision about which one will ultimately be published.
The third game is a social deduction game in which players must determine who in the orchestra is the pretentious Artiste and be rid of them before they can ruin everything with their inflated ego and whimsical ways. Each turn a player may either use the power of their card, or “muddle” by taking their card and another players card under the table and replacing them – either switching the cards positions or not.
I’ve heard that a similar mechanic has been used in another game, I’ve never played it and don’t really want to know more about it at the moment. Once I’ve seem a great implementation of an idea it’s harder to see alternative implementations so I think it’d hold me back to play it right now, but once I’m done developing this game I’ll look it up and have a gander.
This game was extremely well received, though I should bear in mind that one of the playtesters only experience of hobby gaming was Avalon and they very much seem to have a favorite genre. Still, it combines a lot of neat ideas in that it can contain orchestra in jokes (Such as the violinist being preoccupied with getting the chair that they want) without ostracising people who don’t have a background in music. It was pretty easy to learn and fairly immediately fun for people to be involved with.
On the other hand I’m not sure if it’s mechanically working well yet. I suspect that the dominant strategy is to use your power every turn and I’ve a niggling doubt that it’s trivial to work out who the Artiste is should every other player truthfully tell all that they know. The things that are working for the game are working really well, but I don’t think it’ll pass muster with gamers just yet. The challenge will be to improve the deductive elements of the gameplay without undermining the elements that lead it to be the most popular of the three at present.
There’s plenty of work ahead in improving the three games to a point where they’re all good enough that it’s hard to pick which one of them to publish. If you’ve got opinions or questions about them, feel free to share in the comments.