After the first week of playtesting it appears that the social deduction game is the runaway success. Every playtest group that’s played the three games has preferred it by a wide margin and it’s produced by far the most visceral results in terms of players laughing, joking and generally having a good time.
It’s too early in the project to make a binding choice about which game to pursue, but it would be foolish to neglect the overwhelmingly positive response that the game is getting. So at this point I’ve decided to split the game into two and develop along parallel paths, to increase the odds to reaching the best possible version of the game.
The first new version consists of small iterative changes to the previous one. The Artiste card is modified so that if the power is used it can’t be swapped away, forcing a player to choose between checking who they are and being able to give the card away. Hopefully this will reduce the number of games in which the Artiste can safely muddle their card on the last turn giving the majority only a 50/50 chance of winning even if they’d followed what was going on perfectly up until that moment. This also dodges the clunky “Use any other roles power” wording that was such a stumbling block for new players who are not yet aware of the other powers in the game.
The second splits the powers and winning conditions into two separate piles of cards. That way a player’s win condition can be made to change very rarely (If at all) opening up more room for players to strategise their win. This also opens up the design space, enabling a broader array of possible objectives and powers that might not make sense otherwise. For instance goals that could more easily be accomplished by taking an objective that you’ve already completed than by completing the objective after discovering that you have it.
There’s also room to work on the way that the cards reflect the orchestra. I’m reliably informed that most performers have a sense of humour about themselves and find references to the infighting of violinists over the first chair amusing rather tan offensive. I’ve started speaking to a few people in orchestras about options to reflect the rest of the orchestra in a similar light and its a subject of plenty of writing and gif posts. I’m a bit nervous about using this sort of theming, but so far people who’ve looked at it can be divided into people who loved it and people who didn’t care so perhaps I’m worrying over nothing.
I’ve subjected the new versions to play testing with one group here at The People’s Orchestra and the results have been mixed. There was a lot of initial resistance to the increased complexity of the two card version and it was my subjective experience that the players didn’t enjoy it so much (to watch them play) but the majority of them said that they preferred that version.
Bearing in mind that the design needs to cater to non-gamers there’s also a lot of room for simplification. The most drastic suggestion in this regard was to remove the step of voting for who is suspected of being the Artiste at the end of the game entirely and simply making whoever is the Artiste lose, while gearing the rest of the game around successfully avoiding obtaining that role. I’m not sure if this will work, but I’m somewhat inclined to try since it never hurts to try more minimal forms of something with an eye to understanding how much depth is derived from each step of added complexity before making decisions about what to keep and what to cut.
We’re still only a few weeks into designing these games so there’s still plenty of opportunity to view the effects of various drastic changes before getting into the nitty gritty of balancing individual cards in a way that’ll make larger changes counter-productive.
I hope that you’ll stay with us for the journey! If you decide you’d like to try any of the games and offer suggestions let me know in the comments and I’ll put a Print and Play file or a Tabletop Simulator mod together