One fateful playtesting session in a small office in London changed everything.
It was pointed out to me that the issue of the ‘slow’ ‘Event’ cards was hampering the game in quite a big way. Players were having to analyze the game board far more than they should have to. The immediacy was being lost. I therefore changed these ‘Event’ cards to only have ‘instant’ effects – meaning they would do something and then get discarded. Having no effects that went on for multiple turns reduced board complexity significantly.
Surprisingly, this change wasn’t too difficult to implement. It was simply a case of having the same effect as the card was intended to have compacted into 1 turn. If, for example, an ‘Event’ card read “Place this card on your Board – it counts as a ‘Ready’ card,” instead players would place a ‘Ready’ card from their discard or hand onto their board.
The other issue I mentioned in the last chapter was that players would take some time to learn what all the cards meant. Giving them all 13 at the start slowed down the game. The suggested solution therefore was to incorporate a ‘Deck’ of cards – players would only start with 7 of the 13 cards, and would have to draw the other 6 over subsequent turns.
At first I felt resistant to the idea. I didn’t want players to feel at any point as though they had no options left due to a bad card draw. I also wanted to keep that constant sense of danger in every turn – if a player simply hadn’t drawn their ‘Bang!’ card, then the whole focus of the game would be lost. As such, when we tested with the decks, I made sure that the ‘Bang!’ card would start in the player’s hand, to ensure this constant tension.
The result of adding this rule was surprising, not because it changed the pace of the game, but because of how few changes were required to incorporate this new mechanic. It is worth talking about the change of pace too however. We found that games went a lot quicker, as players had fewer options to consider in their Hand. At the same time, a player would only draw out their deck in 6 turns, which meant that could rely on more or less every card showing up at some point (though games could certainly end quickly!). I found that the game never felt like the player had run out of options due to a lack of drawing a certain card, since there were 3 of each basic card, yet with fewer options immediately in hand, players would decide more quickly what to do. In terms of pacing, this change really helped in keeping the ‘immediate’ feel of each turn. This change also meant games felt more different each time, as the cards they started with would be different – very helpful for a microgame of short length!
Precisely because there were 3 of each basic card in each pack of cards, and because a player had essentially had access to all cards in only 6 turns, very few changes were required to incorporate this new mechanic. The biggest one was actually conceptual for me when designing ‘Event’ cards – the fact that a ‘Deck’ created an early game (big deck), mid game (small deck) and late game (no deck) status to any point in the game. Cards which relied on you having a bigger ‘Discard’ would likely be labelled late-game, whereas cards which helped you out when a lot of your cards were still locked in your deck would be considered early game. This let me set quotas, checks and balances for the ‘Event’ and ‘Special’ cards in the game – I could plan for early, mid and late game cards in ways which felt like you could always draw an option from your Deck or Event Deck. This also gave me more options with said ‘Event’ cards – I could now have them interact with a player’s Deck, something which helped offset the sudden removal of all ‘slow’ cards.
A third change was the introduction of a third action – ‘panic!’. Instead of flipping over your card or taking cards back from your hand/discard, you could simply flip over the top ‘Event’ card and play it. This was for those rare cases where a player had genuinely no way to defend against a ‘Bang!’ – a last ditch effort which would likely change little, but gave players a hope that something COULD happen. Since playing any other card was definitely better, and because a player would lose card advantage on their Board when they took this action, it was guaranteed to ONLY be used as a last ditch thing. .