The game’s concept quickly became a ‘quickdraw’ standoff at the end of a spaghetti western film. The tension that I wanted to evoke would need to be embedded into the core mechanics of the game and its art, in its entirety.

It’s all well and good having a couple of cards that say ‘deal 10 damage’ and ‘block your opponent’s next move’, slap a spaghetti western theme on it and call it a job well done, but I wanted more. I wanted the game to feel like a duel of wits, like in the movies. I want players to think, and I want them to have to think under pressure. In Western showdowns, there is a constant presence of danger. Gunslingers don’t have health points. They are alive, and, if they get shot, generally die.

The core feelings I identified therefore were:

  • Rising Tension; the musical scores getting louder and the stakes getting higher. The moment is getting closer!
  • Danger; the idea that you can be killed at any point.
  • Excitement; when a gunslinger goes for their gun – that’s it. When you want to fire, it should feel exciting!

My first step was to identify the mechanics that do this best.

I initially ditched the idea of players playing cards at each other, because I felt it would be too slow. My initial plan was an Exploding Kittens meets deck-building kind of game. You would pull the top card from the deck. Usually it did nothing, sometimes it would let you rearrange stuff in your deck, and only 2 cards in your deck would do anything in the killin’ direction. 1 ‘Ready’, which you needed to draw before you drew your 1 ‘Bang!’ Otherwise, you’d have to go through your deck again. First player to draw both in the right order won!

This idea is cool I think; perhaps a future game will use that mechanic! It certainly creates tension. However, the problem was that it felt random.  It was out of each player’s control. It also didn’t feel dangerous enough. Sure, once you had your ‘Ready’ out you could kill your opponent, but until the ‘Ready’ cards came out, you were safe.

I needed the ‘Ready’ card to be able to come down early on, and I needed players to feel they had more control.

So, it was back to cards in hand and choosing which ones to pick. I knew it couldn’t be turn-based between players. It HAD to be simultaneous, because a player should be able to kill you on your own turn. It also HAD to be fast, because the ‘in the moment’ nature of these scenes is what creates the sense of danger. You never quite know when the guns are coming out, like the end of ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’ where, after the flashback sequence, the guns are out almost instantly.

And so, in my head, the game was beginning to take shape. In Chapter 3, and beyond, I get into the nitty gritty with specifics of individual cards and mechanics.