Langskip Board Game Development Blog #3 (January-March 2021) Designing a Bluffing Game
Here we are; we have arrived at my most anticipated post in this series of development diaries. First and foremost, I am a game designer, so my favourite topic in game development is, of course, design!
Now I love reading and listening to other designers, learning from them, and I enjoy engaging with another designer's philosophy. However, I completely understand and respect that most people not in this space wouldn't be too interested. Instead, I wanted to format this post to be more relatable to a broader audience. So instead, let's talk about my design goals from the beginning of the game's development and how I accomplished those goals.
Creating a Gateway Game Centred around Bluffing
Let's start with a bit of honesty; unless you are throwing all the bells and glueing all the whistles onto a bluffing game, it will be considered a gateway game. So I 100% had a headstart in achieving this goal. However, that isn't to say that there wasn't any thought about catering to a more casual audience.
Firstly, I wanted the bluffing mechanism to be easily explained. Every card is played face down; you can lie, you can tell the truth, here is what happens if you do those things. That's all I wanted to have to say in the rulebook regarding that mechanism. I'll be mentioning Coup a lot in this blog post because I'm not ashamed to say that many early decisions about the design of Langskip were based on my gripes with Coup. Now, of course, Coup is a gateway game, but whilst teaching Coup to people, the amount of times players get confused or turned off by the additional ramifications to playing certain cards, and worse, lying about playing certain cards, it made me think that cards in Langskip cannot have direct interactions with other cards, because if they do, that 50 words or less description of bluffing for Langskip will turn to half a page. Though exclusively in this blog post, I will say that a card called Balder early on in development purposefully only affected a player if they played Loki. This was removed from the game for the reason stated above.
Creating a Viewable Game
With every one of my board games, I always have a core goal that I want to achieve with the game, and with Langskip, it was making a very viewable game. I'm of the mind that we are currently on the verge of a massive boom in modern board gaming, where the imaginations of the next generations are cultivated, and the market grows to unforeseen lengths. I think this will come with more viewable games. Unless you are super creative and/or have a lot of money for a professional setup, most games out of the box are horrible to watch unless you play the game yourself. So with Langskip, I made it, so players used a very traditional board that indicated how well they are doing in the game.
This idea was borrowed from the video game battle royales, namely Fortnite. Fortnite is incredibly successful, of course, and I think this is significant because people loved watching others play the game. It's free advertising! I believe that it was so viewable in at least some small part because the number of players left on the island, i.e. how close the player you were watching was away from winning, was always stated in the top left of the screen at all times. This had a considerable impact on the viewability of Fortnite. People could join a Fortnite stream midway and instantly know how well the player was doing and would almost be entirely caught up in the story of that round. With the board in Langskip, I wanted to mimic, and I think I did an excellent job with that.
Encouraging Bluffing in Unique Ways
In many bluffing games, again including Coup, the player's central encouragement to bluff comes from the cards they don't want in their hand. In Langskip, at no point did I want players to think that the cards in their hand weren't worth playing because what's the point in making cards like that? I also didn't want to encourage bluffing in that way because some people don't like to lie, and if they get a bad hand, then they will sit there until the game is over.
So what I did is I introduced Mischief tokens, which are a currency that you can use to make cards better. Mischief tokens and the cards that use them are incredibly powerful when used together, so much that they cannot be ignored. I keep track of every player that has played Langskip, and I keep an asterisk next to players that don't attempt to gain Mischief tokens, and I can say that none of them has a single win.
At the beginning of this section, I don't like that bluffing games because they encourage lying can essentially alienate 25% of the game night group just because they don't like lying. However, you might have noticed I said: "players that don't use Mischief tokens" rather than saying "players that don't lie". So, I made it so that player's that call people out on lying successfully will also get a Mischief token. These players are still partaking in the bluffing mechanism, just the other side of that mechanism.
Creating an Environment Where Players can Develop Strategies.
Mischief tokens and specific card mechanisms like Hel's resurrect and Thors discard, coupled with the unique deck reshuffling mechanism, all create strategies that are easy to grasp. They start with task one and never end further than task three but are still super rewarding.
Hel is an excellent card to promote creativity and engage in a significant aspect of the game, card counting. Hel lets you play a card that someone else has already played in the discard pile as long as one of the last three cards is played. This has led to some insane combos, including players getting three turns in a row, discarding two players hands, and winning the game, of course.
Thor, coupled with the unique deck reshuffling system, is super fun. If a player does it right, you can make a player skip two goes because of the way the deck reshuffling system works. Alternatively, using a Thor on yourself is also super interesting because you discard these cards without another player seeing them, meaning that you know cards you can lie about in the future.
What's interesting about these two examples, but also about the heaps of other ways you can be creative with Langskip, is that they aren't example scenarios in the rulebook; it's just that the rules allow you to put them together these ideas without being told explicitly that they are possible. It's almost like a playground of concepts and tools that you can use to your heart's content.
Sorry to come to a very abrupt ending there, but these development diaries are supposed to be rapid insights into the dev cycle of Langskip, and I feel like I have babbled quite a bit with this one. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it regardless! The following post is going to be all about prototyping.
Hello, my name is Niall Crabtree, and this is my comprehensive blog showcasing all of my game development
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