Murdering & Acquiring #14: Mermaids & Audiences
No, there aren’t any mermaids in Murders & Acquisitions. Scratch that. There might be. Once I flesh out the magic and monsters rules add-ons, there MIGHT be mermaids. But that’s not what this post is about.
Playtesting is running a little longer than expected. I sent playtest materials to multiple groups on Halloween of last year. It will come as no surprise that the holidays slowed the playtesters down a bit. So I don’t have any playtest revelations to share just yet.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve let my game designer muscles atrophy. About a month ago, I said to myself, “Craig, you should design a card game for your niece. She loves games.”
So I did. At first, the game was going to be themed around monsters, because my niece loves monsters. I was told by my sister-in-law, however, that she’s recently gotten into undersea creatures big time – fish, dolphins, whales, sharks, octopi, starfish…and mermaids. After a little more back and forth with my sis, I came up with a basic idea for the game themed around undersea creatures having a party.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Before I began designing the game, I gave some thought to my audience. I’ve joked that I have an audience of one for this game – if my niece likes it, it’s a good game – but that’s not entirely true. I need to make sure it’s both playable and enjoyable by kids aged 8 and up. Cuz she has friends and all.
I noodled it around for a bit and came up with the following guidelines for my game in terms of the audience.
It should have a simple, non-changing turn sequence.
This is a game for kids after all. I felt the player’s turn sequence should remain intact throughout game play to avoid confusion or forcing the young players to shift their strategies based on something that might be out of their control. Also, the turn sequence is very simple, encouraging fast game play.
Every card should do something immediately important in the game, and feel like it does.
Two thirds of the cards in the deck provide points to the player who played the card. Many of the rest move these point cards between players or into the discard pile. A handful of the cards affect the game in different ways, not by changing players’ point totals, but by making the cards easier or harder to affect.
While the win condition has to do with who scores the most points by the end, the game shouldn’t be about tracking points constantly.
Since so many cards have points associated with them and these cards are constantly being played on the table and moved between players, the game doesn’t support constantly checking point totals. Everything changes too much, too fast. Instead, the point is to have fun by creating a very dynamic game play environment. Worry about point counting at the end.
There should be no “secret strategies.”
While there are ways to save certain cards to play near the end of the game and various multi-card strategies, there are no esoteric strategies that can be hidden by the player for a long time only to be sprung on unsuspecting opponents near the end. I avoided this type of strategy specifically to make sure younger players who might not grasp more complex strategies wouldn’t feel like the players who do are cheating.
The game should involve reading, math, logic, forward thinking, and decisions that have consequences.
This is common sense, really. Some of the cards have special rules, so plenty of reading. Lots of math at the end. The option to discard cards, the card combos present in the game, and when to discard/play these combos plays to forward thinking and logic. And pretty much every card has an immediate consequence for playing it, mostly by putting points on the table. That simple fact fosters the understanding that the players are doing things that matter.
The game should encourage friendly play and taking turns while not interrupting others.
Each player performs their actions on their turn. There are no rules or cards that change this or allow players to interrupt what other players are doing with their cards.
The game is tentatively titled “Ocean Party.”
So what’s the game about? It’s simple, really. Every player is swimming in the ocean, throwing a party…like you do when you’re swimming in the ocean. They want as many lovely undersea creatures to join them at their party as possible…and to bring stuff to the party. The area in front of each player is their “party.” That’s where they play their cards.
There are three types of cards — creature cards, stuff cards, and action cards.
All creature cards are worth a certain number of Party Points, as indicated in the upper right corner of the card. Some creatures have special rules associated with them in the text box at the bottom of the card.
Stuff cards are played on creature cards and represent something the creature brought to the party. Some stuff card are worth Party Points. Some affect the game in other ways. A creature can only have one stuff card played on it (except for the Octopus, who can have two, because eight tentacles). You can play a stuff card on any creature card, not just the ones at your party.
Action cards are one-shots. Play the card, do what it says in the text box, and discard it. Many of the action cards allow you to steal or switch creatures, or send them to the discards pile. The others affect the game in other ways. Stuff cards go along with the creature cards when they are moved from party to party or discarded.
No cards allow you to get cards back from the discard pile. No cards affect the turn sequence.
If a creature is put to sleep by a card, turn the creature card onto its side. While asleep, it’s not worth any points (and neither is any stuff card it’s holding). But there’s a card that allows you to wake sleeping creatures up.
On your turn, you discard one card if you wish, draw your hand up to five cards, and play one card. That’s it. End of turn.
A special card called “Party’s Over” is shuffled into the bottom ten cards of the deck. When it is drawn, that player immediately plays it and the game is over. The players then count up Party Points. The player with the most points wins the game.
I’ve run a handful of playtests and it’s been fairly well received. My friend Michael played it five times and never lost interest. He’s middle-aged, so I’m gonna take that as a sign it’s a fun game.
So there you go. I’m not sure how much more I’ll talk about this little card game in the future. Once M&A playtest feedback comes in, I’ll be making revisions and developing rules add-ons and some adventures for the next round of playtesting. But maybe I’ll revisit Ocean Party at some point.
Game on…and know your audience,