Bloodwork: Combination Locks

Here’s the banner!

Okay we have a collection of six factions across two types, and they all represent a different kind of builder card game:

  • The Pyramid: A multi-level marketing scam that uses a dice roller mechanic. You set up a business that gets bigger and bigger, with each vampire triggering off a dice roll. These Vampires draw from ideas of monarchy. These are Old vampires.
  • The Sang Bleau: Aristocratic, entrenched, old money power that expresses itself as the administrative authority of the police. These Vampires are a line, and has to cycle members of it every turn, chosen at random by the dice. These are Old vampires.
  • The Brotherhood of The Crypt: Oldschool money investors, excluded from modern money because of all the crimes, sinking their value into the crypto stock market. These vampires have a set of Operations, which their Thralls bounce around between, as a sort of ‘blob.’ These are Old vampires.
  • The Red Hand: Hand builder vampires! You play a vampire from your hand into the group, and it does its act. The next turn you play another vampire and then it and all the others in the group trigger. You continue until you don’t have any more vampires and have to pick up your hand. These vampires go through wax/wane cycles, active in force, then have to regroup. These are Young vampires.
  • The Line Walkers: Gangs of vampires that maintain their presence on street corners, communicating with one another. There’s no leadership so they don’t take risks of losing people to violence. These are Young vampires.
  • The Jacks: Unpredictable, wild and lairy vampires, the Jacks show up abruptly do something, then fall to the shadows. They work on a blackjack mechanism, with all their cards gathered at the start of the turn, then you flip them until you either flip two cards with a matching trait. This mechanically pushes them to value diversity, and gives them uneven, explosive turns. These are Young vampires.

Now the big change here is that nobody is a deck builder. Nobody needs to draw cards out of a deck. This was one of the big problems in my last iteration of the design, where the simple number of cards necessary for a deck builder versus a Machi Koro style dice roller is very different. Each of these designs can start with one card and then grow out from there.

This is an attempt to address what I thought of capacity. Originally, I planned the design to run on simple icons, and each faction used the icons differently; if a card let you ‘draw’ a card, that meant something if you had a deck but it didn’t mean anything if your structure was the multi-level pyramid. A deck builder needs enough cards to shuffle, it needs a big chunk of cards to make hands matter.

But also, there are still things that vampires want to do that’s different: The dice roller mechanic means that only the Old Vampires care about being able to reroll the dice. Vampires that let you reroll dice are powerful and valuable to those vampires, vampires that give you more dice are powerful too, but … uh, young vampires don’t use dice at all. The dice are meant to represent the movement of the great infrastructure that the old vampires have access to.

This meant I was thinking about how to use the dice roller icon in the marketplace. How many cards can have the dice on them, if that dice means nothing to most players? Since every card has multiple icons, it could be that there’s no card that does just dice. Also, does this mean that there’s a powerful mechanic (dice rerolls, extra dice) that the young vampires don’t get? Maybe! That could be alright!

That said, I want to make sure that no matter the shuffle, you can’t end up with a marketplace with nothing in it but vampires you don’t want as a Young Vampire, so there’s no way for the whole market to be nothing but dice-rollers. That means in a marketplace of 9, there can be, at most, 8 cards with the dice on them. Now, if we assume there are say, four player symbols (A, B, C, D) and that D represents dice, then there are only going to be four possible combinations of each (AD, BD, CD, DD). In that case, the game can have two matching sets of this distribution, and then if all the dice rollers come out of the market at once, there are at most eight of them, leaving one slot free for other players to take.

This is however using combinatorics and math to try and shortcut around a potential problem of the market being full of cards that a player doesn’t want. I refer to this situation as a lockup, and some games overcome it by having the market just reset itself if it’s not touched (a technique I used in Cafe Romantica). A market that constantly cycles feels like a great way to keep the game from ever locking up. It’s also a tedious physical action which requires some player to maintain it and it can make people feel bad when they have to choose between one thing or the other. It increases the likelihood of shuffling, too.

When the time comes to track epiphanies, it can feel like a small victory to consider that I’m making a choice like this because of personal preferences. When considering the idea of the market cycling, I keep finding myself resisting the idea, even if it makes sense and makes the design easier and makes more sense. I think part of that is the feeling that I want the market to not need to constantly cycle because I value the convenience and accessibility more than I am intimidated by the needs of the math to prevent lockups. That is, I think I can ‘design around’ the potential problem of a market lockup, and I’d rather than than make the game require regular maintenance.

I want the game state to ideally require very little maintenance. The idea of making parts of the game iterate or change based on turn starts opens doors for kinds of design but I don’t want them. They feel to me things best done with a board, not with cards – and this game wants to use just the cards and the space between them to manage relationships.

More on next time, on directly attacking life points.