Bloodwork: I have a Normal Brain

Hey here’s the Bloodwork banner:

Hey, wanna see something that’s embarassing to have taken almost a week to make?

This took an unimpressive amount of time.

This is an example of a playtest card created in as minimal form as possible. It’s made in Microsoft Word, though if you make things in Libre that should be able to do the same thing. The card is made by making a page that’s the dimension of a card, and then putting a table on that page that’s 1 column, 3 rows. 

This is hideous and it is entirely made because I keep over-designing my prototypes. 

Here’s an example of another type of prototype I’ve made in this time:

This design is chasing things I don’t know if I need. I don’t know if I’m going to need the text box, for example, which I feel like I do. I am staking out space for things I don’t necessarily know for sure I need.

See the big, chunky symbols? The term I use for them when talking about this kind of thing in game design is that they’re game gems or glyphs, symbols that convey the specific game actions. But here, just right here, here’s an example of a problem: That shield is meant to represent that the card is a protector, that means the card has to be broken through before you can attack the host directly.

That’s kind of a problem there because it lives next to the other glyphs that are meant to signify actions that happen when the character fires. By reducing them to iconography, instead of presenting them as text terms, then you can set up each specific player board reference that iconography and explain what that means for this character. For the deck builder, +cards can mean ‘drawing more cards,’ and +acquire can mean getting to buy an additional card. But for the tableau builder, that might mean you can swap a card.

I wanted something where I could easily manipulate groups of cards and produce them in a way that I could easily examine.

And that’s why we have this simplified card face, which lets me produce a templated set of cards for sixty cards, made by iterating 4 cards 15 times:

  • +1 Acquire (buy a card, get a blood, or get a thrall)
  • +1 Violence (Attack something)
  • +1 Card (Draw a card, recur a card from your bin)
  • +1 Scrap (kick a card out of the market or your stash)

These simple cards are very boring, but the whole point of these is to be the simplified place for playtesting to start. The game should never be released to a common community in this form, because the last thing I want is to do a design that’s too safe, too predictable, too procedural. In an ideal world, the cards in the game should be entirely unique, and this design doesn’t account for locations.

Another component here is the agonising pressure of failure. I have not gotten this done as fast as I want, I haven’t done as good a job as I want. Part of that is I kept dead-ending myself, kept chasing my own ideas down into wrong directions. The whole card face design kept being an excuse – I was making more and more elaborate solutions to problems, like looking into how to generate a giant collection of artwork if the card prototypes took on a particular form.

I also found that the mental lockup that followed with trying to fix things. Because suddenly I had four incomplete processes that presented to me different competing pushes. If I made the simple prototype quickly I could playtest it to see what the complex prototype needed. But the complex prototype needed rules boundaries set up ahead of time, because the simple prototype can have nearly unlimited text prestend on it. 

Revising Mark Rosewater’s talk on game design, a thing I’m concerned about is making the cards boring, and avoiding the pre-existing ideas that people have about vampires. I want the cards therefore to ideally have a sort of stable floor, a reliable basis of how they work, but then I want every other card to express some idea, some fiction that brings with it an exciting feeling of attachment of types of vampires.

That’s part of why I’m trying to not lean too hard into the simple description of vampires as old world parasites. They definitely are! I definitely like using them to represent entrenched aristocracy. But the vampire is also an identity that I can’t stop seeing in terms of its relationship to those of us who were told we were horrifying. 

Okay, so what about the acquire action? If that’s standardised and it’s going to be instrumental to playing the game at first:

  • You can use the Acquire action to gain any single asset.
    • An asset can be a quantity of blood
    • An asset can be a thrall
    • An asset can be a card from the marketplace

Acquire can be an immediate influx of resources, but a thrall can provide blood every turn. 

Old Vampires can have thralls, the young vampires can’t.

If a young vampire group – the deck builder, line builder, or hand builder – want to Acquire, they cannot acquire thralls. They don’t have the infrastructural power to control or manipulate them. 

This also means that vampires that relate to thralls are more desirable for old vampire groups: They can make mileage out of thralls. On the other hand, it might be that the old vampires can’t acquire meaningfully large quantities of Blood at a time to make payments/violence happen. This gives me mechanical space where Young and Old Vampires present different perspectives on resources. Young Vampires are going to be trying to set up big turns for big effects; Old Vampires want to grind out resources time after time.

It might also be that Old Vampires don’t save Blood! It might be that the old vampire structures just let Blood drain away over time.Okay, that’s some mechanical space. That’s some ideas, and they give direction for the prototype form, which is now going to be set up in a excel spreadsheet, line upon line.