Bloodwork: Systems And Entanglement

Blah blah blah here’s the banner!

Originally, Bloodwork started as a pyramid-style builder game in the vein of Machi Koro. But what followed that was a consideration of the material concerns of the game (its stuffness), and then the fictional space I was working in. What that led to was a realisation that my original design relied on a lot of complicated fine systems, and that there was only so much space on a card I could use.

So I devised a mechanism for buying new cards that removed a cost from the card and instead made the cost of a card relate to its relative position in a grid.

Next up I wanted to explore the flavour of the types of vampires I was making, which were just MLM marketing scammers at first, for the same vision of predatory parisitism. But in that examination I got to thinking about what vampires mean and represent, and what kinds of systems we mean when we engage with vampires, like, as a symbolic terminology. Vampires are parisitic, tragic, they’re scary, they’re usually used to represent personal horror, but also, as a queer person, I’m pretty okay with being a thing that the system tells me is wrong and is in fact predatory, because what do they know? It might just be a representation of being some kind of threat to an unimportant status quo.

This gives me a split between types of vampires, and that meant I got thinking about different ways my mechanics could reinforce different fictions of vampire types that still share a space with one another. Result there is that instead of just a strict pyramid style builder in the mould of Machi Koro, what I’m making is instead a game with types of vampire groups, and the type you choose changes the way you build. And this is where a new mechanical wrinkle comes in, because one of the details on a card face, fixed, is a number that shows when and how that card relates to the dice, and if every card has information about die rolls on it, then that die roll needs to be relevant somehow.

Which limits the kinds of simple builder engines I can work with.

But if I remove the dice from the card and offload that information somewhere else then I give myself room, I change the relationship of the cards to the dice and I give myself more game modes that don’t require that value to be baked in. Win win.

You might notice that this is all mechanical changes to the game system that have resulted from only scrutinising the flavour and the material space for the game. Rules have stepped into place to serve as scaffolding and structure for changes in the needs of the non-rules parts of the game. I could make the game rules entirely handle this, and even simplify the action of card mechanics, by just offloading that into rules text somewhere. The cards don’t have to have all the rules information you need conveyed on them once the engine of the game is running. But doing it that way makes it easier to remember and easier to maintain and that interests me.

And that brings me to here, where the new question is: What rules can I use to entangle the players in one another, in themselves, and in the fiction maintained by the game system as is.

First up, let’s cover ground I already have laid out: The Vampire as MLM. In this case, players are playing vampires that work as a Multi-level marketing scheme. You will make a pyramid of cards, roll a dice, and when a card in your tree triggers, it triggers everything upstream from it. This gives you access to resources and game actions.

Vampire cards might want a standardised symbol language for this, now I think, another stuffness note: Perhaps a player only gets to buy, or activate a single card each turn, unless they roll, and vampires can bring extra actions, extra buys, or extra activations. Possibility there.

Next up, I want to make crypto bros. The idea behind crypto bros is that they are parisitic but distributed. I also like the idea that the marks in this space slosh around from one to another, so thralls might move from a number to another number, depending on how things work out. They also need to be unreliable, to work with odd spikes and troughs. Their decentralisation is a strength though – if you attack a card in the cryptobros pile, they probably just lose that card, and then can replace it easily next turn. Nothing is related to anything else.

Then there’s the idea of a blackjack style mechanical system, where I think the first contentious piece of fiction arises. See, vampires are very goth and goth is very queer, because uh, I grew up in the 90s. Is there room in this space of crypto bros, church vampires, MLMs and other monsters to have the outliers? The weirdoes?

Well, the idea I got out of this is that one group of vampires might be a push your luck vampire gang. The dice you draft at the start of the round gets to sit next to your cards as you flip them over to determine what you’re getting, who you’re getting or how, and that means that you still care about randomness but it’s different for you. A mechanical idea I like here is that if you can make the most use of high numbered rolls, in the draft, opponents want to keep you from getting high numbers – which means other players are literally inclined to oppress you, building on that outsider status.

Another type of builder option is a deck builder. Just a generic, simple deck builder; you start the game adding cards to a deck and when you play them they have to remain out of your deck for a while. This can also mean that cards removing things from your tableau can have particular use, as a way of slimming down your deck.

Also an option, which feels very slow and ponderous is a hand builder, where you can play one card every turn, until your hand is out of cards, then you get to pick them all up. This kind of character is very directly powerful because they’re immediately responsive but ponderous afterwards. This feels like something for an ancient brood of vampires, who negotiate politically about who gets to act and in what order.

I also think in this case, I don’t want cards to represent thralls or new vampires. I think that new vampires should be a trait on their cards, and a change in their style – maybe more direct violence, less relationship to magic – but old and young vampires are things that players value differently rather than the cards. And I think this means that thralls get to be another currency, not a card that lives in your deck and has unique, meaningful mechanical permutations.

Buh, more on this as I turn my sketchbook doodles into things.

One of the funniest elements of all this is that while working on the push-your-luck, blackjack style of design I think I may have hit on a new design for uh… a Sonic the Hedgehog fan game?