Bloodwork: Tears And Tables

Hey, here’s a banner and a fold!

These past few days have been a frustrating, literally tears-inducing series of failures in developing Bloodwork. Some accounting.

The aim was, last week, last week, as of the 17th of July, to have a full pdf of the cards available to hand over to a supervisor to show ‘this is the kind of thing I can work with.’ What that led to was an immensely frustrating sequence of failures. Particularly: one of the computers in my house broke wholesale, which meant that I had to try and manage a lot of things while someone else was rebuilding things. 

Eventually, what I opted for was to simplify things down to their simplest form. I took the original word doc format, and while having a quiet choking panic about how long it was taking me to make this, just this, this is all I was doing I managed to do the iconography work from last time. That was largely done by experience playtesting with an ordinary deck of playing cards and some notepaper.

The iconography done, I thought I could quickly and easily belt them out. I’m not happy with how long this took. One option was to make each card image in my image editor of choice (GIMP, man I wish that name was different). This presented a problem where my prototyping involved a lot of repeating tasks, which is kind of the opposite of what I imagine a computer is good at.

I wound up consulting with my partner about a method for simplifying this and that led to the next step, which is the development of a csv import python script for the open source program Scribus. Now just to be clear: I could not make this on my own. This has simplified repetitive tasks for me a great deal, but I could not do this task on my own without the python script, which was made for me by another person.

What this toolkit looks at is a csv table, with the following fields:

Character, iconleft, iconright, alliance and method.

These describe the base background image, then the left game icon and right game icons. The background file field would be replaced with character art, so that each card is mostly, art of the characters. The game icons rest in the central location on the card, and to ensure that there’s no collision, for some versions of the cards, there is a ‘blank’ slide. The blank slide is also used for the ‘method’ field, to make sure that some vampires appear without a particular methodological allegiance: they may be a powerful effect (like a reroll!), but they don’t trigger anything else you have set up.

On game language: I’m finding more and more I want to find some way to route around the word ‘trigger’ for game actions, just because using the word a lot makes it duller and less useful. Triggering this triggering that meaning the triggered thing triggers again – it’s just a long word and if players are using it a lot at the table, they might just start diluting its meaning entirely. At this point I’m liking the word fires, as if to indicate something set up in a position to act leaps into operation.

This is also not an ideal or perfect solution for the future form of the tool. Particularly, there is some weirdness about the card icons that make it a little hard to handle at the moment, and the design of the tool doesn’t generate a card back (embarrassing). For a print-and-play version of the cards, this works out fine, but I’m going to need to produce that card back soon, and that’s going to be an important aesthetic window that wants – for lack of a better term – key art.

And this is the structural tool. I have a 25-card templated version, which I may pare down by one card to make a 27-card version, so as to run playtests directly in multiples. Multiples of 9 are easier to print on A4 pages after all, in a 3×3 grid.

This is an exciting stage to be at because now, things are set up so that some particularly big, sweeping changes can be implemented easily. If I just want to get rid of an icon I can. If I want to add one, provided it fits on the card in the appropriate spot, I can do that, too. If I want to add a method, that works just fine, it’s just a matter of changing the files this python script references.

Also, since all the data is in a spreadsheet, it can be organised and examined at length. It can be categorised and statistically analysed, and that means I can make sure trends are set up in ways that feel obvious without distorting potential gameplay experiences badly. 

This is an idea Mark Rosewater refers to as as-fan. As-fan is when a player engages with a magic booster, when they fan out a normal booster, what things are obviously presented in the single handful of a random sample, in a way that clearly matters to the player, agnostic of other information? In the example of the Zendikar sets, there are always going to be cards mentioning or referencing the importance of getting to play with more land cards. In the handful of cards from a Ravnica set, there will be cards that clearly indicate multicolour pairings. 

This idea, as-fan, as it relates to Bloodwork, presents a different challenge. Players are not going to see too many cards, and cards have a limited capacity for doing anything. I could exclusively limit particular game actions to particular factions – say, criminal vampires are much more likely to have access to violence, and mystical vampires more likely to have access to scrap. But that isn’t an equivalent exchange of interface – one of those is necessary to winning the game, the other optimises your experience of getting to winning the game.

  • Are all player actions completely comparable to one another?
  • Are all player actions capable of generating a game state that can end the game?
  • Are all player actions equally incapable of advancing the game state to ending the game?
  • Does the game need a timer to induce pressure and force players to build for cards that let them win the game?
  • What to do about cards that are badly placed or made as a mistake?

I think more and more that the game wants a market for victory cards, a way for players to use later-game purchases to try and win the game, and for those victories to start doing things that mess the players up. Those cards can also be a place for a return to my beloved text boxes. 

Okay, that’s the update!