Midmonth Bloodwork Work — Stuffness

Alright, Bloodwork, it’s a vampire game, it’s a builder game, it’s like Machi Koro but instead of an idyllic seaside town you’re making edgy vampire associations that look like Multi-Level Marketing pyramid scheme.

I’m thinking about this game a lot today, and part of what I’m thinking about is the game’s relationship to stuff. Specifically, the kind of material boundaries I have to deal with in the creation of a game which relies on a pyramidal card structure, modelled on the classic 52-card card game pyramid.

What’s the stuff of the game? What does that stuff let me do and how is it related to other stuff? Right now, the stuff of this game is dice, cards, and tokens. I also need a box and a booklet. I’m going to work from Gamecrafter’s measurements because they’re standardised and easily distributed and if I approach any other component maker, they’re going to be able to swing them, even if they’re not strictly standardised.

Cards are pretty easy. The gap between 15 cards and 90 cards and 200 cards is just a matter of storage. If you can store a card you can probably store more cards, and cards have a lot of room for mechanical complexity on them. These cards are going to be how we express most of the things in the game; a double-sized card for the player’s own card, their ‘board’ as it were.

The cards mean that the mechanical pieces of each player’s setup can be atomised. I don’t have to attack all of you, I can attack a part of your setup, which is good. That lets us have things like sending vampires to attack or disgrace one another without needing to restructure the entire player experience. Pieces can be removed or added conveniently. It means that pieces can be positioned to have relationships to one another, which is also important.

One thing the cards do, though, that’s also important is they occupy space. Originally, when I conceived of this, I thought that each card could have a # of slots you could use on it for who it could later control, with the idea that young vampires could control less, but older vampires were more demanding. Managing space like makes the game sprawl apart, and it breaks up the visual of the pyramid. In order to simplify the game mechanics, and make it so the dice ‘bouncing downwards’ work on a consistent pattern, I’m going to give up on the idea of different cards having more or less authority.

Tokens are a material concern, too. I can see two ways to handle currency, which unfortunately have a pretty sharp distinction in how public they can be.

  • The low-materiality option is to have trackers: players have a card that has numbers on it, and little markers or beads to slide along those numbers to represent how much of the currency they have.
  • The high-materiality option is to have each currency represented by a token, which are pretty cool and let you do things like handle trades, reserves and secrets in a way that public trackers don’t.

One idea I like is that players can keep the volume of resources they have reasonably secret, especially the currency violence. When you go to Do Violence, you choose how much you’re going to set aside and you hold out your hand in a closed fist, and the other player chooses how much they have to defend with, in their closed fist, and you reveal tokens until one player decides they’re out or they have spent all their resources. I like this because it means it can feel like a slugfest where you’re just feeding each other hits. I also liked this idea because the loser collects all the violence tokens afterwards, meaning you might get into fights with someone just to try and scrape violence out of them. There’s an uncertainty to it.

That requires the tokens and those are a big demand materially, especially if all the players are meant to have a decent number of them. Let’s say a meaningful violence encounter like this is going to have seven tokens played in total – four by the winner, three by the loser. I need to make sure that there’s enough tokens for every player to have those.

That’s hard, that’s a lot of space in the box, and it’s fiddly. I feel like if it was a larger, grander box game, then that might work out okay. A pile of little tokens in a big game are part of the more absolute whole, but in a card game which relies on dice and cards, I don’t want to dedicate a huge chunk of space in the box to one type of token for one kind of resource.

Here then are some ideas for combat and the expenditure of the Violence resource that can minimise tokens:

  • If the problem is not wanting to overload the game with currency counters, what if I find some way to simplify the currency counters. Maybe the currency counter is blood, and you can spend that resource on things that are activated in the turn.
  • It could also be that you generate all the currencies each turn, but only blood persists from turn to turn, and therefore, only blood needs to be tracked more than one turn.
  • Another option is to use the dice that make up the game for the conflict in a sort of boundary-limited bidding system. One player gets three dice, one player gets two dice, and you set your dice to what you’re going to spend; this means the aggressor can clearly exert more force if they want to, but they might not. It also means the aggressor has to spend at least three to defend.
  • Oh hang on, what if it’s sequential. Defender sets a dice that’s the base defenses they’re spending, then the aggressor can spend a dice to overcome that, and the defender can choose if they want to keep going to defend. A defender has to spend at least three violence overall, attackers have to spend at least two.

Another element of the material needs of the game, oh oh, while I’m at it: How many dice does this move with? If a player rolls one dice at a time, we need only one dice. But if it’s a dice pool system, it needs n dice to start with, where n is the number of players. If players wind up needing to roll 3 dice each, then we have the same problem scaling up, and up, and up – you see the problem? Plus, I had the plan that, in time, the players would be rolling up to three dice each, when your pyramid reaches its third tier deep.

In that case, for a game that can have up to six players (say), for a dice pool system, then that means the game needs to have eighteen dice! That’s a heap!

I need to reign that in, and I think the best way to do this is to instead look at ways to wind it in:

  • Players only ever roll one dice and your tiers let you reroll dice.
  • Players roll all the dice on their turn, and keep three, and give the other dice to other players at their choice.
  • Players roll all the dice on their turn, then those dice are drafted, but if you’re at t3 pyramid, you only get the third dice when you’re the one rolling it.

That third option means that a game of 4 players only needs 9 dice for rolling. That means that each player starts rolling one-per-player, and at 4 players, with everyone with a t3, everyone rolls all the dice.

This is a set of material considerations about this game as it is being designed! More on this to come.