Moonshiners! and making Choices

Alright, alright, I know I’ve been thick on the ground for game ideas lately. This one’s even more frustrating than normal because I feel like I could convince a university colleague to pump out AI art and beta test it with me in a weekend but I feel like that would be an abuse of our limited time right now.

Here’s the core of it: You’re all Appalachian, redneck ass criminal booze makers and sellers, classic moonshiners. To maintain your business you’re travelling into town every month with a load of product, and while you’re there, you offload product, you recruit gangsters, and you make money through a series of auctions.

Also, you’re werewolves.

Play Loop, simple summary:

  • Play is a series of auctions. That’s all that you do in this game.
  • First thing that happens is an item gets put into the pool to bid on. Sometimes it can be two or three items to put in the pool, to drive sales. These items can include things that improve your moonshiner operation (better stills, a bigger car, a bribed cop, crew and characters that give you special abilities) or art objects that build your value as a successful criminal (victory points who am I kidding).
  • Then, going in order, starting from one player with a first player mark, people put face-down cards into the pool showing the thing they’re bidding on. More on these cards.
  • When someone doesn’t add to their stack, they pass, and are out of the bidding. When everyone passes, players reveal the cards in their stack, and one of three things happen:
    • A normal auction. Check who put in the most money. They get to keep the thing they bought and put the money into a discard pile. Everyone else gets to keep their money
    • A shift! One player’s stack reveals a shift card! They rage out and take everything on the table, both the goods you’re bidding on and the bids, and runs off with it. That player can’t bid on more lots, but they get everything that was there.
    • A fight! Two or more players’ stacks reveal a shift card. They fight each other, and in the chaos, the non-shifted players distrbute the goods on the table and the auctioned item at random, shuffled up and dealt out. The shifted players can keep playing this round but they can’t shift again after they got cooled off.
  • Auctions continue until there’s a number of rounds done, then players return home, sort their goods, and come back for more next season. At the start of each season, your gang and network of goods pay out, you do any special abilities, all that jazz, and the bidding kicks off anew.

There are some challenges presented in the game system here though.

First, I want the shift to be able to be both an interrupt and a surprise. If you put a shift in your stack, there needs to be an opportunity for someone else to have done a shift too. But there’s nothing in the loop that stops you from, as the last player, just dumping more cards onto your bid, over and over again. But maybe that takes care of itself – if players get a maximum of one chance at a shift for every (say) six auctions, then they’re not going to want to blow it early, and they might know it’s ruined if you use it late. That might solve itself!

Another option is once someone passes, the rest of the players can contribute one more card – meaning you can force the end of the auction but people have a strong chance to get a read on whether or not you’re going to shift.

Also: Currency! Currency as fungible value is hard to track without currency itself. Does the game want to use actual fungible coins and tokens? Those aren’t as readily represented by the game systems I use, they require the addition of some kind of counting/token mechanism. On the other hand, if the game is primarily cards of different values, then the bidding stage can be more awkward, intentionally so. You might have, in value, $300 in your hand; but if that’s 10 $30s it’s a very different thing than if you have a $100, a few $27s, three $19s, two $15s and a $1. Of course that’s just an example!

Should you be able to spend your Treasure Items, your victory points, as if they’re currency? My impulse is ‘yeah.’ That means that, if the cards going into the auction are a mystery, then the backs of those treasure cards need to be the same as currency cards which already need to be the same as your shift card. Or maybe they don’t – maybe you can put treasures into the auction, but they just go in face-up?

At this point the game wants three card backs. It could hypothetically be a pure card game – just a fat box card game with three smaller decks, shuffled up for play. Tokens could be useful depending on if the cards want to make special use of them?

Your deck is going to represent the money you have access to; things that improve the business (like an extra still) get you to add money cards to your deck before the round of bidding. Crew let you access more of that deck (drawing and discarding), or let you protect goods during fights or shifts.

An option for auctions, if I want to try for a currency system, is to have it so that each player has access to coins in the forms of token and a way to hide them. In this case, the bidding, for ambiguity’s sake, still needs to use the cards – what am I gunna do there, match each card to a money value? Seems hard to do.

I think for that design instead your auction cards are really simple and list one of five things:

  • Pass
  • Increase the bid one step
  • Increase the bid one step
  • Increase the bid two steps
  • Shift

Then when the bidding starts, the player setting up the auction names the starting price of the unit, and the price for each step. You get to decide if you’re willing to bid on that, but if nobody bids on it there’s a punishment for the player setting the bidding — they have to buy it at that rate. One mechanic this design opens up is the idea of a closed economy – each lot is stuff your gang brought, and players pay the money to one another when they win or lose an auction. If you put a price on something too high for anyone to pay, you have to pay that money into the bank (which may get rid of it?) or into storage (that then gets distributed to all players)?

That seems like an interesting and weird puzzle for later, maybe for a different game. Because the focus of this game should be ‘hey, did someone put down a werewolf card?’ and running out of cards.