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[House of Cards] Second Playtest Issues

Started by Eric J. Boyd, February 09, 2009, 12:54:01 AM

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Eric J. Boyd

So I ran a second playtest for my no-prep heist game last Thursday night using the most recent draft that is available here. You can read about the first playtest here. Due to the onset of a migraine for one of the players, we didn't finish the game, but we had some fun and discovered some issues for me to think about.

One of the main changes to the game is the addition of Drives - an adaptation of the Dark Fates idea from The Mountain Witch. Basically, you're randomly dealt a Drive that indicates the real reason you're involved in this heist (it's never just about the money). It's intended to provide direction for each character's story, as well as incentives for more or less cooperation come the end of the game.

Characters are a couple of key physical and behavioral traits and a set of rumors provided by the other players and the GM. Such rumors can be shown to be true or false during play. We had three thieves this time around:

Chadworth Arrington, the leader of the group, is a pretty boy who's always dressed to the nines. Rumor has it Chadworth has the hots for Vinca, the team's face woman, that he's in debt to the Georgian mob, and is really trailer trash despite the airs he puts on.

Vinca Flores, the team's face, is super hot and hates guns. Rumor has it she's got an abusive ex she still isn't over, she's secretly a turncoat for the Feds, and she's pregnant.

Antoine, the tech guy is paranoid and constantly twitching. Rumor has it he is hooked on smack, that he's a pathological liar, and that his father is a Columbian drug kingpin.

The item, its location, and its owner are cooperatively created, with several details being provided for each. Here, the heist centered on the blackmail files acquired by the late Sen. Sorenson. The team knew that the files are on a single DVD, it is heavily encrypted, its contents will ruin the ten wealthiest families in the US, and its existence is known by several of them. This DVD was located at a bank in rural Minnesota in the oldest building in the state. There's no hi-tech security, but the bank is next door to a state trooper HQ. The Senator's daughter is the only one with a key to the safe deposit box. As for the DVD's former owner, the estate of Sen. Sorenson, no one knows the DVD exists, the probate hearing is in two days, three factions are fighting for control of the assets, and, oh yeah, the Senator was murdered by parties unknown.

So that was our situation, and it would have been great to explore it more fully. We only got to complete one round of play, but already folks were getting invested in their characters and really bringing their rumors and Drives together into a great cohesive whole.

First, the good stuff:
-Adding Drives to the game really helped the players orient themselves and gave them a direction to pursue with their characters. Everyone was very positive about this change.
-The Drives dovetailed neatly with the rumors rules. Even the most trad gamer of our group found himself spinning a compelling tale for his character that integrated his Drive and rumors into a fun story. A recent revision to make confirming or denying a rumor equally valid both mechanically and in the fiction really helped make this possible.
-I also unified everything under one currency, which seems much cleaner in play, though it had an effect I still have to wrestle with (see below).

The stuff to work on:
-The players felt that the current mechanical benefit for addressing a rumor, drawing one additional card, is too weak in light of it being a one shot bonus. They also argued that there should be a bonus for further pursuing a rumor after it has been confirmed or denied.

My initial thought on the first issue is simply to make confirming or denying worth two cards. I'm torn on a reincorporation bonus, though. On the one hand, there are a limited number of scenes, and I want bonus cards to be a limited resource that aren't always available. On the other hand, the current one shot bonus means everyone would address all three rumors if they're playing optimally, and it would be interesting to encourage deeper exploration of a particular rumor. Maybe I need to loosen up and just expect a rumor to be used in every scene, and perhaps have a different, but just as useful, mechanical bonus for reincorporation. Any thoughts here most appreciated.

-Several players think that revealing your Drive should provide a mechanical bonus during that scene. One mentioned that there should be different bonuses depending on when during play it is revealed and how well integrated it is with your rumors.

I'd like to leave Drives as a means to organize the story and move it forward without complicating things (which is does so well in The Mountain Witch. So I think I'll put this feedback on the shelf and play the game all the way through before changing anything. At most, I could see a minor bonus upon the reveal, but nothing complicated. The reveal should be its own reward.

-With everything costing 1 point of currency, including special abilities (which used to have a separate currency), the players seemed more conservative in their play. People seemed reluctant to use their special abilities, and no one was willing to spend currency to establish NPCs. They didn't grok that even if you end up with the same amount of currency after playing out your scene as you started with, there is still a lot of value in taking some currency from the GM so that he has less for the end game (I need to clearly state that next time).

The NPC issue is bugging me. These lasting NPCs are supposed to be additional heist team members and folks related to Drives and rumors. Early drafts let you introduce a lasting NPC for free any time you played a face card if you wanted to. The result was a bloat of NPCs that no one really cared about. The revision has NPCs cost a point of currency and prevent the GM from playing that particular face card going forward unless he pays currency for it. The players didn't feel this was worthwhile enough to pay for so they didn't do it.

Any suggestions on how to split the difference here and get a few interesting NPCs that folks want to play with?

Thanks for reading.