BrettSpiel is a blog about board game design, written by game designer Brett J. Gilbert.

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Prototype Snapshot: Amongst Thieves

Amongst Thieves is a design that I originally conceived 5 or 6 years ago, and that was placed a very creditable 9th in the 2008 Premio Archimede game design contest in Venice, Italy. As my report on my Italian adventure (part 1, part 2) explains, Leo Colovini liked the game and hoped to find it a publisher. So far, however, no dice (or cards, for that matter).

The feedback from prospective publishers was both limited and muted: clearly the game, at least in the form which seemed to serve it so well at the Premio Archimede, was simply not making the right impression with the right people. The prototype had lain largely untouched, but I have recently been re-enthused to revisit and rework it.

Prototype snapshot: Amongst Thieves

First, a point of order: I have shamelessly lifted the lovely character artwork from the Days of Wonder title Queen’s Necklace, so thanks to the talented artist Pierre-Alain Chartier for that!

Second: I have already discussed one key aspect of the new prototype design in my needlessly cryptically entitled post One Balm for Many Fevers Found (perhaps I should rein in the poetic allusions just a little?) — namely the structure of the game deck. A big part of the game’s renewal is the cognitive shift from 2–6 players to 3–7 and the reformed deck now made up of 6 unequal suits.

However, there is another big change which I think does more to refocus the game and (one hopes) make it more commercially viable. The original game had a novel memory element: there is important information on both sides of the cards, but a card played face-up hid the information on the reverse, and there was no repeat of information from one side on the other.

I actually rather liked this part of the game: information was first revealed and then concealed, and this allowed the players to make mistakes. However it was this ‘feature’, along with the burden the split of information over the two card faces put on players handling and choosing cards, that most put off prospective publishers, who were rather more likely to think of it as something of a ‘bug’. So, whatever you think of the memory aspect, the physical handling of the cards would always have been a barrier to some players. In the final analysis it was just a gimmick that got in the way.

The new prototype does away with this element of the gameplay completely, and so benefits from simply being more literal. Creating, just for the sake of it, gameplay that is intrinsically opaque has to be a bad thing, and the casual introduction of a memory-based mechanism into what was a crucial part of the game was, on sober reflection, folly.

Not least because, when taken to extremes, it’s exactly the sort of thing that annoys me in other games — Ticket to Ride: The Card Game, anyone? — so I can can hardly blame others for a cool response to it in my own designs! The important realization is that this is simply not what the game was designed to be about.

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