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Monster family microgame (Addams Family inspired)

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polyobsessive
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tl;dr: I'm trying to create a small card game inspired by the Addams Family that I can give away to friends towards the end of the year and have a few basics down, but need to do a lot more to turn it into a working game.

OK, so some background... Every year for the last decade or so, my wife and I have been going to a "medieval" banquet each November. The banquets are a private (ish) party organised by a bunch of friends from way back, and the word "medieval" is in quotes because, while the banquets started off being themed in the Arthurian mythos, they have developed into more esoteric themes over the years. Last year was based on A Game of Thrones, the year before that was Serenity/Firefly, and before that it was A Midsummer Night's Dream. The theme planned for this year is The Addams Family (and any other similar sources that anyone fancies going with).

One of the traditions that has developed is that many people exchange banquet gifts, as most of us generally don't see each other at Christmas and, you know, it's a nice thing to do. Often my wife crafts some things for us to give away. This year, I feel that as one of my main hobbies is game design, it would be nice to give away a small game.

So, the brief is that I want a game to be a small card game (18 cards max) so that it would be cheap for me to get decent copies produced; it should have some relevance to the Addams Family theme (I'm planning to avoid the actual IP, but if The Munsters can rip off with something similar, so can I!); it should be the sort of thing that is quick and easy to learn and play.

My plan at the moment is for this to be about gift giving. There can be one set of cards that are gifts (a cake, a puppy, chocolates, a bomb, a machete, a set of electrodes, that sort of thing) and one set of cards that are characters. Each of the characters likes particular types of gift and dislikes others. The aim would be to simultaneously hold a gift and a character who wants that gift.

How this happens, I haven't quite figured out yet. I figure that for now, everyone gets dealt one character and one gift. We may remove unneeded gifts and character from the game, or some or all of them (or maybe just the gifts) could be placed (probably face down) in the middle of the table.

I now need to come up with some form of swapping and peeking protocol to allow players to try to move towards a victory. It is tempting to make it so that, after the initial deal, players can look at other people's cards but not their own.

There is a possibility that I might allow characters to have special abilities that they can use, in the style of Mascarade, where others can challenge if they suspect a special ability is being used by the wrong person. Though this would make the game significantly more complicated; certainly at first.

I'm also not sure about how to stop the round. Maybe there should be a vote to open the presents, or perhaps after a set number of turns, we see what everyone has.

I'm in the process of making up a rough play set to try some ideas out and will try some solo testing -- though a game like this is very hard to solo! I'll then see if I can inflict it on a few people some time soon.

In the meantime, if anyone has any thoughts, comments, questions or suggestions, I would be very grateful to hear them.

Zag24
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I don't have any specific

I don't have any specific game ideas for you at the moment. However, I have a great meta-idea. Ask Rich Durham to make your request into one of the monthly game design challenges! Make the requirements something like:

Theme is a monster family, a la Addams Family or The Munsters, but carefully avoiding any copyright infringements.

Can be manufactured with less than $5 worth of parts on The Game Crafter. (or whatever you are willing to pay). This would mostly limit you to cards, but would also allow for a few tokens, playing pieces, whatever. See https://www.thegamecrafter.com/publish/pricing and https://www.thegamecrafter.com/parts

Then you would have to promise to work with the winner to produce whatever art is necessary, and you should offer to buy a copy for the winner, and one for Rich, once it's all done.

polyobsessive
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Thanks.

Hi Zag, thanks very much for reading and commenting. That's a really cool idea for getting a game design apart from one element: that I like designing games and want to give away something that I have made at least most of. :) (I should probably have mentioned that!)

I was actually just working on this and have a basic set of components that I am playing with.

So I have two sets of cards with distinct backs...

One set is gifts, and my initial set is: axe, bomb, brain, chocolates, cleaver, electrodes, gateau, puppy, and whip.

The other set is for characters (who don't yet have names), each of which has two of the gifts that they like and one that they don't. This is another set of 9 cards, and the cards are set up so each gift is liked by two characters and disliked by one.

I started trying out and improvising the game on my own, which was tricky as the game is developing into a guessing game with elements of bluffing. I need to get some friends round to help try this (actually I've been meaning to try sorting a playtest evening some time soon...) so I can figure out how we are doing.

Anyway, I was playing with 4 "players" and gave each player one character and two gifts. The remaining gift and one of the remaining characters were put face-down in the middle. Each player could look at their own cards and one gift and one character elsewhere around the table.

From there on, I reckoned we could have a couple of rounds of swapping cards (you swap one of your cards with one of the cards of the same type held by another player, or in the middle of the table). I'm not sure yet if players are allowed to look at their cards once the game gets to this stage (probably not).

It was at that point that my brain melted because I can't keep the right information in my head. I might try this again, making a note for each "player" of what they "know".

Eventually (and I'm not yet sure when) we get to a "showdown" point when everyone scores points if their character has gifts that they wanted, and not ones that they dislike.

And while I was typing that, it occurs to me that the final phase could actually be everyone deciding whether they score for their own character or someone else's. That could be a bit of craziness to add in there.

Midnight_Carnival
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happy(monster)families

There was a game similar to go-fish called happy families, the object was to collect all the cards in a suit or something similar. Anyway it was very simple and basically a memory game, a player could ask another palyer if they had such and such a card and if they did they'd have to hand it over and the player would get another go - I can't remember what happened if they didn't have the card.

Anyway, I thought you might work on something similar - you have the same number of monsters as you have players but you play with all the gifts, some face down on the table. A player would guess which monster another had and if they got it right the players would keep their monsters but the player would guess which gift the other had, if they had it they'd swap gifts, if not, they'd swap with the table. You can only hold 1 monster card and 1 gift card at a time. If someone guesses your monster then everybody knows what monster you have but if they don't then you know what monster the person who guessed has (the one you used to have)
I don't know how you'd determine which monster likes which gift but the rest might be a good starting point for your game(?)

polyobsessive
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happy(monster)families

I'm in the UK, where Happy Families is probably better known than Go Fish, so I get where you're coming from there. And I like that idea, actually, so thanks for the suggestion.

One of the little challenges I have in the back of my mind is to take "kiddy-games" (you know, the sort of things that are widely known but little or no gamer appeal) and try to build something more interesting on them. Oddball Aeronauts built on Top Trumps; several games (Dobble, Jungle Speed, etc) have developed Snap; and so on. Happy Families might be good to work with.

I have some ideas to work with (including yours) and am hoping to get a few people round to do some playtesting in a few days, so maybe we'll try a few different sets of rules and see if anything sticks.

Thanks again.

polyobsessive
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Eureka! (I think)

...And having slept on it, that Happy Families idea has born fruit, I think. The idea I am now thinking of is that the core action (there may be others) for each player is to ask another player if they have a particular gift. Player B can say yes or no, and if yes, player A can offer a gift to trade. If the two players are in agreement, they swap gifts.

So far, so dull.

But neither player has to be honest and the trade is made blind, based on what players say they are trading, and not what they are actually trading. So there is an element of bluff and reading.

I need to test this and see how honest players are in practice. And also if this actually works out as interesting in actual play.

I also need a mechanism to allow someone to call BS on an opponent.

And, of course, something to stop the round.

I think I have enough game that I need playtesters (it'll be soon...), but I'll see if I can fill some more of the obvious gaps in the meantime.

Midnight_Carnival
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great!

If I wasn't on the other side of the world to you and soon to be libing very far away from my family I'd be first in line to ask to playtest it. If you still need someone to playtest it in a few months though, I'll definately help out.

Also a brief question: do players ever exchange monsters or get the opportunity to take a new one (eg: exchange with the deck) or do they have to stick with the monsters they have?

gilamonster
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Do you know the microgame

Do you know the microgame called "Coup"? Here it is on bgg: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/131357/coup
In Coup, you each have a hand of two cards, each of which has an ability. You can bluff possession of a card and use an ability that you don't actually have, but if someone calls your bluff correctly, you lose a card (if they call incorrectly, they must discard a card and the card whose ability was used can be exchanged for another drawn randomly from the deck). I'm not sure how you could combine something like this into your game, but maybe this will give you an idea. Perhaps the player offering the card exchange must be honest, but the other need not (i.e. he can refuse, claiming not to have it).
Or perhaps each monster has an ability, for instance everyone passes their gift card to the player to their left.

Interestingly, a friend who played Coup much more than I said that over a sufficiently long series of games, the more honest players tended to win most often. I don't know if that will be the case with your game though.

polyobsessive
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Hi Midnight!

Midnight_Carnival wrote:
If I wasn't on the other side of the world to you and soon to be libing very far away from my family I'd be first in line to ask to playtest it. If you still need someone to playtest it in a few months though, I'll definately help out.

Wow, thank you, that is really encouraging. After the game design has settled down a bit I intend to make a print & play set available for playtesting, and I would really love to get any feedback from you.

Midnight_Carnival wrote:
Also a brief question: do players ever exchange monsters or get the opportunity to take a new one (eg: exchange with the deck) or do they have to stick with the monsters they have?

Right now I honestly don't know. Thematically, swapping identities is not so great, but in this sort of game I don't think it really matters. At the moment I think I'm leaning towards keeping the same character, but I plan to test both with swapping characters and without to see how it affects the dynamics of the game.

polyobsessive
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Gilamonster - Coup

gilamonster wrote:
Do you know the microgame called "Coup"?

Yeah, I've played it a fair bit and very much like it. There is certainly a lot to learn from Coup for any small bluffing game.

gilamonster wrote:
I'm not sure how you could combine something like this into your game, but maybe this will give you an idea. Perhaps the player offering the card exchange must be honest, but the other need not (i.e. he can refuse, claiming not to have it).

I've been wondering about that. Not yet sure which way to go first, but the input from Coup is a good thought.

gilamonster wrote:
Or perhaps each monster has an ability, for instance everyone passes their gift card to the player to their left.

Yes, I like that idea. Maybe at the start of the game, your identity is hidden but you can reveal your character to use its special ability?

Or maybe you can just claim to have an identity in order to use it (like in Coup or Mascarade)? That could make for a deeper game, but would make it harder to learn as everyone would have to memorise all the character powers in order to play properly, and I think I would prefer to keep the game nice and casual.

gilamonster wrote:
Interestingly, a friend who played Coup much more than I said that over a sufficiently long series of games, the more honest players tended to win most often. I don't know if that will be the case with your game though.

That's an interesting observation. My hunch about Coup is that to win you need to be honest but look dishonest. :)

Thanks very much for your comments.

jasongreeno
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When I'm starting a new

When I'm starting a new design and have more questions then answers, I like to think about the experience I'm looking for in the gameplay. In my football card game, I wanted the experience of trading and haggling over players. This helped focus my rules. Have you thought about what is 'The Fun' aspect of your game?

From reading your post and blog, I get the senses that you might find the fun in:

• Guessing Correctly
• Bluffing

Could you trigger a card's ability, not by playing it, but by guessing that the card is in someone else's hand? Or perhaps each Monster has two abilities, one if YOU play it and another if it is in your hand when someone guesses correctly (which would have a negative effect on you?)

Ex. Shirley guesses that I have Igor i my hand, Igor's text says "If someone guesses that you have this card, draw 2 more Guests to the party."

polyobsessive
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Guessing and bluffing

Hi Jason,

Thanks for that perspective. I think you are probably right about where the fun would be in this game, so to enhance the guessing/bluffing aspect would be good.

The "when guessed" trigger sounds like an interesting one, and I hadn't thought of that one before. I'll play with this idea and see if I can find something that fits the game. Thanks.

I think that the possible down-side is basically something I commented on earlier: that it may require a greater cognitive load on players, who would have to either remember the available characters, or have access to a cribsheet, which might take attention away from the game. This is not insoluble, or necessarily really a problem, but I think it is a challenge to make this aspect run as smoothly as possible, even for first-time players.

Thanks again for your input, it's helping me think of different options.

polyobsessive
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Back after a long gap

After leaving this on the back burner for a while and trying out a few options, I have finally got a game on this theme that withstood some early playtests, so looks like I could be on the right lines at last. It's actually a fair bit different to what we have been discussing so far.

There are two types of cards: 12 gifts (2 each of 6 types) and 6 characters. Each character (except one - I'll explain later) wants two of the gifts and scores points at the end of the round if they get the ones they want. Everyone gets dealt 1 character and 2 gifts, and they then give the 2 gifts to other players. Any unused cards are left in the middle of the table, face down. Everyone places the cards they have face down in front of them. (With fewer players, they probably get 3 gifts each.)

The general run of play is that each player in turn either swaps one of their face-down cards with another on the table, OR they reveal one of their face-down cards. When you reveal a gift, it has a special effect, like flipping or swapping cards, which you must resolve. The round ends when at least half of the players have revealed all of their cards, at which point points are scored according to what characters and gifts everyone has.

Remember that exception character? Well, one of the gifts is a bomb, and if you end up with a bomb, you score nothing for the round. If a bomb is revealed, that ends the round immediately. So the special character is someone who actually wants bombs, so she scores big if she can get both of the bombs - or pretty well with just one.

That's about it. There are some rough edges and some questions to resolve, but the game was actually quite fun to play in the group (of game designers!) that I was playing it with, so I am hopeful.

Midnight_Carnival
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I want to play that!

I like the bomb bit.

polyobsessive
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:)

Thanks. I'll get something set up to share over the next few days, so you can take a look if you get the time and inclination.

Soulfinger
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You might like the card game,

You might like the card game, "Gloom," which features artwork very reminiscent of Charles Addams and Edward Gorey. Also, in the same vein, there are the sometimes overlooked Titus Groan books by Mervyn Peake, including a BBC serial, which may inspire you.

polyobsessive
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Gloom and Gormenghast

Thanks, Soulfinger. I've never played Gloom but I'm aware of it and how it works. It does kinda fit in with this whole bizzarro family aesthetic; really must get around to trying it sometime.

I saw the Gormenghast TV series when it was first broadcast and really enjoyed it, but I never got around to reading the books. There's also a board game that I nearly bought when it turned up in discount bookshops around here a year or two back; apparently it's not terrible!

Good sources of inspiration, as you say.

polyobsessive
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PnP prototype

I've got off my backside and finished writing up the rules, so may I present to you Secret Satan prototype version 0.1, downloadable from Dropbox...
https://www.dropbox.com/s/3ecr6rlcafys8pi/secretsatan_cards_v0-1.pdf?dl=0
https://www.dropbox.com/s/2mj6tqvx7ko2lsj/secretsatan_rules_v0-1.pdf?dl=0

If anyone would like to take a look, that would be awesome, and any comments or thoughts would be really appreciated.

If you would like to give it a try, that would be even more amazing. It's just two sheets of cards (9 cards per sheet) to print and cut out, and my experience so far suggests about 5 to 10 minutes per round to play (and you just keep score across rounds) for up to 6 players.

Thanks for reading!
Rob

2016-09-09: Edited to change the link to the rules as there was a critical bit missing about how you score zero if you have a bomb unless you actually want one!

polyobsessive
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Introducing...

Just in case anyone is interested, the game is "finished" and I have a bunch of sets made up to distribute at our event. It's far from perfect, but after a few rounds of testing and revision I am content with where it has got, so I have created an entry on BGG with PnP files available. Introducing "Giftmas with the Grimms"...

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/212762/giftmas-grimms

Any feedback would still be appreciated, as I may well revise this again later. :)

polyobsessive
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Publishing

Just putting a quick note here because I am a bit excited as it looks like I may have found a publisher for this, and I want to share my excitement. I can't go into detail as nothing is signed and we're in negotiation, but there was a verbal offer and a handshake, which is further than I have got before. I may need to take down the PnP files shortly, so get 'em while you can! ;)

richdurham
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Congratulations!

Tentatively of course, but congratulations! Keep us all updated!

evansmind244
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Congratulations

Polyobessive that's great you may get published. The rules are smooth and game looks great. I love the artwork.

polyobsessive
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Thanks

Thanks, Rich and Evan. I'll certainly post an update if and when things get agreed properly and I am allowed to share more openly.

And thanks for the nice words, Evan. The art will be changing, though.

polyobsessive
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Signed!

Well, it took a little while to get sorted, but the game is now signed. Woo-hoo!

This game is scheduled to be released as "Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey" by Cubicle 7 Entertainment, who are mostly known as an RPG publisher, as part of their new "Dungeon Abbey" line, which is a game setting that is pretty much a cross between Downton Abbey and the Addams Family. Hopefully we'll see more games in the line over the coming years (I'm already working on one more).

I've seen some of the artwork they are planning to use, and it looks fantastic.

Midnight_Carnival
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Congratulations!

I should start sometimes moving in similar directions I think.
well done and enjoy the fame and huge wealth

polyobsessive
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Rich and famous

Midnight_Carnival wrote:
I should start sometimes moving in similar directions I think.
well done and enjoy the fame and huge wealth

Thanks.

I think I may be waiting a while if I want to get rich off this! :)

Actually, I know you were joking there, but if anyone reading this is not in the business and doesn't know how the numbers work out, we did the back of the envelope calculations and if this game sells out on its initial print run, my cut would be in the region of $1000.

Midnight_Carnival
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why not rich and famous?

I wasn't entirely joking. What you post about games is sufficiently interesting, original and you have show that you go through with your ideas. Perhaps it may not be with this game, but I believe you will get there.

and I wouldn't turn my nose up at $1000. right now 10 would be good for me.

Anyway, the real 'pay' will come when enough people enjoy your games and you become in demand, then just having you on a project means something and you start making real money.

polyobsessive
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Thank you, Midnight

Midnight_Carnival wrote:
I wasn't entirely joking. What you post about games is sufficiently interesting, original and you have show that you go through with your ideas. Perhaps it may not be with this game, but I believe you will get there.

Wow, thank you for saying that. It is really kind of you.

Quote:
and I wouldn't turn my nose up at $1000. right now 10 would be good for me.

Oh, absolutely. For the last 2 or 3 years, game design has become a hobby that has been really entertaining and enjoyable, but has cost me a fair bit, not so much in terms of components and stuff, but more in travelling to playtesting events and the like. Even if I just earn a few hundred pounds off my designs, it would mean that my hobby pays for itself and maybe even allows me to travel more and get even more involved.

Quote:
Anyway, the real 'pay' will come when enough people enjoy your games and you become in demand, then just having you on a project means something and you start making real money.

It would be lovely if that happened, but for now it's a great ride and it's fun to chat with and learn from other designers here and on BGG, as well as in person when I can.

Thanks again for your support.

polyobsessive
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Update

I just thought I'd post an update, just in case anyone was interested.

"Giftmas at Dungeon Abbey" is now slated for a release in the first half of next year, but it had a limited release (30 copies of a print-on-demand preview edition) at Essen, where we sold out of that small amount of stock, which was really gratifying.

The game now has a page on BGG (https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/238701/giftmas-dungeon-abbey), so it's really starting to come together.

We also have another "Dungeon Abbey" game (also designed by me) on its way for next year, so this is the start of a range of games that I may be able to add more to in time.

All very exciting for me at least! :)

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