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Privateer's Dilemma

This is a game whose first draft and components I designed and implemented within 36 hours over a single weekend, as a personal challenge. After several months and countless playtests, I approached a local publisher, refined it more, cleaned-up the less-than-six-player games, and came up with quite a fun cooperative-competitive, light strategy game that plays in less than an hour. I'm hoping to have this game accepted by a publisher in the first half of 2014.

GAME SUMMARY/FLAVOR: After a splendid trade deal with some less-than-reputable sailors, it seems like they definitely don't want to make good on their half of the bargain! It's in the wee hours of the morning when you and your fellow crewmembers awaken to the sound of boots on boards: pirates are boarding your topsy-turvy schooner in a moon-lit raid! Put your backs together and do your best to repel the invaders before all your goods are gone!

A couple notes:
- In a nutshell, the game was modeled after tower defense games, a genre I've been continually intrigued by as time has gone on. The idea that the players must defend shifting command points keeps things fresh and interesting - and in the case of an ambitious traitor player - strategic on both sides.
- The game is also a reaction to Castle Panic, which I feel was poorly implemented as a co-op game. In that game, there was little incentive to share with others. I decided to magnify that aspect, but play up the notion that players were forced to cooperate with one another at least somewhat in order to succeed.
- The boat-rocking mechanic is something that my publisher contact found most intriguing. To keep it simple, I broadened the Balancing aspect to all items and individuals on the boat, as well as outlined the boundaries on the game board itself. Although it's the part of the game that takes the most calculation, it is also one of the most crucial. After a handful of rounds and definitely after a couple games, the calculation seems much less onerous.
- The game has undergone an extensive thematic change, but maintains the maritime theme, based loosely on the Age of Exploration. See below for the comments and discussion that led to this change. I'm embarrassed by original naivete, but I learned a lot in the brief time we had the exchange. Plus, it offers me an opportunity to experiment with some additional mechanics.
- The traitor mechanic adds a much more competitive atmosphere to the game, something I'd seen from the beginning but only recently have smoothed out. The game is tough and/or chaotic enough as is, so I decided to demote it to an optional rule. It's definitely suitable to seasoned veterans.

Thanks for reading! Should you have feedback, feel free to drop me a line either here at BGDF or via e-mail at editor [at] let [dash] off [dot] com.

Comments

Maybe a theme change?

Is there any way to make a theme that is not reminiscent of genocide? One that is not culturally appropriative (assuming you're not Peruvian)? This theme just sits poorly with me, and I'm sure others I know. It bothers me further that the original title was much more racist, and after feedback you merely changed the title. (Regardless of whether you root for the Incans, whom you know lose historically.)

Is your audience primarily white westerners? People with no connection to Peru, modern day native peoples, etc.? What do those demographics think about your game? Is it respectful of their rich history? Should conquered and assimilated peoples' histories be relegated to a game mechanic?

What about adventurers raiding a wizard's tower and escaping from hordes of imps, homunculi, familiars, zombies, whatever?

What about racing with presents in a mall/store to the checkout, with mobs of angry holiday shoppers trying to take your items? You and your friends got the last ones!

A Lovecraftian temple-run? Cthulhu is still pretty big right now. You and your expedition team are escaping an antediluvian ruin in Antarctica with proof of elder beings inhabiting our world long before humans evolved... but can you escape the shoggoth (and other critters)?

etc.

I like the game mechanics, the theme just bothers me a lot. I (and a lot of folks I know personally) would never buy or try this game based just on its theme. That may limit your marketability.

I hope my feedback will not be taken as a personal assault on you, but as insight from a different viewpoint on how themes like this can be problematic and oppressive to still-existing cultures. Thanks for hearing me out.

Honestly, I've been seeking

Honestly, I've been seeking honest feedback like yours, WCanepa.

The game highlights the ignorance of Western cultures and can be applied to contemporary foreign policy in the United States. I was completely honest when I mentioned that I was rooting for the Incans.

I hope this doesn't end up being too long an explanation... I know the title is still off-putting. I'm trying to find a way to keep the historical context intact while balancing offensiveness. By taking a title such as "Stinkin' Incans" it subjects the player to adopting the perspective of the Spanish Imperialists. I'm striving for "cognitive dissonance" with that perspective, forcing players to critically examine their actions, how Spain's explorers treated indigenous cultures centuries ago, and how the same mindset is still adopted by the leaders of Western nations today. I'm particularly critical of the United States and its foreign policy.

Will everyone pick up on this subtlety? It's doubtful. I want this title to be published soon, and I think I will have to sacrifice my anti-Western "personal agenda" to make that happen.

All that being said, I have attracted the attention of at least one publisher with this game. I can promise you that I will urge them to strongly consider adopting a different theme, hopefully one I can furnish. I seriously doubt any legitimate publisher would adopt such a theme, anyhow.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and thank you for reading, WCanepa.

"Will everyone pick up on

"Will everyone pick up on this subtlety? It's doubtful."

-That. That is the problem I'm seeing. Claiming to have a good agenda, but acknowledging nobody will likely recognize it (you have to explain the heck out of it, with not-readily-apparent logic) is problematic.

If your theme is really to showcase the problems with conquest. With treating indigenous peoples as less-than-human savages, and as obstacles to claiming "uninhabited" land. Problems with senseless murder, rape, pillaging, forced conversions, slavery, etc. Then you need to actually make that your theme. Not being a conquistador trying to abscond with ill-gotten gains before those 'pesky savages' put a spear in your hide.

If you're really trying to showcase that perspective, why have the players playing the "villains?" If players are having a hard time playing the game due to moral objections, you don't have a fun game.

If you are striving for cognitive dissonance, why not create an imaginary land with imaginary conquerors, and the players have to stop the conquerors. But, the odds are stacked against them, and even if they win a game, the game ends with another, tougher invasion....

You could have so many different amazing options with this game if you spent a little more time on it.

I'm glad my feedback was welcomed.

My own ignorance astounds me

My own ignorance astounds me sometimes. And yes, your feedback is extremely welcome. There's no way to spin this game concept in a way that doesn't make me sound like a cultural ignoramus. So I likely am. Good intentions don't fix that, only good actions do.

I am attending a game convention in mid-March (about a month away), where I'm scheduled to present this to a publisher. Before I go, I'll change this game to another maritime theme featuring nothing to do with Incans. If it's not all printed and ready to go, then I'll depend on my old friend, Sharpie Marker, to make it happen.

My apologies. I'll save my high-and-mighty dreams of combating Imperialism for another game... :) A sincere thanks to you again, WCanepa.

This game journal entry will soon receive an intense makeover.

That sparks so many ideas in

That sparks so many ideas in my head that are exciting. You could even keep (roughly) the same time period. Make it about privateers escaping from a port? Then it's just a naval skirmish theme, and not potentially problematic.

You could go a step further and have maybe 4-6 little stat cards, depicting nations. So Players can choose which nation they are privateering for, and maybe get a specific bonus/drawback based on it. Then you could give the chasing nation's fleet a card to give them an ability. That would also increase your replayability. And people like pirates/privateers.

Historically, pirates and privateers preyed on port cities and merchant vessels alike. You could go either route. And you have tons of relatively equal-powered countries to draw from. Spanish, Dutch, French, English/Colonial, Portugese, Pirate (?).

Looks like my previous

Looks like my previous comment was deleted somehow, or I hadn't posted it or something.

But I like the time period of the Age of Exploration. Changing the setting to the other side of the Atlantic allows me to explore another mechanic I'd been bouncing around in my head. Long story short, the boxes at the center line of the ship don't hold gold, they hold different trade goods: spices, silk, tea, etc. Reward cards allow a player to gain bonus VP from the remaining crates. For example, if they have two Silk Reward cards, then they earn two bonus VP if the box of silk remains on the boat. If the Silk crate has been taken, they don't receive the bonus points.

I also do like your idea of different nations having different special effects in-game. I will do some research and see what I can do to implement something worthwhile from it. Plenty of time before that convention, you know. ;)

EDIT: changing the game name to "Privateer's Dilemma" and will update all documents posted here to reflect the change. Soon will update all graphics, prototype materials, etc. to reflect game changes.

Today represents the first paradigm shift I've experienced in a long time.

Love it

I love it. Not just because you were receptive to my commentary, but it sounds like a genuinely enjoyable game with potentially interesting mechanics. I would love to follow its development. :)

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