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the Sneak

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jweaves
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Joined: 03/07/2022

Funny how you can have a bunch of playtests, and they can go wonderful. And everyone likes the game, and picks up on the things you put in there for just the right reasons. It is humming along perfectly, and feels ready for the big-time.

But then a playtest happens where the wheels fall off the bus, and it's like have you even tried to play this before now? And it's so unbalanced, and there's no way this would work.

And it's the bad times that make me want to make the game better. Because even if that situation only comes up one in a hundred games .. well, it may be someone's first play of the game.

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So, I have an asymmetric 2 player hidden movement game. Sneak.

One player plays one or two cards face down in an order that matters. The most recently played card is their Current Location. The cards correspond to a map board (made up of six triangular hex boards). The face of the card has the terrain type (five terrain types on the map) and a number indicating the specific location of this card. The card back only shows the terrain type. This player is the "Sneak" ..and the namesake of the game. The Sneak wins by having played (revealing at the beginning of their turn) five cards that form a consecutive path that ends adjacent to one of the two beacon locations on the map.

The other player is the Hunter. The Hunter has a pawn on the map, and has rules how to move and search locations on the map. They win if they search locations on the map and cause the Sneak player to reveal their "Current Location" (i.e. most recently played card)

The Sneak has full access to all the cards for the map, and can play any card at any time. The most recent card is their current location, and if that card is revealed they lose. They don't have to play five cards that form an unbroken, connecting path of five locations that end adjacent to a beacon .. they can play any card. But they don't WIN until they reveal that five card path at the beginning of their turn.

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The goal for the game is to have an easy to play two player hidden movement game, where everything is "provable." Having played a very short list of hidden movement games (and watched many playthroughs of hidden movement games), I am not a fan of the part where the hunters ask the hidden role "Are you at [location where they think the hidden role is hiding]" ... and the answer is looking at a piece of paper for a moment and saying "Nope."
I'm not saying I play games with liars, and I'm not saying I have trust issues when it comes to other people sharing hidden information .. but maybe I just lied and I do have trust issues when it comes to other people sharing their hidden information. I like how Magic makes you reveal a card when you search for a specific type, but not when you just search for a card. Why can't we do that with hidden movement?
So, if the Hunter player searches a location, the Sneak has to reveal that card. If it's their current location, the Hunter wins. If it is a "Recent location" then it's flipped face-up and stay that way. If it is unplayed, it is revealed from the unplayed cards, and returned to the unplayed cards.
Simple, provable. I ask, you show. I don't think you can lie about it.

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The game first broke when I had special powers for the Sneak (because it was just too easy to figure out their path) .. cards that connected two of the "Water" terrain could be connected by playing the "Swim" card, which also had a blue card-back. Each of the five terrain colors had a special ability. But what if the Sneak played a water card, then the "Swim" card. They only get to play one or two cards in a turn. So, for a turn, they were unfindable.
The game wasn't provable.
Sure you can make a "rule" that says you can't have your current location be a "Swim" card, but I couldn't think of a clean way to bake that into the rules where you can prove you weren't "Swimming" for your current location. Do I add an action for the Hunter to guess if you're "Swimming" and another for whatever the other cards did?
I don't remember why, but this didn't happen. Instead, the Sneak's special ability cards left, and the path got shorter to compensate. It used to take six cards to win as the Sneak. Now it's only five.
Also, the path could be infinitely long, but you had the special powers to cut back across your path if you needed to. Without the powers, the path couldn't be infinitely long, so now when there are more than five cards in the path, the oldest card(s) return(s) to the unplayed cards until you have five cards in your path.

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The game really broke when I had a Sneak player who played cards at random until the hunter player was bored out of their mind. Then after we stopped really paying attention, changed to playing cards non-randomly, and revealed their path of five cards to win the game. This was not what was intended, so I needed to implement a clock somehow that put pressure on the Sneak player.

Cards can't go back to the Sneak when they waste time.

Enter: Special powers for the Hunter side.

Now the cards used by the Sneak fall off the path .. but are gained by the Hunter as energy to power up special abilities. I made "Trap" tokens to represent the cards that are now missing out of the Sneak's deck. It's a visual clue that you can't form a path through this location, because when you look through those water cards, location 14 won't be there. It's trapped.
But the Hunter has these cards, and I need to both give the Sneak a reason not to give them away, and give the Hunter a reason to give them back .. the Hunter can return two matching terrain cards to do a special ability associated with that terrain type. There's five new cards to explain what those abilities are.
(i.e. Stone lets you search any single location on the map .. typically you have to be standing on or adjacent to search locations)

The traps are persistent over rounds, and the best out of three wins.
Seems like I need to give the Sneak a way to possibly get some back, so they can gain all trapped locations adjacent to one of the beacons when they place them at the beginning of the round.

Since I just powered up the Hunter, I need to help the Sneak. So there's "In the Shadows" cards. They're like a wild card, but they have the card back of a regular card. I forget why I thought they needed a limitation on them, so the blue-backed card can stand in for any non-water location. Same for the other four terrain types.
So the Sneak gains one of these each round. They're like the Swim card from before, but now the Hunter can "Search in the Shadows" and the sneak has to reveal ALL of their In the Shadows cards. Same as any other search, if the Sneak reveals their current location this way, they lose. It's a gamble. But it's sneaky. Flavor win.

I added a second set of power cards for the Hunter. I paired the two best abilities to a terrain type, the next two best, etc. So hopefully there isn't a right answer of which card is better.

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Remember that simple game I wanted? At some point I lost it.

At the beginning of the game setup, the Sneak gives up a card of each terrain type to the Hunter. The Hunter picks one of two options for each terrain type power up.
The Sneak chooses to either collect all the traps adjacent to one of their beacons, or gain a Shadows card.
Then place the two beacons, then the Hunter places their pawn, then start the actual game.
It's not that simple.
And between rounds: the traps remain, the beacons and Hunter are removed from the map. The Sneak's path is gained (trapped) by the Hunter.
Even less simple.

I like the escalation. I like that the Sneak should have an easy time at the beginning of the game, with a mostly wide open map. I like that the Hunter gets more powerful over time.

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I remember trying to learn the card game "Hand and Foot." I felt like it was a game where people just kept saying "And then..." I can play a card, but not until this other thing happens. Oh, and Queens score like this. And the red cards are this way and black cards are that way, and then and then and then.
I don't want my game to become that.
I want it to be a simple thing, that evolves complexity over time. Maybe that's just not going to happen with this one.

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So currently, the thing I'm bringing with to the next meetup, or to the next Protospiel, is:
The Shadows cards are just flat-out wild cards. They stand in for any card. you decide which location when you reveal your winning path.
The Hunter now has basic power-ups, where the cost is just returning one specific terrain type. They don't have to choose one of two options for five different terrain types. Between turns, and at the beginning of the game, can gain one (just one) of the older, two-terrain costing abilities. If the Sneak just won the last round, can upgrade (or Swap?) a second ability. Thinking is: by that time, you have a few traps/fuel .. and a better idea of a special action you may want to use.
The Sneak can either gain a "Shadows" card or use the "One Beacon clears out adjacent traps" ability. Or if the Hunter just won the last round, can choose both.

Will see how this goes...

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