Stormy Night Games
Apr 20, 2016
Let me preface this entry by saying I had done a lot of thinking after the previous week's test play. Two nagging ideas had crystallized and reinforced each other. One was that the game would have limited success if it could not be played with three players, or even two. I had also heard on multiple occasions that there ought to be a "timer" in the game. Something like the Doom Track in Arkham Horror or the Darkness Track in A Touch of Evil. I had resisted the idea thinking that running out of cards was enough of a timer.
After my three player test play the week before, I had been thinking all week about how to make the game work with a smaller group. The traitor mechanic breaks down a bit with only three players and certainly with two. It just didn't seem to make sense to start the game with a traitor in those cases, and from experience I know that without a traitor, the game is too easy to win. So then my thought was, can I have people play the game without a traitor, and just make it harder to win? It would be a different sort of game, almost entirely cooperative, though there would still be a chance that someone might become a traitor later in the game. And here is where the timer came back to mind. Maybe the game wouldn't be so easy if there was added urgency to the game.
I ended up making two changes to the rules. The first was specifically for 2 and 3 player games. Instead of one face down card to start on each location, there would be two. Not only would this add more uncertainty to infiltrations and slow them down, it would also cause the deck to run out faster. But that didn't seem like enough and I resolved to add a timer. I didn't want something completely random, but I didn't want something the players could exercise complete control over either. Finally I decided to use red tokens. Red tokens would appear any time a card with a value of 5 was revealed (positive or negative). The Protagonist would then have to place the red token on a Location. The first token would do nothing but the second token would mean that Dracula's influence on that location had become so strong, players could no longer interact with it at all. Over time, more and more locations (and their abilities) would get blocked off and the players would become increasingly squeezed as time went on. So those were the new conditions we were testing.
My friends Scott and Renee came over Saturday afternoon specifically to test the game and we ended up playing 3 rounds of it. Neither were familiar with the game so I had to explain the rules which wemt unusually smoothly. Hopefully I can remember how I did it for future games. Scott was the Protagonist and was playing Jonathan Harker. I also gave Jonathan a new power. He could reveal and discard red cards from his hand to gain a green token once per turn. Since the Protagonist tends to end up with a lot of cards anyway (via Bermondsey) he used this a lot and acquired a lot of tokens. I'm not sure he made the best use of them, but both he and Renee were learning the game and made some mistakes. In the end, we won and it felt like a good close game. No one went to the dark side and maybe 1 of "the Fear Grows" cards made an appearance. We had loyalties of 3 and 5 so that didn't really come close.
I had decided before the game that for a 3 player game there would be one protagonist and the other two players would have a Resolve between 1 and 6 and I left out the "Clarity of Purpose" card. I think now though that I would use the Protagonist, one card between 1 and 6, and one card that is always good. In the three player version, you're really fighting the game more, and if there was a case where two people went dark and it was 2 on 1, the Protagonist would have no hope at all. I think they could handle a 1 on 1 situation so for 2 players I would have a Protagonist and 1-6 Resolve card.
The second game I was the Protagonist and we absolutely breezed through it, winning in about 30 minutes with no opposition. I believe this was mostly because Scott and Renee got the hang of the game and once everyone knew what to do, it was still too easy to do. We decided the game need to be harder still. We decided to ,ake it so that if a Location had 1 red token on it, you would have to spend a green token or a green card to interact with it. We also decided that "The Fear Grows" card would result in two red tokens being played. However we also decided to not impose red tokens for Green 5's as that just felt unnatural and annoying.
In the third game we ended up having the same characters from the first game, but this time Renee was the Protagonist. I had a Resolve of 3 and actually ended up going dark. In all 5 of "The Fear Grows" cards came out, but Scott had a Resolve of 6. The game felt tighter and more intense with the initial red tokens having more meaning now. In the end it was a close game as they managed to destroy all the boxes with 1 card left in the deck and my turn coming up next. I didn't turn until pretty late in the game so I don't think it was my mischeif that made the game feel closer. People don't typically have a lot of cards or get a lot of green tokens, so having to spend them to use a Location is kind of a big deal, or at least it feels like one. Jonathan Harker and Van Helsing have a little better access to tokens, so it may be watered down with them in the game, but time will tell on that.
Afterwards we questioned whether there should be a way to get rid of red tokens. If a spot becomes blocked off, it's possible the Heroes could lose if a box gets moved there later on. Or perhaps they found out someone was lying to them about the location of the Hidden Crypt and it's actually in a location that has been blocked off. There are a couple of locations whose abilities are very rarely used so we though maybe there could be a location that removes red tokens at some cost like 5 green tokens perhaps.
Going forward, I'm going to try and do some more 3 player testing and even some 2 player testing. I may continue to look for some ways to make the game tougher to win in general, or at least for 2 or 3 players.
Apr 11, 2016
I was able to get the game out at April's Board Game Marathon on Sunday morning. I was expecting one person who wanted to play and had talked my friend Jason and his friend John into trying it. I had the game set up and started explaining it, even though the 4th person hadn't arrived. Having gotten that far, we decided to see just how a 3 player game would actually go since it turned out the 4th person couldn't make it. I had always assumed 3 wouldn't work well and thus had never tried it, but this seemed like the perfect chance to giver it a go, so we did.
I decided we wouldn't have someone start out as automatically influenced, but I did include it in the mix so it was at least a possibility. I also decided to remove the Clarity of Purpose card as having two of three players be unimpeachably good and third player also possibly on the good side, there would be no hope of game balance.
We played the game and the mechanics all seemed to work well. I gave out one token for successful infiltrations and if someone burned a green card on one of the red Dracula spaces, I gave them tokens equal to the value of the card. I was a little worried this might result in too many tokens being in the game, but that didn't happen this time. However, no one worked the Library aggressively either. However, we did do the math and realized it would take 75 tokens to use the Library to remove all of the crates from the Crypt. If they can successfully acquire and use that many tokens, then they deserve to win. So I think that mechanic will prove ok.
I played Jonathan Harker. With the Kingstead Churchyard space now allowing players to remove a card from the board, I found I never used his power at all. It seemed better for me to get rid of a Fear card in my hand to remove a Fear card from the board than it did to take another Fear card into my hand and leave a Courage card behind. There was also a lot of fuzziness about how it worked with face up cards vs. face down cards. I think I will scrap this power and search for another.
In the end, the good guys won. Not a single "The Fear Grows" card was revealed. Jason was the Protagonist and held 4 in his hand. I buried one on a space that we knew to be irrelevant. I felt the game played fine and I thought the mechanics all worked well enough, but overall the game was very much not compelling. Basically it reinforced my belief that there absolutely has to be at least one traitor in the game. In a three player game, I'm not sure how that would work. It seems like it would be fairly easy to decide between the two non-protagonists which one was being suspicious. Then again, all of the other mechanics seemed to work just fine with only three people, so maybe it's worth trying to figure out some alternate traitor mechanic that can work for three people.
Feb 12, 2016
My Halloween fundraiser followed by the holidays and the Winter Carnival caused the game to move to a back burner. But I did have someone from my Mason Lodge request to play the game so I brought it to our Fellowship meeting last night as no other program was scheduled. We ended up getting a group of four, including two who had never played before and one who had not played in a very long time. This version of the game eliminated the Fear Track. Instead the difficulty for all Infiltrations was the number of crates remaining in the crypt. Unfortunately, not having played the game in a while, I forgot two rules that swayed the game heavily in favor of the minions. One was that whenever a Fear Grows card appeared, we forgot to move a crate from the crypt to the location mentioned on the card. Consequently the infiltration difficulty never dropped below 10. Also, I forgot that players were supposed to get resolve tokens for each successful Infiltration. Consequently there were not as many in play as I had planned on. But even thougn the game was pretty unbalanced, it was still fun.
One player started out Influenced. They also got dealt the Clarity of Purpose card right away, but opted never to play it. Another player had a Resolve of 1 so it was basically a game of 2 on 2. I had a Resolve of 6 but played a straight hero even though 5 The Fear Grows cards came out and I held three others in my hand. It's hard to properly assess how that worked though since the Heroes were playing without some needed advantages due to my neglect of the two rules above.
I played Jonathan Harker to test out his power. Being able to trade a Location card on the board with one in my hand was a useful ability, though there ended up being some fuzziness involved. As stated, the power did not limit itself to face up cards, so I decided to test it by trading face down cards as well. I somewhat arbitrarily decided that face up cards would be replaced with face up cards and face down cards would be replaced with face down cards. Also, if taking a face down card, it would have to be taken at random. And then can he pick up a "The Fear Grows" card? I decided he could, but it wouldn't go into his hand. I think this all played out ok, but I don't like all the detail tied to this power. Perhaps there should be a rule that when you lay a face down card on a spot that already has 1 or more face down cards, you have to shuffle them right away. Then Jonathan Harker's power could be to simply replace any Location card with a card from his hand, played face down, and the old card is moved to the discard pile instead of his hand. One way I used his power in this game was to drop a Fear card on an irrelevant location and trade it for a nice Courage card on that location. That action felt like it nade the ability a little too powerful. Also, I can imagine that if Jonathan Harker was influenced, and he had "The Fear Grows" in his hand, he could immediately lay it face up by switching it with another card. So all the more reason for him to play his cards face down all the time.
This weekend is the board game marathon. Now that I have an updated prototype again, hop[efully I can get some more playtests in and play with the correct rules.
Oct 25, 2015
Tickets sold - 60
Money raised - $1,120.00
Sessions run - 9
Pounds of tortellini cooked - 18
Pounds I lost over the weekend - 5
Number of teenage girls scared to death - 3
Number of casualties - 0
Number of times someone somehow thought it was a good idea to move the safe to a different room - 1
Oct 23, 2015
Tonight we put the finishing touches on the puzzle room and also got the dining room assembled. The dining room looks great. The trees Katie provided were awesome and really help set the tone of the room. Some lights and some spider webbing help create a cozy space for dining that I think people are really going to like. I would have taken some pictures, but the battery on my phone had died by then.
The puzzle room had a bit of a hiccup in the final setup tonight but I've thought of a minor change that will fix it entirely and not really affect the flow of the puzzles so that will be fine. I think it will be a good experience on par with any of the other puzzle rooms out there.
As of this writing we've sold tickets for 9 sessions. Some of them are not yet full though so there is still a chance to buy tickets. Tickets for those sessions will remain available right up until the time they start.