This is part four of a five-part series of articles on the design of the cards for The Shipwreck Arcana: Stars Below expansion.
So far we’ve highlighted cards with new mechanics, but as we’ve already talked about, the game also requires a certain percentage of “building block” cards: simple, easy to evaluate, always useful. The higher the average complexity of other cards get, the more these building blocks matter as touchstones during the players’ evaluations. They’re also the hardest cards to make, because all the simple and obvious ideas are in the base game.
To find more of them, we’ve looked for variations on existing cards that eliminate unique ranges when played upon. We often combine this with increased context, making the elimination range depend in some way on what fates are already in play. This does require care, since a building block must remain viable even if no other fates are in play.
For a past example of a late addition to the repertoire of building blocks, check out The Lantern from the original Kickstarter’s stretch goal/expansion cards. Or, if you’re paying attention to Stars Below, check out The Musicians.
If this reminds you of base game cards like The Deep, The Key, or Leviathan, congratulations! It’s intended to fit the same mold. Add up your fates, check a number, see if you can play on it. These cards provide a lot of value because not playing on them often results in a very simple “Your fates didn’t add up to the target number(s)” deduction.
The Musicians finds a new way to twist this effect by letting you add three numbers… but now two of them are unknown. A single equation with two unknown variables isn’t the easiest to solve, but it does a nice job of creating N+1 possible outcomes, where N = the number of visible fates. We’ve seen this on previous cards like Asunder or The Prophet, which become less useful as fates pile up.
Is that a problem? Nope! Good news about building blocks: they’re most important early or when the board is empty. There are plenty of other cards that become more informative as they gain fates, so this aspect of The Musicians is right at home with its stated design goal.