Over a year ago, I posted about the iterations that The Shipwreck Arcana's art and theme underwent... and said that my next post would talk about some of the mechanical evolutions that accompanied them. Well, better late than never! Here are some of the minor tweaks that had major impacts on how the final game would play.
Cards fade into powers
An early issue was the search for a comeback mechanic that could provide access to the "helper" powers. Since these powers help you guess right, it felt wrong to reward them only to players who were already succeeding. The suggestion by a friend to award powers each time a card faded meant that you naturally unlocked them as the game progressed, independent of doing well. This was crucial not only to helping players who fell behind, but also in adding more strategy to fading as a whole. "Do we want this to fade so we can use its power later?" became an interesting choice (soon).
The final piece of this puzzle was realizing that we could actually print the power on the back of the cards themselves, providing a clean throughline for how cards transitioned from one game use to another.
After a year of iteration, the game was "done" but still felt lacking. Turns felt homogenous and the decision making of when to guess versus when to pass wasn't gelling. Another friend and fellow designer suggested something brilliant: what if fading penalties didn't apply when you guessed right? This finally broke the stalemate and created a sense of pacing. Now turns feel different based on how many fates are accruing, which cards are close to fading, and how many powers you have to cancel the penalty.
The final major innovation was crafted on a drive back from Playthrough convention in North Carolina. You see, at the time, the rule for "I can't play anywhere" was to begin replacing arcana cards until you could make a play. Sometimes this cycled through 6-9 cards, giving far too much information while skipping over fun card abilities.
We needed a better way to handle this scenario, one that would still cause the game to advance (usually by adding fate to the board). The solution was... what if you just put your fate on the board? But in a way that signaled "I'm playing here illegally." We created a "dumpster" card to make this easier, and had it shift fates to the right so that they would still pile up in front of cards that could fade. (The "shift right" was chosen to prevent gaming the system by piling fates up onto the most durable or least useful cards.)
We got home, playtested it, and found an instant improvement. "I can't play" turns are still rife with information, but no longer the insta-wins of yore.
And that's all for today! I can't say thank you enough to the friends who playtested the game with us so much over 2 years, and who helped us slowly but surely craft it into the final version. You are all wonderful!