Captain's Log: Bluffing

Captain’s Gambit has a bluffing mechanic in which players can attempt any action in the game - regardless of whether or not they actually have the appropriate card in front of them. If you successfully call someone else’s bluff, or if you trick someone into calling a bluff when you were honest, you’ll deal 3 damage to them. While the number has fluctuated a lot, the core concept of bluff calling was actually one of the very first ideas we had.

I always bluff overcharge

I always bluff overcharge

The bluffing mechanic was one of the first concepts we wanted in Captain’s Gambit. When our game design professor first prompted us to make a game about Shakespeare (in space???) we immediately latched onto the idea of making deception a core design pillar, alongside the concept of each captain having their own win condition. Deception made sense because it was a common theme across many of Shakespeare’s plays - a game full of manipulation and deception in this way would set the perfect stage for drama to unfold.

Inspired by games like poker, cheat and Coup, our bluffing mechanic does the strongest job of exemplifying that design pillar. Because each player’s permit cards stay face-down, regardless of whether or not people are telling the truth about their permits, you’re encouraged to get suspicious every time an action is declared. If you don’t call a bluff, you’re just letting someone get away with lying - but if you call a bluff, you may be walking into a 3-damage trap! We’ve enjoyed this mechanic a lot as it gave everyone lots of room to manipulate information and keep tensions high even during the quiet setup turns.

What’s in a number?

Bluffing takes a lot of guts - to reflect that, in our first iteration of Captain’s Gambit, the loser of a bluff call actually took 5 damage instead of 3. That’s half of a player’s health! While some players loved the high stakes, many more players felt intimidated by the consequences of messing up. And since we wanted to encourage players to interface with what we had deemed to be a core element of the game, we decided to adjust the value of bluff damage to make it more approachable.

We tried playtesting with 4-damage bluffs, but players still felt it was too high stakes. A few of us felt apprehensive about dropping it even lower - shouldn’t players just get good? - but we dutifully lowered bluff damage, again, to a final 3-damage resting point. And there it stayed! It didn’t take many games to realize that this was the magic number. There’s a delicate balance between feeling confident in making / calling bluffs, and feeling like successfully doing so had a proper amount of weight to it. A few curious playtests of 2 damage quickly illustrated that there was such thing as too little consequence. Bluff calls on every single turn wasn’t ideal, as there had to be enough turns where people ‘let it slide’ - both for the flow of the game, and to make good lies feel better.

The bluffing mechanic now feels like it’s in a good place. The final, final piece to the puzzle that truly made bluffing feel great was the introduction of a new “maximum health”, and it helped in the most intriguing of ways. But that’ll be for next time!


Thanks for reading! Please check out our Captain’s Gambit page to learn more about the game. We are also releasing a FREE Print & Play version of the game very soon, so sign up for our newsletter so that you can get your copy as soon as it’s available!

Stay lofty!

Captain's Log: Drain

Balancing Drain has been by far the hardest part of designing Captain’s Gambit. Since the very beginning, Drain was meant to serve three main functions:

1) Allow passive captains (i.e. Puck, Rosalind, etc.) to “attack” other players without actually attacking them;
2) Prevent players from stockpiling too much energy (this really matters for keeping Prospero in check); and
3) Disrupt other players from executing their plans

This was our first attempt at making a permit that met all three of these goals:

 
Drain I:    Take 2 energy from another target captain. [Negated by Drain and Network].

Drain I: Take 2 energy from another target captain. [Negated by Drain and Network].

 

Seems good, right? Well…not so much. While it might seem fine at first glance, we quickly discovered two major problems with it: The Vampire Effect and The Lockdown Effect.

The Vampire Effect: After a player is drained (i.e. they didn’t successfully block it by declaring they have a Drain/Network), the rest of the players target them for the rest of the game because they know they are a “safe” target to steal from.

The Lockdown Effect: An inescapable loop where a player loses all their energy, cannot do any actions on their turn except Charge up to 2 energy, only to have their 2 energy immediately drained away again.

Being on the receiving end of these effects feels absolutely terrible. You feel powerless, and you get extremely frustrated because you feel like you are unable to play the game. So we knew we needed to fix these issues, but we weren’t certain the best way to do it. Here are all the different solutions we tried, but none of them quite worked:

_Draining.png

Drain II: Take 2 energy from another target captain. That player gains a drain protection token. [Negated by Drain and Network].
[While you have a drain protection token you cannot be drained again. The token goes away when you start your turn with 3 or more energy.]

Why it didn’t work: This solution is what I like to call an “inelegant solution.” While it completely fixed the problems with Drain when done correctly, players found it too convoluted and were constantly forgetting to remove their drain protection tokens.

remove background drain2.png

Tax: Steal 2 energy from another target captain. That captains draws a Permit card, and then shuffles any of their permit cards back into the deck. [Negated by Drain and Network].

Why it didn’t work: The idea with Tax was that since the drained captain got a new Permit card, there was a chance they could draw (or bluff that they drew) a Drain/Network permit to protect themselves from being drained again. But like Drain II, players found this solution way too confusing and were always mixing up which player was supposed to draw a permit card.

symbol_siphon.png

Siphon: Take 1 energy from another captain. If they have 4 or more energy, take 2 instead. [Negated by Drain and Network].

Why it didn’t work: This version was actually really close. By scaling the amount of energy that gets drained, players were encouraged to always target the captains with the most energy (which pretty much eliminated the Lockdown Effect). Unfortunately, it didn’t quite do enough to discourage the Vampire Effect and the player with the most energy could very quickly lose it all.

Reconnaissance: Take 1 energy from another captain. That captain may show you one of their permit cards. If they don’t, take 1 more of their energy. [Negated by Drain and Network].

Why it didn’t work: This version was only ever internally tested, but we learned very quickly it wasn’t going to work. While Reconnaissance was supposed to give players a choice about what to lose, no one ever chose to give up 2 energy. While this felt great for the player getting drained, for the player using Reconnaissance it felt way too weak and unsatisfying, especially since it could still get blocked by Drain/Network.


Finally, after many attempts, we found a version of Drain that solved all our problems:

 
Drain III:    Target another captain with 4 or more energy. Steal 2 energy from them. [Negated by Shield].

Drain III: Target another captain with 4 or more energy. Steal 2 energy from them. [Negated by Shield].

 

Here’s why this version works so well:

  • The 4 energy threshold completely eliminates the Lockdown Effect;

  • By reducing the number of permits that block Drain, more players become “safe” drain targets (which essentially eliminates the Vampire Effect);

  • Shield is now the only permit with a reaction, which makes Drain and Network much easier to understand;

  • Drain can still be used to prevent Prospero from stockpiling; and

  • Drain can still be used to “attack”/disrupt other players

This is our current (and hopefully final) version of Drain. While this version may seem like an obvious solution, I can’t even tell you how many hours of discussion and playtesting were needed to get there. It just goes to show that sometimes the best solutions are deceptively simple.

Thanks for reading! Please check out our Captain’s Gambit page to learn more about the game. We are also releasing a FREE Print & Play version of the game very soon, so sign up for our newsletter so that you can get your copy as soon as it’s available!

Stay lofty!

Captain's Log: Rosalind

"We should make a healer."
- Mitchell, at some point in development

The reason Rosalind entered the game was that simple. But she’s gone through a few iterations between her time as Henry V and today, and we’ll walk through the interesting ones.

Mechanics

Original: “You win if everyone is alive by round 8.”

Current: “You win if everyone else is alive when the game ends or on round 8. If another captain would die, instead Reveal and match their health to yours.”

So yes, she plays as a healer. You spend your rounds pacifying violence, stalling for time, forming alliances and protecting everyone else. Because Rosalind wants people to survive for 8 rounds, and Captain’s Gambit ends upon victory, we get into an interesting side effect: the threat of Rosalind winning before you can finish the game encourages captains to start killing each other as soon as possible. This stops players from spending the first half of the game doing nothing but overcharge - in other words, adding this healer to the captain pool increases average aggression, even if she’s not in the current game.

SAS+2.jpg

The additional bonus of having a healing-based win condition is that aggressive players an easy excuse to start smacking. One of the earlier problems of the game was that the first player to attack another had an immediate target painted on their head - but now, because of the threat of Rosalind, you have a lot more persuasive freedom to come across as a helpful leader.

Interestingly, the most difficult part of Rosalind’s development wasn’t really finding balanced mechanics as much as finding mechanics that could actually fit on the space of the card. When working with physical games it turns out there’s a very real logistics problem of figuring out how to cram as many words as possible into a small text box while keeping things both clear and brief… that’s been the true challenge.

Lore

Rosalind Big.png

Our first draft of Rosalind was named Henry V - I liked how his character did his best and then died anyway, and I thought of him as a kinda squid-ish person.

A bit later we noticed that there was only like one woman in Captain's Gambit, and since Richard III was already here, we decided to trade off the mirror aspect of "Henry vs Richard; save vs kill everyone" to get another theatrical production (As You Like It) and another woman in the game. Mitchell suggested Rosalind, so here we are!

Rosalind is my favourite visual design in CG - I love the colours and the feeling of someone who keeps everyone else alive in order to actually just win herself later on.

Obviously every captain has a different origin story, but you may have also noticed that some captains started as a necessity for a character while others started with a mechanic idea that later had an identity attached to them. How it is, I guess.

rosalind+%281%29.jpg

The final infusion of lore, that makes Rosalind feel most like Rosalind, is allowing her to win from the victory of others. Because Rosalind in this play is a highly social person, regardless of her current gender she is doing something in service of companionship; thus, having the player seek a potential suitor and ask to work alongside them for victory is quite fitting of her abilities. It also makes her more balanced.

And that’s Rosalind!

“If I were a woman I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me, complexions that liked me and breaths that I defied not: and, I am sure, as many as have good beards or good faces or sweet breaths will, for my kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.”

  • Rosalind, As You Like It, Act V Scene 4

Do you want more friends? Consider signing up for our newsletter! Once a month you’ll get salutations from us and some news too. Or: check out our Facebook and Twitter.

Stay lofty!