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.

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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

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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.

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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

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Captain’s Log: Cordelia and Brutus

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Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love your Majesty
According to my bond; no more nor less.
-Cordelia, Act I, Scene I (King Lear)

Captain’s Gambit features a wide range of interesting and unique captains. Some of those captains have changed a lot as the game has developed (I’m looking at you, Iago). But a few captains have remained basically the same since the very beginning. Today I wanted to highlight two of the oldest captains in Captain’s Gambit: Cordelia and Brutus!

Long Live the King!

Fun fact about Cordelia: she wasn’t always named Cordelia! The captain was originally named after her father, King Lear. Despite the different name, King Lear functioned basically identically to how Cordelia works today. In fact, here’s the original captain text:

During Setup, place a blue token in front of another player. If that player wins, you also win – regardless of personal health.

The way I conceptualized King Lear was that, like in the play, his goal is to find an heir to his throne. So at the beginning of the game he chooses someone to be his successor, and will then do anything in his power to ensure their victory. I really liked King Lear because he was fundamentally a passive captain. Unlike more aggressive captains like Hamlet or Lady Macbeth, Lear was content to primarily protect their target rather than add to the bloodshed.

But something didn’t feel quite right about Lear. While he was fun to play, the player they marked ended up having a very high win rate. When a player was marked by Lear, they always played really recklessly because they knew that someone had their back. This meant they could fully focus on their win objective while ignoring their own safety. At the same time, we also wanted to add one more captain to the game to bring the total up to 8. This is when Alvin found a way to kill two kings with one dagger…

The King is Dead!

Our solution came in the form of Brutus. Like in the play, Brutus acts as a loyal servant until ultimately they betray and kill their ruler. Here was his original text:

During Setup, place a blue token in front of another player. You must deal the killing blow to that player. Once you do, reveal this card to immediately win.

The key here is that the tokens used by King Lear and Brutus look identical. This means that if you received a blue token either King Lear is helping you or Brutus is trying to kill you and you don’t know which. This uncertainty immediately stopped the reckless behaviour and evened out the win rates.

It also helped that Brutus ended up being fun to play. One of our favourite strategies to see is when Brutus players pretend to be King Lear by helping their target until their target starts to trust them. Then, once they’ve dropped their guard, they go in for the kill! We love this strategy not just because it takes some skill to pull off, but because it fits the lore so well.

Long May They Reign!

The only significant change that happened to these captains was renaming King Lear to Cordelia. While this was partially done to help gender balance the game a bit, we also felt that Cordelia fit the captain design a bit better. Now instead of choosing an heir, Cordelia is pledging her loyalty and devotion to her king. And this devotion is so great she is even willing to lay down her own life for them.

Like all the other captains, both Cordelia and Brutus have had some significant improvements to their character art. Here’s how they have both changed since their origins in MS Paint:

That’s about it for these two captains. Personally, out of all twelve captains these two are my personal favourites. I love how well their designs complement one another and how much fun they are to both play with and against. So the next time you’re playing Captain’s Gambit and someone gives you a loyalty token, just remember to watch your back.

 

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P.S. It’s a lot of fun to play a game where both Cordelia and Brutus mark the same captain. It’s probably not the best choice if you’re trying to win, but it makes for a very memorable game!

Captain's Log: The Backstory of Blood in Captain's Gambit

Iago, Round V Blood 3 (Captain’s Gambit)

Iago, Round V Blood 3 (Captain’s Gambit)

Let him command, 
And to obey shall be in me remorse, 
What bloody business ever.

- Iago, Act III Scene 3 (Othello)

Of all the mechanics I designed for Captain’s Gambit I think blood is my favourite. Today I’ll recount (as best as I can) how we formed the idea.

Backstory

From the beginning, Captain’s Gambit was always a game that involved Shakespearian characters. Mitchell’s original pitch was something like “An All-Stars Smash Bros-Like Crossover with Shakespeare Characters”. In fact, the reason we made a social deception game was because it was a nod to the way theatre has so much intrigue (in tragedies) and trickery (in comedies). So Shakespeare has been with us from the start.

At this point in the development of CG, while the game was functional - it had permits, captains, energy and health - we had three big problems.

  1. The game was lacking in “something special”. (low priority - we had time to think)

  2. The game was too slow and prone to stalemates. (medium priority)

  3. We were low on design space for new captains (high priority - we needed more immediately)

To get inspiration on solving the latter of these problems, I pored through the works of Shakespeare to see what the most popular characters were up to. And it turns out a good majority of those characters are murderers. As Alvin and/or Ethan suggested that we needed more aggressive characters to fix problem #2, it seemed that focusing on a murder-y character would be a good idea.

But… the third problem got in the way of the second. We couldn’t think of any other ways for people to win via aggression. We had:

  • Kill a specific person (Hamlet)

  • Kill everyone, but have an upside (Romeo and Juliet: teamwork)

  • ????

And that’s where my imagination ended.

Meanwhile, on a simultaneous, secret note, I really wanted specifically Lady Macbeth in the game but couldn’t think of how to implement her. So I returned to the source material and read up on what she was about, so that if we could make any aggressive character work it would at least be her.

The two most general parts about Lady Macbeth are…
- she gets her husband to do some murder so they can ascend to the throne.
- she gets blood on her hands, and washing never gets rid of (her perception of) it.

“There is blood on our hands again // From the bedroom is where we will // Bring it back to the start again“ -either Macbeth or DFA 1979…

“There is blood on our hands again // From the bedroom is where we will // Bring it back to the start again“ -either Macbeth or DFA 1979…

It was in that moment I decided Captain’s Gambit should have some kind of blood mechanic, and that Lady Macbeth would use it somehow. All we had to do was figure out what blood would be used for. I at least knew one thing for sure, and when I proposed the mechanic I made sure that everyone else knew it too: captains that gain blood can never wash it off.

Sure, A cool lore starting point. But what would it actually do?

Luckily, brainstorming only took about 5 seconds before we decided that blood could be our “positive feedback loop” mechanic. Essentially, a positive feedback loop (in game design terms) isn’t necessarily a happy thing for the player - like someone with a psych background would assume - but rather it’s a mechanic that makes the game state accelerate over time. Positive feedback loops are important to make sure that games don’t run into stalemates, by making it easier for players to do more of the thing they just did.

Our first draft of blood’s mechanic ended up sticking through all the way until today. The positive feedback loop is this: attacking people gives you blood, and blood increases your attack damage. The end result is that a game’s average damage dealt will always increase the further the game goes.

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Thus, even if we didn’t cap the game at 12 rounds, it’s pretty likely that you’ll die before you get there. We liked the feeling of increasing stakes as time goes on, as well as the option of “leveling up” your damage with enough blood. The threat of inevitable lethal damage alone would force captains to be active about their win conditions instead of perpetuating stalemates.

So, back to Lady Macbeth. You can see my beautiful MS paint drawing to the right. And here’s our first draft for her: “Have more blood on your hands than any Captain by the end of the game, regardless of whether or not you survive.”

We’ve since moved that win condition to Iago, and given Lady Macbeth her own accession ability, but it was this first card that made many other ‘bloody captains’ possible. And just like that, blood ended up being one of the integral mechanics to Captain’s Gambit.

The blood mechanic does a whole bunch of things at once, which I love:

  • It’s a win condition for many captains

  • It’s a positive feedback loop to accelerate the game

  • It encourages players to attack earlier on, to benefit from having blood-empowered attacks

  • It allows players at the table to quickly recognize who’s been aggressive all game

  • It forces aggressive players to plan around the fact that everyone knows they’ve been fighting

  • It makes players choose between being benevolent or aggressive, since blood also reduces healing done

  • It adds to the lore and mood of the game by having a visible effect for your past actions

And that is my story about blood, my favourite mechanic. While there is still room for changes with regards to its specifics, I promise you will never be able to wash it off your hands.

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