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!


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Captain’s Log: Cordelia and Brutus

LoyaltyToken.png

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!