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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