Monday, September 08, 2008

Moctezuma's Revenge!

The other night at dinner an odd thought crossed my mind and then I uttered the phrase

There ought to be a game called Montezuma's Revenge

What popped to mind was a game wherein there are Aztec temples, one of them home to the cursed Aztec king Montezuma (actually "Moctezuma," but you know us English speakers). The initial idea was to send researchers out into the many Temples on the board to loot treasure, and every once in a while any researchers who had looted the tomb of Moctezuma would die. Using this information, you would deduce which temple is cursed, while also trying to get uncursed loot for points.

I wasn't immediately sure how to have players find out if their researchers died without knowing which temple was cursed, so I went with the second idea, which I've fleshed out into Version 1.0 of the game. I hope to have a prototype ready and playtest it this weekend. Here's what I've got at present:

There are 10 Temples on the board, plus a Library. These are the locations a player can visit with his Researcher pawn. The Temples are numbered 1-10, and each has an identical deck of cards representing the treasures inside. The decks have 11 cards in them with VP value distribution as follows: 5/3/3/2/2/2/1/1/1/1/1. A Name card will be shuffled into each deck as well to indicate which Aztec king the temple was built for. The front of the card indicates it's VP value as well as which Temple the card is from. The backs are all identical.

On the board there is also a column with 7 names of Aztec Kings - these are the same names that are on the name cards shuffled into the temple decks. But there are 10 temples, not 7... the other 3 are labeled "City of Gold" or "El Dorado" or "Akator" or something like that. Those temples aren't actually the lost City of Gold, but they contain clues to find it. Next to each of the 7 Kings' names are spaces for 2 Curse Chits (3 for Moctezuma's temple) - the City of Gold clue temples are not cursed. There are 15 Curse chits, about 6-8 of them marked as "Cursed" and the rest "Safe". These chits get distributed face down in the spaces by the names, thus if a name has any Cursed chits by it, then that King's temple is considered Cursed.

On your turn you have 5 actions to spend. Actions and costs are:
* 1 action: Move to an adjacent temple (or Library)
* 2 actions: At Temple, draw 2 cards, keep 1 (you can't keep the Name card)
* 3 actions: At Temple, draw 5 cards, keep 1 (you can't keep the Name card)
* 2 actions: At Library, peek at 2 face down chits
* 3 actions: At Library, peek at 5 face down chits

After each player takes a turn, one of the Curse chits is turned face up. When all the Curse chits have been revealed, then the game ends. So over time the cursed temples become known, and the game will end after 15 rounds. Actually, I have an idea to make that "15 rounds or so" - but I'm not sure if I like it or not.

At the end of the game you score points for all treasures that came from Safe temples, and you lose points for all treasures that came from Cursed temples. Any treasure card from Moctezuma's temple is worth double the printed value (either good or bad). All treasure cards from City of Gold temples are worth 0 points, but having at least 1 treasure from each scores you a bonus for having found the lost City of Gold.

I hope to have a prototype by this weekend to try out. I'm sure I'll post about how it goes!

Late thought: Another way to do it might be to NOT have the Name cards in the decks, but instead have face down chits numbered 1-10 in front of the names in the column on the board, and allow people to research that as well. Not sure if I like that or not, it just came to mind and I wanted to type it out before I forgot. This would mean the decks could have different backs, which might be a little easier for sorting. Action costs might be:
* 2: Look at 1 face down Temple ID chit
* 3: Look at 3 face down Temple ID chits

7 comments:

Sean Ross said...

You may want to consider a different name - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traveler's_diarrhea

Scurra said...

I'm pretty sure Seth knew about that.

Somewhere on my backpile is a game called "The Curse of Tutenkhamen" which was based on a very similar idea: loot the Pharaohs' pyramids and figure out which one was cursed. I can't recall if it got past the "crash-and-burn" version though, but some of your ideas are faintly similar (except that I didn't have Action Points because I have concluded that they are the work of the devil.)

How about an "uncurse" action - maybe there are only a few of these available in total, and putting one on a temple would cancel the *next* curse chit to appear...?

Seth Jaffee said...

I think an "un-curse" action would be antithematic. Maybe in a different game, but I'm going for more of a 'avoid the curse' feeling. Either you cross your fingers and hope the loot you grab is safe, or you do some research before plundering the temples.

I'm wondering though if it wouldn't make more sense to do research outside the temples to determine which is which. I have an idea to do that pretty easily, but I am hesitant because I like players having to go to the various temples and doing stuff there.

Scurra said...

Have you played Thebes, btw?
That's got quite a lot of similarities in terms of the balance between research and actual hunting for treasure, although obviously without the "curse" element. Plus the tile drawing becomes almost a community event as people start chanting "sand, sand, sand...!"

I agree that "uncurse" is athematic - but I also think you may need something to deal with the sheer bad luck of collecting treasure and simply missing a curse marker in your research.

Seth Jaffee said...

Yes, I've played Thebes, and I was sorely disappointed. I loved the idea of the game, and several of the mechanisms such as the time track, but the luck of the draw overwhelmed any decision making in the game.

The purpose of a game is to provide opportunities for the player to make decisions that matter. In my experience, the decisions in Thebes are outweighed so much by the luck of the draw that the game is more about just seeing what happens next. I understand some people like that aspect in a game, but for me - if I want to just sit and see what happens next, I'll go watch TV. I'm looking for more in a game.

Moctezuma's Revenge is similar thematically, and in some ways mechanically, to Thebes. I hope my efforts result in more of a game!

Seth Jaffee said...

Scurra said:
I agree that "uncurse" is athematic - but I also think you may need something to deal with the sheer bad luck of collecting treasure and simply missing a curse marker in your research.

Well, the game is about collecting treasure that might be cursed. There's no luck involved in the research, if you do research then you can find out for sure if a king is cursed or not. The only luck involved is going after treasure when you don't know if it's cursed or not.

Also there are 'large' treasures (5vp) and many 'small' treasures (1vp) - and you have to keep a card when exploring a temple. I expect that a 'careful' player will keep only the 1vp treasures until they in out a Temple is Safe, then maybe return and loot the temple for higher valued treasure.

For example, one strategy I might try is exploring a few (maybe nearby) temples, keeping only 1vp treasures while learning which King is in each, then return to the library and explore those kings to see if they're cursed... then return to the uncursed temples to go after big treasure.

Scurra said...

I had misunderstood your research mechanic - having seen the full rules I understand it now.

And my reaction to the game is that it will probably work just fine - but that's about all.

It's an on-going discussion I have with other designers - once you know the "rules" of design, it's pretty easy to construct solid, workable games that people won't actively dislike. But most of them are lacking that spark that makes them special - and my frustration is that too many games are being published without that spark, which makes you wonder why you struggle trying to add it to your own designs...

I mean, I take your point about the luck of the draw in Thebes, but you can't deny that it adds something "fun" to the game that results in anecdotal moments you remember. The same is true of Diamant (if we're going to stick with the treasure hunting genre.)
Your game may be less prone to such swingy outcomes, but I suspect it would be a deal less fun as well.