Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Alter Ego - doubts on structure

I've been concentrating on the idea of needing to neglect your Alter Ego life in order to become stronger as a hero in order to win the game, and I thought that in a deck building game your deck could represent your overall life, and as you swap out AE cards for Hero cards, the composition of your deck is literally changing away from your AE life and toward being a hero. Therefore over time the hands you draw would be more and more concentrated on Hero cards. However, I'm concerned because in my early tests it does not feel like I'm neglecting my Alter Ego aspects. I would like the player to really experience a feeling of having to give up something in order to do the requisite crime fighting.

Perhaps what I need is a more direct, in your face representation of choosing the Hero path over the Alter Ego life. For example, if you had to choose between a "Hero turn" or an "Alter Ego turn." Thunderstone does that, and I don't love the way it works in that game. Another possibility that I've been considering all day is this:

Suppose the game were restructured such that you had your deck, and you had 5 card 'slots' in front of you. In a given turn you would first resolve any cards already in front of you, clearing them out, and then you would play up to 5 new cards into those slots. You would also take a new Hero card and place it in a virtual 6th slot reserved for that purpose.

The idea here is that in the beginning, players would only have Alter Ego cards in their decks, and could pretty much play their entire hand. But before long, players will be able to draw more than 5 cards, and will have to choose a subset of their hand to play each turn. This could more directly make you choose between playing an Alter Ego card or a Hero card. If the AE cards are good/strong enough, then this could be a properly agonizing decision. In this case you wouldn't be removing AE cards from your deck and replacing them with Hero cards, instead you would have to choose each turn which ones to play. The game might flow a little better this way too (thus far it's felt a little klunky to me).

So maybe a turn structure more like this would be good:
1) Turn up a Villain card and place it in the center of the table. For each Community card in your display, you can draw an additional Villain card to choose from. This villain is now available for each player to fight.

2) Resolve all cards in your display. Community cards already explained. Family cards = Draw 1 card (not 2 as before). Job cards allow you to buy or activate Equipment. Hero cards can be placed on a Villain from the center of the table, claiming that Villain as 'yours' and taking it into your play area.

It would still be cool if Villains had some static bad effect that hindered you while they are in your play area so that once you claim a Villain card you really want to defeat it. Perhaps "letting him go" is an option, but it should come with some penalty as well.

3) Having cleared out your board, now you may play up to 5 cards from your hand into your card slots, and choose a Hero card from the stacks to place in a virtual 6th slot.

4) Reset your hand to the your hand limit (probably starting at 4) Or maybe better: discard all cards and draw to your hand limit.

The Villain cards would be about the same as they are now - they would have a 'cost' in hero symbols which needs to be 'paid' in order to defeat them, they might have an Arch Villain icon, meaning they count toward being able to go after that Arch Villain, and they might have some game benefit: Hand Size increase, extra card slot, extra Hero icon (only counts against the Arch Villain), or extra $ icon for use in activating (or buying?) Equipment.

Another tweak might be to say that you're allowed to play an Equipment card ON TOP of a Job card in your display, meaning that you do have to have both the equipment and the $ to activate it, but it doesn't take up an extra slot. If you have a Villain that gives you $ then you can place Equipment by itself and still activate it. Right now all of the Equipment works without $, just stronger effect if you pay to activate it.*

*Note to self: Check out the effect of Equipment when activated - 1 EQ card + 1 Job card should = better effect than 2 other cards!

I think this turn structure might be a little better. Maybe I'll try it out. I think it still leaves room for (and maybe even emphasizes) players building up to become strong enough to take on an Arch Villain. It moves a little away from the original idea of neglecting your Alter Ego, but it does make you directly choose whether to play AE cards or Hero cards, so maybe it'll be good.

Deleterious effects of Villains
I'm not certain what deleterious effects Villains could have, but thematically it makes sense that they attack your Alter Ego in some way - like taking Mary Jane hostage, or threatening a train full of innocent people. Perhaps an acceptable abstraction of that (which could actually matter) is that when they come into play you have to put some number of cards from your deck face down under the Villain, and you don't get them back until you defeat him. You can always get a new Hero card each turn, so you can always defeat the Villain eventually.

I'm not entirely opposed to using some kind of player counters in the game, but I admit the impetus behind that is mostly that I like the idea of each player having a set of tokens with an Alter Ego logo on one side and their own hero's insignia on the other. These could be parodies or similar to the Bat Signal or Superman's 'S' for example.

I'm not sure this is necessary in this game at this time, but perhaps it might be better to use tokens to record damage on Villains rather than leaving the cards on them. Thus players could leave the Villains in the center of the table rather than 'claiming' them, and 2 players might sort of rush to defeat the same Villain - with their Insignias indicating which Hero icons they've played on that Villain so far.

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