A relic hunt by Jeff Warrender and Steve Sisk

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Encounter structure for v10

[Note:  I had already mostly drafted this before Steve's post on Friday...some of these ideas may have good overlap with that post, and some may conflict -- but I think it's worthwhile to have both posts preserved, for comparison purposes]

Assuming we are going to adopt a v8 scheme for challenges (at least for now), it's desirable to have a few things crystallize.  Here are some possibilities for v10.

In this approach, instead of rolling a die to determine the type of challenge you face, you flip an encounter card. To give a feeling of place-specificity, the encounter card that you face would be determined by the location you go to. In addition to the three main city categories (disregarding Strongholds for now), I think that each city each city type will have several "sub-locations", and each sub-location has associated encounter cards. The questions we need to answer are:

1. How much can a player control what sub-location he goes to?
2. How much knowledge does he have in advance of what reward he will receive for passing the encounter?
3. How much knowledge does he have in advance about the category/difficulty of the challenge he'll face?
4. What consequence(s) does he incur should he fail a challenge?

I'll engage these questions out of order. For question (3), the v7 approach to this has proven the test of time -- a player knows, going to a circle city, that he'll face either a Luck or Wits challenge, and so on for the other city types. The encounter cards should capture this dynamic, and remove the overhead of a die roll to determine the category of the challenge -- the distribution of the challenge categories on the encounter cards handles this organically.

For question (2), I would suggest that, per Steve's suggestion, the reward for passing a particular encounter should be known in advance, and all encounter cards for a given sub-location should pay that reward (and possibly something better as well for some "surprise" cards). I think this is important as a way to aid player planning and move progress along. It's one thing to go to a city, and face a swordsman that you're not adequately prepared to beat. It's another thing to beat that swordsman and find that he gives you a check mark in category X, instead of letting you remove an enemy cube. So I think it's good for the rewards to be fixed and uniform for a given sub-location, but the challenges to be uncertain but bounded.

For question (4), I increasingly favor the scheme mentioned in a previous post. The "vanilla" consequence of failing a challenge would be something minor like "end your turn". BUT, as "enemy operative" cards are revealed, each makes a particular encounter card outcome bad.

For example, for encounters that give a check mark, if Enemy Operative Z is activated, then these ALSO move the enemy progress track, e.g. So in the case of failing a challenge, Enemy Operative Y might, in addition to loss of your turn, ALSO force you to be relocated to a stronghold. (See that post for arguments about how this might help to make the game more dangerous and convey a more tangible sense of the enemy becoming more and more powerful as the game progresses).

Back to question 2: what are the rewards for passing a challenge? I think there should be 6, with one reward on each card:
  • Receive a check mark in solution element 1
  • Receive a check mark in solution element 2
  • Receive a check mark in solution element 3
  • Remove (capture) an enemy cube
  • Receive an "Ally" card (provides stats boosts)
  • Receive an "Item" card (provides a special power)

(For the last 2 items, my thought was that each region would have one card of each type face-up, and by passing an encounter in that region, you would be authorized to take the region's card.)

So, on to question 1, which becomes important in light of the answers to the other 3 questions -- if you want to receive this reward but not that reward, or if you want to face this challenge but not that challenge, you want to have some control over where you go. So how are the encounter cards structured into decks, and how do they convey a sense of place-specificity? I think there are two schemes that could work.

(i) Each city type could have 3 sub-location types, each of which pays one of these 6 rewards, for a total of 9 rewards (strongholds don't count in this since they are special). The sub-locations are appropriate to the type of city you're in; so a "circle" city, a "Major City", might have a Library, Museum, and Hotel; a "pentagon" city, a "Minor City", could have a Market, Castle, and Church. Maybe these are 3 separate decks for each city type, or maybe a single deck and you're given a choice of a couple of the top cards from that city type's deck when you face an encounter.

(ii) There are 6 location types, each with its own deck of encounter cards. Each city type has 3 associated with it: 2 that are shared with the two other (non-stronghold) city types, and one that is unique to that city type. So a Market might be present in both a triangle and pentagon city, but a Church will only be found in a pentagon city (eg).

The advantage of (ii) is that it's a more unified framework, the disadvantage is that there's no way to ensure the challenges you face in a city will be properly bounded, UNLESS we rigidly associated a particular challenge type with a particular sublocation. (Which could work, but loses some of the fun associated with the unpredictability of v7, in which you might go into a circle city loaded up on Luck but poor on Wits, just hoping you'll get a Luck challenge).

The advantage of (i) is that it can be more city-dependent, the disadvantage is that it creates more kinds of cards, but only 3 more compared to (ii). And if all of a city's encounter cards are kept in the same deck, then it might actually feel more compact (but then there will be some luck as to whether you can go to the sub-location you want to go to. To mitigate that, maybe there's a rule that you can draw down into the encounter deck until you get to a sub-location you're willing to face, but each card that you "skip" is +1 to the enemy progress, or you have to pay 1 AP to flip cards, etc?)

Finally, back to question 2 one final time: how does this integrate with "leads"? If we adopted Steve's idea, that most/all theme cards are available but must be pulled on to the board at a particular city type and sub-location, maybe it's simply that, instead of (or in addition to?) receiving the standard reward for passing an encounter, you can pull a theme card into that city, if its associated sub-location matches the sub-location you're in. I think I like this idea -- though it doesn't have the immersive quality of getting a card that says "You've received a telegram from Henry Jones that he's in Vienna", it does permit some planning, some competition between the players, but doesn't require as much bureaucracy as lead cards would. So it's worth thinking more about.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Quasi-Leads that Work Within the System

I really like the aspect of previous attempts to have a system whereby you have information about where something may be located and can act on these hunches. However previous systems have fallen short by adding cumbersome levels to the information system.

The concept of quasi-leads gives the feel of having leads to where something is and a reason to find it with no drastic change to the systems already in place or under consideration.

The system is based on three parts:

The first is a combination of theme cards and city designation. Each of the three city types is given a designation based on shape and region for a total of 6 city types. For example, the circle in the west is a museum and in the near east it is the site of ancient ruins.

The theme cards are then organized into three groups based on the city shapes. For example, the curator can be found in a circle city. Following the themeing of the cities, you get the result that a curator can always be found in either a museum or ancient ruins.

Players have a reference to show which theme cards can be found in what city types, though it is largely intuitive (an informant can be found in bars or markets, books of ancient knowledge can be found in libraries or temples, etc.).

The second is a combination of challenge cards and item cards. Challenges are divided into the 6 cities and regions, so that museums, libraries, ruins, et al would each have a pile of challenge cards. In the v7-8 hybrid, each pile would be divided into 2 known categories (so that players have some control over their route planning and optimizing their turns) that have a value of from 1–3. This value would be added to the enemy in the city to give the total challenge level of from 1–9.

In addition to the challenge cards, there are 12 item cards (or a combination of "No Challenge" and items) that show things like the grail diary or headpiece of the Staff of Ra. The items give a challenge category and value (v7-8) or an image to be decoded (v9-x). If the player passes the challenge, they take the item into their holdings.

The item cards are shuffled and dealt two each onto the 6 piles of challenge cards. Each pile is then shuffled and placed on the board.

A player entering a city (or using an action to face a challenge, giving an option to hunt for items) flips the top of the challenge pile for that city, possibly getting a regular challenge or rewarding him with an item.

The third part is the interplay between items and theme cards. Each item is only useful when taken to a theme card. Only Professor Jones can decipher the clues in the diary, and he has no information without it. Return the headpiece to Marion and digging costs no action while you are with them, etc.

This gives players an in-game reason to try and target specific theme cards over the basic need for information to drive the game forward. A player in possession of the grail diary can look at the reference and know that the professor can be found in a library or temple, so he can target his search in that way.

The benefit to this is that it works well within the current system (or can integrate into newer systems) and give the feel of having leads to follow without having to overburden the information system. Solo playtest have proven very positive so far and I'm interested to get your feedback to see if this is something that can be folded into the next playtest session to test out.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A thought on encounters to tuck away for later

I don't know if this warrants its own blog post. But just wanted to capture a quick idea for posterity.

There are two candidate versions of the encounters/challenges system that we've discussed as a replacement for the approach of v7.

The first was tried in v8: you go to a city, flip over an encounter card appropriate to that city, and it shows you the category (luck, wits, etc) and degree of difficulty of the challenge, as well as the reward you'll receive if you pass the challenge. To attempt to pass the challenge, you add up your stat in that category, any adventure cards you wish to contribute, and the result of a d6. The advantages of this system are that it manages the location-specific distribution of challenges automatically, and that it's very simple: every card has a clearly-specified reward and difficulty.

The second was tried in v9: the encounter card shows only a picture, and you choose a response (category and degree) based on what you think will "beat" the challenge -- eg "Luck 3" or "Wits 5", then slide the card into the Interrogator to see what the outcome is. The features of this approach include the possibility of different outcomes for each challenge, and that it feels thematically appropriate as well as "real" -- you're forced to guess at a "solution" rather than being told by the card how to beat it.

The point of this post is to say that there may be a couple of in-between options that have the simplicity and ease-to-prototype of the v8 approach while still retaining some of the features of v9.

First, I started a discussion on this subject at BGG, and one suggestion that emerged could be adapted in this way. Start with the v9 approach -- you are shown the scene, and you pick your response (category and degree) -- then, you slide the card into the Interrogator, and look up the /category/ you're attempting. And instead of an "outcome", it shows you the die that you roll to find the challenge's difficulty.

For example: You face an Arab Swordsman -- you decide to respond with Fight, and commit, through your stats and cards, to a "degree" of 5. You look up the result for "Fight", and it shows "d6". So you roll a d6, and the result is 3 -- that represents the degree of difficulty of the challenge. Since it's less than the 5 that you committed to the challenge, you pass. If instead you had chosen "Wits", the result may have been "d10", or "2d12", indicating that it's more difficult to fight a swordsman with your wits than with strength.

This approach is more like v8 in that the reward for passing the card would always be the same, but it would still have the possibility of different solutions like in v9. And part of the appeal of this is that you'd often be choosing between an obviously "better" solution (eg fighting the swordsman) and a solution that is probably harder, but that plays better to your strengths (eg debating with the swordsman).

Speaking of which, I wonder if we should contemplate reworking the challenge categories. For example, "fight" could be generalized to "use force" -- you can use force to beat up a Nazi thug, OR to try to push through a locked door.

A second way that some of the v9 concepts could seep into a v8 approach could be through the idea that different visual aspects of the card affect the challenge or the resolution of the card. For example, every player has a weakness/phobia, and if other players see your phobia on a card you're facing, they can announce this and force you to face the challenge at a -2 penalty, or whatever. This kind of thing could encourage players to be attentive during other players' turns, which might make the game feel more interactive. Maybe this scheme also fits in with Steve's idea of some encounters giving you an auto-clue -- it's there on the card, but you have to spot the trigger to be able to get it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Interrogator

The v7 prototype has an excellent board concept design by Steve, whereby the 12 cities each have a slot for a solution card, and a little window. To attempt to dig for the temple in that city, you slide the solution card into that city's slot, and then look through the window. The especially cool thing is that the information on the cards is overprinted with red masking, so you can't read it ordinarily, but the windows have red rubylith, revealing the text on the card.

Unfortunately, this would make for a pretty expensive board. I talked to a pretty well-known game printer recently and they had a very hard time figuring out how they would even go about producing this, and felt certain that it would drive the cost of the game up substantially. It's a great concept, but is there an alternative?

I think there's actually quite a simple one. We currently have 12 pieces of information on each solution card, arranged in a 3x4 grid. We could instead simply arrange the information in a 12x1 grid (ie, a row) along one edge of the card. Then, instead of separate slots, we would have "The Interrogator", which is just a card sleeve with two windows, one on each face. Say you want to dig in London. Just slide the solution card into the Interrogator, face-up, until "London" shows through the window.(*) Then, flip the Interrogator sleeve over and look at the window in the back, which will either say "Yes" or "No" or whatever.

(*) This is different from the current scheme where each location essentially has its own "sleeve" -- here the possible locations are printed on the card. This does take up more space, but it also makes the interrogator enormously flexible, as it can handle any kind of solution element we want to include, including ones we haven't yet thought up.

The particularly nice thing about this is that I think that it removes the need for the red masking, since the secret information can stay on the side of the card that's face-down. This is good for two reasons:

(i) The "answer" doesn't have to be text -- it could be a picture, an icon, whatever.

(ii) The red masking wouldn't work for color blind players. Since the game is intended to be playable in solo mode, it's preferable to have an approach that doesn't rule out color blind players being able to play without the aid of a non-color blind player.

Additionally, we're not limited to 12 solution elements anymore; although 12 is about the right number, with adequate spacing, for a 3.5" card. But if we just have to have 18 elements for some reason, we could simply make the cards longer. (Since the solution cards aren't handled/shuffled too much, this wouldn't be that big of a pain).

This isn't the most pressing thing to implement near-term, but it is something we could think about if we could to a point where enough changes have accumulated that a prototype change is in order.

Steve Checking In

- Is there a way to make the temple exploration feel more like temple exploration? It's tough -- we don't want to distract the players with more stuff todo. It's more a question of, are we getting the feel right? The stone door slowly swings open, and a staircase leads down into the black depths of the temple before you -- what dangers await you inside? Can we communicate this more palpably? I don't know. Does it matter if we can't? Probably not.

I like the concept of more immersive temple exploration, but have to bring up the importance of keeping the general rules of the temple the same as on the outside. Movement should be the same (one space for free plus AP to move more quickly), stopping at challenges and facing them the same way (die roll plus cards committed). That was a major concern during the last playtest here in Rochester.

Can we make the exploration more immersive without changing the structure or adding to the length of the temple section game (last 1/4)? For now can we focus on the challenge system within the temple and making it more organic.

I also like the idea of some clues costing more than three check marks to access. That would make it OK to have a lot more theme cards rotating through (I imagine 24 for some variety). The absolute most necessary clues are correct grail and temple features. The location of the temple is a close third, but if the worst that happens is that no one gets the 2VP if the enemy finds it, then that's not a big deal. We could make it more of a big deal in the VP award (3 instead of 2?) and starting the enemy track much lower than 35 (or whatever it ends up being) if the enemy finds the temple.

Then the remaining clues would be less valuable and require fewer checks to view.

- What should the structure of the clues be? Right now (v7) they have the virtue of being infinitely replayable. I wrote a blog post about a possible alternative clue structure -- instead of each clue adding 1/3 of a composite total, it would be that each clue potentially (but not always) appends the lower level clues. So you don't know for sure whether you actually need that level 3 clue or not -- in some cases the level 2 clue will be sufficient. But since you can't know, it's always better to get that level 3 clue if you can. It's a different kind of risk assumption. In v7, if you have level 2 temple info, you've got a 50-50 guess on your hands, and it's just fundamentally a guess, a coin toss -- you simply do not have any way to know for sure, period. But an approach where you might know, but can't be certain whether you know, could be interesting in a different way. There may be other possible clue structures as well. And maybe different scenarios can structure the clues in different ways, so it doesn't necessarily have to be a uniform solution across the board.

I like the idea of the more ambiguous third clue, though it only changes the finer appreciation of the system. As such I'd like to keep that change on the backburner until we're ready for an entire prototype overhaul. For now can we focus on everything that can be fine tuned without redoing the clue cards for now? Let's save that for the major anniversary edition Lost Adventures session!

Back to challenges for a minute, I'm on board with the idea of 6 different decks of (undoubtedly half size) cards, one for each type in each region. What should the challenges look like? Do we want a simple smattering of challenge types in each deck (maybe 2-3 of each type per deck)?

I like the idea of having each card be ambiguous in the challenge that you face, but am not in favor of making each challenge a metagame that operates outside the rest of the game. Specifically, I'm not a fan of having multiple paths to succeed from each challenge. That combined with the possibility of recruiting allies with specific bonuses means that the challenges will be too easy to beat and provide no tension.

The abstraction of having specific challenges designated on the card with two types mainly in each deck (like having more fight and wits challenges in the markets of the near east, etc.) works very well in v7 (in a far more abstract form). Can we use that as the foundation for the next playtest, just with cards instead of a bland die roll?

I'd also like to have special item cards sprinkled into the challenges for players to find and then interface them with character cards from the theme deck. For example, a player turns over a challenge and finds it's the grail diary! He faces a challenge to retrieve it, but must take it to Henry Jones, Sr. to get anything from either ("I wrote them down so I won't have to remember...").

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Seth's thoughts on Leads...

The Comment system said this was too long, so I'll make it a blog post instead...

Aside from that random idea in the comments of that last post (which popped into my head while reading that post), I have stronger opinions on this which are as follows. Italics denote quoted text from Jeff's post.:

I first assert a well-worn design principle: rewards paid out by a game system should be commensurate with the opportunity cost paid to obtain those rewards. In this game, the reward is information, so the better the information you get, the more you should have to pay (or the harder it should be) to get it.

I do not disagree with that assertion.

In version 7, nine of the theme cards are out on the board at the start. All cards are equally good -- each gives a check mark which is worth one level of clue (although some have more categories than others).

... so they're NOT equally good. I do not think they're equally good, because even 2 cards that each give 1 check mark toward the location of the Manuscript (for example) give different additional check marks. That's a large fundamental difference, since even players looking for the Manuscript are not ONLY looking for the Manuscript.

The "problem" with this system is that it's a little boring, and that it doesn't differentiate between the cards. Yes, the Grail Diary has information about more subjects than Elsa Schneider, but if you're JUST interested in getting info about the Grail Room, they're equally good.

As I just mentioned, you're never JUST looking for information about the Grail Room. I also disagree that it's boring. However...

Increasing the number of check marks required to get a clue gives room for differentiation of the cards. Now, the Diary can know a lot about the Temple Challenges, by giving 4 check marks, whereas Henry Jones Sr, with his somewhat shaky memory, only provides 2.

I think this would improve things... Suppose each card had, for example, 4 icons... some had 2 or 3 of the same icon, while others had 4 different icons. This would definitely serve to differentiate the info obtained from Theme cards, even if only concerned with 1 category.

But adopting the same approach as v7, where all the cards are laid out from the start, would result in the opportunity cost being essentially the same for all of the cards, despite their unequal rewards.

I disagree with this assessment.

Yes, board geography and the game clock play into this somewhat -- it may be better, for example, to visit Jones Sr in a nearby city, accepting the lower payout, than to burn the time/resources to travel across the board to see that Diary.

Board geography, whatever challenge you face to get the check marks, and the opportunity cost of what other check marks you get (and what you DON'T get) when choosing one theme card over another. I think those are all significant costs, and not essentially the same.

But above and beyond this, it seems that the game has to "protect" the higher-valued information more aggressively. And leads are one way to do it.

This is a possibility, but I still don't think it's necessary - it still feels like additional hoop jumping for no good reason (because I think the cost of collecting info is already appropriately high and varied enough for the game as it was in v7).

In this way, the game can make the more difficult cards harder to acquire, but can do so in a completely organic way, as opposed to adding an additional cost or surcharge associated with accessing the better cards.

I think you don't necessarily want Theme cards that are "better" than other Theme cards - I think you want Theme cards that are better suited to one thing over another, but are less well suited for a different thing. The overall net quality of the theme cards should be more or less equal, I think, which allows for not having to specifically worry about "protecting" the "better" ones.

If theme cards have a hierarchy, then the game becomes about going for the best theme card you can get to. I assert that the game is more interesting if the theme cards you are interested in visiting depend on your strategy and course of action, not on the strict hierarchy of the cards (a hierarchy which would not change game-to-game or based on your situation).

I like the idea that all theme cards are functionally the same, and the game elements themselves differentiate between the various cards simply by the way their built, and not in a way that the players need to explicitly police. It keeps the bureaucratic overhead of playing the game minimal, and I think that's key to keeping the length and complexity down.

This sounds noble, and I like the idea of keeping down the bureaucracy and making the game easier to play for the players.

And I too like the mini-race element of the artifacts. As far as I'm concerned though, the Artifacts DID work the same way as the other theme cards, once you found them.

The info hunt to find the artifacts before you could look at them is similar to this leads idea you are proposing in that it adds additional hoops to jump through before you can access that information. I liked that that particular type of hoop jumping is the same type you're already doing in the game (to find the temple info), and I liked that you need not find those particular cards or that you could visit them once someone else did find them.

I do not think the game would work if every theme card required that type of hoop jumping - you need some place to get the initial info to find those other cards. And I think adding leads to each theme card (on top of, or in addition to) having to find the Artifacts is overloading the game with another system.

I liked the amount of info hunting that was in the game before, and I think making the icon system more fine grained will help. What I think you ought to be more worried about changing is the feeling of deduction - you wanted players to be able to deduce information based on player action, and I've never really seen that come through. I did have 1 player who actively tried to use that type of information, but it never amounted to much if anything.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Check marks and leads go together

I am increasingly thinking that, in the possible scheme where multiple check marks are required to get a clue, check marks and leads go together. I first assert a well-worn design principle: rewards paid out by a game system should be commensurate with the opportunity cost paid to obtain those rewards. In this game, the reward is information, so the better the information you get, the more you should have to pay (or the harder it should be) to get it.

In the most recent version, we had leads but no check marks -- every card gives a clue. Since it was hard to know in advance how good of a clue a given card would provide, it was correspondingly hard to know which card to go for. The lead system therefore put a barrier in front of acquiring information, but the barrier was the same height regardless of the quality of the information.

In version 7, nine of the theme cards are out on the board at the start. All cards are equally good -- each gives a check mark which is worth one level of clue (although some have more categories than others). Since you had to visit multiple cards to get multiple check marks, there was an acceptable balance between opportunity cost (more trips to visit more cards) and rewards (more check marks).

The "problem" with this system is that it's a little boring, and that it doesn't differentiate between the cards. Yes, the Grail Diary has information about more subjects than Elsa Schneider, but if you're JUST interested in getting info about the Grail Room, they're equally good. It was not a bad abstraction by any means, but as this blog demonstrates, I'm always inclined to ask whether there's a better way.

Increasing the number of check marks required to get a clue gives room for differentiation of the cards. Now, the Diary can know a lot about the Temple Challenges, by giving 4 check marks, whereas Henry Jones Sr, with his somewhat shaky memory, only provides 2. But adopting the same approach as v7, where all the cards are laid out from the start, would result in the opportunity cost being essentially the same for all of the cards, despite their unequal rewards. Yes, board geography and the game clock play into this somewhat -- it may be better, for example, to visit Jones Sr in a nearby city, accepting the lower payout, than to burn the time/resources to travel across the board to see that Diary. But above and beyond this, it seems that the game has to "protect" the higher-valued information more aggressively. And leads are one way to do it.

A possible approach could be to have the lead system be city shape specific. Again, each theme card has an associated city shape, and you go to a city of that shape to get a lead to that theme card. We could have the lower-valued theme cards take leads that send the players to less-dangerous locations, whereas the leads to the higher-valued cards require you to travel to locales where you'll have to face a challenge. For example, a typical lead to a card like "Sallah", with minimal info, may send you to a major city, whereas a typical lead to a card like the Grail Tablet, with strong information may send you to an Enemy Stronghold.

In this way, the game can make the more difficult cards harder to acquire, but can do so in a completely organic way, as opposed to adding an additional cost or surcharge associated with accessing the better cards. And again, it continues to treat the "relics" as ordinary theme cards, instead of special theme cards with special rules. I think I like this; although I did like the mini-race element that the relics added, in practice I like the idea that all theme cards are functionally the same, and the game elements themselves differentiate between the various cards simply by the way their built, and not in a way that the players need to explicitly police. It keeps the bureaucratic overhead of playing the game minimal, and I think that's key to keeping the length and complexity down.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Enemy agents, encounters, and mounting tension

Yet another thought, about enemy integration and game pacing.

As I discussed, it's somewhat nice to have the possibility of a "safe but boring" outcome on each challenge card. This is particularly attractive early in the game, when bad consequences feel more punitive than a justified consequence. But you don't want that to last forever. Perhaps, as I said, each encounter card is fundamentally "safe", BUT, when the enemy is sufficiently "energized" -- ie, their presence in a particular city exceeds a threshold or the enemy track reaches a certain point -- this changes (either locally or globally, depending on which we settle on). The easiest way would be to have a separate deck of "enemy encounter cards", and when the enemy is energized, you face one of these cards instead of a standard card. And that could work well, but adds more components (and with all these illustrations, these encounter cards will be expensive components).

A different idea occurred to me; Lord of the Rings uses a masterful approach, whereby it's iconography is highly flexible, in that expansions simply change the meaning of icons. In the base game, "rectangle" means "discard a card", in Friends and Foes it takes on a new meaning "add a Foe card." The same principle could apply here, and it could be connected with the Agent cards.

So, when an enemy agent card is activated, it shows that a particular outcome symbol has taken on a new (or additional) meaning on the encounter cards. So, for example, your encounter outcome is "receive a check mark in the 'yellow' category", but you look at the row of Enemy Agents, and Agent Z is active; her effect is "receiving a check mark in the yellow category also results in the enemy progress advancing by 3".

This sounds a little convoluted, I know, but it allows some nice flexibility -- it makes some cities more dangerous than others, but the level of "dangerousness" is entirely dependent on how many Enemy Agents are active, which forces the players to have to worry about the enemy agents.

It would of course be simpler to say that when you face a challenge in an "enemy-controlled city", the full menu of bad consequences are on the table. But that would also effectively lock up whole cities, whereas in this scheme, only certain sub-locations become "dangerous" -- eg if you were going to go to the Ruin to get a check mark in the temple location category, better think twice about doing that if Agent Y is active (or at least take it into account). And of course, the purpose of the mechanic should be to nibble away at the "safe" outcomes, so that the game board gets more dangerous as the game progresses, without necessarily getting harder.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Integrating encounters and information

I think Seth's comment in the previous post was spot-on; at this point, finding ways to integrate systems is important, and connecting encounters and check marks could be a great -- and satisfyingly thematic -- way to do just that.

I'm also mindful of Steve's concern; sometimes, you want to stop in a city that you're "just passing through", and don't want to be encumbered by needing to pay out cards (or else you'd just pay them to get to your destination), but it would still nice to be able to do something beyond simply passing your turn.

I think I have an idea that might address both of these. We know that there are four city types (circle, pentagon, square, and triangle). Assume there are (say) 6 different "sub-location" types -- eg a library, a museum, a hotel, a tomb, etc -- and each city type has 2 or 3 associated sub-locations (eg "circle cities" all have libraries and museums, etc) Each sub-location has an associated deck of encounter cards. AND, each encounter has one or perhaps two different associated "characteristic outcomes", such that if you "pass" the encounter, you will get one of those two things. For example, maybe a "library" gives a check mark; a "hotel" gives a lead to a theme card; a market gives you an ally card, etc. So when you're in a city, even if it's just to kill time, you can still do something potentially productive, but you can also choose what potentially productive thing you want to try to accomplish. And, this could also aid route planning -- if you know you need a clue to the temple location, you might visit a city with a tomb. Etc.

This addresses half of Steve's concern; the other half of it was not needing to pay any adventure cards. Two possible approaches for that; there could be a "do nothing" option that's always available in every city (maybe it's thematically dressed up to be "go to the marketplace" or "go to the consulate", so that your action selection on your turn is always structured as "go to a city and pick a sub-location to visit") -- which could perhaps let you draw a card or look at a lead or something like that.

Another, not necessarily mutually exclusive approach, could be simply that ALL of the encounter cards provide safe passage at the lowest adventure payout, but the "safe passage" will be boring. For example, say you have a stat of 3 in Luck, so you select "Luck 3" for an encounter in which you face an Arab swordsman. Maybe the outcome is that you simply survive the encounter, but you don't get anything interesting for it, either.

A totally different, and again, not necessarily mutually exclusive, option is to have each player have a particular "skill" that connects to the visuals on the cards. I had originally thought this would be a special power, but maybe it's instead that when you see your "trigger" on a card, you get a check mark -- eg, your skill is "languages", so when you see a "book" on an encounter card, you get a check mark in a particular solution category. So this gives you something else interesting to be looking for when you have nothing you especially want to do; you can face an encounter and go fishing for a trigger to your skill.

(Incidentally, another thought -- can check marks be lost?)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Check marks revisited?

As I discussed in the last post, we had a pretty informative playtest at Spielbany, and while there are a number of areas for possible improvement, I think Steve and I were separately dissatisfied with two things that I claim are two sides of the same coin.

Steve opined that there doesn't seem to be enough to do -- you go to a location, you look for a theme card and find it, or not, but then your turn ends; shouldn't you be able to ask around for info, look for helpers, get some supplies, fight some Nazis, etc?

Separately, I liked the idea that each theme card gives you a clue, but in practice I thought it fell a little flat -- once you know that card X gives the Level 3 Location Clue, there's really no reason to go visit any other card than Card X, and everyone goes straight to that card. This does one of the things I want -- create "convergences", where all players (and by extension the enemy) all rush to the same place, but it would probably need some sort of time based trigger to create tension around this, otherwise it's just too obviously the "correct" thing to do.

Now these are actually parts of the same problem, which I alluded to in the last post, which is this: because the crux of the game is supposed to be the information hunt, all of the interesting mechanisms in the game should be built around the information hunt, and everything that doesn't contribute to that is probably extraneous. So to Steve's concern, yes we could add more action, but if it isn't related to the information hunt, it may not be constructive. But on the flip side, if the information hunt is trivial, and is easy for everyone to participate in to the same degree and in the same way, then the hunt won't result in the asymmetry between player knowledge that makes the game interesting.

I've previously discussed the "check marks" system, and while it was abstract, it did a great job of making the information hunt a structured endeavor -- you absolutely can't get a level 3 clue until you've gotten those 3 check marks. I think I like that better than letting you just happen upon a level 3 clue -- I think a level 3 clue should be harder to get, not just more rare. BUT, I still don't like the abstraction of the check marks; it just seems weird that you go and ask a guy what he knows, and he gives you check marks, and also a clue, if you ask him for one. The check marks seems like a bizarre middle-man to the info hunt.

I tried to address this in the "wrong turn" version 8 of the game, by forcing players to go to a "clue space" to get a clue, and the level of clue you get is given by the number of symbols of that category you have in your entourage (ie, you have theme cards traveling with you). It didn't work well, but it at least divorced "authorization to read a clue of a particular level" from "the actual act of reading the clue that you're authorized to read".

However, there might be a cleaner way, and of course, it involves check marks. And it's simply this: originally, the check marks had a 1-to-1 correspondence with clues. Each check mark equated to one level's worth of a clue, so 1 check mark = level 1 clue, 2 check marks = level 2 clue, etc. What if, instead, each clue level is equivalent to 3 check marks each, but there are more ways to get check marks, which have different payouts? For example, a theme card might provide 1-3 check marks, whereas some of the "adventuring" actions that Steve suggests could each pay out 1-2 check marks, and maybe the type of adventure you face determines the category of check mark you get (or maybe it varies from scenario to scenario?).

I like that this could potentially fit nicely in the context of encounters. Visiting the scriptorium in an abbey may bring you in contact with an ancient tome, which could conceivably bring you in contact with some information about the temple whereabouts, or digging around in a tomb could show you an inscription with info about the temple's contents -- but how would those be incorporated into the game under the previous system? But if each of those could provide, say, 1 or 2 check marks in their respective category, then they contribute positively to the player's progress towards information, but still must be combined with other information sources to get over those thresholds. And it also leads automatically to player differentiation. If I'm at 4 check marks in "temple location" and you're at 3 check marks, a 3-check-mark theme card is very valuable to you, as it will get you to 6 total (and the level 2 clue), but it's no more valuable than a 2-check-mark card to me, so our interest in that card will be different.

This could provide a good framework to permit some variety in the stuff that players do each turn, while still fitting everything together into progress towards the actual solution.

Note that an alternative approach could be to simply have 9 pieces of actual information that you have to accumulate before you know the full solution in each category. But I think that would just be too hard to write, and too difficult to play. The check marks may once again be an appropriate abstraction.

Playtest at Spielbany

Steve and I had a chance to playtest the newest version of the game at Spielbany on Saturday. It was a stripped-down prototype with hand-written cards, me acting as a "GM", etc, but the players graciously overlooked the shortcomings of the prototype, and I think we got a pretty fair evaluation of the underlying ideas. The game played through to completion, which surprised me -- I hadn't expected we would even make it to the temple, and didn't come up with much of an AI for the enemy in the temple. We collectively came up with an ad hoc solution that worked, but that would need some tweaking. Overall the game was definitely shorter -- with 4 new players it took about 2 hours.

I don't think any of the new ideas completely flopped, but not all of them may end up as keepers either. Here's my sense of what worked and what didn't work as well.

Enemy in the temple: No one liked this very much. The AI we came up with was clearly rough, but it was more the idea of having to have an AI was unpopular -- you want players focusing on how to plan their own best route through the temple, not having to worry about policing the rules by which the enemy explores. In a game with no GM, enemy movement just didn't seem to fit, and everyone agreed the time track was an appropriate abstraction.

Enemy outside the temple: I liked this quite a bit more. We played that you add an enemy when you move into a city; you reduce the enemy progress track by the number of enemy in the city at the end of your turn; and when there are 5 enemy or more in a city, you roll a d6 and the enemy either digs for the temple (1-2), kidnaps the theme card in the city (3-4), or activates an "agent" (5-6) (which simply controls the speed at which the enemy explores the temple). I think it worked pretty well -- you were worried about the enemy becoming too big in a particular city, but it didn't lock the game board down like the old system.

Lead cards: Neutral to negative. I don't think there was any specific excitement about this system, whereby you're told where you can find someone. But the implementation was at least part of the problem -- it was sometimes the case that you'd draw a lead to the same city you were in. And they weren't easy to get; facing a challenge to get a lead, or asking a theme card for a lead, were useful but not heavily used by the players. So as a result, it felt like you were just supposed to chase down whatever lead you were initially dealt, which lost some of the route planning that originally made the game fun. Maybe if, instead, every theme card has an associated whereabouts, and you need to get a lead to be authorized to look at it, this could be an acceptable compromise between the previous version, where all cards are always available, and the new system, where no cards are out at the start.

Encounter cards: Neutral to postive. These had descriptions of a scene, rather than an actual image, so players had to use their imagination, but they were all good sports about this, and most everyone saw some potential in the system. Concerns about knowing the "right" way to beat each card emerged, and the observation was made that there's no difference between the various skills -- they're just different numbers, but there's no difference between a "fight", an "escape", etc. A very interesting suggestion emerged to switch this to a group vote dynamic, a la Dixit, whereby you'd all look at the card, the active player would select his "response", and the inactive players would select what they think the solution ought to be, and if they match, the player passes -- or some permutation of that idea. There are some issues to be thought through but I think it could work, the question is simply whether there's enough to make it interesting.

Clues instead of check marks: Neutral. I think it was nice to be able to get a concrete clue from everyone you interview, but on the other hand, once you reveal that card X gives a level 3 clue, everyone else pretty much just wants to go visit that card to get a level 3 clue. This does what I wanted -- it creates convergence at a particular location, which boosts the enemy's strength by giving the enemy die rolls and progress track movement; but that doesn't create a disincentive to the other players to go there to get the best clue (*). The previous version made it harder to get better clues, this version makes it more statisically unlikely, and I think I like the previous version better, because it introduces more challenge to the decision of how much effort to expend to get the better clues?

(*) A couple of players suggested that a city that is full of enemy is locked down, and can't be entered by the players, period. And probably, that players have some ability to pull enemy out of the location they're in.

Theme cards as allies: Neutral to positive. Most players liked this thematically; Steve suggested separating the theme cards, which give info, from a separate category of ally cards, which give boosts to your stats.

Turn structure: Neutral. Turns were pretty quick, but on the other hand, there wasn't quite enough for the players to do; I think we'd like to see a little more action. Steve specifically suggested wanting there to be things you could be doing even in a turn where you won't going for information. I think this is a fruitful direction for further thought. But there are two important considerations that have to guide such thinking. The first is that the game can't tolerate much more complexity, and the second is that any system in the game should ultimately relate back to the information hunt in some way.

With respect to the last point, I think the "problem" is that there just isn't that much information in the game -- 3 clues with 3 levels each = 9 pieces of information, and you can possibly skip over the lower ones if you luck out or pay attention. I don't think we can add much more information than this, though -- breaking a clue into more than 3 levels would be difficult and/or would render the lower-level clues nearly worthless. So, the action in the game is really about adding obstacles to make the info hunt more challenging or time-consuming or interesting. The variable difficulty of visiting each location used to be the way that we did this, the current version makes it hard to find the people that give clues, but maybe there are additional ways to achieve this that we haven't considered yet.

Overall, it was an informative session that I hope will lead to some promising next steps for the design.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Enemy

So, the “Enemy” – who is he and what does he do?

In the last version of the game, the enemy had two main functions. First, they provided a game clock. If, on your turn, you had the “enemy pawn”, you advanced the “Enemy Progress” track by the current position of the “Enemy Zeal” track, and if it reached its end, the Enemy had found the temple ahead of you (and then you passed the pawn to your right, so it counter-rotates relative to the player turns). The “Enemy Zeal” track started at 1, but advanced by 1 every time someone attempted a dig for the temple or a relic, so it organically accelerated the movement of the Progress track and gave a sense that time was running out, which was cool. Second, there were “enemy cubes” placed in the cities on the board, and these represented the difficulty of the challenge you faced upon arriving in a city. This was very clean and simple, but perhaps a bit too abstract, and worse, they slowed the game down as it progressed – more enemies to beat means more cards to acquire means more turns drawing cards means less turns drawing stuff. Again, this was somewhat desirable – on the one hand, you feel time is running out, and on the other, your ability to efficiently collect information is decreasing, so you feel like the best bet is to go into the temple, perfect info or not.

There was really nothing wrong with this scheme, but I still question whether it was as good as it could have been; there was little correlation between the enemy cubes and the enemy progress, and as mentioned, facing cubes for challenges felt dry and mathematical.

I’ve previously talked about a newer and better (?) system for handling the encounters, but the board topography introduced by the enemy cubes was nice. A simple way to integrate that with the enemy progress is to have the movement amount on the Progress track correspond to the number of cubes in the player’s current city. And, have the movement happen on every turn. Taken together these get rid of the counter-rotating enemy pawn, and the enemy zeal track, so it’s an overall reduction in complexity.

Now comes the part where I add some complexity back in. Sort of. The previous system had a “trigger” mechanism, whereby if there were too many enemy cubes in a city, the enemy attempts to dig for the temple in that city. Again, clean and efficient. I think we can preserve that but broaden the scope a bit, with a deck of “event” cards – whenever a city overfills, an event card is revealed, and it could do one of a couple of things – kidnap a theme card in that city (if there is one), attempt a dig, etc. But one effect I’m particularly interested in considering is “reveal an Enemy Agent”.

I may have mentioned previously the idea that we could perhaps add several “Enemy Agents” into the game, each represented by a card. These start face down in a row. Whenever an “activate Enemy Agent” event occurs (however that comes about), one of them is flipped over, indicating that that Agent is now known to be “active”. As I had said, these agents can be incorporated visually into the encounter cards, so if you see an Agent that has been activated, you can attempt to fight him (and “deactivate” him, I guess?).

But what happens to agents that aren’t deactivated? I want to integrate the enemy presence more strongly into the temple, and I feel like the number of active agents should be a serious consideration for the players – the more agents are active, the more difficult it will be for a player to win in the temple. So I came up with three schemes.

1. The simplest: the enemy progress track continues to click down when players are in the temple, and the amount it clicks down by is determined by the number of active Enemy agents. So, the fewer Agents are out, the more time the players have. This is simple and functional, but only abstractly conveys the sense that the Enemy is competing against the players to race through the temple.

2. The number of active agents represent the level of knowledge the enemy has, “1”, “2”, or “3+”. In the temple, the enemy is assumed to be “right on your heels”, and every time you enter a room, you check the solution card to see whether the enemy acts in that room or not – BUT, the sleeve you slide the card into is “1”, “2”, or “3+”, depending on the enemy’s knowledge. So a more informed enemy will make more intelligent choices. This adds some cool AI to the game, but it’s a minor headache to introduce component-wise, and it may be a pain from a playability standpoint.

3. Once players enter the temple, take the active agent cards and place one between each pair of players. Before play passes to your left after your turn, if there’s an Agent card between you and the next player, the Enemy first gets a turn. The enemy is a single pawn that moves through the temple with some simple AI, and he attempts to pass all challenges and tests any and all features he comes upon. When he faces a challenge, the difficulty is checked against the stats of the current Agent (or maybe all active Agents?), and if he fails, that Agent is deactivated and out of the game.

I like each of these for different reasons. 3 has the advantage that it really hurts to have multiple enemies active going into the temple – with, say, 4 enemies active, the enemy gets 4 turns for every one turn that you get! It would be hopelessly hard to beat an enemy that is so fast (but on the other hand, perhaps you were able to enter the temple before the enemy). I’d have to write a simple AI to govern enemy movement, but that shouldn’t be too bad.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

More thoughts on Encounters

I've talked a fair bit about Encounter cards, which are a replacement for the bland and fairly wooden "you face a challenge based simply on the number of enemy cubes in the city." There's a new game out called "Fortune and Glory", which apparently involves players being tested in various skills (though in that game, it appears to involve dice and skill checks instead of cards and hand management); however, the mechanic elicited this comment, which I found interesting:

"The dangers seem almost entirely identical in nature. There doesn't appear to be much difference between tackling a Giant Sea Squid or a Zeppelin...it doesn't really sound like it will make you feel like you are encountering one specific danger over another."

(As an aside, I have a tendency to read negative reviews and comments of games that are similar to the one I'm currently working on; if there's something that players don't like about a similar game, it seems prudent to try to avoid these "shortcomings" if possible...)

Now even though the Encounters/Challenges are a minor element of Lost Adventures, it's true that making them feel different, apart from simply having each card have different artwork, could be satisfying to the players, as long as it doesn't require a lot of rules. One idea is to make the consequences of failure different for the different categories: eg failing an Escape challenge costs you some time, failing a Fight challenge costs you some health, etc.

But I thought of yet another way that the visual aspects of the encounter cards, and the ability to have hidden information on solution cards, could combine to create interest. Basically, the idea is this: the encounter card would show the scene that your adventurer faces, and nothing else. No icons telling you the challenge category, no number telling you the challenge difficulty, nothing. To face the encounter, you get to choose what skill you want to apply (luck, wits, escape, fight), and what your skill level is (as determined by your base skill level plus whatever cards you want to contribute to the challenge). Then, you flip the Encounter card over, (because the back side contains a solution table!), and slide it into the solution slot corresponding to the category and skill level you're putting up -- then the card tells you whether you've succeeded or not (or maybe it just says what the outcome is -- ie you get to reveal your lead card, or you're whisked off to an enemy dungeon, or whatever...)

Now, our solution scheme permits 12 different entries, so that means we could have 3 levels in each of the 4 skill categories. Maybe they're 1-2-3, or 3-4-5, or whatever seems best with some testing.

Some obvious challenges with this: for one, replayability could be an issue -- when you see the "Arab swordsman" encounter, maybe you remember that last time you played a Fight 4 and it worked. But in practice it's not that simple; you don't know in advance what card you'll get, and can't always guarantee that you'll have what you had last time -- maybe you're Joe the wimpy librarian instead of Hercules the beefy brawler, and wits, rather than fighting, is your strong suit. Additionally, there are essentially 12 options to try on each card, and more than one might work (certainly it won't be the case that there's only one "solution" for each card). Relatedly, you know that last time Fight 4 worked, but how about Fight 3? Could you press your luck by playing a weaker skill, conserving your cards if you succeed? Or what about trying to defeat the swordsman with Wits instead of Fighting?

This actually leads to what I like most about the idea -- it permits some player creativity, and rewards the player for scrutinizing the scene and determining what plays might be viable. A big swordsman might require a more substantial outlay of cards than a young street tough, for example. And maybe you see that cart full of logs near the swordsman, which you could release on the swordsman with your whip, instead of trying to fight him. Different approaches to each encounter will be possible, but may lead to different outcomes.

It also does what a previous iteration of the challenge system did; it lets you possibly overpay for challenges, in order to guarantee a successful outcome. There was some debate whether that approach was actually favorable; the thought was expressed that it was always better to overpay than to risk failing a challenge and losing a turn. Here, of course, it may not always be obvious which category you could max out in order to guarantee that you pass the challenge card, so even overpaying brings some risk.

Of course, it's an open question whether people will like a system where they have to guess at the cost of the card rather than simply be told by the card what it costs to get by it. And this act of guessing adds a decision point, which will add time. The encounter system is supposed to add interest and flavor to the globe-hopping, but not become a game unto itself, so it will be important not to clutter this system with rules, as this would get in the way of the part of the game that's supposed to be the focal point.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A crazy idea that will presumably be discarded quickly

In the "crazy idea that probably won't survive past this post" department...

I still like the previously mentioned idea about having some of the game elements having visual elements that integrate with the gameplay. It would be neat if this could persist through to the temple as well, but how to enable that? As I mentioned previously, in a much earlier version, the temple was assembled from a series of room cards, each of which showed a room from an adventurer's perspective, along with several exits and perhaps a testable "feature", like a rope or a pressure plate. Imagine that the temple is constructed as you explore -- you look at the card, place it on the table, pick an exit (let's say you pick "West"), draw a new card and place it to the left of the room card you had previously explored. So yes, somewhat like the most recent version, this temple would be randomly assembled. However, also like the most recent version, your search through the temple isn't a completely random walk: if you've accumulated the right clues, you can know what sorts of features you are looking for, eg a clue might tell you that pulling a rope will open a hidden wall to reveal the map room.

Here's the first departure from the previous version: in that version, there are 8 temple tiles (cards), each of which depicts 1 of 8 features; in this new version, there would be many more cards, and each feature would be present on multiple cards, BUT would be somewhat more overt on some cards than on others. For example, there might be several cards that have a "rope" but on some it's right there in the foreground, while on others it's very hard to see. This slightly abandons the conceit that there is one and only one "solution" to the temple -- in this version, whenever you notice a rope on a room card, you declare that you'll be testing the rope, and if a rope reveals the map room, then the rope you pulled was the "correct" one -- the game makes no distinction between them (*). Since multiple cards may have the same feature, you may want to spend some time scrutinizing each card to see if you can find the feature you're looking for lurking in the shadows of the artwork.

But how do you deal with the problem that this creates, whereby the longer a person looks, the more likely he is to find what he wants? There are two possible ways: the first is to add a timer. This is boring and uninteresting; in game design, it's always better to steer your players with incentives as opposed to limitations. The second is the crazy idea part -- make the temple a real-time free-for-all. To wit, players are all simultaneously exploring the temple. So while you're looking around in the "Treasure Room" hoping to find a hidden pressure plate, the other players could be frantically hopping from room to room, trying to catch up to you, or exploring other aspects of the temple.

This will create LOTS of issues; here are just a few:

1. Originally, players could enter the temple at different times; if you discover the temple and want to make a run for it on limited info, you can, but other players can linger outside the temple hoping to acquire more info before coming in after you. That's easy to emulate here; players announce when they're ready to enter the temple, and only after everyone has entered does exploration start, BUT, for each additional turn that you spent outside the temple relative to another player, you must wait 1 minute before you begin exploring.

2. Movement from room to room could be quite chaotic. To slow this down a bit, maybe each player must count to 4-Mississippi before passing to the next room, so you can't "sprint" across the temple simply by flipping cards. Challenges and traps are probably also a natural way to force players to slow down.

3. Vicarious exploration: This could actually be helped in this scheme; you are the only one who is allowed to look at the card for the room you're in, and when you leave that room for another, you place the card face-down on the table. (Not sure how to resolve having multiple people in the same room at the same time).

4. Rules enforcement: This is the toughest part; how do you guarantee players are following the rules regarding challenges, solution card lookups, etc, when everyone is going through the temple at a mad dash? Typically oversight from other players is the most reliable way to ensure that a given player has complied with the rules of a game; this becomes a challenge when play becomes simultaneous. Maybe some events pause the action temporarily while a given challenge or lookup is being resolved.

5. What about the enemy? Not too sure what their role is; the most obvious thing is to make one of the players be "the enemy", but I'm reluctant to go that route.

(*) If this turns out to be truly thematically unsatisfying, we could always introduce an action-at-a-distance effect, eg you pull the rope and look at the solution key for the "rope" feature, and it says "Map Room = Crypt", and now it's revealed that the "Crypt" room card is the map room, so now you have to go and find the crypt, or get over to it if it's already been revealed.

I think this is ultimately a different game than Lost Adventures, unless the whole rest of the game also became a real-time game (which could be cool as well, but likely too chaotic), but it would definitely successfully simulate the mad dash through the temple in a satisfying way.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Gameplay examples

I've posted a blitz of ideas in the last few days, but what will these actually look like in terms of the player experience? Let me try to provide a gameplay example of each of three possible arrangements to show what the game might feel like. I'll describe only what the player actually does, over the space of a couple of turns. In the interest of not expending a ton of effort on this excercise to make it accurate, I am completely making up the actual details of the cards off the top of my head.

Scenario 1: Rules Version 7 ("last known good")

I begin in Calcutta. Surveying the scoring mat, I see that "Franciscan manuscript" offers 2 yellow VP tiles and "Located Grail Room" offers 1 yellow VP tile; since sets of 3 VP tiles in the same color are worth 1 extra VP, I decide I will emphasize these two clue categories initially (as an added bonus, the MS provides a symbol for the Grail Room). Surveying the available theme cards, I notice that Marcus Brody and Elsa Schneider, both of which provide a symbol for the Manuscript, are located in the West (in London and Venice, respectively). I plan a visit there, but on my first turn head east, to Bangkok. 2 enemy cubes are there, and I roll the die -- I must face a "Wits" challenge. I discard a Satchel (+3 towards Wits) to dispatch the challenge, and capture an enemy cube. Then I "visit" the Col. Vogel card, receiving a check mark towards "Grail Room", and add 1 enemy cube to Bangkok.

On my next turn, I pay a plane card to travel 3 additional spaces to arrive in Venice, where 3 enemy are present, and the die roll indicates I must face another Wits challenge! Unfortunately, I'm tapped out of Satchels and can't pay the 3 AP, so I am captured and whisked off to Berlin, and my turn ends. On my next turn, I draw 2 cards (1 satchel) and go back to Venice, and this time face and pass the Wits challenge, receiving an enemy cube. I "visit" Elsa Schneider for one check mark on the "Manuscript" category (and add an enemy cube in Venice), then travel to London, facing a Luck challenge, which requires discarding a Fedora card. Then, I visit Marcus Brody, (adding an enemy cube), and receiving a 2nd check mark in the Manuscript category, (adding 2 enemy cubes to London). I look up a level 2 clue, which consists of a level 1 clue ("That which you seek is in a White city") and a level 2 clue ("That which you seek is in the Far East"). I know it's either Bangkok or Shanghai. On my next turn, a plane card is available to draw, and I take it, travel to Bangkok, face an Escape challenge of difficulty 2, and fail it, again being sent to a stronghold (Peking, this time).

On my next turn, I draw two cards, travel to Shanghai, face a Fight challenge of difficulty 2, remove an enemy cube. The next turn after that, I spend an action to dig for the Manuscript. I slide the Manuscript location solution card into the "Shanghai" frame -- but it's not there! I now know that it's in Bangkok. Unfortunately, so does my fellow player Jim, as he has also acquired a Level 2 clue in that category (*). He spends his turn high-tailing it to Bangkok, and successfully digs for the manuscript. He then uses his free action to draw a card. On my turn, I draw a card, then move to Bangkok, passing a Wits challenge and removing an enemy cube. I attempt to steal the Manuscript from Jim, playing a card with 3 fight symbols to his 2 cards with 1 each; I win the challenge, and the Manuscript is mine. I then play the free action that this entitles me to travel to nearby Calcutta, spending 1 AP card to complete the 2-space journey in one action, and deliver the manuscript to the museum there, receiving the two VP tiles for the Manuscript from the scoring mat.

On my next turn, I spend an action "visiting" the Manuscript for a check mark in the "Grail room" category, then looking up the clue for the Grail room, which tells me that the Grail room is found by pulling on the Lever in the temple. Armed with this knowledge, I set out to look for more information that would help me find the temple itself...
(*) One of the advantages of the composite clue structure we've created is that a player with no knowledge or limited knowledge doesn't automatically acquire full knowledge from watching another player dig and fail. A player who sees me dig and fail could infer that either I must have known the type of city the relic was in, or the region it was in, but he won't know which of those I actually knew, unless he has level 2 knowledge himself.

Scenario 2: New system

To start the game, I am dealt the identity of "Jack Cavanaugh", a mid-level FBI operative with an overactive trigger finger. I begin in Calcutta, and am dealt a "Lead" card from the "circle" deck, which informs me that I receive a strange telegram from a theme card from the "circle" deck (I flip one over, it's Elsa Schneider). The telegram says that I should meet Elsa in the Library in London.

I start my first turn by placing an enemy cube on each of my existing leads (of which I have one at this point), then drawing 2 cards (because I'm in a "pentagon" city), and spending an airplane card to fly immediately to London. Once there, I reveal the topmost card from the "Library" encounter deck -- it shows a view of a deserted basement in the library, and that I must face a "Wits" challenge (difficulty 3) to access a Lead symbol. I have a Wits stat of 1, and play a Satchel card (+2 Wits) to overcome the challenge and have access to the Lead symbol (an L with a circle around it, corresponding to a Library in a circle city, or major city). This authorizes me to reveal my Lead card, which features the same symbol, and to indicate that I have located Dr. Schneider. I place her theme card in the "London" box, and move the enemy cube on her card to London. I see that she has associations with Walter Donovan and Henry Jones Sr., and has knowledge on the subjects of "Inscriptions" and "The West". I ask for a clue about the True Grail; she has no knowledge on the subject but suggests seeing "Card 11", the Fransican Manuscript. (I advance the enemy progress track by 1, since there is 1 cube in London). I see that Donovan has an association with the Manuscript, and ask Elsa for a lead to Donovan's wherabouts -- I receive a Lead card for Donovan (also in a circle city), and pull the Donovan theme card from the deck and place it on the table, placing an enemy cube on it.
The lead card indicates that Donovan is in Bangkok.

I begin my next turn drawing 3 cards (because I'm in a "circle" city), and spend two of them to travel to Cairo, where Sallah has been revealed to be located. I visit the Marketplace, flipping a Market encounter card, where I must face the Arab swordsman, a Fight challenge of difficulty 4. Luckily, fighting is my character's specialty, and my Fight 3 stat, combined with a single Adventure card, easily ends the threat of the swordsman. More importantly, it authorizes me to meet with Sallah, and I interview him about his knowledge about the Temple Features. He reveals that he knows a Level 1 clue, which turns out to be "Do not activate the rope or the lever in the temple!" I note that one of Sallah's areas of knowledge is "The Near East", which is also one of the subjects that Walter Donovan knows about. I invite Sallah to join me on my quest, to help boost my Fight stat even higher. He agrees (really, he has no choice...), and I discard down to 4 cards (since having an Ally reduces my hand limit by 3).

On my next turn, I draw 2 cards (since Cairo is a pentagon city), and travel to Bangkok to look for Donovan. Once there, I go to the Nightclub, as instructed by the lead, where I face a "poisoned drink!" challenge, requiring Wits 3. Wits again, not my strong suit! I reluctantly fork over 3 adventure cards to pass the challenge, and reveal my Lead card to place the Donovan card in Bangkok on the board. I interview Donovan first about the Temple Features, and he reveals that he has a Level 2 clue! "The grail room is found by pushing on the obelisk". (This also confirms my suspicion that "The Near East" is a pertinent category for the grail room category, and suggests I should look for another theme card that shares this category, to see if I can get another clue on the Temple Features). Then I ask Donovan for a lead as to the whereabouts of the Franciscan Manuscript; I draw a triangle lead card, which instructs me to go to the Ruins in Nepal, just a short journey away.

However, before my next turn, an opportunity emerges; another player locates Henry Jones Sr. in nearby Shanghai, and discovers that he provides a Level 2 clue about the Temple Location; on my next turn I travel to Shanghai, where I visit the Marketplace and face an Escape challenge ("trapped in a narrow alleyway!"), paying a Whip card and taking advantage of my "Escape 2" stat and a +1 boost that Sallah provides. After passing the challenge, the Encounter card does NOT provide a "lead symbol", indicating that I am NOT authorized to visit Henry Jones Sr (I guess I couldn't find him); but it does let me choose between capturing some enemy cubes or moving some around on the board (I choose the former). On my next turn, rather than waste more time in Shanghai, I travel to Nepal, to the Ruins, where I face a Luck challenge ("cave-in!"), and pass it by paying two torch cards that I just picked up before leaving Shanghai. I reveal my lead card, and take the Manuscript Card. I can keep it to myself, or place it on the board and receive 2 VP; I choose the latter, and spend the remainder of my turn looking at the card for a clue about the True Grail; I learn that it its construction is "clay" (having played the game before, I know that this narrows it down to just two possible Grails).

On my next turn, I set out to try again to find Dr. Jones Sr...

Hopefully these excerpts provide a bit of a snapshot of how the game used to play, and how it could play in the new framework. I would characterize version 7 as a combination of a route planning game and a risk-assumption/press your luck game. You want to get the best clues you can, but you know in some cases you're going to be forced to take some 50-50 guesses. In the new version, with the leads, I think you'll spend much more time dancing to the tune that the leads you draw happen to play for you, so there may be a sense in which it has a stronger feeling of being an "experience" than a "game" -- but you're also trying to assemble for yourself not just "what is the solution?", but also "what cards are the ones I should visit to get me to the solution". You're rewarded if you pay attention to what the other players are doing, so there is less downtime, and your turn should feel much more organically themed -- the stuff you're doing feels more like the actual stuff Indy would be doing -- arriving in a city, facing an encounter, tracking down an important person, asking them for what they know about the solution, and inferring based on that who he should visit next. Obviously in the films the search process only has about 2 or 3 steps and the rest is all action; here I think there's space in a 2 hour game for a bit more depth to the information hunt, to let it unfold more gradually, and to hopefully give an experience that provides a steady level of interesting action throughout, with several exclamation points along the way.

Which version sounds better at evoking the theme? Which sounds like it would make for a more enjoyable game?