When you arrive at a location, you select an Encounter card from the deck for that city type; each card in the deck represents a sublocation (eg a Large City might have a Library, a Hotel, etc), and you know from the backprinting what type of sublocation the card comes from, and what the reward will be if you pass the encounter (it's always the same for a given sublocation).
When you flip the card over, there's an icon showing the challenge category. You, and all of the other players, get a few seconds (5? 10?) to survey the scene. Then, you announce how big of an outlay of APs you will make against that category, through a combination of your base stat in that category, any Ally card you have with ability in that category, and any Adventure cards you wish to spend. Then, you slide the card into the Interrogator and see whether your outlay of AP was sufficient to pass the challenge or not.
But before you get to that point, while you're looking the card over, you and the other players may notice actionable visual elements embedded in the scene. Specifically:
- Phobia: Each player has a phobia; if you see someone's phobia on an encounter he faces, his AP outlay in this encounter is reduced by 2
- Enemy Operative: Through another system, "Enemy Operative" cards are revealed in a row, and affect several systems. If you see one of the enemy operatives on an Encounter card (whether it's your turn or not?), you can initiate a Fight challenge with the operative to remove him from the row. The difficulty of the Fight challenge could be the number of Operative cards to his right in the row, and maybe an operative card is worth 3 enemy cubes if you neutralize it.
- Special item: Through another system, players can aquire "Item" cards, which come in perhaps 6 varieties (eg map, book, amulet, torch, etc). If you see your item represented in the illustration (eg you have a book card and you see an opened book on the table), you get to execute the special action associated with that item.
Perhaps to add a "race" element, the first visual element identified by one of the players is the one that obtains, whether or not a card has multiple elements. So if I see a "snake" in an Encounter that you face, and I say "snake", you are -2 for the challenge, and don't get to fight Toht (an enemy operative) even though he is present on the card.
I like this as a way to get all players involved in every turn of the game; to add a mild time element that makes players feel like they must react, which adds some immediacy to facing an encounter; and to enhance the theming by incorporating the illustration into the actual gameplay, and not having it serve merely as window dressing. This approach has two improvements over the v9 version: the reward is known in advance, and the challenge category is known in advance. So it's a simpler form of injecting uncertainty, making it a simple risk-reward dynamic; you don't want to overpay if you can help it, but you don't want to fail the challenge if you can help it.
One downside might be that it will be easy to memorize the "solution" to each card. But maybe not, since you'll only know whether a particular outlay worked, or not; you won't know where the threshold lies. And perhaps several cards will look pretty similar for each illustration. Another downside could be that to be on the safe side, you'll always just lay out the max outlay possible (if you can), so you're assured of passing.
A third downside is the possibility of subjectivity -- "what, an outlay of 3 AP isn't enough to dispatch that wimpy looking street tough!?!" It might be necessary to have a rubric that explicitly structures how the "passing" outlay is determined for each challenge category -- but perhaps the players should never be given access to it, or perhaps they are, but the elements that add to the required outlay are subtle elements in the illustration, and won't always be noticed. Eg a wimpy looking tough holding a knife may have a difficulty of 3, but since he's holding the knife behind his back it's kind of hard to see unless you look carefully.
The thing is, given this somewhat elaborate way of resolving encounters, you'd kind of like to have a similar system operating in the temple. Otherwise, the temple could seem like a let-down, or could feel disjointed from the outside-the-temple game. I do think the Temple is probably due for an overhaul, in a way that possibly incorporates ideas like Item cards, Enemy operatives (though I think they mostly just function as a game clock), and maybe a different conception of how the challenges/traps are triggered. I don't have such a scheme clearly articulated in my mind yet, but I think there may be some opportunities.