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Subject: Thrilling Tales of Adventure! rss

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Jason Lutes
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I'm not sure if it's appropriate to add working prototypes to the BGG game database, so I'm starting a thread here to chronicle the development of one of the games I've been working on. Since my approach to game design is to take a theme I like, throw in as much thematic material as possible, and then start to streamline and shave off whatever doesn't work, everything that follows is under constant and ongoing revision. I still have a long way to go!

SUMMARY
The game is called Thrilling Tales of Adventure! and is set in the world of American pulp fiction of the 1920s and 1930s. Each player has a dual role: as a Hero (i.e., Samantha Starr, Fearless Reporter, or Rockwell Jones, Ace Private Detective), your goal is to gain the most Heroism points by uncovering and solving plots that will take you to the far corners of the globe; as an Arch-Villain (whose identity is hidden at the outset), your goal is to gain the most Villainy points by completing enough nefarious schemes to set your final Master Plan into motion. A Hero moves and acts by spending Plot Points, which a player gains by creating Plotlines for the other players to investigate.

COMPONENTS
The game is set on a map of the world, divided into Land spaces, Sea spaces, Cities interconnected by rail lines, and Wilderness/Uncharted Sea spaces (currently denoted by the diamond shapes, but soon to be replaced by more representative terrain art):


Each player has a Hero record, used to track that Hero's Plot Points, Inventory, Allies, and current adventure (Plotline):


Each player also starts with a Hero figure, various tokens, and a hand of seven cards, drawn from a common resource of six mixed decks. Over the course of the game, a Hero may gain useful equipment, items, and allies, but the game is not meant to have the traditional level-up power progression of other adventure games. I'm trying instead to place the emphasis on increased player flexibility and decision-making.

PLOTLINES
The core mechanic of the game is the creation of Plotlines -- strings of linked cards assembled by a player and put into play (as a face-down stack attached to a specific city on the map) for other players to investigate. When a player finishes assembling a Plotline and puts it into play, he is called the Plotline's "Author." Plotlines can be between 3 and 12 cards in legth. Here's an example of a complete, 5-card Plotline:


The top left symbol indicates the card's type (also noted above the card's title), and along the lower left edge are "links" that indicate which types of cards can follow a given card. Certain cards -- usually people that need rescuing or certain items that need retrieving -- are marked with an "END" link, which indicates the Plotline is complete. In this example, "Henri Le Doux" is the "END" card that completes the Plotline.

When a Plotline is completed and put into play, it starts its own turn timer. Each turn, this timer will tick down, putting time pressure on the other players to tackle the Plotline before time runs out. A Hero can begin following a Plotline once he locates the City in which the Plotline begins.

Following a Plotline consists of turning over the cards in the order they have been stacked and resolving whatever effects they describe. Cards can present obstacles and hazards that need to be overcome in order for the Hero to proceed. It's important to note here that the Author is the one who turns over the next card in a Plotline and reads it to the investigating player, interpreting, narrating, and embellishing as he sees fit. A core goal of the game is to give the players a sense of unfolding narrative and have the game mechanics reflect that as much as possible.

Certain cards give Heroism points to the investigating Hero when they are revealed or resolved successfully (in the example above, "Temple of Nabu," "Ape Men from Mars," and "Henri Le Doux" are all worth Heroism points, as indicated by the yellow numbers in the upper right).

If time runs out on a Plotline, the Author of the Plotline scores the Villainy points (the black numbers just under the Heroism numbers) marked on any cards that still remain unrevealed by the Heroes. If a player acquires a certain number of Villainy points (15 at last playtest), he abandons his hero and his Arch-Villain comes into play, triggering the final act of the game, called the "Thrilling Climax."

THE THRILLING CLIMAX
During the Thrilling Climax, the Arch-Villain player attempts to complete his unique Master Plan while the remaining Hero players join forces to thwart his schemes. No more Plotlines are created -- instead, the Arch-Villain and Heroes must spend their accumulated Heroism/Villainy points to generate Plot Points.

And that's basically how the game is *supposed* to work. Next up, when I get a few free hours later in the week, I'll write up a session report of our most recent playtest.

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Todd Goff
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Jason, this sounds like a great idea. I love the "pulp era" books and serials. Your prototype items look great too. Looking forward to seeing more.
 
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Phil Walker-Harding
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Looks great!
Excellent theme, and cool production values for a prototype.

About how long does a game last, and how many players is it for?

Would be very interested in a session report for more detail, keep up the good work!

 
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Jorge Arroyo
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Looks great! I especially love the way the plot lines are created and how the cards are linked to create a larger story.

-Jorge
 
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Everything between now and the next game is just killing time
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What Ho Chap!
These tales of daring do seem just the ticket what.
I do hope the adventurers aren't limited to only those brash young colonials, there's always an English Gentleman in there somewhere.
 
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Leo Zappa
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Great, great idea! Calls to mind "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" and such stuff. Hope you stick with it - can't wait to see the finished product!!!
 
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K A
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Off to a Very promising start on a great theme area so keep up the development.

Will the plotline itself drive the character to move about the map for gear/people/plotpoint locations as opposed to just using the map to get to the correct city to start the plotline? Just asking since part of what I like about the genre is how the adventure spans the world.

Looking forward to seeing more.
 
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Jeff Kunkel
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This looks very interesting. The theme is excellent, and the gameplay sounds unique and engaging. As already requested, more details (# of players and game length) would be welcome.
 
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Hilary Hartman
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Wow! Excellent work, Jason!

I love this genre! Indiana Jones! Bring'em Back Alive! Tales of the Gold Monkey!

You get this published one way or another and you have another buyer.

What you've done so far shows a great deal of promise.

thumbsup
 
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Jason Lutes
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Phil81 wrote:
About how long does a game last, and how many players is it for?

Our last complete playtest session took about 5 hours with the full 5 players. That's obviously pretty long, and I'm working on ways to trim it down, BUT the game is meant to play and feel like an epic adventure, so it's never going to be Eurogame length. I think 3 hours might be my target time frame.

Right now I'm working with 3-5 players in mind, scaling the Arch-Villain showdown according to the number of players, but 2 and 6 are potentially workable as well.
 
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Jason Lutes
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Matchstickman wrote:
What Ho Chap!
These tales of daring do seem just the ticket what.
I do hope the adventurers aren't limited to only those brash young colonials, there's always an English Gentleman in there somewhere.


Note that I stole this character's name (and an exclamation point) from the excellent Two-Minute Danger Theater! at http://www.dangertheater.com/. He'll be renamed at some point, and changed from the square-jawed type to your classic moustached, monocle-wearing British explorer.
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Hilary Hartman
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Please allow for a two-player option/variant. It's important to a lot of players, more than most designers apparently realize.
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Jason Lutes
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GamePlayer wrote:
Will the plotline itself drive the character to move about the map for gear/people/plotpoint locations as opposed to just using the map to get to the correct city to start the plotline? Just asking since part of what I like about the genre is how the adventure spans the world.

Yes! That was important to me as well. There are a number of different reasons to move around the map:

* Plotline cards may direct the Hero to a particular location. For instance, in the above Plotline example, the "Temple of Nabu" is located in a Desert in the Middle East, which means the Hero must move there before he can reveal the next card in that Plotline. Some cards force the Hero to move to distant wilderness locations or uncharted seas, while others force him to move to the countryside, particular Cities, etc.

* To discover which City is hosting a Plotline, a Hero must move into the relevant Region and speak to a Contact there (a 1 PP action). After your Contact reveals which City in the Region is currently host to a Plotline Hook, you may move to that City and begin the Plotline there.

* If you have an Ally in your hand, you may be able to recruit him or her directly by moving to a particular location on the map. For example:


If you move into Perth, Melbourne, or Brisbane, you can play this card to recruit Salty onto your team.

* If you recover an Artifact, Gadget, or piece of Loot, or rescue an Ally at the conclusion of a Plotline, you may choose to carry it to a particular location and discard it for Heroism points. For example:


You collect Heroism for this card when you reveal it, then again if you discard it in Mexico City.


 
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Michael Lawson
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puck4604 wrote:
Wow! Excellent work, Jason!

I love this genre! Indiana Jones! Bring'em Back Alive! Tales of the Gold Monkey!

You get this published one way or another and you have another buyer.

What you've done so far shows a great deal of promise.

thumbsup


Ooooo....

Tales of the Gold Monkey. (Kudos, Hilary, for remembering that series.)

A Grand Adventure type of game sounds like it would be a helluva lot of fun. Have you progressed far enough along to start talking to publishers? By what you've posted so far, this game would be right up FFG's alley, although Asmodee or Z-Man would be good too.
 
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Nevin Ball
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Wow!!! This game looks...well...thrilling!
 
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Jason Lutes
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mtlawson wrote:
Have you progressed far enough along to start talking to publishers? By what you've posted so far, this game would be right up FFG's alley, although Asmodee or Z-Man would be good too.

Well, it would obviously be great to get a publisher interested, and I plan to take it around to gaming cons at some point, but that's probably a ways off yet. It's taken about six months of my spare time to get this thing into playable form, and it still needs a lot of work. I intend to continue beating it into shape for some time yet, and get the unanimous thumbs-up from my playtesting group, before I pitch it to anyone.

One major prototyping issue is that there are hundreds of cards involved, so even though I try to be really cautious, every time I make a major rules or design revision a lot (if not all) of the cards need to be redone. I'm currently working on a 4th set. Here's what the first one looked like:


So I'm making *some* progress...
 
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Jason Lutes
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puck4604 wrote:
Please allow for a two-player option/variant. It's important to a lot of players, more than most designers apparently realize.

Noted!
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Michael Lawson
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Jason Lutes wrote:
One major prototyping issue is that there are hundreds of cards involved, so even though I try to be really cautious, every time I make a major rules or design revision a lot (if not all) of the cards need to be redone. I'm currently working on a 4th set.


If you've ever seen Parthenon, you'll know that hundreds of cards isn't much of an issue to Z-Man Games.
 
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Jorge Arroyo
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Jason Lutes wrote:
puck4604 wrote:
Please allow for a two-player option/variant. It's important to a lot of players, more than most designers apparently realize.

Noted!


And for some, a solo variant would also be nice

-Jorge
 
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Justin N
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Jason Lutes wrote:
puck4604 wrote:
Please allow for a two-player option/variant. It's important to a lot of players, more than most designers apparently realize.

Noted!


And Jason, you know that if you ever want to test such a thing, drop me a line. Man, I've been at two playtests and haven't even had the chance to try the damn game!
 
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Jason Lutes
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THRILLING TALES OF ADVENTURE!
PLAYTEST REPORT


We had the full complement of five players and started at around 1:30 pm on a Saturday afternoon. After setting up the map, the Hero records were passed around the table and each player chose a Hero to play. The starting roster was:

THE REAPER, Masked Crimefighter (Rich) started in New York City equipped with his starting Weapon, “Twin Automatics.”

CAP’N JACK SNAPPER, Master of the Seven Seas (Roberta) started in Dublin with his Ally “Mister Mate,” a mischievous monkey.

THE BLUE FALCON, Ace Aviatrix (Steven) started in Paris with her faithful Biplane.

ROCKWELL JONES, Ace Private Detective (Dave) started in Chicago carrying his starting Item, “Lucky Dice.”

LA GAUCHA, Argentine Vigilante (Melanie) started in Buenos Aires with “Fuego,” her black stallion, and her trusty Bullwhip.




PROLOGUE
Before the game proper begins, players carry out a preliminary setup stage to get the first Plotline into play. Each player is dealt two Hooks, then must discard one and fill out his or her hand to seven cards. Play goes around the table with players discarding, drawing, and building their Plotlines until one player completes a Plotline, at which point it is made “Active” (is put into play on the map). The first player to do so becomes the “First Player,” and the game begins in earnest.

This prologue stage was added after the last playtest as a way to quickly get the first Plotline on the table. During this stage, Heroes may not move or take any actions; the world is untroubled. I was concerned that it would feel like too much preparation just to set the game in motion, but it went pretty quickly and people seemed to enjoy focusing on putting a Plotline together. Each round of the Prologue, players can discard 1-2 cards for Plot points, so they begin to increase their PP pool. The tension is between trying to get a Plotline on the table before the other players have too many PPs, while trying to accumulate enough PPs to deal with another player’s Plotline should it be made Active first.

Rich quickly assembled a 3-card Plotline (the minimum length) and put it into play. When Rich activated his Plotline, he conducted several routine steps. First, he collected 1 PP per card in the Plotline (3 PP total). Then, he set the Plotline’s turn Timer to “3,” also equal to the number of cards in the Plotline. Finally, he drew 3 City markers blindly from a bag (you always choose 3 -- this number is unrelated to the number of cards in the Plotline), chose one, and placed it on the Plotline. A City marker has a City’s name on one side and the City’s Region on the other. The Author places the marker on an Active Plotline with the Region side face up, so the other players know what part of the world the City is in, but do not know exactly which City it is.

THE GAME IS AFOOT
The specifics of the early part of the session are a little hazy to me now, since I was concentrating on communicating the rules and didn’t have time to take many notes as we played. It would be too much to cover every Hero's journey in detail here, so I'll just describe the trajectory of one character, Cap'n Jack Snapper. He saw a little more action than the other Heroes, but his journey through the game was indicative of the general experience. Plotline cards are indicated in allcaps and italics.

THE TALE OF CAP'N JACK
Rich’s Plotline was somewhere in Russia, so Cap’n Jack and the Blue Falcon, being closer than our Heroes in North and South America, started a race to be the first to uncover it. After sailing through the Baltic and disembarking at Riga, Cap’n Jack made his way to Moscow and spoke to his contact there. In a stroke of luck, Moscow turned out to be the City he was looking for, so the Blue Falcon aborted her journey and turned her biplane back into European airspace, since another Plotline was starting up in that Region.

Cap’n Jack’s Plotline started with STRANGE NIGHTMARES, which the players interpreted as being had by Mister Mate, Cap’n Jack’s pet monkey. In these nightmares, Mister Mate was haunted by images of a SUNKEN CITY, somewhere out in the mid-Atlantic. He communicated this to his master by drawing pictures in the dirt, convincing Cap’n Jack that they should investigate. Back at Riga, they reboarded the Hibernia, their Tramp Freighter (CJ's Special Ability), and set out for the high seas.


Alas, mere leagues from the spot Mister Mate kept pointing to on the nautical charts, the ship's engines were sabotaged (by Rich playing a card for its secondary effect) and time ran out on the Plotline before the sunken city could be investigated. Rich collected 2 Villainy points for the last, unrevealed card in the Plotline, a (coincidentally) Russian Artifact called the SILVER FEATHER.

After repairing the ship's engines, Cap'n Jack decided to head to the Far East (where another Active Plotline awaited, this one created by Dave). A long sea journey ended in the port of Peking, where Cap'n Jack and Mister Mate overheard rumors in a waterfront dive about a RAIN OF FROGS in the wilds of China. Never one to pass up an opportunity to appreciate the world's wonders, Jack asked around and then set out to investigate.

Maybe the frogs had never fallen, or maybe they fell somewhere else. In any case, when Cap'n Jack and Mister Mate arrived at the DEAD TREE which marked the spot where the locals said the strange downpour had occurred, they were ambushed by a ROGUE TANK! Had the good Captain been lured into this trap intentionally? There was no time to dwell on the thought, since the tank had opened fire.

I won't go into the Challenge (combat) mechanics here. Suffice it to say that each player involved chooses a Tactic (Might, Speed, or Wit), Tactics are revealed simultaneously, dice are rolled, results compared, and outcomes determined. It's sort of a rock-scissors-paper system (similar to that in the original edition of Fury of Dracula) with various effects that mix things up. It worked well and as designed in this playtesting session, but needs improving in a few areas.

Roberta lost a SPEED play against Dave's MIGHT, resulting in a WINGED result (1 Wound). Leaping away as the cannon blast obliterated the dead tree, Cap'n Jack was injured by shards of shrapnel, and Mister Mate ventured into the fray to save his master. The clever monkey lured the tank onto rocky ground, where it threw a tread (or where Mister Mate peed in its gas tank, depending on player interpretation), but this wasn't enough to spare our seafaring hero; another blast from the tank narrowly missed Jack and blew him back into a narrow ravine, where he lost consciousness. The tank crew made some hurried repairs and fled the scene, leaving Cap'n Jack for dead while Mister Mate watched from cover in the underbrush. This paragraph summarizes about 5 Challenge rounds.

The monkey slapped Jack back into consciousness and brought him food to help him recover from his injuries. By morning, Jack had patched himself up and was back on his feet. The two companions set out to follow the tank tracks that wound their way through the Chinese countryside. They soon found themselves at the mouth of a CAVE ENTRANCE, into which the tracks descended. Girding themselves for danger, the sailor and his shoulder-riding shipmate crept cautiously into the darkness.

After a short distance, the tunnel opened up into some sort of UNDERGROUND HANGAR. What had they stumbled upon? From the safety of the tunnel, Cap'n Jack and Mister Mate took in the scene: supplies and equipment lining the walls, enormous mechanized hangar doors standing shut at the far end of the vast, cavernous space. Suddenly, there was a noise in the darkness behind them. Whirling around, they found themselves facing the terrifying COUNT KRAELUS!


The battle that ensued was epic (6 rounds long -- the maximum) and ranged throughout the hangar, ending only when Mister Mate managed to activate the mechanism that opened the hangar doors, letting in a shaft of sunlight that burned the vampiric Count to ash.

Brushing the remains of the Count off of his pants, Jack went looking for his monkey friend, and found Mister Mate unlocking the door to a holding cell adjoining the hangar. The woman inside rushed to them in gratitude, but Jack took a step back in dismay, recognizing her as the notorious MATA HARI. "You must to trust me! I'm on your side!" pleaded the known double agent. Reluctantly, Jack agreed to escort her back to Peking.

THE ENDGAME
While Cap'n Jack had been undertaking his adventures, the other players were doing the same. Just after Jack rescued Mata Hari, Dave (playing Rockwell Jones) actually won the game by gaining enough Heroism points. Everyone wanted to see how the Thrilling Climax would play out, though, so we just let Dave be the Arch-Villain and started the final act of the game.

I don't want to give away any spoilers or explain the Thrilling Climax in detail at this point, so I'm not going to describe the final episode of this installment of Thrilling Tales. I will say that the Arch-Villain was defeated, but not before hypnotizing Mata Hari into joining his side for the final showdown, and bringing Mister Mate to a tragic end in a pit of scorpions.

ISSUES
Overall, the game played better than I expected this time around. People enjoyed themselves and had a lot of good feedback and suggestions. Among them:

* Collecting Plot Points can occur in several different ways. These ways need to be made more consistent and intuitive so there's less confusion about when this can happen.

* Dave suggested doing away with Action Points entirely and just using Plot Points. Action Points are there to regulate the amount a given Hero can use in a given turn, but they bring an extra step of fiddliness to the proceedings. For the next playtest, we'll just have PPs and cap their total at 10 (for this session it was 20). This should have interesting results.

* Drawing from six different card decks was a bit of an issue, so some sort of six-deck card shoe is called for. I intend to make one from scratch before our next session.

* There are lots of Weapons and Items in the cards, meant to be used to outfit the Heroes, but the method by which a player can bring them into play is too convoluted. No one used even one! So either the method to bring them into play will be extremely simplified, or they will be removed entirely.

* Cap'n Jack's Tramp Freighter and La Gaucha's horse and bullwhip did not prove very useful over the course of the game, so their effects will be changed or they will be removed. On the other hand, Rockwell's Lucky Dice, Blue Falcon's biplane, and the Reaper's abilities all proved useful and satisfying in their execution.

* For the sake of consistency, the revealing of a card in a Plotline should always cost the investigating Hero 1 PP and give the Author 1 PP when it is revealed. Additionally, when a hero attacks an Agent or the Arch-Villain during the Thrilling Climax, it should cost the player 1 PP.

* The option to build Plotline from back to front might be useful, since a few players found themselves doing it within their hand. This might be too fiddly, but we'll try it in the next session.

* There was some confusion around the various Active Plotlines in front of different players -- who was on which Plotline, what card was currently active, what location effects were applicable, etc. I've drawn up a small Plotline Mat with places to hold the different cards that should clarify these points.

* Every card has a secondary application usually unrelated to its primary function, but these were rarely used. Part of the problem is that there's so much text to take in that players founds themselves ignoring the secondary use, but these uses are also perhaps too varied in their effort to convey thematic flavor. The secondary effects will be simplified and tagged with larger icons so players can sort them more easily.

* Dave suggested that the Heroes be more customizable, perhaps by integrating optional Abilities/Allies/Items that can be chosen at the outset. however, I designed the Heroes to be thematically connected to their starting resources, so I probably won't make them more customizable.

* Rich though that the simultaneous-play nature of some turn steps jarred with the sequenced play of the Hero Action Step, so turn-taking might have to be more regimented from step to step within a turn. The trade-off is time -- the steps in question go faster when everyone is doing what they need to do at once.

* The victory point goal at the outset was 20, but we changed it to 15 after a few hours of play. I will likely make this variable at 10, 15, or 20, allowing players to decide how long of a game they want to play. On the plus side, scoring seemed pretty competitive, especially near the end.

* Defeating the Arch-Villain was too easy and too fast. Arch-Villains will require a lot of balancing and scaling in order to offer an appropriate challenge.

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Robin Wilkes
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I gotta tell you. I would buy this game in a heartbeat.

I love this kind of game, that lets you play the game to tell a story. Games like Arkham Horror, Betrayal, and Tales of the Arabian Nights, where, for our group at least, the game tends to take a backseat to concocting an epic storyline for the characters on the board, and it doesn't matter who wins in the end.
I suppose you can do this in any game to a certain extent, but connecting New Orleans to Miami in Ticket to Ride, say, doesn't have quite the same cachet as throwing a silver bullet across a chasm to another player with a revolver so that they can shoot a werewolf a split second before it tears their throat out. For example.

From all the images and examples you've shown us so far, you've totally captured the feel of the artwork and pulp fiction of the time, and it looks fantastic.

Consider me subscribed, and officially volunteered for external playtesting once it gets to that stage.

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epicduo wrote:
I gotta tell you. I would buy this game in a heartbeat.


Yep, Ditto, Yessiree
 
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Randolph Bookman
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I didn't think anyone would ever make this game and make it right, but by god I think I may have to eat my own words. That game looks AMAZING!!!

 
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Red Moss
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<Jedi Mind Trick>You will get in a plane and fly to Atlanta, Georgia immediately. You will bring your latest prototype with you. You will meet with me, Mike Barnes, Robert Martin, and Richard Launius in order to playtest this extensively.</Jedi Mind Trick>

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