Back to the drawing board

I wrote about starting Wiccage last time, based around the idea of a Cribbage game with spells. I had attempted to simplify the scoring system some, added some card and point manipulation with spells, added a positive feedback mechanism, and what I thought was an interesting way of contending for points. In some quick solo testing, it seemed like it might work OK, so I dragooned my friend Justin into playing after finishing a scenario of Combat Commander. He knew how to play Cribbage, so I thought he'd be able to provide some good feedback.

I'm pretty Justin will speak to me again at some point.

Problems were showing up so fast that I was having trouble writing them down quickly enough, and I just stopped taking notes after a bit. The first, and probably biggest problem, was simply that of pointlessness: the overwhelming feeling that we should just be playing Cribbage instead. While there were certainly changes, none of them really improved the game. I had mostly just taken this classic, beloved game and ruined it. But there were more specific problems with the game as it was structured as well:

  • The scoring system in play, while simplified on paper, was fiddly and unpleaseant to deal with at the table.
  • The spells were mostly obvious as to when to use them, and even in our first game, using them was basically rote.
  • The ability to purchase points using Mana provided a bad disincentive to cast spells, which theoretically is one of the calling cards of the game.
  • The positive feedback mechanism wasn't really working particularly well.
  • Trying to track all this extra stuff and still play a reasonable game of Cribbage was just not working.

Basically, the game was a total mess. I wasn't actually sure there was going to be much to salvage. It was time to go back to the drawing board. I started by looking through the smoking ruins of the game to see if there was anything that wasn't a total loss. The thing that had come through the best was the tug-of-war for points, which seemed to work more or less as I designed it. That was good, I could keep that. But the rest all needed retooling, at a minimum.

I retreated and settled in with David Parlett's Penguin Book of Card Games to see if I could find any inspiration. I actually ended up reading the whole thing from cover-to-cover (again), which of course filled my head full of ideas. One game in particular struck me: Écarté, a two-player trick-taking game. A few things struck me about the game. The first is the fact that it simply existed. There aren't really any popular two-player trick-taking games these days, and the only one I had played alot was Bridgette (which is excellent). The category seemed worth exploring.

The second thing that hit me about the game was the truncated deck. Trimming the size of the deck for a two-player game keeps things manageable in terms of keeping the variance on hands reasonable. It seemed to be something worth thinking about for my game. I also started thinking about the magic number of 15, and how it imparts such importance to 5s in Cribbage, due to the way it matches up with the face cards. What if I dumped the face cards, leaving just numbers for adding up. That might be simpler and feel different.

That lead me to another thought: I would need to change the Cribbage magic number if I trim the suits. But, the number would have to stay odd. If I made it even, you'd have a single card where you could hit the target number with two copies, and that's double-dipping with pairs. So, odd it is. I also wanted the target number centered in the suit values, to make each card equally valuable in achieveing the target. That suggested an even number of cards in the suit - an even number meant I could just average the ends of the suit and get an odd target number. Removing the court cards seemed promising, as it fulfilled these criteria. In fact, if I treated the Aces as 11s, the center of the suit would be 13, a suitably magical number. Nice.

Then, I had a bit of inspiration. What if I dump the Aces instead, and keep the Queens. They could still count as 11 (or as 1, as in Blackjack, because why not?), and I'd still have the desirable properties from above. Keeping the Queens meant I could call them Witches, and thematically it would make a nice pair with the Wizardly shenanigans of Wozzle. I mentioned this to Grant, and he came up with the entertaining name of Wiccage (it had been called Thaummage as a working title before).

The trimmed deck already promised to be an improvement. But I still had work to do on this revision.