Wiccage failure number two

Last time, I wrote about making a big change for Wiccage, swapping out the Cribbage-style playing phase for a trick-taking phase instead. There were a bunch of other changes that I put in as well, and I was feeling pretty optimistic about the changes. Perhaps it was just trick-taking euphoria, but I felt pretty sure that the game would work well. I somehow talked Justin into trying it again, and off we went.

It wasn't a trainwreck like before, but it still wasn't very much fun. With only a seven card hand compared to four suits, and less than half of the deck being dealt, the amount of control that players had for skillful play were extremely limited. The card drafting was kind of fun, but also usually pretty obvious. The new spells didn't really work at all to give back interesting levels to pull. It was just a leaden experience.

Not only that, but the hand scoring part was still disconnected from the trick/drafting part. It was kind of fun seeing what hands we came up with, and it was sort of interesting seeing how the Frankenstein did, but it just felt like a part of another game that had drifted in, not a coherent thing. The whole thing just still didn't work at all.

Discouraged, I went back to the drawing board. What made things feel so disjoint? One of the primary tensions I hoped to create in the game was having two different things pulling on the players, wanting to draft cards that were good for trick-taking and cards that worked with your Cribbage hand. Being dragged in two directions is often a lot of fun, striking a balance between opposing goals. Here, though, the choices were too narrow. Most of the time, your choice of cards was too obvious. It was too rare that both cards were useful but for different things. Add in the lack of space for skill during the play and the cribbage showdown just felt arbitrary. You were rewarded not for your skill but just for arbitrary card drawing.

How to fix it? My original inspiration had been to start with Cribbage, but it was time to think about making another even more radical shift away. The phases of the game had to be more coherent. I pawed through my collection of games, read the rules to more traditional games, and just thought. I decided I needed to have only one phase of the game.

One day, I was idly contemplating poker hands and cribbage hands, and the underlying similarity between them. After all, they're composed of pairs, straights, and flushes in various combinations. Cribbage has 15s as well, but the hands in both games are more alike than they are different. And, when viewed like that, you could break down those goals explicitly. This hand, you're going for straights. Next hand, pairs. And so forth. Once you've decomposed Cribbage like that, it seemed obvious that I could take the next step: you pursue those goals during trick play, not afterwards.

Creating the new sequence of play was straightforward at that point. I could take a cue from Bezique and let the winner of each trick play one combination from their hand to score a Rune. The scoring would become more dynamic, more integrated into the trick play, and should be a more coherent game. Of course, at this point, I've lost almost everything from Cribbage from the game, but it would hopefully be worth it. I also had to dump my Frankenstein crib rule, which was a shame, but maybe that would show up in some future game.

If I was going to have the game be just the trick-taking phase, it was important for that to be more interesting as well. I therefore wanted to play through the whole deck, which opens up a lot more skillful play. With 40 cards, though, that meant 20 tricks, which seemed like a lot. Why not remove a suit? Four suits is familiar, but this game didn't need them. Dropping to 30 cards would limit the number of tricks, make trick play more interesting by making voids in suits less likely, and would give more ability for players to channel play. Seemed like a winner to me.

A few more details remained. I simplified and re-wrote the spells, giving just four spells for the players to worry about, all of which applied during trick playing. I also finally dumped the "buy a Rune" spell, which I liked but had terrible play consequences. I added in a bonus two Runes for the player that wins a majority of tricks, just to keep players on their toes. Reading the rules, it again felt pretty fresh. The game had evolved into something pretty different, but I was once again optimistic. I'd been bouncing around stages 5 and 6 a lot with this game. Maybe this version would allow me to advance?