Friday, February 10, 2012

Thief session report #1

First a brief description of the Thief. It's a card game, you are trying to break into as many buildings as possible to steal the loot at the bottom. In your hand you have a selection of item cards representing tools you might need during a break in: torches, lockpicks, dynamite, disguise kit, a fridge on wheels, and all kinds of other things. You also have a bunch of security cards representing obstacles that your opponents will face when they break into your building: things like an electrified floor, motion detector, a crushy room, bear traps, and so on. These cards are kept hidden. 

In addition, you also start with two blank cards which you can use at any time to create a new item and put it into your hand.

You draw a building card and play it face up in front of you: this restricts the kind of items that can be used while breaking into your building. No loud noises, no fires, that kind of thing. 

On your turn, you pick the building you want to break into, making a decision based on the items you have and the restriction on the building, and then the owner of the building chooses a security card that you'll have to face. You must play your items, singly or in combination, and come up with a plan to get past the security. You then describe your plan to the other players, and they determine whether it succeeds or fails. Usually it will be obvious whether it works or not, but sometimes players will come up with an elaborate plan and certain factors will have to be discussed: the conductivity of rope, or the likelihood that arrows can pierce a fridge, and so on. This is a lot of fun.

Defeat all the security and get the loot; first player to three loots wins.

This past week saw a lot of changes to the game - a rebirth of sorts. I had been developing the game with a map and a cop, what I refer to as a spatial element, which ideally adds a new depth of strategy and timing to the game: can I get to the loot before the cop reaches my building and arrests me, can I afford to use my dynamite and raise the alarm level of my building or should I play it safe and be quiet, etc. This never really flowed smoothly: the cop was too powerful or not powerful enough, one player's turn took 30 seconds to move a few spaces on the map while another player's turn took 15 minutes, and so on. I got some strong feedback saying that these elements distracted from the core mechanic, which was strong enough to stand on its own.

The game is now a straight-forward item vs. security game, with as few distractions as possible. (It's also a lot cheaper to manufacture.) I played it three times this week, with different but slightly overlapping players, and it worked really well. A few problems were identified and possible solutions were implemented. Playing it three nights in a row was very helpful, as potential solutions to recently discovered problems could be tried pretty much immediately.

Before I go into some of the backend stuff, let me describe some of the fun situations that arose during play. The best break in was Paul's defeat of the Room full of Snakes. He had a riot shield, rags, a five-pound sledge and an oxygen tank. He used the rags to tie the oxygen tank to the riot shield, put the shield on the floor and got on it, then used the sledge to knock of the top of the tank to propel himself across the room, smooshing the snakes in the way. It was dangerous, but too much fun to deny and everyone agreed it worked no problem. During the next game, I had a tough time getting across the Pit full of Spikes. My plan was to throw my pieces of raw meat onto the spikes and then freeze the meat using my ice gun, thereby creating a lilypad like path across the spikes. Also I was wearing a bear costume for some reason. Nobody bought it and I failed. I was surprised by a result from the third game: Harrison faced a state of the art alarm system, and created a card saying Space Lasers. I figured that would work no problem, but the others determined that Space Lasers were too imprecise to target just the control panel and not the entire building. I was outnumbered and had to agree.

Over the course of the three game, a few problems were identified:

- Initially we tried a one-security-card-per-turn rule, which made the pace of the game really good, but we determined that there is a disadvantage to defeating the second last security card in a building, since subsequent players could then potentially defeat the last one and grab the loot. Then we tried with a face-as-many-security-cards-per-turn-as-you-want-until-you-fail rule, which was okay in terms of strategy, but really increased turn length and down-time. For the next game I'll try something in the middle: you can face 2 or 3 cards in a round, and you get that ability either from a card drawn randomly, or some other mechanic.

- What happens if you have the last building left and it's your turn? You can't break into your own building, obviously. That situation didn't come up, but it will, and so to combat that next time I'll try this: when your building is looted, simply draw a new security hand. To complement that rule, I'll reduce the number of security cards in each building, meaning more loot will be taken overall, which is a good thing.

- Peter observed that he wanted more turnover in the items. He felt he was stuck with some not-so-useful items and wanted to replace them with new cards. I'm not sure what to do here but I have a few ideas. One is to discard all items you use 
an redraw up to five every turn, which would increase item turnover greatly, but that interferes with the Getting Arrested rule, which says that when you fail a break in, you must discard all items you used. So that one still needs some work.

Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any questions about the game, and if you have any ideas about how to address these problems I'd love to hear them.

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