Over the past week or two I've been waffling over whether to include the map and its associated function in the game of Thief. It's not a good feeling, acknowledging that I might have to remove an element of the game that I've been working on and refining for the past eight months or so.
After some strong feedback from some players that the map was adding nothing but complexity, I took it out and whipped up some very simple rules to show off the main mechanic, which is strong, strong enough to carry the game. And it did. We tried it a few times and the game played smoothly, there was lots of interaction, and no one felt confused or slowed by any map mechanics.
However, the map created a visual centre, a focus point for the players to look at. It formed the context of Thief, a frame upon which to build the imaginary world of the game. Without it, play felt abstract and even possibly irrelevant. Without a visible goal to provide motivation, play was simply a social interaction using cards.
The conclusion I came to is that I pared it back too much. I'm going to bring back a visual centre, in the form of building tiles that will, when put together, represent a city. The map will not add any new mechanics, it will simply track some information on the progress of the players and which buildings are whose responsibility. It's a good compromise, and though I haven't seen it in action yet, I'm confident it will play well.