Belle of the Ball at the UnPub Protozone and plans for Prototype M

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John Moller just posted his thoughts from UnPub protozone at the Escapist Expo, including his playtest of Belle of the Ball at the Escapist Expo. He had this to say:

"I finally had a chance to sit down with Daniel and play Belle of the Ball. It was a good experience. I really like the interactivity of the game. You get to take actions based on the actions that other player’s choose. There’s a lot of strategy to that, and I didn’t plum the depths of it as much as I could have. The theme is original and really fit what was going on within the mechanics of the game, which is always a plus. It’s a game about mingling at a  Victorian party. Your cards are guests and you’re building sets by grouping and grouping. Belle of the Ball is a little more complex than I first gave it credit for being, and definitely a game to note and watch for."

The UnPub event was a very productive experience. I actually think it was in John's game that the term "caller" naturally emerged in reference to the active player calling for everyone's actions.

One of the things I'm also learning is to keep my prototypes in a closed beta for a little while longer before releasing them for public view. There were some really nice changes to the game based on UnPub feedback, but unfortunately I had already ordered printed cards from an earlier prototype a few weeks prior. D'oh!

Well anyhoo, Prototype M is gradually trickling out to a select group of volunteer playtesters. It's not released to the public yet. There are some significant updates so far.

  • The game supports up to 6 players.
  • Every player begins with a set starting party of four guests. Each guest has one basic charm, so everyone has the same basic options in the beginning of the game.
  • The basic charms call for simultaneous action, a la San Juan. The revised basic charms are
    • Invite: The active player draws a card, then each other players may do the same.
    • Announce: The active player brings a guest into play, then the other players may do the same.
    • Group: The active player may group two guests (or add a guest to an existing group), then the other players may do the same.
    • Excuse: The active player may move a guest out of a group, then the other players may do the same.
  • Three bonus charms (Extra Invite, Extra Announce, Extra Group) allow you to do the noted action an extra time. Those charms are passive. As long as they're somewhere in your party, they are in effect, even when you're not the caller.
  • The other red-bordered charms allow more mid-game scoring for the active player, like Delight (score 1 point per group in play) and Mimic (score any group in play as if it were yours). Other red-bordered charms are more offensive, like Steal (take a single guest from an opponent's party) and Lure (take a group from an opponent's party.)
  • Group scoring is much simpler. All you have to do is match suits within the group. Each matching common suit is worth 1 point. Each matching uncommon suit is worth 2 points. Each matching rare suit is worth 3 points.
  • Removing the "special guest" Belle bonus. It's too random and often doesn't actually decide a victory.
  • Basic Belle bonus is revised so that you're trying to collect a third of the guests with a particular suit. So, 8 of a common suit, 6 of an uncommon suit, and 4 of a rare suit. I removed the Belle seeking 8 "Chat" guests, since they're all assigned to be a player's starting party. That leaves a total of 12 basic Belles, one focused on each suit.
  • Endgame is triggered by the deck running out.
  • Redesigned cards so groups can be arranged vertically, for more efficient use of table space.

But I'm going to wait for further playtesting and we'll see how long these changes last. For what it's worth, the game feels about 90% baked. It's been a long year of development, but I think what will emerge is a nice, elegant game.
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.